Yaderny Kontrol: On the role of the IUEC in the context of multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle: Blitz-interviews with Russian and foreign experts on the achievements and prospects of the IUEC. Part 2

January 18, 2018

 What is the role of the IUEC in the context of multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle? Will the interest to the IUEC grow with time, or will the embarking countries in the area of atomic energy strive for national enrichment programs, like Iran that used to make such a decision?

Mr. Vladimir Kuchinov, Advisor of the General Director of the State Corporation Rosatom:

The IUEC with its establishment and practical actions demonstrates the vitality of the concept of multilateral approaches in providing the countries participating in the Center with uranium enrichment services on a non-discriminatory and mutually beneficial basis. This deliberates the member-countries that do not have the uranium enrichment plants from its very expensive elaboration, and also removes the issues related to the potential risks of proliferation of sensitive, from the point of view of proliferation of nuclear weapons, technologies. In this regard, it seems that it is worthwhile for the embarking countries to join the IUEC. The implementation of the desire to create national uranium enrichment facilities, as the modern history shows, is associated with significant technological difficulties, very costly and can cause complications in the relationships between such countries with the international community.

Mr. Valery Bychkov, an independent expert, an employee of the IAEA safeguards department (1981-1985, 1987-2007):

The point is that the idea of creating both international centers like the IUEC and the banks of low-enriched uranium, similar to the bank in Kazakhstan, was put forward precisely so that the "embarking countries" do not aspire to implement the national enrichment programs. This idea has as its goal the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime for nuclear weapons. The uranium enrichment facility is a sensitive installation of the nuclear fuel cycle (NFC) in terms of capabilities for production of nuclear weapons. By acquisition of this installation for the purposes of uranium enrichment at the level 3-5% by isotope 235 necessary for fabrication of fuel to be used at NPP reactors, the country may use this facility for production of high-enrichment uranium suitable for production of nuclear weapons. The objective of the international community is to reduce the risks associated with this scenario of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Let us look at this problem at the example of Iran. Iran is a member of the NPT and has a fully-fledged safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Under the NPT and within the framework of the IAEA safeguards agreement Iran has pledged to use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes. It also has an obligation to notify the IAEA of all its peaceful nuclear activities under the safeguards agreement. Here the key is the term: peaceful nuclear activities, - Iran shall not perform other activities in accordance with its obligations. If IAEA discovers an undeclared nuclear activity in the country, then this activity, respectively, can be considered as a non-peaceful one by definition. In Iran the undeclared activities included the construction of underground uranium enrichment facilities. The fact of construction of underground facilities pointed out the secret nature of the program, that is, the desire to hide it from the IAEA and from international community. The explanation of Iran was that it developed the peaceful nuclear power industry on the basis of nuclear power plants, and to ensure sustainable development it needs the guaranteed supplies of nuclear fuel. In view of hostile attitude of some individual countries, as well as occurred in the past fact of Israeli bombing of a nuclear facility in Iraq, it was decided to develop its own nuclear fuel cycle and to secure its key objects from the air-bombing. This Iranian explanation was not accepted the international community primarily because of the Iranian violations of the obligations under the agreement with the IAEA, and also due to existence of other indicators of possible development by Iran of nuclear weapons (for example, the construction of a heavy water nuclear reactor of 40MW capacity).

However, this argument had been taken into consideration, and the purpose of establishment of international centers for uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel banks was to provide a guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel to all countries fulfilling their obligations in the area of peaceful use of atomic energy. The ensuring of guaranteed supplies exempts from the necessity to develop the national enrichment programs. Such supplies should be economically viable, that is, the price of fuel should be acceptable to the recipient country. That means the international center should not be a monopolist in the fuel fabrication.

Mr. Alexander Cheban, a researcher of the Odessa Center for Nonproliferation:

The IUEC plays a positive role in strengthening the non-proliferation regime, but it seems that this role will still remain rather limited. Many developed countries, which do not possess formally nuclear weapons, have so well-developed nuclear industries that, in the case of making a corresponding decision, can pretty quickly develop the nuclear weapons. Apparently, Iran has also come close to this nuclear threshold. Therefore, the preservation of such countries as Iran or Japan in the nuclear non-proliferation regime, for example, depends more on the goodwill of these states, rather than on their participation or non-participation in the IUEC.

The IUEC could more effectively prevent the risks of proliferation at the early stages of nuclear programs development, especially it concerns the embarking countries in the area of atomic energy. It seems that these countries will not focus on national enrichment programs, because the interest to nuclear weapons among non-nuclear countries is low, at least insofar. Until recently, Iran was the only non-nuclear country that apparently seriously considered the probability of development own nuclear weapons, but after signature of the nuclear agreement, Iran is likely no longer aspired to receive the nuclear status (again, at least insofar).

Tariq Rauf: Coordinator at the IAEA, Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle; IAEA LEU Reserve at Angarsk; IAEA LEU Bank in Kazakhstan; Nuclear Fuel Assurance (2003-2012):

The role of the IUEC in the context of multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle or its internationalization (MNA) is to provide assurances of supply of nuclear fuel cycle services to member States to obviate the need to set up new national uranium enrichment and/or plutonium separation facilities. These two technologies – enrichment and reprocessing – can also be used to produce weapon-usable nuclear material thus contributing to possible further proliferation of nuclear weapons. IAEA reports and analyses have shown that the nuclear fuel requirements for power plants in existing and newcomer users of nuclear energy can best be met through the international commercial market in nuclear fuels backed up by a system of assurances of supply with the involvement of the IAEA. As such, the IUEC was the first MNA mechanism put in place in 2007, followed by the IAEA Low Enriched Uranium Reserve at Angarsk in 2010, followed by the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Fuel Assurance in 2011, and finally the IAEA Low Enriched Uranium Bank in Kazakhstan (that is in the process of being established). Under the July 2015, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed between Iran and the European Union (EU) plus France, Germany and the UK (E3) and China, Russian Federation and the US (+3), Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Fordow is being converted into an international enrichment research centre; while Iran’s main enrichment plant at Natanz will operate at a greatly reduced capacity under very strict IAEA safeguards. The United Arab Emirates has implemented a policy to buy nuclear fuel for its nuclear power plants exclusively from the market and not to enrich uranium. Other newcomers to nuclear energy such as Turkey will rely on nuclear fuel from their NPP supplier (Russian Federation). There is a highly disturbing report that Saudi Arabia is looking to acquire a national uranium enrichment capability with the assistance of the United States? Such a development would be greatly destabilizing for the Middle East and render significant damage to the concept of MNAs.


back to list