There is now a 120 tonne stockpile of low-enriched uranium available to countries that could be denied access to normal nuclear fuel markets.
Russia's Rosatom announced yesterday that it had completed arrangements for the fuel store in the vault of the International Enrichment Centre at Angarsk. It will be managed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The store has been created for use by any IAEA member country denied access to the normal commercial nuclear fuel market for its power reactors, despite being in line with its international non-proliferation obligations (apart from for technical and commercial reasons). Such a country could approach the IAEA, whose director general has the authority to make a contract with Russia to release the fuel for manufacture into finished fuel rods.
Such a scenario is hard to imagine, said Steve Kidd, deputy director general of the World Nuclear Association: "The world nuclear fuel market functions very efficiently, with strong competition in every area. Any denial of supply (from all the possible sources) is, in reality, very unlikely.
"Nevertheless, some existing and potential nuclear countries do worry a great deal about this aspect, and feel vulnerable as they have no local sources of supply. Therefore the Russian reserve may serve to give them some comfort and assist the development of nuclear energy in those countries, despite the belief that it is very unlikely ever to be utilised."
The store was created on the initiative of President Dmitry Medvedev and Russia has provided the uranium and borne all the associated costs. When signing a contract to set this up in March, the IAEA said the value of the fuel would be about $250 million.
The 120 tonnes is in the form of uranium hexafluoride at various enrichment levels from 2.0% to 4.95% uranium-235. One third is at the 4.95% level and in total the stock is enough for two full core loads, or six reloads, of a 1000 MWe light-water reactor. A typical power reactor operates for 12-18 months between refuelling stops, meaning the relatively compact stockpile could make a significant difference to a country's energy supplies.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News