Ukraine Set to Join Enrichment Facility

Miles A. Pomper

Efforts to impose multilateral control over the nuclear fuel cycle gained strength in February as Ukraine was set to become the fourth country to join a multinational uranium-enrichment facility located in Angarsk in Russia. Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), however, have yet to resolve differences on a safeguards agreement intended to govern a low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel bank to be located at the site in Siberia.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Feb. 9 approved a Ukrainian bid to join the International Uranium Enrichment Center (IUEC) by ordering an exchange of notes between the two governments and Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan, along with Russia, established the facility in 2007, and Armenia decided soon thereafter to join as well.

In order to address concerns regarding the spread of technology, the IUEC will be structured in such a way that no enrichment technology or classified knowledge will be accessible to the foreign participants.

The Russian government has been negotiating with the IAEA to establish a 120-metric-ton LEU fuel bank at Angarsk. Yet, Russian officials and other knowledgeable observers say a final agreement between Moscow and the IAEA on the Angarsk fuel bank has been held up because of a dispute between the Russian government and the IAEA over which countries should be eligible to receive fuel. (See ACT, January/February 2009.)

Moscow, bound by Nuclear Suppliers Group rules, wants to limit access to those states that have signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The IAEA's founding statute, however, requires that all of its member states, including non-NPT members such as Pakistan and Israel, be eligible for the fuel.