International enrichment centre agreement signed

10 May 2007

Russia and Kazakhstan have signed an intergovernmental agreement to set up a joint uranium enrichment centre, a first step towards an internationalized nuclear fuel cycle and possible international nuclear fuel 'bank'.

The bilateral agreement was signed by Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), and Baktykozha Ezmukhambetov, Kazakhstan's mineral resources minister, in the presence of Russian and Kazakh presidents Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev. Kiriyenko noted that any country could join the project by signing a similar intergovernmental agreement, thereby securing access to uranium enrichment services and nuclear fuel. Several countries, including Armenia, have expressed interest in joining the project, and a preliminary protocol has already been signed with Ukraine.

The plan to establish international enrichment centres would ensure security of supply of nuclear fuel for power plants without countries needing to establish their own fuel production facilities and the associated risks of enrichment technology being used for weapons programmes. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Russia agreed earlier this year to set up a working group on the proposal, and the security of supply issue is scheduled for discussion when the IAEA's Board of Governors meet in June.

The Russian-Kazakh project is based near Angarsk in the politically stable and sparsely populated Irkutsk region in the centre of Asian Russia. Angarsk already hosts a centrifuge-based uranium enrichment plant capable of 2,500,000 separative work units (SWU) each year, about 10% of Russia's total enrichment capacity. Existing capacity at Angarsk is sufficient for the next few years, and new facilities could be built if necessary, according to Kiriyenko.

Russia has nearly half the world's uranium enrichment capacity. Kazakhstan has about 20% of the world's uranium ore and has ambitious plans to triple production to 15,000 tonnes of uranium by 2010 but it has no enrichment facilities. Russia and Kazakhstan have already set up a joint uranium mining venture at Zarechnoye in Kazakhstan, which produced its first uranium in December 2006, and the two countries are also involved in joint ventures to develop small and medium sized nuclear reactors for the Kazakh and Russian markets.

Further information

International Atomic Energy Agency

WNA's Uranium and Nuclear Powerin Kazakhstan information paper
WNA's Nuclear Power in Russiainformation paper
WNN: Kazakhstanto expand uranium production and supply
WNN: Russiaand Kazakhstan internationalize the fuel cycle