The IAEA and Kazakhstan today signed an agreement to set up the IAEA Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank in Oskemen, Kazakhstan. The IAEA LEU Bank, operated by Kazakhstan, will be a physical reserve of LEU available for eligible IAEA Member States. It will host a reserve of LEU, the basic ingredient of nuclear fuel, and act as a supplier of last resort for Member States in case they cannot obtain LEU on the global commercial market or otherwise. It will not disrupt the commercial market.
“I am confident that the IAEA LEU Bank will operate safely and securely, in line with the applicable IAEA nuclear safety standards and nuclear security guidance,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano following the signature of a Host State Agreement with Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov in Astana. “As the world’s largest uranium producer, with expertise in peaceful nuclear technology, Kazakhstan is well suited to hosting the IAEA LEU Bank.”
The Host State Agreement, a related technical agreement signed by Mr Amano and Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik, and a contract between the IAEA and Kazakhstan’s Ulba Metallurgical Plant comprise the legal framework for the IAEA LEU Bank.
“A lot of work must still be done, but after the signing of the relevant documents today, the legal framework is fully in place and we can move ahead with full-scale implementation,” Mr Amano said.
The IAEA LEU Bank will be a physical reserve of up to 90 metric tons of LEU, sufficient to run a 1,000 MWe light-water reactor. Such a reactor can power a large city for three years. The IAEA LEU Bank will be located at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Oskemen in north-eastern Kazakhstan. The plant has been handling and storing nuclear material, including LEU, safely and securely for more than 60 years.
Safety and security of the IAEA LEU Bank will be governed by Kazakhstan’s legal and regulatory requirements, and will meet the applicable provisions of the IAEA’s safety standards and security guidance documents. The LEU will also be subject to IAEA safeguards.
The establishment and operation of the IAEA LEU Bank is fully funded through US $150 million of voluntary contributions from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the United States, the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Norway and Kazakhstan.
“I am grateful to all of the donors, including the Government of Kazakhstan,” Mr Amano said. “Their contributions will make it possible to establish the IAEA LEU Bank and will cover its costs for the first ten years of operation.”
The IAEA LEU Bank is part of global efforts to create an assured supply of nuclear fuel to countries in case of disruptions to the open market or other existing supply arrangements for LEU. Other assurance of supply mechanisms established with IAEA approval include a guaranteed physical reserve of LEU maintained by the Russian Federation at the International Uranium Enrichment Centre in Angarsk, and a UK assurance of supply guarantee for supplies of LEU enrichment services. The United States also operates its own LEU reserve.
The IAEA Board of Governors authorized the establishment and operation of the IAEA LEU Bank on 3 December 2010. On 29 July 2011, Kazakhstan offered to host the IAEA LEU Bank in response to the Agency’s request for Expressions of Interest.
Since 2011, Kazakhstan and the IAEA have been working on the technical details for the establishment of the IAEA LEU Bank and have negotiated the Host State Agreement governing the establishment and hosting of the Bank.
In June 2015, the IAEA and the Russian Federation signed an agreement allowing transit of LEU and equipment through Russian territory to and from the IAEA LEU Bank.