Nuclear Energy

IAEA’s uranium ‘bank’

Print edition : July 08, 2016

Alexander Khodanov, UMP sales director, and Mark Bassett, IAEA LEU Bank project executive, signing the agreement for the construction of the IAEA LEU Bank. Photo: IAEA

THE IAEA Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank is scheduled to be ready for operations by September 2017, following the conclusion of a partnership agreement signed on May 27 between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Ulba Metallurgical Plant (UMP) in Oskemen, Kazakhstan. The IAEA Board of Governors authorised the establishment and operation of the bank in December 2010, and in July 2011 Kazakhstan offered to act as host in response to the IAEA’s request for expressions of interest.

To be built in Oskemen and operated by Kazakhstan, the bank will be a physical reserve of up to 90 tonnes of LEU—suitable to make fuel for a typical light water reactor, the most widely used type of nuclear power reactor worldwide —and act as a supplier of last resort for the IAEA’s member states in case they cannot obtain LEU on the global commercial market or otherwise. The facility is also seen as an important part of international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation—as a way to dissuade countries from building enrichment facilities that might be misused to purify uranium to weapons-grade levels.

The UMP developed the design for the bank, including its equipment. IAEA experts concluded during an on-site visit in March that the design met the applicable provisions of the IAEA safety standards and security guidance documents. In a statement, the IAEA noted that the safety and security of the bank was “the national responsibility of Kazakhstan and thus will be governed by Kazakhstan’s legal and regulatory requirements, while meeting the applicable provisions of the IAEA’s safety standards and security guidance documents”. The LEU would also be subject to IAEA safeguards, it added.

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