The International Uranium Enrichment Center at Angarsk: A Step Towards Assured Fuel Supply?
In January 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his country's intent to develop a network of multilateral nuclear fuel cycle centers. These centers would, in the context of a global renaissance of nuclear energy, provide assured nuclear fuel cycle services to states on a non-discriminatory basis, while limiting the proliferation of uranium enrichment technology. In September 2007, Russia's pilot enterprise of this kind–the International Uranium Enrichment Center (IUEC) at the Angarsk Electrolytic Chemical Combine–was incorporated as a joint venture between two major nuclear fuel cycle service providers, Russia's Tekhsnabeksport and Kazakhstan's Kazatomprom. This issue brief examines the “Iranian origins" of Moscow's proposal to create a multilateral fuel enrichment enterprise and a fuel bank with low-enriched uranium fuel. It also reviews the progress of this initiative to date. Moscow's goal is to start operating the IUEC, which already has a total of four committed state-participants and is open to all other interested parties, in late 2008-early 2009. Yet, before it's able to declare the IUEC a success, Russia must finalize an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on safeguarding the nuclear materials at the center and the fuel bank and find creative ways to engage additional countries in the project.
Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: The Historical Context
Moscow's multilateral nuclear fuel cycle services enterprise is one of several proposals for multilateral nuclear approaches (MNAs) to the fuel cycle recently brought before the IAEA by major nuclear supplier states. These states are driven by the desire to maximize benefits from an impending global "renaissance" of nuclear energy while minimizing the risk of proliferation of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technology. Yet, as this section discusses, for over three decades the IAEA has been leading efforts to raise nuclear suppliers' interest in reexamining traditional statist frameworks for nuclear fuel cycle ownership and internationalizing the nuclear fuel cycle. (For more on these proposals, see Relevant Resources 1 and 2, below.)
The idea of sharing the atom harks back to the Baruch Plan of 1946. Under the direction of President Harry S. Truman, U.S. diplomat Bernard Baruch proposed creation of an International Atomic Development Authority that would have control over "all phases of the development and use of atomic energy, starting with the raw material," including "managerial control or ownership of all atomic-energy, activities potentially dangerous to world security." Baruch's proposal was perceived as too idealistic at the time. Its spirit, however, lived on in Eisenhower's 1953 Atoms for Peace plan, which established the IAEA and its system of nuclear safeguards (as well as the spread of spread nuclear technology around the globe, including to proliferant states like India).
In a recap of initiatives on multilateral control over the nuclear fuel cycle, the IAEA's Tariq Rauf and Fiona Simpson wrote that substantial discussions regarding the possibility and feasibility of such an approach started only after 1974, when the Indian government executed its "peaceful nuclear explosion"–testing a nuclear device built with plutonium diverted from its civilian program. Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, nuclear supplier states met multiple times under IAEA aegis to consider new arrangements. But IAEA leadership on this issue notwithstanding, all past initiatives on developing multilateral assured fuel supply arrangements failed because suppliers felt no sense of urgency and had fundamental disagreements regarding the sharing of fuel cycle technology and the surrender of national control over fuel cycle facilities.
In brief and simple terms, an MNA would be a joint-venture–such as Russia's international nuclear fuel cycle centers–between "supplier" and "recipient" states, where front-end and/or back-end operations would be conducted with as little technology transfer to the "recipient" states as possible. In turn, "recipient" states could potentially forego enrichment and reprocessing operations on their territory, constructing only the power generating reactor, while the "supplier" states (or consortia between supplier-recipient states) guaranteed "cradle-to-grave" fuel leasing services and set up fuel banks under IAEA control. To supplier states, a "fuel-lease" MNA could provide business for domestic civilian nuclear enterprises along with incentives to reduce proliferation risk. To recipients, mostly developing countries, the MNA would offer advantages by making it possible to tap into nuclear energy at a much cheaper price, because it would not require construction of front-end and back-end facilities.
In 2003, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei resurrected interest in MNAs by charging a group of international experts to examine the issue. In 2005 the expert group released its report, which concluded that "the political environment is possibly more conducive today towards voluntary, confidence-building MNAs." The IAEA's Bruno Pellaud, an expert group member, wrote that
"...multilateral approaches have the potential to provide enhanced assurance to the international community that the most sensitive parts of the civilian nuclear fuel cycle are less vulnerable to misuse for weapons purposes. Moreover, multilateral approaches also have the potential to facilitate the continued use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and enhance the prospects for the safe and environmentally sound storage and disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste. Multilateral approaches can also provide the benefits of cost-effectiveness and economies of scale for smaller countries or those with limited resources, while ensuring the benefits of the use of nuclear technology."
Yet, Pellaud concluded, "[i]n the final analysis, the decision [of "recipient" states] will amount to a question of political will: the political will to consider alternatives to the development of independent national fuel cycles."  Thus, to effectively function, there has to be trust and confidence in the integrity of the assured supply agreement between "supplier" and "recipient" states–the "recipient" states must be assured that if they agree to give up indigenous development of enrichment and/or reprocessing capabilities and increase domestic reliance on nuclear power, they should not be concerned that a political decision by "supplier" states would cut off supply of nuclear fuel for the "recipient's" power reactors. As Russia, a major nuclear supplier state, contended in its June 2007 INFCIRC 708, "the main assurance that the initiative should provide is that a country complying with its non-proliferation commitments must be sure that, whatever the turn of events, whatever changes take place in the international situation, it will receive the services guaranteed to it." Towards this end, ElBaradei has argued that creation of MNAs would promote the original mandate of the IAEA as the "the go-between between suppliers and recipient countries" and strengthen the agency's role as a guarantor of nuclear fuel cycle services.
Moscow Moves on the Front End
Russia's initiation of a multilateral enterprise that would provide assured supply of nuclear fuel is best viewed as a byproduct of arduous diplomacy during the crisis surrounding advances in Iran's uranium enrichment program. As part of these efforts, Moscow has long sought to assuage Western concerns regarding Tehran's intentions–for instance, negotiating a fuel-lease arrangement to complement its nuclear power plant (NPP) construction project in Iran's Bushehr province. This section briefly details how Russia's multilateral nuclear supply proposal came about.
In November 2005, in a push to convince Tehran to halt enrichment, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov traveled to Iran to propose joint ownership of a uranium enrichment venture. Moscow's hastily put together offer would have allowed Tehran to use facilities located in Russia to convert Iranian-made uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) into uranium hexafluoride (UF6), and enrich it to low-enriched uranium (LEU) in order to produce nuclear fuel to power Iran's NPPs. This offer, however, was met with dismissal: Iran announced that it would restart indigenous enrichment efforts just several days prior to a January 2006 meeting with an official Russian delegation to discuss Russia's proposal. Nevertheless, Moscow's failed attempt to engage Tehran set the stage for the birth of "the IUEC concept" in Russian government circles.
Initially envisioned as a venue for bilateral cooperation (with Iran), Moscow's assured fuel supply proposal gradually evolved into a multilateral nuclear fuel cycle enterprise. In November 2005, then-head of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) Aleksandr Rumyantsev was asked by the IAEA's Tariq Rauf to comment "on his nation's stance on a proposed international system [of assured supply]." Rumyantsev reportedly declined the opportunity to comment, but “declared [that] Russia [was] ready to do bilateral "business" in a similar vein." After Rumyantsev was replaced by Sergey Kiriyenko at Rosatom's helm later that same month, realization that an assured supply venture could potentially, as one nuclear industry official put it, "reinvigorate" the Russian nuclear industry began to sink in. Such a venture could also potentially fit well with the "international energy security" agenda of the forthcoming G-8 summit, set to take place in St. Petersburg in July 2006.
Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled Russia's assured fuel supply concept during a January 25, 2006 Council of the Eurasian Economic Union meeting. Thus, he initially pitched the idea to states that were formerly part of the Soviet nuclear complex–Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. But because the press provided few details and Russian officials were vague, noting simply that creation of such centers could potentially "solve global security problems," Putin's proposal was generally interpreted by outside observers as a recycled iteration of the Russian-Iranian enrichment venture. Rosatom's Kiriyenko was instantly tasked with correcting this perception, clarifying that Moscow was putting forth an initiative of a wider and broader scope–potentially providing for involvement of multiple players in fuel cycle service ventures.
A week later, during a January 31 press conference, Putin explained that the Russian proposal, dubbed "Global Nuclear Power Infrastructure," entailed "creating a[n IAEA-safeguarded] network of centers that deal with … enriching uranium." Furthermore, Putin stressed the non-discriminatory nature of this project, which would be "equally accessible to all those who want to participate in developing atomic energy together," and noted that Iran was also welcome to join. Lastly, the Russian president highlighted the need for states with uranium reserves and developed fuel cycle facilities to participate. Putin's announcement set in motion Russia's nuclear giant Rosatom.
The International Uranium Enrichment Center and the LEU Fuel Bank
In a September 2006 address to the World Nuclear Association, Rosatom's Kiriyenko announced creation of the IUEC. Russia's pilot multilateral uranium enrichment venture would be housed at the Angarsk Electrolytic Chemical Combine (AEKhK). Rosatom officials indicated at the time of the announcement that they expected the implementation of the project to take four to five years. But after two years of diligent efforts, Moscow has seemingly beat its own expectations–a representative of the IUEC in Moscow noted in September 2008 that the center would being working on its first contract in December 2008. (For timeline and additional information, see Relevant Resources 3, 4, and 5, below.)
An intergovernmental agreement on creation of the IUEC was concluded between Russia and Kazakhstan in August 2007. After the IUEC was registered as a legal entity the following September, it was officially opened for "equal and non-discriminatory membership" of states that were in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations (including membership in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons). [13,18] The IUEC charter states that participants must forego development of domestic enrichment capabilities (and the states that have joined or committed to joining the center so far, have done so). Further, Russia's enrichment technology will remain a "black box" for the participant states. The IUEC, set up as an open joint stock company to guarantee "financial independence from the [s]tate budgets of the participatory countries," is governed by a management board consisting of IUEC shareholder states, with the IAEA as an observer. The IUEC contracts with AEKhK for enrichment services. It is structurally divided into two entities: a production division, which will be supplied with enriched UF6 from AEKhK, and a division for enriched uranium product stock management. Russia has touted the "political, economic, scientific, and technical" advantages to IUEC participant-states. In addition, Moscow has argued that others' participation in the IUEC carries "cost-effectiveness, and investment attractiveness in the long-term." The major economic incentive for IUEC participation is that its shareholders receive dividends from enrichment operations.
In September 2007, Kiriyenko announced that Russia would fund creation of another assured supply mechanism at the Angarsk site: an IAEA-controlled low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel bank. The fuel bank would consist of two 1,000 megawatt-reactor loads of LEU. The purpose of the bank would be to provide the IAEA with means to assure supply to recipient states in case of a political decision by suppliers to deny nuclear fuel. (For more information on fuel bank proposals, see Relevant Resources 1, 2, 4, and 5 below.)
In order to make the two Angarsk projects legally feasible, Moscow has passed and amended multiple pieces of legislation. First and foremost, AEKhK was removed from the list of Russia's most sensitive enterprises and added to the list of Russia's facilities that could be inspected by the IAEA. Moscow paved the way for IAEA inspections at the facility by ratifying and signing into law the IAEA Addition Protocol in October 2007. And in January 2008, Russia sent a note verbale to the IAEA asking to include the IUEC on the list of Russia's safeguards-applicable facilities. Finally, in August 2008, the IUEC was also added to the list of entities permitted to own nuclear materials under Russian law and issued a license.
Thus, Moscow has effectively set up the domestic legislative framework that will permit IUEC operation. However, while both the AEKhK and the IUEC have been added to the list of Russian facilities that could be inspected by the IAEA, negotiations between Moscow and the IAEA on safeguarding the IUEC have gone slowly. While the IUEC can technically work without the IAEA, agency participation is viewed as the key to "assuring" fuel supply and providing transparency. Russia wants the agency to apply safeguards to the uranium materials at the facility, including feed uranium, enriched uranium, as well as uranium tails. Moscow is keen to ensure that its commercial enrichment technology remains a secret. At the same time, it is unclear who will cover the costs of IAEA inspections. As of November 2008, it remained unclear when an agreement on the IUEC would be concluded. Moscow has faced similar challenges in negotiating with the IAEA the details of the innerworkings of the LEU fuel bank. The latter agreement, too, appears delayed, though Kiriyenko expressed hope in September 2008 it would be concluded by 2009.
The Angarsk Electrolytic Chemical Combine
The IUEC will be housed at the AEKhK, a nuclear fuel cycle facility which was reportedly never linked to the Soviet military nuclear program, and has provided enrichment services to foreign partners since the 1980s. Rosatom reportedly plans to modernize the facility in order to increase the enrichment capacity at AEKhK.[23,26] Yet, public concerns regarding the environmental consequences of perceived activities at the facility persist. This section provides some background on AEKhK.
Construction of the facility was decreed by the Soviet Cabinet of Ministers in March 1945 and began later that year. AEKhK was intended as a complex of gaseous diffusion enrichment and reprocessing facilities. But initial plans did not call for construction of a uranium conversion facility; AEKhK would instead receive uranium hexafluoride (UF6) from elsewhere. In 1957, after a visiting Council of Ministers deputy chairman declared completion of the facility an issue of utmost national importance, construction gained speed and AEKhK's first gaseous diffusion facility was launched. That year, AEKhK already employed over 1,080 individuals and construction of a uranium conversion plant was decided upon. The conversion plant went online in 1960, and by 1962 had begun to work to its full capacity. Construction of the enrichment facility was fully completed in the February of 1963. By 1985, continuous modernization of the processes at the latter facility allowed AEKhK's production capacity to increase twofold. And in December 1990, the first two centrifuge assemblies went online. Moreover, AEKhK became the global leader in UF6 production, increasing its original output by a factor of five.
The AEKhK seemed a natural choice to house the IUEC because of the combine's experience in dealing with foreign partners. In the early 1990s, funding troubles forced AEKhK's management to look for creative ways to make use of their technological capabilities and become integrated into the international nuclear market. Soon, AEKhK began acquiring foreign customers for its fuel cycle products. By 2007, AEKhK could boast of partnerships with China, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Moreover, in the 1990s, AEKhK experts had designed an enrichment enterprise in China, modeled along the lines of facilities at AEKhK, and subsequently consulted with the IAEA on the application of safeguards at this enterprise. (For additional information on this activity, see Relevant Resource 7, below.)
Modernization of the facilities at AEKhK, which currently employs around 6,300 people, is a part of the federal development program "Development of the nuclear energy-enterprise complex of Russia for 2007-2010 and prospects for 2015," and Moscow has hinted that it is aiming for a quarter of the world's market share of nuclear fuel services.[26, 29, 30] Eventually, the AEKhK site will be home to a total of three enterprises–AEKhK, the IUEC, and a Russian-Kazakh uranium enrichment enterprise; no new centrifuge equipment will be installed to accommodate the IUEC.[31,32] According to Kiriyenko, expansion of the activity at the combine is expected to bring economic benefits to the city of Angarsk and the Irkutsk region by creating over 2,000 new jobs and bringing in an estimated $2.5 billion dollars worth of investment opportunities. Yet, selection of AEKhK as a site for expansion of enrichment capacity has troubled environmental activists due to the site's close proximity to Lake Baikal, an environmental treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The activists have particularly worried about the possible import of nuclear waste to the site. It should be noted, however, that although Rosatom has long considered the construction of an international spent nuclear fuel storage facility, Angarsk is not a potential site for such a facility. Moreover, Rosatom officials have promised to Angarsk residents that the IUEC will not be reprocessing spent fuel. Rosatom has sought to increase public outreach in Angarsk by engaging the Russian Green Cross organization to set up an outreach office similar to outreach efforts they have conducted near chemical weapons disposal sites. These reassurances notwithstanding, Angarsk has been the site for creation of an anti-IUEC "ecological protest camp," while AEKhK officials have been chided by environmental organizations for a purported lack of transparency at the facility.[34,35]
Russia's Efforts to Promote Participation in the IUEC
Moscow has worked diligently to recruit participants for its multilateral enrichment venture. Russia plans to retain 51 percent of IUEC stock, leaving 49 percent for foreign buy-in. Kazakhstan already owns 10 percent of these 49 percent. Two additional members, Armenia and Ukraine, are in the process of joining the IUEC–each country is expected to hold 10 percent, leaving 19 percent of IUEC shares up for grabs as of November 2008.
Agreements Concluded or Pending
Kazakhstan's Kazatomprom (KAP) holds a 10 percent stake in the IUEC and is Russia's key partner in the project. Though there were initial doubts about whether uranium-rich Kazakhstan would agree to forego development of indigenous enrichment capabilities, Astana has committed to doing so. As a follow-on to the IUEC intergovernmental agreement, Russia and Kazakhstan have expanded cooperation in the nuclear area, setting up joint ventures for enrichment activities and uranium mining.[36,23]
Armenia officially joined the IUEC in February 2008, though legal nuances continued to be worked out as of November 2008. Armenia's NPP-Medzamor holds a 10 percent stake in the IUEC. Yerevan's participation follows an April 2007 Russo-Armenian nuclear cooperation agreement. Moscow and Yerevan have set up a joint venture to develop Armenia's uranium deposits; this uranium will subsequently be enriched at the IUEC. Finally, Russia is ready to take part in construction of a new nuclear power plant in Armenia.
Ukraine inked a memorandum of understanding with Russia on joining the IUEC in June 2007. Nuclear cooperation with Russia has been a politically sensitive issue in Kiev, and remains one of the major disagreements between Ukraine's President Viktor Yuschenko and Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko. Kiev, already reliant on Moscow for fuel for its reactors, has been interested in diversifying its supply of enriched uranium and has considered development of indigenous uranium enrichment. According to some reports, in July 2008 Kiev sent notes to Moscow and Astana declaring its readiness to join the IUEC. As of this writing, however, legal delays prevent Ukraine's Nuclear Fuel of Ukraine concern from taking ownership of its 10 percent of IUEC stake. In addition, Russia has recently won a tender to construct two new nuclear power units in Ukraine. Future bilateral cooperation on development of Ukraine's uranium and zirconium deposits is expected.
Invitations Extended, But Yet to be Accepted
Russia extended an invitation to Uzbekistan in July 2007 during First Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov's state visit to Tashkent. Ivanov promoted the IUEC during his visit, communicating to his hosts Rosatom's firm belief that "Uzbekistan's commercial benefit will be higher than selling raw material, because enriched uranium has high added value." Though Uzbek officials had reportedly initially promised to consider the offer, they later communicated to their Russian counterparts that they would abstain from participation for the time being. An Interfax report quoted a government source as saying that "Uzbekistan has its own vision of the matter and it does not coincide (with Russia's) on many issues."
Mongolia has expressed interest in IUEC membership, Russian officials have stated. This country shares a lengthy border with Russia and has had cooperation in uranium prospecting and mining cooperation with its neighbor to the north since 1945. Russian entities own shares in two uranium mining joint ventures at Mongolia's Dornod and Haarat deposits. Rosatom's Kiryienko visited Ulaanbaatar in April 2007 to ink a protocol on cooperation in prospecting, production, and processing of uranium ores on the territories of both the Russian Federation and Mongolia. Rosatom has also proposed construction a small-medium sized nuclear power reactor in Mongolia.
Russia has pitched IUEC participation to a number of other states in the "near abroad", including Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. In addition, the matter has been discussed with South Korea, Japan, China, and South Africa as well as Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, and Slovakia.[17,23,26,47] Foreign journalists and nuclear professional are frequently invited to tour the AEKhK and the IUEC. However, Moscow has yet to secure political buy-in for any part of the remaining 19 percent of the IUEC stock from the countries listed above. As of this writing, none of them have confirmed their desire to participate.
Difficult Candidates for Membership
Some time in 2007, Rosatom officials reportedly made India an offer to invest in the IUEC in lieu of payments for fuel for the reactors that Russia is currently constructing for India at Kudankulam. This offer to partake in the IUEC was reportedly conditioned on the Nuclear Suppliers Group's decision to grant an exemption for India from its requirement for full scope safeguards. While India's reaction to this proposal at the time was unclear, the offer is seemingly no longer in force after internal deliberations in the Russian government resulted in NPT membership becoming a criteria for IUEC participation.
The United States and Russia agree on the need to promote assured nuclear fuel supply concepts; Washington has expressed support for the IUEC. Yet, bilateral discussions on practical U.S. cooperation in the IUEC–even potential re-enrichment of U.S.-origin uranium at the facility–have been stymied by congressional pushback on a U.S.-Russian bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement (123 Agreement). (For additional information on this, see Relevant Resource 8, below.)
Finally, though the IUEC was born out of a Russian initiative to engage Iran and Moscow has repeatedly invited Tehran to take part in enrichment venture, Iran does not appear to have seriously considered this proposal as of this writing.
Conclusion: The Wider Ripples of Angarsk
In a recent report, an expert group consisting of members of the U.S. and Russian National Academies of Sciences argued that "the implementation of [...] assurance of fuel supply should not be delayed." Other experts cautiously note that the time for implementing proposals to internationalize the nuclear fuel cycle is running out. Just two years after announcing its support for the IAEA's MNA concepts, Russia's first such initiative, the International Uranium Enrichment Center, is almost ready to function. Though Moscow still faces difficulties in convincing potential “recipient" states that its multilateral enriched uranium fuel supply mechanism is politically reliable and economically attractive, these challenges could well be resolved with time.
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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.
Anya Loukianova examines the origins and progress of the Russian initiative to create a multilateral fuel enrichment enterprise and a fuel bank with low-enriched uranium.
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