05 августа 2015 20:04

Kazakhstan to spend $10-15 thousand a year on nuclear fuel bank



Kazakhstan will spend around $10-15 thousand annually to maintain the International Nuclear Fuel Bank being established on the country's territory, Tengrinews reports citing Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency.

Kazakhstan will spend around $10-15 thousand annually to maintain the International Nuclear Fuel Bank being established on the country's territory, Tengrinews reports citing Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency.

The nuclear fuel bank basically provides countries with access to low-enriched uranium, so that they do not have to build enrichment facilities of their own, and thus reduces the risk of any such facilities being used not only for peaceful purposes, but also to build a nuclear weapon.

The idea was initially put forward by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-profit organization aimed at strengthening global security by reducing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, back in 2006. In December 2010, member-states of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted in favor of the fuel bank.  

The idea of the fuel bank is that the countries that have enrichment technologies would donate enriched fuel to the bank to enable countries that do not possess them to obtain fuel for their power reactors. 

Back in 2009 Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev suggested hosting the international nuclear fuel bank in Kazakhstan, which after the collapse of the Soviet Union voluntarily gave up and dismantled the world's fourth largest nuclear arsenal that it inherited. The proposal to make Kazakhstan the host country of the nuclear fuel bank was approved of by the IAEA in 2011.

Initially, the final agreement was expected to be signed in 2013, but due to some technical matters that the sides are still negotiating, the signing of the agreement was postponed. A draft agreement was signed in May this year. Under the agreement, the IAEA will cover the costs of purchase and delivery of low-enriched uranium, purchase of equipment and its operation and other technical means required for the proper functioning of the bank, whereas Kazakhstan will bear the costs related to storage of the nuclear fuel - pay the electricity and heating bills, provide offices and personnel.

“Under this agreement, Kazakhstan is responsible for covering the maintenance and storage expenses. It will cost Kazakhstan approximately $10-15 thousand (per year),” Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted Special Envoy of the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs Barlybay Sadykov as saying on July 30 in Astana.

He explained that these funds would be allotted for “storage, physical protection of the material, heating, lighting and communications”.

The nuclear fuel bank will be established on the site of the Ulba Metallurgy Plant, a member of Kazakhstan's giant national atomic company KazAtomProm that produces fuel pellets for nuclear power plants. It is located near Ust-Kamenogorsk city in eastern Kazakhstan.

According to the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Yerlan Idrissov, the nuclear fuel bank would not have any negative impact on the local people or the environment of the region, which already leaves much to be desired. 

The official ceremony to launch the nuclear fuel bank will be held on August 27, 2015. "Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano will pay a visit, during which the agreement will be signed on the terms of establishing the bank in Kazakhstan. As you know, the Government of Kazakhstan has been negotiating the conditions of hosting the international nuclear fuel bank for four years and now the official ceremony to sign the agreement is finally to take place. Moreover, another two technical agreements supplementing this (main) agreement will be inked as well,” Barlybai Sadykov said.

“Of two technical agreements one will be signed with the operator (of the bank, which is the Ulba Metallurgy Plant) on the terms of electricity, gas and water supply, and provision of office space, and the terms of IAEA’s payment for the services provided by the Ulba Metallurgy Plant. And the second agreement is about the implementation of IAEA’s recommendations. This is what we have been working on during four years, and they will be implemented in Kazakhstan,” he said.

According to him, the Foreign Ministers of donor-countries as well as top managers of the Nuclear Threat Initiative will attend the ceremony.

“Foreign Ministers of P5 are also invited. These are the permanent members of the Security Council (of the United Nations) – the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France,” he added.

The bank in Kazakhstan is going to be capable of holding around 90 metric tonnes of low-enriched uranium, which is enough to run a 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor.

The fuel bank will be financed through voluntary donations and not from the IAEA budget. To date, around $150 million that were donated by the Nuclear Threat Initiative with its advisor Warren Buffett's support ($50 million), the US ($49,54 million), the United Arab Emirates ($10 million), Kuwait ($10 million), Norway ($5 million) and the European Union countries (around $25 million), are enough to ensure the operation of the bank for at least next 10 years. 

In less then a month's time Kazakhstan will become the first country in the world to host an international nuclear fuel bank.

But Kazakhstan may soon by not the only post-Soviet country to host a nuclear fuel bank under the auspices of the IAEA. Creation of a similar facility at the International Uranium Enrichment Center in Angarsk in Siberia, Russia has been discussed for a number of year already.

By Assel Satubaldina, editing by Tatyana Kuzmina

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