Russia forms world's first nuclear fuel bank

1st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia announced Wednesday that it had created the world's first international atomic fuel bank as part of a global effort to curb the spread of nuclear arms.

The Rosatom state atomic energy corporation said the Siberian fuel reserve -- which will operate under the auspices of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear watchdog -- will have enough material to refuel two civilian nuclear power plants.

The Angarsk facility now stores 120 tonnes of low-enriched uranium (LEU) that has been enriched to between two and 4.95 percent. Rosatom said one-third of the fuel was processed to the higher level.

The fuel is considered safe because the weapons-grade uranium desired by nations seeking to build nuclear weapons must be enriched to at least 90 percent.

The IAEA approved the Russian reserve's creation at a historic two-day meeting in November. It is meant to ensure stable fuel supplies to partner nations in case of disruptions of the international uranium enrichment services market.

The type of fuel stored in Angarsk is used by most of today's civilian nuclear power plants. The bank's creation was first proposed in September 2007 by Russia amid Moscow fears that nuclear fuel supply cutoffs could used by developed nations for political purposes.

"This bank was created under the Russian president's initiative to form a global nuclear energy infrastructure (that would ensure) reliable compliance with the nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime," Rosatom said in a statement.

Then-president Vladimir Putin first forwarded the nuclear fuel bank initiative in January 2006 amid a resumption in dialogue on the issue between Russia and the United States.

Moscow and Washington signed their own peaceful nuclear cooperation deal -- known as the 123 Agreement -- two years later and the two sides then both focused their efforts on approving a formal IAEA fuel bank plan.

The reserve idea was backed by 23 of the 35 IAEA members at the Vienna meeting but was opposed by countries such as Brazil and Pakistan that are just beginning to establish their own nuclear programmes.

The Angarsk facility's reserve is estimated by nuclear scientists to have enough capacity to produce electricity to satisfy the needs of a city of 12 million people for up to a year.

The eastern Siberian bank is the first of about a dozen facilities proposed by various nations following the 2003 discovery of covert enrichment activity in Iran.

The Angarsk announcement comes one week after Russia and the IAEA signed a separate agreement on developing a joint training programme for nuclear experts who could then be employed at the various facilities across Russia.

Officials here have voiced fears that they no longer have the scientists and experts they did in the Soviet era to safely operate the country's vast network of nuclear facilities.

© 2010 AFP

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