Norway pledges support for international nuclear fuel bank

29 February 2008

The Norwegian minister for foreign affairs, addressing an international disarmament conference in Oslo, announced that the country would contribute $5 million to help develop an international reserve of nuclear fuel controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The concept of a multilateral nuclear fuel bank has been under discussion for many years, and the IAEA convened an expert group look at multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle in 2004. It recognised that providing assurance of nuclear fuel supply to countries that would voluntarily forego developing such technologies themselves would be a key element in limiting the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies and increasing non-proliferation assurances. Countries could be confident that they would be able to obtain nuclear fuel for electricity generation without the risk of their supply being disrupted for political reasons, and would not be driven to invest in their own national uranium enrichment capabilities with possible additional proliferation risks.

"Norway is committed to building support for an international consensus on practical steps to support global non-proliferation and disarmament goals," said the country's minister of foreign affairs Jonas Gahr Støre. "This nuclear fuel reserve is one such concrete and effective step in this direction. We will engage in building broad international support and funding for the initiative."

The nuclear fuel reserve initiative was launched in September 2006 by the non-profit Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), which is co-chaired by philanthropist CNN founder Ted Turner and former US Senator Sam Nunn. President George Bush signed a US funding allocation into law on 26 December 2007. It matches a September 2006 commitment of $50 million from the NTI. The NTI contribution is contingent on two conditions that must be met by September 2008. The IAEA must take the necessary actions to approve the establishment of the reserve, and one or more member states must contribute an additional $100 million - or the equivalent value of low-enriched uranium (LEU) - in funding for the reserve.

With $105 million now allocated for the plan, a remaining $45 million needs to be raised to reach the plan's stated target of $150 million. The Norwegian financial commitment is the first non-US contribution put towards the NTI plan.

IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei said: "I welcome Norway's generous contribution to the establishment of a nuclear fuel reserve under IAEA auspices." He added, "This is an important first step towards establishing an equitable multilateral framework for the nuclear fuel cycle that provides assurances against supply disruptions and strengthens the nuclear non-proliferation regime."

The NTI proposal of nuclear fuel bank under IAEA auspices is one among several multilateral nuclear approaches currently under consideration. A Russian proposal seeks the establishment of a joint enrichment facility at the country's Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Complex, with the inclusion of an IAEA controlled LEU reserve, while a German plan calls for multilateral uranium enrichment under the auspices of the IAEA and with a uranium enrichment plant in an extra-territorial area provided by a third-party state. The NTI plan calls for a dedicated LEU stockpile to be owned and administered by the IAEA. Matters of the fuel bank's location, organization, and conditions for access are left to the agency and its member states to decide upon.

Norway itself does not have any nuclear power plants and has not announced any plans to construct any. However, investigations are underway into the potential exploitation of Norway's significant resources of thorium, which can be used as an alternative to uranium for fuelling reactors.

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