On 29th August, the IAEA Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank opened in Kazakhstan. The ceremony was attended by HE Mr Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan; Me Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency; heads of diplomatic missions accredited in Kazakhstan; high-profile foreign guests; as well as representatives of the international mass media.
The aim of the IAEA LEU Bank is to create a guaranteed reserve of low enriched uranium. This reserve, if ever necessary, will be able to produce nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants of any IAEA member state. A special IAEA fund was established to implement this project, made up of: $50 million from US billionaire Warren Buffett; $49.5 million committed by the US; 24.4 million euros pledged by the EU; $10 million each from UAE and Kuwait; and $5 million from Norway. Kazakhstan’s contribution came in the way of funds to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund for LEU Bank purposes, as well as support in constructing the Bank’s infrastructure and subsequent maintenance in line with IAEA standards.
The IAEA LEU Bank reflects Kazakhstan’s significant commitment and contribution to strengthening international security and global non-proliferation. On 29th August 1991, President Nazarbayev made the decision to close the Semey nuclear test site – the largest test site in the world. This marked the beginning of Kazakhstan voluntarily renouncing the fourth largest nuclear arsenal in the world. According to the UN General Assembly resolution, which was adopted under Kazakhstan’s initiative, August 29 is now celebrated each year as the International day against nuclear tests.
Sir Alan Duncan, UK Minister of State for Europe and Americas at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, commended the initiative to create the LEU Bank:
“We welcome the leadership of Kazakhstan in its efforts to develop the bank of low-enriched uranium bank. This is a key contribution to ensuring a safe, reliable and guaranteed source of LEU for the production of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, which in turn plays an important role in reducing the risks of nuclear proliferation.”
The deployment of the IAEA BNUU on Kazakhstan’s territory was well received by international media. The Washington Post noted that the launch of the IAEA LEU Bank was the culmination of years of effort to respond to the nuclear risk. The agency, which will run the Bank independently of any country, will purchase and store low-enriched uranium. This will serve as fuel for civilian reactors and will not be used for nuclear weapons.
The Nikkei Asian Review also commented on the opening of the LEU Bank:
“For Kazakhstan and Nursultan Nazarbayev, hosting the reserve is a chance to win international goodwill and bolster the country’s critical role in nuclear energy. The mineral-rich Central Asian state is the world’s biggest producer of raw uranium, accounting for 40% of global output.”
Note for editors:
The IAEA LEU Bank is located at the Ulba Metallurgical plant, which is highly experienced in managing nuclear materials. The plant has safely handled 800 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride. Approximately 90 tonnes of LEU Bank reserves make up a small part of the volume with which the plant has already worked. The plant has the necessary infrastructure to meets the requirements for the long-term storage of nuclear materials, and has an environmental and radiation safety system.