The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Aug. 29 achieved a long-sought nonproliferation goal of establishing an international storage facility for low-enriched uranium (LEU). (See ACT, October 2015.) The IAEA LEU Bank Storage Facility at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Öskemen, Kazakhstan, can store up to 90 metric tons of LEU for nuclear energy generation. The bank was established to acquire nuclear reactor fuel for countries without enrichment infrastructure or an ability to obtain the fuel from the commercial market or other countries. By ensuring reliable supplies, the bank makes it possible for countries to develop civilian nuclear power programs without the need for enrichment capability, a technology that also can be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.
Voluntary contributions from IAEA member states totaled $150 million, which will fully fund the effort for 20 years. The donors include the European Union, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and a nonprofit organization, the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Payments from recipient countries will be used to replenish the facility’s LEU supply. In order to become a recipient, a country must meet stringent IAEA criteria for ensuring the safety and security of supplies.—SAMANTHA PITZ