UN atomic watchdog approves nuclear fuel assurance proposal

10th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

The UN atomic watchdog on Thursday approved a British proposal seeking to ensure the continued supply of nuclear fuel for energy to a country should its supply be disrupted for political reasons.

The 35-member board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency voted in favour of a British-backed "Nuclear Fuel Assurance" proposal whereby a supplier state would promise "not to interrupt the supply of enrichment services (to a recipient state) for non-commercial reasons."

A total 26 countries voted in favour, eight abstained -- Peru, Singapore, South Africa, Tunisia, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador -- and one country, Pakistan, was absent, diplomats who attended the closed-door vote said.

For a number of years now, IAEA member states have been seeking ways to allow countries access to nuclear energy without risking the spread of atomic weapons.

But the proposals have come under fire, particularly from developing countries who see them as a way for the existing western nuclear powers to curtail other countres' right to acquire and develop nuclear technology of their own for peaceful purposes.

In recent years, the IAEA board has concretely approved two separate proposals for so-called nuclear fuel "banks", physical stockpiles of enriched uranium, to which countries with a clean non-proliferation record would have access if their supply were disrupted for political reasons.

The British proposal differs in that there is no stockpile of fuel involved, but a contractual agreement between a supplier country and a recipient state guaranteeing an uninterrupted supply.

That meant no additional cost would be involved for either supplier or recipient state.

The proposal "is designed to be complementary to previously agreed or any future initiatives to provide assurance of supply... It would simply be one item on a 'menu of options'," Britain's ambassador to the IAEA, Simon Smith, told the board.

And he insisted that such an arrangement would be "entirely voluntary" and "would not change or undermine a state's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

Iran, which does not hold a seat on the IAEA board and cannot therefore take part in the vote, was nevertheless critical of the British proposal.

The eligibility criteria for a recipient state was "discriminative" and was aimed at "polarizing and politicizing" the IAEA, Iranian ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said.

The issue of fuel assurance was "very complex" and had "technical, legal, commercial and economic dimensions with political and strategic implications," he said.

The fuel assurance proposal was discussed on the final day of a week-long meeting of the IAEA board at the watchdog's Vienna headquarters.

© 2011 AFP

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