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Multinational Approaches to Nuclear Fuel-Cycle in Historical Context

Timeline of Key Events

1946 | Baruch Plan: proposes an International Atomic Development Authority to curtail the spread of national fuel cycle facilities. In it the USA proposes that States should transfer national ownership and control over dangerous nuclear activities and nuclear materials to an international atomic development agency. The plan fails because it was inconsistent with the then-prevailing political realities.

1953 | US President Eisenhower´s "Atoms for Peace" proposal introduces an era of international co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which in turn, leads to the creation of the IAEA. In contrast with the Baruch Plan, the "Atoms for Peace" proposal envisioned the spread of nuclear fuel cycle facilities while placing the emphasis on policy commitments regarding peaceful uses and non-proliferation, and a system of international safeguards to verify compliance.

1957 | The IAEA is established. The Atoms for Peace programme leads to a large-scale, worldwide transfer of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes initially from the United States followed by France, the United Kingdom, the USSR and others. Under this programme, research reactors fuelled by highly enriched uranium are transferred to many non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS) around the world. The technology, equipment and material transfers, combined with the associated training, help nuclear scientists in many countries to acquire knowledge and expertise on nuclear fission and its various uses.

Large nuclear fuel cycles developed in North America, Western Europe and Japan, and nuclear technology spread to many countries. In parallel, the USSR facilitated the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in Central and Eastern Europe.

1962 | The Cuban Missile Crisis rivets international attention on the proliferation dangers of the nuclear age in October.

1964 | China joins France, US, Soviet Union and UK to become the fifth country to test a nuclear weapon. Further heightens international concerns over the importance of controlling the spread of nuclear knowledge and technology and preventing its misuse for non- peaceful purposes.

1968 | The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is finalized and opens for signature. Early drafts focus on non-proliferation and verification. In order to win the crucial support of non-nuclear-weapon States with advanced nuclear programmes or with ambitions to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, the drafters include treaty provisions on co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and on nuclear disarmament.

1970 | The NPT enters into force in 1970. It caps the number of nuclear-weapon States at five (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) and includes Articles on nuclear disarmament and technology transfer.

1974 | In May, India conducts what it describes as a "peaceful" nuclear explosion.

Throughout late 1970s - early 1980s | Further options toward developing a "proliferation-resistant" fuel cycle and managerial aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle are explored. A number of proposals are advanced, pursued and eventually surrendered under pressure from competing interests driven by the dynamics of the Cold War, nationalism, economics, mistrust and limits of technology.

Some of the proposals include initiatives on:

  • Technical or physical modification of the fuel cycle to avoid or limit access to sensitive nuclear materials such as high enriched uranium and plutonium;
  • Multilateral fuel cycle centres - proposed for a limited number of States pooling their resources in a single centre to provide fuel cycle services;
  • Multinational spent fuel centres - as an alternative to reprocessing or storage of separated plutonium;
  • A international nuclear fuel authority - proposed in order to guarantee the supply of nuclear power plant fuel to NPT NNWS that had renounced national reprocessing or enrichment plants;
  • An international plutonium storage intended to implement Article XII. A.5 of the IAEA Statute.

1980-1987 | The IAEA´s Committee on Assurances of Supply (CAS) is convened. It sets a precedent for in-depth discussion of the issue of multi-nationalisation of the fuel cycle. After holding 21 sessions the CAS is unable to reach a consensus and goes into formal abeyance.

1990-2003 | A number of developments highlight concerns over the nuclear fuel cycle. Cases of nuclear trafficking involving sensitive nuclear materials and equipment surface. Under UN Security Council mandate, IAEA inspectors in Iraq, an NPT party, discover and dismantle a secret nuclear weapons programme. Agency inspectors in North Korea, an NPT party at the time, raise questions about the declared plutonium reprocessing there. IAEA safeguards are reviewed and strengthened, with States in 1997 adopting an Additional Protocol that improves the Agency's inspection capabilities with respect to both declared and possibly undeclared nuclear material and activities. Following attacks on the USA 11 September 2001, global action intensifies to raise levels of security against terrorism, including potential acts involving nuclear material and equipment.

2004 | In June IAEA Director General appoints an international Expert group to consider possible multilateral approaches to the front and back ends of the nuclear fuel cycle. The group is to identify issues and possible options in this regard and to submit a report by March 2005.

Work continues on the IAEA project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles and the Generation IV Initiative of the USA to, inter alia, explore technical approaches for improving the proliferation resistance of the nuclear fuel cycle. As part of its verification of nuclear programmes in Libya and Iran, the IAEA is investigating, with the support of Member States, the supply routes and the sources of sensitive nuclear technology and related equipment and nuclear and non-nuclear material. It is continuing such investigations with a view to ensuring that the sensitive nuclear technologies and equipment found in Libya have not proliferated further.

2005 | Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle. In February the IAEA circulated an Information Circular to Member States on the Report of the independent Expert Group on Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle.

2007 | Multilateralization of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle. In May the IAEA circulated an Information Circular to Member States on the German proposal on the multilateralization of the nuclear fuel cycle.

US Contribution of $50 million to Nuclear Fuel Bank. The IAEA has recognized a $50 million funding allocation by the US Congress for purposes of a nuclear fuel reserve under the auspices of the Agency. US President George Bush signed the funding allocation into law on 26 December 2007.

2008 | UAE Commits $10 Million to Nuclear Fuel Reserve Proposal. The United Arab Emirates pledged $10 million towards a fuel bank proposal originally launched by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) in 2006.

Fuel Bank Initiative Receives Crucial EU Support. The European Union (EU) recently pledged Euro 25 million ($32 million) towards a nuclear fuel bank proposal to be placed under IAEA control.

2009 | Multinational Fuel Bank Proposal Reaches Key Milestone. A proposed multinational fuel bank under IAEA control reached a milestone when Kuwait pledged a financial contribution of US$10 million.

27 November 2009 | Board of Governors Approves Plan for Nuclear Fuel Bank. The IAEA Board of Governors approved a plan to establish a nuclear fuel bank on Russian soil, marking a major step toward enacting a decades-old concept. Full Story »

3 December 2010 | Board of Governors Authorises Establishement of IAEA LEU Bank. The IAEA Board of Governors authorized the IAEA Director General to establish a reserve of low enriched uranium (LEU), or an IAEA LEU bank. Full Story » | Factsheet »