Kazakhstan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) signed an agreement on Aug. 27 to have the former Soviet republic host the world’s first bank for a nuclear fuel bank that would supply fuel for power generators and help prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The pact was signed during a ceremony in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, by Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov and Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA, the United Nations’ nuclear regulator. The bank will be under Kazakhstan’s legal jurisdiction, but its management and operations will be run entirely by the U.N. agency.
After the deal was signed, Amano said he was optimistic that the bank would strike a fine balance between efforts to counter proliferation and the needs of the world’s nuclear power industry. “A lot of work remains to be done,” he said. “But after the signing … , we have a legal framework, so we can move forward together to begin full-scale implementation [of the agreement].”
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Attending the signing ceremony was former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, Democrat of Georgia, the co-chairman and chief executive officer of Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a group that works to realize the goals of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which 191 nations have signed.
“This IAEA fuel bank will enable and encourage peaceful uses of nuclear energy, while reducing the risks of proliferation and reducing the risks of catastrophic terrorism,” Nunn said.
The NTI has played a leading role in establishing the nuclear fuel bank in Kazakhstan. One of its supporters is U.S. investment guru Warren Buffett, who gave $50 million to help set up the bank and expressed his confidence that it will be a success. But in a statement by Buffett read by Nunn, the billionaire said he may not live to see its goals achieved.
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“I look forward to the time soon when the fuel bank will become an operational reality,” Buffett’s statement said. “Please tell all the decision makers that I am a patient and long-term investor and I know that international agreements take a considerable amount of time. But please also tell them that I am 84 years old.”
The bank, which is expected to be completed in 2017, was designed to supply a stable source of nuclear fuel to IAEA member states if the normal supply is disrupted. It’s also meant to discourage any country from building uranium enrichment plants that could be adapted to refine weapons-grade uranium, as the West has suspected in Iran for the past 10 years.
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Iran has repeatedly said its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, but Western nations were skeptical and have imposed crippling sanctions on the country. In July, six world powers and Iran signed a tentative deal that would restrict Tehran’s nuclear program and lift the sanctions.
Establishing the bank is “a huge step forward,” said Andrew Bieniawski, NTI’s vice president for material security and minimization. “The bank is a milestone that will enable countries to pursue nuclear energy without increasing the risk of nuclear proliferation.”
By Andy Tully Of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com