Funding brings international fuel bank closer

10 January 2008

A $50 million funding allocation granted by the US Congress towards a nuclear fuel reserve managed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been welcomed by agency director general Mohamed ElBaradei.

ElBaradei said: "I have long been advocating the establishment of assurance of supply mechanisms in view of increasing demand for nuclear power and to strengthen non-proliferation." A fuel bank of last resort, under IAEA auspices and operating on the basis of apolitical and non-discriminatory non-proliferation criteria, would be central to such mechanisms, he said. ElBaradei described the action of the US Congress as a positive step towards this, adding "In addition to the $50 million already pledged by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), it brings such a fuel bank closer to realisation."

The US funding allocation was signed into law by President George Bush on 26 December 2007. It matches a September 2006 commitment of $50 million from NTI, an organization committed to reducing threats from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons co-chaired by philanthropist CNN founder Ted Turner and former US Senator Sam Nunn. The NTI funding was conditional on the contribution of an additional $100 million - or the equivalent value of low-enriched uranium (LEU) - from one or more IAEA member states.

Sam Nunn, co-chair of NTI, also welcomed the US contribution. "I am hopeful that this important US contribution will be used to spur other nations to contribute the remaining $50 million matching requirement and to support a timely decision by the IAEA to establish the fuel bank," he said.

The concept of a multilateral nuclear fuel bank has been under discussion for many years, and the IAEA convened an expert group look at multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle in 2004. It recognised that providing assurance of nuclear fuel supply to countries that would voluntarily forego developing such technologies themselves would be a key element in limiting the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies and increasing non-proliferation assurances. Countries could be confident that they would be able to obtain nuclear fuel for electricity generation without the risk of their supply being disrupted for political reasons, and would not be driven to invest in their own national uranium enrichment capabilities with possible additional proliferation risks.

ElBaradei noted that he has also welcomed other proposals for the creation of a reliable fuel supply, which are currently under consideration by the IAEA. A Russian proposal seeks the establishment of a joint enrichment facility at the country's Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Complex, with the inclusion of an IAEA controlled LEU reserve, while a German plan calls for multilateral uranium enrichment under the auspices of the IAEA and with a uranium enrichment plant in an extra-territorial area provided by a third-party state.

Further information

International Atomic Energy Agency

Nuclear Threat Intitiative

WNA's Safeguardsto Prevent Nuclear Proliferation information paper

WNN: International Fuel Bank Act gets approval
WNN: International Enrichment Centre agreement signed

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