Rus­sia, Kaza­khstan form nuke fuel bank

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By David R. Sands

Rus­sia and Kaza­khstan signed an agree­ment last week cre­at­ing a joint ura­nium-en­rich­ment cen­ter, a pos­si­ble first step to­ward an in­ter­na­tional nu­clear fuel “bank” that could re­move the need for coun­tries such as Iran to pur­sue their own en­rich­ment pro­grams, Kazakh For­eign Min­is­ter Marat Tazhin said.

Rus­sia signed an agree­ment to cre­ate the en­rich­ment cen­ter in the Siberian city of An­garsk dur­ing a visit to Kaza­khstan by Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Known for its huge oil and gas re­serves, Kaza­khstan is also the world’s sec­ond-largest pro­ducer of ura­nium, and is ex­pected to sur­pass mar­ket leader Aus­tralia in the next few years.

“To­day it is just a bi­lat­eral ar­range­ment, but it could be open to any coun­try that wants to use the mech­a­nism,” Mr. Tazhin said.

He said the project was just get­ting un­der way and it would be up to Iran or any other na­tion to de­cide whether they want to par­tic­i­pate.

“It is dif­fi­cult right now to say who might want to join,” he said.

Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion spe­cial­ists have pushed the idea of a nu­clear fuel bank as a way to dis­cour­age coun­tries from de­vel­op­ing their own do­mes­tic ura­nium-en­rich­ment pro­grams.

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has led an in­ter­na­tional drive to block Iran’s en­rich­ment pro­gram, claim­ing it is se­cretly be­ing used to pro­duce fuel for nu­clear weapons.

The U.S. De­part­ment of En­ergy last year ini­ti­ated the Global Nu­clear En­ergy Par tner­ship (GNEP), a key part of which of­fered coun­tries that re­nounced nu­clear fuel-cy­cle ac­tiv­i­ties ac­cess to U.S. nu­clear fuel for civil­ian power needs.

At about the same time, Mr. Putin floated the idea of a net­work of in­ter­na­tional nu­clear fuel-cy­cle cen­ters, which Rus­sian of­fi­cials said could be used by de­vel­op­ing coun­tries seek­ing nu­clear power.

The An­garsk site would be the first cen­ter in the net­work. Rus­sian of­fi­cials ar­gue their plan could be im­ple­mented much more quickly than the Amer­i­can al­ter­na­tive.

A U.S. of­fi­cial familiar with the nu­clear-bank de­bate said the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion was “largely neu­tral” on the Rus­sia-Kaza­khstan plan. Both coun­tries are mem­bers of the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group, which has strict stan­dards de­signed to pre­vent nu­clear weapons pro­lif­er­a­tion.

“Ob­vi­ously, we would ex­pect both coun­tries to abide by the rules they have agreed to,” the of­fi­cial said.

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