Kazakhstan to work towards launch of international fuel bank in 2013 at Ulba Metallurgic plant

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Uranium pellets, a nuclear fuel product for atomic power plants, are seen on a production line at Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Kazakhstan's eastern town of Ust-Kamenogorsk in this August 11, 2006 file photo.

An international bank of nuclear fuel capable of storing up to 60 tons is to be launched in Kazakhstan in 2013, according to Timur Zhantikin, Head of the State Agency for Nuclear Power Industry.  The Kazakh-based international nuclear fuel bank containing up to 60 tons of low-enriched uranium in gaseous form will be located on the territory of the Ulba Metallurgic plant in Oskemen, the capital of East Kazakhstan region.

Part of the storage at the Ulba plant will be used to store 60 tons of nuclear materials owned by the IAEA”, he said, emphasizing that for Kazakhstan it’s more of a political project to contribute to the global non-proliferation efforts.    “We plan to launch the bank in summer or autumn of 2013”, he said on May 30th.

The plant has been producing dry fuel for nuclear power stations for 50 years.

The Kazakh foreign minister noted that the enrichment of uranium will take place in Russia before being shipped to Kazakhstan for storage. The facility will be under IAEA safeguards and only countries that are compliant with the agency’s guidelines will be able to purchase the nuclear fuel.

The IAEA and donors have already pledged $150 million for the project.  An official at the Vienna-based agency said consultations with Kazakhstan were progressing but the target date for the fuel bank’s inauguration wasn’t yet “set in stone.”

U.S. and European officials hope the Kazakh facility will convince developing countries to purchase their fuel for nuclear-power reactors from the global market, rather than seeking to produce it domestically.  Any country that needs low-enriched uranium to fuel  their power plants can get access to this bank.

In 2009 Kazakhstan, the world’s largest producer of uranium ore, suggested hosting an international nuclear fuel bank in the Kazakh territory. The idea was approved of by the IAEA in 2011.  According to reports, the timeline will depend on respective agreements between Kazakhstan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but prep works are already under way at the Ulba metallurgical plant [engaged in production of hi-tech uranium, beryllium and tantalum products for the needs of the nuclear power industry] to host the bank.

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