On Friday the government of Kuwait pledged $10 million toward the International Atomic Energy Agency’s proposed nuclear fuel bank. And $10 million, it seems, was the magic number that pushed the proposed fuel bank over the $100 million mark that was required to start setting it up.
This is some all-too-rare good news on the nuclear non-proliferation front.
The nuclear fuel bank is an idea that (United Nations Foundation sister organization) the Nuclear Threat Initiative has been pushing for a few years. In 2007, billionaire investor Warren Buffet breathed life into it by providing a $50 million seed grant, which would be paid once countries raised $100 million themselves.
The idea behind the bank is this: Countries that want nuclear power, but do not have the will or capacity to enrich their own uranium must import the so-called “low-enriched” uranium. The problem here is that countries that depend on importing low-enriched uranium must be assured that their supplies are reliable and uninterrupted. Fears that uranium supplies might be disrupted can encourage countries to develop their own enrichment capacities, which raises the specter that uranium enrichment facilities would eventually be used to create nuclear weapons-grade uranium.
This is where the nuclear fuel bank comes in. A standing reserve of low-enriched uranium, housed by a neutral body like the IAEA, would act as an insurance policy for countries that seek to develop civilian nuclear power, but must import their enriched uranium. If supplies are interrupted, the bank can step in and resume shipments. It is sort of like an FDIC, but for fissile material.
I, for one, am glad that this ideas’ time has finally come.