ASTANA – The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Thursday signed an agreement with Kazakhstan in the Kazakh capital of Astana to establish the world’s first low enriched uranium (LEU) bank, according to an IAEA news release.
The signing ceremony was attended by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov, and representatives of five permanent UN Security Council members, namely Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States, along with several donor countries.
To be located in the north-eastern Kazakh city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, the bank will contain up to 90 tons of LEU, which is sufficient to supply a nuclear reactor that is capable of powering a large city for three years, according to the IAEA.
“The bank is part of global efforts to create an assured supply of nuclear fuel to countries in case of disruption of the open market or of other existing supply arrangements for LEU”, said the IAEA in the release.
The IAEA emphasized that the goal of the LEU Bank was to guarantee international supply chain while not meddling with the existing market. It is intended to be “an assurance of supply mechanism of last resort”.
Under the Comprehensive Safe Guards Agreement with the IAEA, a member state of the IAEA will be able to purchase LEU from the bank only when its normal supply of LEU is disrupted.
It is estimated that 150 million U.S. dollars are needed to establish the LEU Bank and keep it running for the first 10 years, which will be provided by leading donors’ voluntary contributions including the EU, Kuwait, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and the U.S.-based non-proliferation organization Unclear Threat Initiative.
The establishment of the LEU Bank in Kazakhstan was approved in June this year by the IAEA board of governors.
Kazakhstan is the world’s largest uranium producer and has the second-biggest uranium reserves. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has long been supporting the idea of creating an international LEU bank in his country.
“We have supported the IAEA initiative to establish an international low enriched uranium bank,” Nazarbayev said during the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit.