Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Kazakhstan signed an agreement to create the world's first internationally controlled bank of low-enriched uranium to ensure fuel supplies for power stations and prevent nuclear proliferation. This follows a deal in principle reached in late July.
Yukiya Amano, director general of the UN nuclear watchdog, and Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov (pictured, left) sing the agreement yesterday in the Kazakh capital, Astana.
It will prevent future nuclear risks and ensure international cooperation in the field of atomic energy. At the same time, the parties also agreed to consider using nuclear energy in the food industry and water resources.
Low-enriched uranium (LEU) will be stored at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in eastern Kazakhstan, a facility that will open in 2017 and be owned and controlled by the IAEA.
The deal includes a transit agreement with the Russian Federation to permit the transport of IAEA LEU to and from the bank through its territory.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev had proposed in 2009 to host the uranium storage facility from rich countries. The basic concept is that countries who do have enrichment technology would donate enriched fuel to a "bank", from which countries not possessing enrichment technology would obtain fuel for their power reactors.
After accepting the proposal in 2011, the IAEA’s aim is to provide a stable supply of fuel based on actual cost rather market price so that it can deter independent nuclear plans. The bank could be a real alternative for countries like Iran that want to pursue uranium enrichment, without arriving at a military escalation.
The IAEA Bank is funded by voluntary contributions. The Nuclear Threat Initiative* (NTI) has provided US$ 50 million, the United States US$ 49 million, the European Union US$ 25, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have offered US$ 10 million each and Norway US$ 5 million.
All donor countries and NTI members took part in the agreement signing ceremony yesterday.
According to IAEA, the IAEA Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank offers a supply mechanism of last resort for eligible IAEA member states who must however follow strict rules, like a ban on further enrichment, upgrade or sale without IAEA authorisation. The LEU Bank in Kazakhstan will hold up to 90 metric tonnes of LEU.
Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrissov called on the IAEA to support the development and transfer of technologies and knowledge for the peaceful use of nuclear power in Kazakhstan.
“I think it will become a new area of cooperation between Kazakhstan and the IAEA, which can be very fruitful," Idrissov explained.
For instance, the IAEA is working on a number of programmes towards food sustainability using nuclear and related biotechnologies in cooperation with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Radiation is used to destroy microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, or insects present in food, sterilise tools and equipment, and produce improved species.
* The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) is a nonpartisan, non-profit organisation founded by former US Senator Sam Nunn in the United States.