Talks Proceed on Proposed International Uranium Enrichment Centre

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei has proposed putting enrichment under multinational control to assure supplies of nuclear fuel and to reduce proliferation risks. Nuclear fuel pellets at a fabrication plant. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Fact-finding talks between experts from the IAEA and Russia to explore the establishment of an international uranium enrichment centre in Siberia have ended with a joint agreement to set up a working group and continue developing the proposal.

The discussions were held this month in Siberia at the headquarters of the Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Complex, a manufacturer of low-enriched uranium - the fuel for nuclear power plants - that Russia is proposing should be the site of an international centre.

After the talks ended in Angarsk 18 March, IAEA Deputy Director General Yury Sokolov told a press conference that the Agency’s main point of concern about proposals discussed with Russia was provision of a mechanism that would ensure that States cut off for political reasons continue to receive nuclear fuel. Russian officials told the press conference that the talks had made positive progress. Russia is currently in negotiations with Kazakhstan to establish a joint enrichment facility at the Angarsk complex, which is north of Irkutsk in south eastern Siberia.

Both Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA, and Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, have proposed putting enrichment under multinational control to reduce proliferation risks. The system would provide assurance of supply to States considering developing nuclear power and avoid the need for them to build their own nuclear fuel production capability.

The so-called front end of the nuclear fuel cycle, when fuel is enriched, as well as the back end - the reprocessing of spent fuel - provides points that pose proliferation risks because material can be potentially diverted and used to produce weapons.

A cornerstone of Dr. ElBaradei´s proposal is a fuel bank of last resort that would offer users of the system the insurance of guaranteed delivery if their regular supplies were interrupted.

In September 2006, a donation of US $50 million was made to the proposed fuel bank by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, provided by the US billionaire Warren Buffet, with the provision that the contribution is matched by an amount of $100 million.

The inititatives to develop international uranium enrichment centres are being proposed amid a revival of interest in nuclear power as a means of generating electricity and fears about the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

A paper about assurance of supply is to be presented by the Director General to the next meeting of the IAEA´s Board of Governors in June.

Last update: 11 November 2014