WASHINGTON, D.C. – The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors today approved a host-state agreement (HSA) between the IAEA and the Government of Kazakhstan for the country to host an international low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel bank that will provide countries with an assurance of LEU supply for peaceful purposes. Owned and managed by the IAEA, the bank would be the first international fuel bank not under the control of an individual country.
The Nuclear Threat Initiative and NTI advisor Warren Buffett were catalysts of the LEU fuel bank by providing $50 million to jump-start the reserve. Buffett, a key NTI adviser, financially backed and enabled NTI’s commitment.
“This is a significant milestone in global nuclear cooperation that will 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 the dozens of countries interested in nuclear energy also choose to pursue uranium enrichment, the risk of proliferation of dangerous nuclear materials and weapons would grow beyond the tipping point. This has been our experience with Iran. The IAEA LEU Bank now gives countries an alternative to that choice and direction.”
“The LEU fuel bank is a much-needed investment in a safer world and a valuable tool in helping to prevent future nuclear dangers,” said Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. “I am delighted that we are so close to making the long-discussed idea of an LEU fuel bank a reality.”
NTI and Buffett made the $50 million commitment in 2006 contingent on the IAEA receiving an additional $100 million in two-to-one matching funds, a condition that was met in 2009, and the IAEA taking the necessary actions to approve establishment of the bank, which occurred in 2010. The matching funds were provided by the European Union, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
“We are very grateful to our funding partners and to Warren Buffett for their generosity and resolve,” said Nunn. “We are also appreciative of the leadership shown by the IAEA and its Board of Governors and the government of Kazakhstan and President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Kazakhstan has made tremendous efforts to reduce nuclear dangers over many decades.”
“A non-government organization with flexibility in decision-making and funding can be a catalyst for government action,” said Joan Rohlfing, President of NTI. “NTI’s role in the LEU bank was one of those occasions. I am proud that we played a key role in an effort that will reduce the risk of enrichment proliferation on a global scale.”
The IAEA LEU Bank creates a back-up mechanism to ensure a stable, predictable and cost-effective supply of nuclear fuel, which will not affect the commercial market. Without this back-up mechanism, states could be driven to develop their own enrichment capacity, which would increase the risk of proliferation of nuclear material. The host-state agreement was based on safety, security and environmental reviews by the IAEA to ensure that the IAEA LEU Bank meets the applicable provisions of IAEA safety standards and security guidance.
The IAEA Board also approved a transit agreement between the Agency and the Russian Federation for the IAEA’s LEU fuel bank. The next steps to finalize the IAEA LEU Bank include signature of the host-state agreement by the IAEA and Kazakhstan expected in late August, followed by ratification of the agreement by the Kazakhstan Parliament, as well as signature of the transit agreement with Russia. The IAEA and Kazakhstan are also close to completing two related technical agreements. LEU will be stored at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant when the facility is fully operational in 2017.
The Nuclear Threat Initiative is a non-profit, non-partisan organization working to reduce threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. NTI is governed by a prestigious, international board of directors and is co-chaired by founders Sam Nunn and Ted Turner. NTI’s activities are directed by Nunn and Rohlfing.
NTI has been a strong supporter of the work and mission of the IAEA. In September 2001, NTI made an initial contribution to help launch the Agency´s Nuclear Security Fund. Since that time, NTI has worked with the IAEA to support several other critical projects assisting member states secure nuclear materials and in building the Agency’s institutional capacity to continue and accelerate this work into the future.