A Low Enriched Uranium Bank in Kazakhstan
BY TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 18 Sep 2017
13 Sep 2017 – A new facility designed to help prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons – the Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank – was inaugurated last August 29 at Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The inauguration coincided with the celebration of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, declared in 2009 by the United Nations on the initiative of the Republic of Kazakhstan, to mark the closure of the former nuclear weapon test site at Semipalatinsk. Kazhak President Nuursultan Nazerbayev presided over the ceremony, which was attended by Yukya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, Director of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), and Dr. Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Test-ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) among other local and international personalities. The offer to host the facility, which is owned and controlled by the IAEA, is the latest demonstration of Kazakhstan’s commitment to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and to nuclear disarmament.
The establishment of the Bank is a project launched a few years ago by the Nuclear Threat Initiative with the support of the IAEA private donors and the European Union with the purpose of making low enriched uranium (LEU) for peaceful uses available to countries unable to obtain this material in the commercial market. The facility is designed to store in ideal conditions up to 90 metric tons of LEU, suitable for providing nuclear fuel for a reactor to produce electric power. It is anticipated that the Bank will be in full operation within two years. The main objective of the initiative is to increase the confidence of member States of the IAEA that in the event of a disruption of existing fuel supply arrangements nuclear fuel will be available in an assured and predictable manner. Other mechanisms to assure supply of LEU approved by the Board of Governors of the IAEA include a reserve maintained by the Russian Federation at Angarsk and guarantees given by the United Kingdom and the United States.
Together with nuclear disarmament, the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear weapons has long been a major concern of the international community. Since nuclear weapons started to proliferate with the first test explosion in 1945, several nations expanded their scientific knowledge and industrial development in the nuclear field, increasing the risk of proliferation. The international community was faced with the problem of how to establish and enforce effective barriers against the risk of weapons proliferation and at the same time ensure the unhindered use of the atom for peaceful purposes by all nations.
Article IV of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) recognizes the inalienable right of its Parties to the development, research, production and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination. Through the establishment and operation of safeguards systems under Article III of that Treaty, the International Atomic Energy Agency has been instrumental in the effort to curb the diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, thus preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons. Several multilateral and regional treaties such as the Comprehensive Test-ban Treaty (CTBT) – even if it is not yet formally in force – as well as the institution of zones free of nuclear weapons in several areas of the world and the work of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) are also important contributions to that objective.
Some Parties to the NPT built and operate national enriching facilities to produce the fuel needed for their nuclear power plants and other peaceful applications, to avoid dependence on external sources. A few of them created companies that provide such fuel on a commercial basis, under appropriate safeguards. Many operators of nuclear power plants worldwide chose to purchase their fuel from those foreign sources rather than devoting scarce financial and technical resources to building their own enrichment plants. They now have the possibility of resorting to the IAEA bank in Kazakhstan if their inability to secure LEU in the commercial market is ascertained.
The operation of the LEU bank will help discourage the development of new national enrichment facilities which might be used for the clandestine production of fissionable material for weapons purposes. The bank is a welcome new tool for the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and may also play a complementary role in the effort to achieve the wider goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Sergio Duarte, a Brazilian Ambassador, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment; President of [1995 Nobel Peace Laureate] Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; former Chairman of the Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; and former President of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 18 Sep 2017.
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