Kazakhstan has chosen August 29 for the opening ceremony of the first Low Enriched Uranium Bank (LEU Bank), being established in Kazakhstan under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). August 29 also marks the International Day against Nuclear Tests as designated by the United Nations and this year on that day it is also the 60th anniversary session of the Pugwash movement of scientists aimed at nuclear disarmament, writes Colin Stevens.
The idea to establish the LEU bank was initially put forward in 2006 by Sam Nunn, co-founder of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a non-profit organization aimed at strengthening global security by minimizing the proliferation of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.
The IAEA authorised the initiative in 2010 and Kazakhstan volunteered the following year to host the bank.
Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev said “Instability and tension internationally affirm the urgency of Kazakhstan’s efforts in building a nuclear weapon-free world as the main goal of the humankind in the 21st century. Kazakhstan voluntarily destroyed the 1,400 nuclear weapons it inherited from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.”
The sides negotiated the terms of a host state agreement in 2011, and the official signing ceremony took place in August 2015 in Astana with the participation of Kazakhstan Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov and IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.
“We are very young, we are 25 years old. But we, at the start of our independence back in 1992, were the fourth-largest nuclear power in the world,” said the foreign minister of Kazakhstan.
“And we have destroyed other means of the nuclear threat, the infrastructure for the delivery of nuclear weapons, the infrastructure for testing nuclear weapons. Kazakhstan was the first to close, at the end of Soviet days, the largest nuclear test site in the world, the Semipalatinsk test site, where 500 nuclear explosions took place,” he said, adding the LEU Bank is another example of Kazakh efforts to address the nuclear weapons issue.
“This is an important tool, a practical step in making sure that the world is a little bit safer in terms of the nuclear threat,” he said.
The LEU bank will operate as a mechanism of last resort; in case of unforeseen disruption in a commercial market of uranium, countries that are unable to procure uranium for their nuclear power plants can request LEU from the bank under certain conditions. Thus, it will ensure a global nuclear fuel supply and facilitate nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
The bank will be based at the Ulba Metallurgy Plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk in eastern Kazakhstan. The plant has dealt with and stored nuclear materials for more than 60 years without any incidents.
“As you can imagine, this is a very complex project. I am grateful to the Government of Kazakhstan for hosting the LEU Bank,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano
The funding is based on voluntary contributions from the NTI, the U.S., the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, Norway, Kuwait, and Kazakhstan, which in total equals to $150 million, believed to be enough to procure 90 tonnes of low enriched uranium.
International support and praise for Kazakhstan’s role is widespread.
“The government of Kazakhstan, by volunteering to host the LEU bank has further cemented its reputation as a world leader in promoting non-proliferation and nuclear security,” the White House said.
A senior source at the European Commission told this website that Kazakhstan deserves “much credit for its ongoing efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The EU appreciates President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s important leadership on non-proliferation spanning more than two decades.”
He added: “For the past two decades, Kazakhstan has been a strong advocate of nuclear non-proliferation and this is something that most certainly should not be under-estimated.
“The country is conducting a multi-vector foreign policy which is based on preventing war and to save the planet from nuclear weapons.”
Source: EU Reporter