Foreign Policy Blogs

Podvig on Nuke Fuel Banks

I have written on the subject of fuel banks before, the idea being to prevent the spread of Enrichment and Reprocessing (ENR) facilities which are capable of producing weapons-grade fuel by providing reactor material produced at a multilateral facility through supply assurances.  As I also noted, the IAEA Board of Governors approved a fuel bank owned and operated by the IAEA – the so-called NTI/IAEA fuel bank – at its December 2010 meeting, as well as an arrangement with the Russians at Angarsk the previous month.  In the latter arrangement, the material would be stored and processed at Angarsk under IAEA safeguards and released upon request to the IAEA.  The U.S. Reliable Fuel Supply Initiative, proposed in 2005, would use 290 tons of LEU downblended from military-origin HEU for its fuel supply.  In this case, however, the material would remain under U.S. control.

In a piece published in the March 2011 issue of Jane’s Intelligence Review, Dr. Pavel Podvig,a Geneva-based physics and poli sci-trained analyst, argues that, while fuel banks will help prevent the spread of ENR technologies, they will not totally prevent it.  I wholeheartedly agree.  Countries such as Brazil, South Africa and other members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) had objected to creation of the fuel banks on the grounds that they maintained the “right” to develop ENR facilities under Article IV of the NPT.  As Dr. Podvig points out, “all IAEA documents discussing the banks emphasise that these arrangements would in no way limit the ability of IAEA member countries to develop their own peaceful fuel cycle facilities.”   And therein lies the rub.  There is also the matter of the eligibility criteria for access to the fuel bank and establishment of assurances.

For more from Dr. Podvig’s piece in JIR and some background on the IAEA-Russia and NTI Fuel Banks:

Podvig Janes Intelligence Review Piece

Russian-IAEA Fuel Bank Agreement

IAEA Fuel Bank Docs



Jodi Lieberman

Jodi Lieberman is a veteran of the arms control, nonproliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear safety trenches, having worked at the Departments of State, Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She has also served in an advisory capacity and as professional staff for several members of Congress in both the House and Senate as well as the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Jodi currently spends her time advocating for science issues and funding as the Senior Government Affairs Specialist at the American Physical Society. The views expressed in her posts are her views based on her professional experience but in way should be construed to represent those of her employer.

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