Officials welcome effort to build international nuclear fuel reserve
Washington – A U.S.-based organization is offering the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) $50 million toward the creation of an international nuclear fuel reserve that would allow countries to reap the benefits of civil nuclear power without having to develop nuclear enrichment capabilities that could pose a weapons proliferation risk.
Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, announced the offer in a September 19 speech during the IAEA’s 50th General Conference in Vienna, Austria.
A nongovernmental organization dedicated to reducing the threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, NTI, was founded in 2000 by Nunn and former media executive Ted Turner. The organization is governed by an international board of directors with members from China, France, India, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
From 1972 to 1996, Nunn served as a U.S. senator and, together with Senator Richard Lugar, proposed legislation creating the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program in 1991. It provides assistance to Russia and the former Soviet republics to secure and destroy their excess nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. (See related article.)
Nunn explained that under the NTI vision, the nuclear fuel reserve would be maintained by the IAEA as a backup source for countries choosing to develop nuclear power by purchasing fuel from other countries, foregoing the development of nuclear enrichment facilities. Should these countries face disruptions to their fuel supply, the IAEA then would step in to provide the needed nuclear fuel.
“We believe this concept is urgent because many nations are seeking nuclear energy to meet their development needs and are weighing available options to determine what will be the most secure and most economical way to ensure a reliable supply of nuclear fuel,” Nunn said.
The fuel bank can help reassure these developing nations that they will have ready access to fuel if they pursue nuclear energy in accordance with their international treaty obligations.
By reducing the overall number of new enrichment facilities, the international community also better can ensure the safety of nuclear materials and technologies, thereby preventing their possible misdirection into weapons.
American businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett contributed to the fund, calling it an “investment in a safer world.”
However, Nunn said that NTI’s contribution has two conditions that must be met within two years: first, the IAEA must take the necessary actions to approve establishment of the nuclear fuel reserve; and, second, IAEA member nations must contribute an additional $100 million or provide an equivalent value of fuel-grade uranium to help establish the reserve.
“We must find new and better answers to the imperative of the nuclear age,” Nunn said. “We believe these dangers are urgent and that is why we at NTI are stepping forward. It is now up to governments to act and to act decisively.”
The State Department’s press office says that the United States welcomes and supports the NTI initiative to establish an IAEA fuel reserve. A similar concept was presented to IAEA earlier this year by the United States, together with France, Russia, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman addressed the IAEA conference September 19, saying an international mechanism to assure an adequate supply of reactor fuel is critical both to meeting the world's energy needs and to advancing nonproliferation goals.
For more information, see Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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