IAEA establishes nuclear fuel bank
Member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided Friday to set up a reserve system for nuclear power reactor fuel that is to be under full control of the Vienna- based organization, dpa reported.
A similar fallback system was established jointly by Russia and the IAEA last year, aimed at countries that are denied nuclear material shipments for political reasons by their supplier countries.
The new fuel bank was set up to provide additional backup not tied to any single country, diplomats said.
The concept of fuel banks has been floated in past years, in reaction to Iran's insistence that it needs to enrich uranium because it cannot trust international suppliers.
The Russian and IAEA fuel reserves aim to provide countries an incentive to forego enrichment technology, which can be used both for fuelling reactors or bombs.
Both plans seek to address developing countries' concerns by stressing that the mechanism does not limit any country's right to pursue peaceful nuclear technology, including enrichment.
The fuel in the new IAEA bank is owned by the international nuclear agency, while, in the other one, Russia owns the material of its bank and transfers ownership to the IAEA only before shipping it to the recipient country.
One third of the funding for the IAEA fuel bank decided on Friday is provided by US investor Warren Buffett via the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-governmental arms control group based in Washington.
The rest of the 150-million dollar bill is footed by the United States, the European Union, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Norway.
Kazakhstan has offered to store this IAEA fuel reserve.
One bottleneck for both fuel banks is turning the material from the reserves into actual fuel elements for reactors.
Although the schemes contain insurance mechanisms for supplying low-enriched uranium, countries receiving the material would have no guarantees that one of the few countries who can make fuel rods would agree to do so.
Of the 35 countries on the IAEA's governing board, 28 voted for the new IAEA fuel bank, while six developing countries objected. Pakistan withheld its vote.
The six abstaining countries included Brazil and Argentina, which have uranium enrichment programmes, and former nuclear weapon state South Africa, which operated one in the past. Nuclear power Pakistan also enriches uranium.