Kazakhstan is prepared to host an international nuclear fuel bank under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) once such a facility is set up, the country's Secretary of State Kanat Saudabayev said at an international conference in London last Saturday.
"We hope for an objective and positive consideration of our request, and are ready to do our best to ensure reliable and safe storage of the guaranteed reserve of low-enriched uranium," Saudabayev told the conference, "Deterrence: Its Past and Future", which took place in London on May 20 and 21. "If established, the Bank will contribute to strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and promoting the role of the IAEA and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons."
According to the press service of the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, Saudabayev addressed the audience of current and former high ranking officials and experts from 18 countries. These included notables such as former US secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of defense William Perry and former chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee Senator Sam Nunn (Ret.), as well as Lord Desmond Browne of the United Kingdom. The London-based European Leadership Network for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation, the Washington, DC-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and Hoover Institution of the Stanford University from California co-organized the conference.
In recent years the creation of an international nuclear fuel bank (INFB), proposed by NTI, has occupied an important place on the IAEA agenda, which is associated with relevance of developing a multilateral mechanism for ensuring access of consumer countries to nuclear fuel on the non-discriminatory and stable basis in the long run.
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"Kazakhstan, the world's leading producer of uranium ore, has the capacity to produce nuclear fuel and plans to expand its participation in usage of atomic energy for peaceful purposes under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the IAEA sasfeguards," Saudabayev said.
"In this regard, on 6 April 2009, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that in case a nuclear fuel bank was created, Kazakhstan could consider placing it on its territory. The official request on Kazakhstan's readiness to host the bank and ensure proper storage of nuclear fuel was presented at the IAEA on 11 January 2010. The decision-making process on the bank's location and other organizational issues is completely the IAEA prerogative," he added.
According to Saudabayev, Kazakhstan has several arguments going for it in the selection process currently taking place through various processes at the IAEA in Vienna following its decision last December to set up a bank in principle.
These arguments include the stable socio-political situation in the country and Kazakhstan's balanced foreign policy ensuring the necessary level of confidence of the participants of such a project; Kazakhstan's long-standing and strong commitment and active participation in the global non-proliferation and nuclear weapons reduction, as well as effective cooperation with the IAEA; the developed and reliable export control system of Kazakhstan, and legal framework to deal with issues of licensing, storage, transport and export of nuclear materials; the possibility of using the existing infrastructure of the former Semipalatinsk nuclear site and JSC Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk with both of these facilities meeting the requirements for long-term storage and physical protection of nuclear materials, and being are under IAEA safeguards.
Last but not least, together with Russia, Kazakhstan participates in the International Uranium Enrichment Centre (IUEC) in Angarsk, allowing usage of the Centre's capacities for re-supplying reserves of the international nuclear fuel bank (INFB).
According to the concept of the international bank of low-enriched uranium (LEU), it will keep a guaranteed reserve for producing nuclear fuel assemblies for nuclear power stations. It is assumed that LEU, about 60 tons of it, would be stored in portable cleaned cylinders, which will be placed in hermetic containers.
In case of a positive decision on the candidacy of Kazakhstan, the agreement between Kazakhstan and the IAEA will include clauses that stipulate the levels of physical protection of LEU during usage, processing, storage and transportation.
According to international experts from the IAEA, low-enriched uranium is not an attractive material for terrorists. In principle, the storage of small amounts of LEU will not change susceptibility of the facility dealing with other activities or storage of the other type of LEU to terrorism.
"This bank will not be a permanent source of nuclear fuel supply. It will become a kind of 'insurance mechanism' in case of any disruptions in nuclear fuel supply due to non-economic reasons. The idea of creating the bank of low-enriched uranium of the IAEA does not restrict the inalienable right of each NPT member-state to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," Saudabayev stressed.
He also noted that possible deployment of the INFB in Kazakhstan will also contribute to strengthening of Kazakhstan's cooperation with the IAEA, as well as the state sponsors of the INFB project, and would promote the development of nuclear energy, the introduction of the most advanced technology and experience exchange with other countries in this area.
The IAEA is expected to make a decision on where and how to set up the fuel bank later this year. The idea for such a bank was first proposed by Sen. Nunn at the IAEA board of governors meeting in 2006 as one of the components of ensuring the security and stability of an international nuclear fuel cycle.