ASTANA – A new reserve bank for low enriched uranium (LEU) designed to discourage new countries from enriching the nuclear fuel was inaugurated in eastern Kazakhstan on August 29 -- the UN International Day Against Nuclear Tests.
President Nursultan Nazarbaev handed the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, a symbolical key to the facility at a ceremony in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.
"By hosting the IAEA LEU bank, Kazakhstan has made another contribution to strengthening the global non-proliferation regime," Nazarbaev said.
Amano expressed confidence that the $150-million bank will make “a valuable contribution to international efforts to ensure the availability of fuel for nuclear power plants."
In a statement, the UN nuclear watchdog said that bank will be established once the LEU, the material needed to make nuclear fuel, has been purchased and delivered to the storage facility located in Oskemen, the capital of the Eastern Kazakhstan region.
The bank will hold up to 90 tons of LEU, enough to produce the fuel needed to power a large city for up to three years.
The U.S.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), which has contributed to the project, described the bank in a statement as "the first of its kind not to be under control of any individual country."
Russia has operated a similar bank since 2010, but the one in eastern Kazakhstan will be the first one to be fully owned and operated by the IAEA. Kazakhstan will be responsible for its security, according to Kazakh officials.
The LEU bank will "provide countries investing in nuclear power and assured supply of fuel to use for peaceful purposes without incurring the significant costs of building their own enrichment facilities and without adding to global proliferation risks," NTI said.
The bank was developed amid concerns that the proliferation of nuclear weapons would grow significantly if the dozens of countries that are interested in pursuing nuclear energy also pursued their own enrichment capabilities. The same enrichment technology that produces fuel for a nuclear reactor can also produce the material for a nuclear bomb.
"The launching of the IAEA LEU Bank is a major milestone for global nuclear security and nonproliferation efforts," said former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn and NTI co-chairman."The Bank will play an important role in reducing nuclear dangers and serve as a vivid example of the benefits of international cooperation at a time when our world is in a race between cooperation and catastrophe."
The NTI proposed setting up the LEU bank in 2006, and the Kazakh government and IAEA reached agreement on the project in August 2015.
U.S. investor Warren Buffett funded one-third of the bank with a $50-million investment. An additional $100 million was provided by donors including the governments of the United States, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, European Union countries, Kazakhstan, and Kuwait.