VIENNA, Austria, June 13, 2015 (ENS) – International Atomic Energy Agency officials have approved an agreement with Kazakhstan to establish a reserve bank of low enriched uranium, LEU, in that Central Asian country. LEU is used to make the fuel that runs most of the world’s nuclear power reactors.

The IAEA LEU Bank would be a physical reserve of up to 90 metric tonnes of low enriched uranium suitable to make fuel for a typical light water reactor, the most widely used type of nuclear power reactor. That amount would be enough to power a large city for three years.


LEU Cylinders (Photo by D. Calma / IAEA)

The bank will be located at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Oskemen in northeastern Kazakhstan. The Ulba plant has been handling and storing nuclear material, including LEU, safely and securely for more than 60 years, the IAEA said Thursday, announcing the terms of the pact.

The bank would be a supply mechanism of last resort to assure IAEA Member States of a supply of nuclear power reactor fuel if they could not obtain low enriched uranium on the global commercial market.

LEU is a white-grey, waxy solid safely stored and transported in steel cylinders, the IAEA says. “It does not deteriorate and can be safely stored for many years. LEU is not nuclear waste, nor is any waste generated by simply storing it,” says the agency.

When the reserve is established, the uranium would be owned by the IAEA and the bank operated by Kazakhstan.

Safety and security of the IAEA LEU Bank will be governed by Kazakhstan’s legal and regulatory requirements, and will meet the provisions of the IAEA’s safety standards, safeguards and security guidance documents.

The IAEA Board also approved a transit agreement with Russia for the transport of the IAEA low enriched uranium through its territory to and from the LEU bank.


IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano speaks to the agency’s board of Governors about the LEU Bank, June 8, 2015 (Screengrab from video courtesy IAEA)

“The conclusion of the two agreements, with today’s approval by the Board of Governors, represents a significant milestone for this important project, enabling us to proceed to full-scale implementation,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.

The IAEA Board of Governors authorized the establishment and operation of the IAEA LEU Bank on December 3, 2010. On July 29, 2011, Kazakhstan offered to host the bank in response to the agency’s request for expressions of interest.

Since 2011, Kazakhstan and the IAEA have been working out the technical details for establishment and hosting of the bank.

The IAEA LEU Bank is fully funded by voluntary contributions, and has no impact on the agency’s regular budget or other activities.

Donors have provided about US$150 million to establish and operate the IAEA LEU Bank for at least 10 years.

The IAEA says the existence of the new fuel bank must not distort the commercial uranium market. It does not affect the rights of IAEA Member States to develop their own nuclear fuel cycle facilities.

The United States “strongly supports this action” of the IAEA Board of Governors, the U.S. State Department said in a statement Thursday.

In his speech in Prague on April 5, 2009, President Barack Obama called for the creation of an international fuel bank as part of a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation.

The LEU bank will support U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policies “by reducing incentives for the spread of sensitive technologies to new countries,” the State Department said.

The United States also operates its own LEU reserve.

Other assurance of supply mechanisms established with IAEA approval include a guaranteed physical reserve of LEU maintained by Russia at the International Uranium Enrichment Centre in Angarsk. There is also a UK assurance of supply guaranty for supplies of LEU enrichment services.

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