IAEA creates international fuel bank
IAEA creates international fuel bank
It will help nations peacefully develop nuclear energy
The New York Times reports that a $50 million privately funded initiative by philanthropist Warren E. Buffett (right) has added enough funding for an international nuclear fuel bank to start operations. The fuel bank will be administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Buffett told the NY Times he made the contribution because, "the spread of nuclear weapons of incredible destructive capability is the No. 1 problem facing mankind."
Buffett made the $50 million commitment in September of 2006 contingent on the IAEA receiving an additional $100 million in funding to jump-start the reserve, a condition that was met in 2009 when Kuwait donated $10 million.
According to the NY Times, other backers of the fuel bank include the U.S., the European Union, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates. Total funding for the fuel bank is now at $157 million, enough to buy the first fuel load for a new nuclear reactor, about 60-80 tons of uranium.
Nonproliferation experts say the implementation of a fuel bank creates opportunities for nations to develop nuclear energy without the threat of nuclear weapons.
Buffett's interest in the project comes from being a member of the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). That group has long worked for the creation of the fuel bank. The group said in a statement:
“This is a breakthrough in global cooperation to enable peaceful uses of nuclear energy while reducing the risks of proliferation and catastrophic terrorism,” said former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, NTI Co-Chairman. “If every country interested in nuclear energy also chooses to pursue uranium enrichment, the risk of proliferation of dangerous nuclear materials and weapons would grow beyond the tipping point. The IAEA fuel bank now gives countries an alternative to that choice and direction.”
Earlier this year Russia set up a nuclear fuel bank at Angarsk in Siberia (map) for much the same purpose, thought it is not managed by the IAEA. Organized in 2007, the project is a joint venture with Kazakhstan which is the world's biggest producer of mined uranium.
The new IAEA fuel bank will not solve the problem of Iran's clandestine uranium enrichment program. In addition to developing secret facilities to produce it, Iran has refused to allow IAEA inspectors into the country to verify the plants are not being used to make weapons grade, or highly enriched uranium, at 80% or more U-235.
Also, Pakistan, which has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but does possess nuclear weapons, will not be able to participate in the fuel bank.
The creation of the fuel bank has been an objective of the Obama administration. In April 2009 President Obama made a signature speech in Prague calling for its creation. In October 2010, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu made a speech before the IAEA pushing the diplomatic body to make up its mind. The IAEA has finally done so with the funding from Buffet's donation.
Setting an international nuclear agenda
Chu’s speech last October got down to business with the four main themes of U.S. efforts to deal with nuclear materials.
• Peaceful use of nuclear energy
• Nonproliferation & international safeguards
• Keeping nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists
The U.S. objective is for countries to have assured supplies of nuclear fuel at market rates. The United States has only one truly commercial producer of commercial fuel. Urenco’s new enrichment plant, in Eunice, N.M., is operated through its U.S. subsidiary. It follows that an international fuel bank would be an agreement predominately among state-owned firms.
The Department of Energy has started an effort called the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative to identify technology gaps and solutions, train new experts, and develop new approaches to improve international safeguards. The project was announced just days before Chu spoke in Vienna.
In April, the United States and Russia signed a landmark new START Treaty that reduces deployed nuclear warheads by one-third and strategic delivery vehicles by one half. On September 16, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty by a vote of 14-4. It is now pending before the full Senate.
The objective is to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials globally within four years. So far, the United States has removed HEU from 18 countries. The U.S. is providing technical assistance to other nations with physical protection measures for storage and transportation systems. Guidance is also being distributed through the IAEA.
Fuel banks are secure and economical
NTI said in a statement about Buffet’s donation that more and more nations are seeking peaceful nuclear energy to meet their development needs. They are weighing available options to determine what will be the most secure and most economical way to ensure a reliable supply of nuclear fuel in the event of a supply interruption.
The fuel bank will make commercial nuclear fuel supplies more secure by offering states reliable access to a nuclear fuel reserve. If their supply arrangements are disrupted, states would have access to a fuel reserve under impartial IAEA control. This would make a state's voluntary choice to rely on the market more secure. The IAEA Secretariat will craft a framework that defines the stockpile's structure, access and location.
# # #