Assurance of Supply for Nuclear Fuel
A well-functioning international nuclear fuel market has played an increasingly important role for many Member States. While it is acknowledged that the international market in nuclear fuel continues to operate effectively and efficiently, countries utilizing or considering adding nuclear power to their energy mix would not only benefit, but also need to have confidence in their ability to obtain nuclear fuel in an assured and predictable manner.
As a response to this, a number of proposals focusing on assurance of fuel supply and international nuclear fuel centres, including assurance of low enriched uranium (LEU) supply, have been put forward by IAEA Member States. In 2007, a report on "Possible New Framework for the Utilization of Nuclear Energy: Options for Assurance of Supply of Nuclear Fuel" suggested a possible assurance of supply framework with three levels that are complementary and not mutually exclusive:
- Existing global market arrangements for nuclear fuel supply;
- Back-up commitments provided by suppliers of enrichment services underpinned by commitments from their respective governments to allow such supply. The back-up commitments could be utilized when pre-determined criteria are met following a political disruption; and
- A physical LEU reserve under IAEA control, stored in one or several separate, or a virtual LEU reserve based on commitments by governments to make LEU available to the Agency.
The principles of assurance of supply
In implementing assurance of supply and future related mechanisms, the basic principles are:
- The LEU would be available for all eligible IAEA Member States wishing to continue or introduce civil nuclear power programmes;
- The supply mechanism is entirely voluntary and shall not distort the functioning of the commercial market but rather reinforce existing market mechanisms. It should neither have any disadvantages for those States which choose not to join the mechanism; and
- The rights of Member States, including establishing or expanding their own production capacity in the nuclear fuel cycle, shall remain intact and shall not in any way be compromised or diminished by the establishment of international assurance of supply mechanisms.
Efforts to establish mechanisms to ensure that countries can be confident of a assure fuel supply have progressed in several fronts. The most advanced proposals for an additional level of assurance for the front end of the fuel cycle are:
- The IAEA LEU bank;
- The UK-lead Nuclear Fuel Assurance (NFA);
- The guaranteed LEU reserve (a physical reserve of LEU and the supply of the LEU therefrom to the IAEA and its Member States in Angarsk);
- The International Uranium Enrichment Centre (IUEC) in Angarsk; and
- The Multinational Enrichment Sanctuary Project (MESP).