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IAEA and Kazakhstan agree to create nuclear fuel bank via World Nuclear News

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Kazakhstan today signed an agreement to set up a low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel ‘bank’ in Oskemen, Kazakhstan.

Operated by Kazakhstan and expected to start operations in 2017, the IAEA LEU Bank will be a physical reserve of LEU – the basic ingredient of nuclear fuel – and act as a supplier of last resort for the Vienna-based agency’s Member States in case they cannot obtain LEU on the global commercial market or otherwise.

The facility is also seen as an important part of international efforts to prevent nuclear non-proliferation – as a way to dissuade countries from building enrichment facilities that might be misused to purify uranium to weapons-grade levels.

The agreement was signed in Astana by IAEA director general Yukiya Amano and Kazakhstan’s foreign minister Erlan Idrissov. The Kazakh government said today that the signing ceremony was attended by representatives of UN Security Council members, including China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA, as well as representatives of donor countries for the project – the European Union (EU), Kuwait, Norway and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“I am confident that the IAEA LEU Bank will operate safely and securely, in line with the applicable IAEA nuclear safety standards and nuclear security guidance,” Amano said, according to an IAEA statement.

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The IAEA LEU Bank will host up to 90 tonnes of LEU, sufficient to run a 1000 MWe light-water reactor. The Ulba Metallurgical Plant has been handling and storing nuclear material, including LEU, safely and securely for more than 60 years.

The establishment and operation of the IAEA LEU Bank is fully funded through $150 million of voluntary contributions from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the USA, the EU, the UAE, Kuwait, Norway and Kazakhstan. Their contributions will cover the cost of the facility for the first ten years of operation, Amano said.

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