Kazakhstan’s Nuclear Ambitions and the International Nuclear Fuel Bank

Kazakhstan has every chance to become a repository country for the International Nuclear Fuel Bank. Very soon, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Secretariat will start the selection of possible International Nuclear Fuel Bank (INFB) repositories. Committed to nuclear non-proliferation, Kazakhstan proposed its territory as early as in the beginning of 2010. Clearly, this fact could not but stir public interest in Kazakhstan. Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kairat Umarov, talked to New Europe about what Kazakhstan could get if the Secretariat decided in its favor and whether an INFB repository was safe.

For years, diplomats from many countries have been working to develop a mechanism of a guaranteed access for the user-states to nuclear fuels on a non-discrimination and stable basis. That’s how the idea of creating an international nuclear fuel bank was born. The bank would store some guaranteed reserve of low enriched uranium (LEU) for fuel units of nuclear power stations and would be located in a nuclear weapons – free country completely open for IAEA inspectors.

In the spring of 2010, Kazakhstan’s’ President, Nursultan Nazarbaev, said that should a nuclear fuel bank be created, Kazakhstan would consider offering its territory for a repository.  Asked why Kazakhstan decided to stand as a candidate for an International Nuclear Fuel Bank repository, Umarov told New Europe that it is not a secret that Kazakhstan and its President Nursultan Nazarbayev have contributed in nuclear non-proliferation. “We, fully aware of how our people have suffered from the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing ground, clearly recognize the dangers of an uncontrolled use of such sensitive technologies,” he said.

“During the entire year of 2010, our ministry was working on the details of establishing of an INFB repository in Kazakhstan. At the Washington nuclear security summit in April 2010, Kazakhstan and USA signed a joint statement, in which the American president Barak Obama supported our proposal to establish an International Nuclear Fuel Bank repository in our country,” he said.

Asked about the chances of the Kazakhstan initiative being supported, Umarov told new Europe that there are many arguments in favor of Kazakhstan. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and IAEA experts consider our country an ideal candidate for an INFB repository.  “Judge for yourself, our country is known as a leading uranium producer. We have established friendly relations with all the countries in the world, and we enjoy a serious credit of trust for objective and impartial approach to international issues. But most importantly, Kazakhstan has a clear and well-tested legal framework of control over the exports of nuclear and dual-use materials,” Umarov said. “Besides, we have a necessary infrastructure for the bank – we could use the existing infrastructure of the former Semipalatinsk nuclear testing ground or the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Ust-Kamenogork. All these facilities meet the requirements of long-term storage of nuclear materials and their physical protection, and they are under the IAEA guarantees. And what is also very important is that we have a good number of highly qualified specialists in nuclear industry,” he added.

Apart from all the pluses as a possible repository, Kazakhstan itself could gain from an INFB repository in its territory. “First of all, receiving a right to host an international fuel bank repository will give a new impetus to the development of nuclear energy in this country and to the improvement of research and technology in this area. This will also facilitate the implementation of advanced technologies and the sharing of experience with the developed countries,” Umarov said.  “The possible establishment of an INFB repository in Kazakhstan will further improve its international image as an active supporter of nuclear non-proliferation. In addition, it will help strengthen the cooperation of Kazakhstan with the IAEA and the sponsor-states of the INFB project,” he said.

 Kazakhstan may become a repository country for the INFB, New Europe, Jan. 16, 2010

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