A group of countries led by the
In interviews in recent weeks, diplomats and others who are following the situation said supporters of the plan are moving now because they believe that additional time will not help their cause.
Addressing the IAEA General Conference in
The aim of the fuel bank proposal is to dissuade countries from pursuing their own uranium-enrichment programs by providing them with an assured supply of fuel at market prices. The bank, which the IAEA would administer, would serve as a backup to existing commercial mechanisms for countries with good nonproliferation credentials. President Barack Obama has strongly supported the plan, as did President George W. Bush and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei when they were in office.
Under the plan, the IAEA would own enough low-enriched uranium (LEU) for a full core of a typical power reactor, once the LEU was fabricated into reactor fuel.
In 2006 the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a private
Pledges of $50 million from the
In his speech in
In an Oct. 7 interview, Corey Hinderstein, the NTI’s vice president for international programs, declined to say whether the most recent one-year deadline extension would be the last. However, when the NTI receives an extension request from the IAEA, it has to assess the prospects for the fuel bank proposal, she said. If the prospects are seen as unlikely to improve, “then we have to say, ‘What are we waiting for?’” she said.
A year ago, the IAEA board endorsed a plan for
For most of its history, the IAEA board has made decisions by consensus, although it has varied from that pattern somewhat in recent years.
Since the fuel bank proposal was first raised, members of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) and other developing countries have expressed concerns that participation in the fuel bank arrangement would impede their rights under Article IV of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which gives parties the right to “the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy” and says parties have an “inalienable right” to pursue nuclear energy programs as long as the programs are “in conformity with” the treaty’s nonproliferation restrictions.
Supporters of the fuel bank have repeatedly said the proposal would not infringe on those rights; the board’s
However, Hinderstein said, “some of the no votes on
Countries supporting the resolution are using the time before the December meeting to engage in “real consultations,” Hinderstein said. The supporters have to answer “reasonable questions,” but are not going to be able sway opponents who have deep-seated objections to the basic concept of the fuel bank, she said.
In an Oct. 27 interview, a
A European diplomat said on Oct. 25 he was not sure the more extensive consultations would really change any countries’ positions but that it was a “fair point” to ask for more time than was available on the
Another new member of the board is the UAE, which pledged money for the fuel bank.
However, the European diplomat said he did not see the board realignment as a “major driving factor” in the decision to go ahead now. The
The European diplomat also said the notion of consensus is “not completely realistic.” However, he said he expected to see a “large majority” of the board co-sponsor or otherwise support the resolution.
The diplomat and the
In his brief reference to the fuel bank effort during his Sept. 20 remarks to the General Conference, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said that although there were differences among member states, “there is a convergence of views that the issue needs to be discussed further.” He “encourage[d]” the states “to find suitable ways of dealing with this issue” and said the IAEA Secretariat “stands ready to provide any assistance required.”
In the interviews, the officials and others said the statement reflected the contrast between Amano’s attitude toward the fuel bank and ElBaradei’s. ElBaradei actively supported the plan, but Amano has a more hands-off approach, the sources said.
Amano “does not believe the time is ripe for such an idea” and “seems to be more interested in questions that have to do with the back end” of the nuclear fuel cycle, one source said. According to another source, the secretariat thinks the fuel bank would be a good idea and is willing to provide the necessary technical and legal assistance, but “the member states have to pick up the baton and run with it.”
A third source chose a different metaphor, saying of Amano, “He’s on board, but he’s not driving the train.”