Arms control advocates Tuesday celebrated the opening of an internationally supported repository for nuclear reactor fuel that its backers believe will dissuade countries interested in nuclear power from developing the capability to make atomic weapons.
Enriching uranium, the technology that produces fuel for a nuclear power plant, is also the process for creating a nuclear bomb, meaning that the risk of proliferation spreads when individual countries build their own fuel-making facilities.
The International Atomic Energy Agency‘s low-enriched uranium bank, opened Tuesday in Kazakhstan, is the culmination of a years-long effort to respond to this risk. The agency, which will run the “bank” independently of any country, will purchase and store low-enriched uranium, fuel for civilian reactors but not an ingredient for nuclear weapons.
The uranium repository is also a rare bright spot in the rocky U.S.-Russian relationship. Russia is a leading global supplier of uranium to the nuclear power industry and has its own uranium repository. Moscow was initially cool to the idea of an independently run uranium bank that might be seen as a competitor. Ultimately, however, Moscow agreed to support the project. Both Russia and China granted transit rights for uranium fuel being shipped to and from the Kazakh facility.
“Russia played an absolutely critical role in negotiating a transit agreement,” said Andrew Bieniawski, who oversees projects related to the security and minimization of nuclear materials for Nuclear Threat Initiative. The Washington-based nonprofit provided the initial funding for the bank courtesy of a $50 million investment from American billionaire investor Warren Buffett.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who attended Tuesday’s ceremony, hailed the project as “an important element of the international effort not just in nonproliferation but also in the sphere of expansion of the countries that are…