A proposed multinational nuclear fuel bank under IAEA control reached a milestone this month when Kuwait pledged a financial contribution of US$10 million. The pledge – announced at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna – means that the international financial target for the fuel bank has been reached, putting into motion the efforts for a future decision by the Agency´s Board to actually create it.
In welcoming the achievement, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said that the next steps are to develop a proposed framework for the fuel reserve for the consideration of the Board hopefully at its mid-year meeting in June.
“The proposed fuel bank is a bold agenda and it is clearly not going to happen overnight. But bold measures, including assurances of nuclear fuel supply and multinationalizing sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, are vital if we are to enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world while curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and eliminating them altogether,” he said in his statement to the Board this week.
The initiative for an IAEA-led fuel reserve was financially kicked off in 2006 by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) with a US $50 million contribution. The offer was contingent on securing an additional US $100 million in matching funds. Kuwait´s pledge this week adds to contributions and pledges made by Norway ($5 million), the USA ($50 million), the United Arab Emirates ($10 million) and the European Union (€25 million).
Dr. ElBaradei outlined what he called an “ideal scenario” for a proposed framework that in his view would start with a nuclear fuel bank under IAEA auspices, based on three principles:
- Any such mechanism should be non-political, non-discriminatory and available to all States in compliance with their safeguards obligations;
- Any release of material should be determined by non-political criteria established in advance and applied objectively and consistently; and
- No State should be required to give up its rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty regarding any parts of the nuclear fuel cycle.
One part of a possible new framework is to reach agreement that all new enrichment and reprocessing activities should be placed exclusively under multilateral control, to be followed by agreement to convert all existing facilities from national to multilateral control as well.
The NTI proposal of a low-enriched uranium fuel bank under IAEA auspices is one among several multilateral nuclear approaches currently being proposed. Decision on location, organization, and conditions for access to an eventual fuel bank are the prerogative of the Agency and its Member States.
Among the approaches is one circulated by the Russian Federation for the IAEA Board´s consideration. It outlines a proposal for a 120-tonne low-enriched uranium (LEU) reserve for IAEA Member States and provides assured export licences and covers all long term costs, with the consumer State paying market rates for any supply of LEU.
Enriched uranium provides the fuel for many of the world´s nuclear power reactors, and the enrichment process is a vital process in a multi-step nuclear fuel cycle. The enrichment of uranium to about 5%, while a necessary step in the creation of the fuel that powers many of the world´s civilian nuclear reactors, can also be employed for use in nuclear weapons when enriched to above 95% outside the purview of Agency safeguards or verification.
By providing a secure and reliable supply of the fuel needed for nuclear power generation, a nuclear fuel bank would strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime through an assurance of supply and reliance on the nuclear fuel market.