IAEA Board Approves Nuclear Fuel Bank

(Dec. 6) -Diplomats wait last week to begin a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board at the organization's headquarters in Vienna, Austria. The 35-nation board on Friday endorsed a plan to create an international nuclear fuel bank (Samuel Kubani/Getty Images).
(Dec. 6) -Diplomats wait last week to begin a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board at the organization's headquarters in Vienna, Austria. The 35-nation board on Friday endorsed a plan to create an international nuclear fuel bank (Samuel Kubani/Getty Images).

The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation governing board on Friday approved a proposal to establish a multilateral civilian nuclear fuel supply for use in power plants, the New York Times reported (see GSN, Nov. 18).

The fuel bank would offer nations civilian atomic reactor fuel on an apolitical basis in hopes of deterring them from pursuing their own capability to produce such material -- a process that could also generate nuclear-weapon fuel.

“I’ve never been $50 million lighter and felt better,” said billionaire Warren Buffett, who in late 2006 offered financial support for the fuel bank plan on the conditions that the U.N. nuclear watchdog manage the effort and that governments provide a total of $100 million in financing or nuclear power plant fuel. International contributions cleared that minimum in March 2009, when Kuwait pledged $10 million for the project. The plan has received $157 million in support to date.

The money could fund the acquisition of as much as 80 tons of nuclear fuel, a supply adequate for one power reactor. Undecided aspects of the plan include the site of the fuel supply, the precise process by which the bank could acquire additional fuel and how its capacity could be increased.

“The spread of weapons of incredible destructive capability is the No. 1 problem facing mankind,” said Buffett, who suggested the bank could put "part of the genie back in the bottle."

The entity would “enable peaceful uses of nuclear energy while reducing the risks of proliferation and catastrophic terrorism,” former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), co-chairman of the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, said in a press release. The organization brought Buffett on board for the fuel bank plan, according to the Times.

Russia last week announced the opening of a separate fuel bank facility at Angarsk, Siberia (see GSN, Dec. 2).

Would-be buyers today might be discouraged from pursuing commercial supplies of fuel over concerns that political considerations could influence their future receipt of the material, according to the Times. The IAEA fuel supply could address that concern, according to specialists.

“It may encourage smaller countries to not engage in enrichment because they’ll see the bank as a form of security,” said Thomas Cochran, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council's nuclear program. “But it’s not going to solve Iran or other big issues of nuclear proliferation” (see related GSN story, today; William Broad, New York Times, Dec. 3).

[Editor's Note: The Nuclear Threat Initiative is the sole sponsor of Global Security Newswire, which is published independently by the National Journal Group.]

December 6, 2010
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The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation governing board on Friday approved a proposal to establish a multilateral civilian nuclear fuel supply for use in power plants, the New York Times reported (see GSN, Nov. 18).