The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Government of Kazakhstan have signed an agreement to set-up an IAEA Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank in Oskemen, Kazakhstan in order to ensure fuel supplies for power stations and avoid nuclear proliferation.

The planned storage facility is expected to be operational in 2017, and will be developed in order to ensure a steady supply of the fuel for IAEA member states, in case of disruptions along the usual routes.

IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said: "I am confident that the IAEA LEU Bank will operate safely and securely, in-line with the applicable IAEA nuclear safety standards and nuclear security guidance.

"As the world’s largest uranium producer, with expertise in peaceful nuclear technology, Kazakhstan is well-suited to hosting the IAEA LEU Bank."

"The bank will have a physical reserve of up to 90mt of LEU, enough to keep a 1,000MWe light-water reactor operational."

The bank will have a physical reserve of up to 90 metric tons (mt) of LEU, enough to keep a 1,000MWe light-water reactor operational. It has the capacity to meet the energy demands of a large city for three years.

It will be developed at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Oskemen, which had been used for storing nuclear material, including LEU, for more than 60 years.

Legal and regulatory mandates in the country will be ensuring safety and security of the nuclear fuel storage facility, which will also be subject to IAEA’s safety standards, security guidance and safeguards.

Development and operation of the planned facility is supported by voluntary contributions amounting to $150m from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and EU, along with countries such as the US, the UAE, Kuwait, Norway and Kazakhstan.

"Their contributions will make it possible to establish the IAEA LEU Bank and will cover its costs for the first ten years of operation," Amano added.

Image: IAEA LEU Bank will act as the last resort for the supply of the integral nuclear fuel for IAEA member states. Photo: courtesy of International Atomic Energy Agency.