Big names and bucks back nuclear 'bank'

May 19 - Associated Press
 Buffett's bankroll, Obama's clout and the partnership of a savvy
 ex-Soviet strongman may turn the steppes of central Asia into a
> nuclear mecca, a go-to place for "safe" uranium fuel in an
> increasingly nervous atomic age.
> The $150 million idea, with seed money from U.S. billionaire
> Warren Buffett, must still navigate the tricky maze of global nuclear
> politics, along with a parallel Russian plan. But the notion of such
> fuel banks is moving higher on the world's agenda as a way to keep
> ultimate weapons out of many more hands.
> Decisions may come as early as next month here in Vienna.
> The half-century-old vision, to establish international control
> over the technology fueling atom bombs, was resurrected in 2003, when
> Iran alarmed many by announcing it would develop fuel installations -
> for nuclear power, it insisted. Mohamed ElBaradei, U.N. nuclear chief,
> then said the time had come to "multinationalize" the technology, to
> stop its spread to individual countries.
> Last month, the new U.S. president gave the idea its biggest
> boost.
> In a historic speech to tens of thousands in Prague, the Czech
> capital, Barack Obama detailed an aggressive plan for arms control,
> including setting up an international fuel bank, "so that countries
> can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of
> proliferation."
> That's the fear: The centrifuges that enrich uranium with its
> fissionable isotope U-235, to produce power-plant fuel, can be left
> spinning to enrich it much more, producing fissile, highly enriched
> uranium for nuclear bombs.
> Only a dozen nations have enrichment plants, but ElBaradei's
> Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) foresees
> nuclear-power use almost doubling in the next 20 years. More and more
> governments may want the fuel-making capability.
> "The real risk is that highly enriched uranium could be acquired
> by, say, terrorist groups," Russian government adviser Alexander
> Konovalov told a conference in Rome on nuclear dangers. "All they need
> is 50 kilograms (110
> pounds) of enriched uranium. All the rest (to make a bomb) can be
> found on the Internet."
> The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors is expected to address
> the issue at its June meeting. A raft of proposals has surfaced,
> including a German idea to build an IAEA enrichment plant on
> "internationalized"
> soil
> somewhere, to sell fuel to countries committed to nuclear
> nonproliferation.
> "Assurance" is the byword - a desire to assure future Irans there
> won't be politically motivated cutoffs of nuclear fuel supplies, and
> so they needn't build, at huge cost, their own enrichment plants.
> Only one proposal has upfront money behind it, however - the idea
> advanced by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a Washington-based
> organization founded by philanthropist Ted Turner and former U.S.
> Sen. Sam
> Nunn.
> Calling it an "investment in a safer world," investor and NTI
> adviser Buffett, considered America's richest man, pledged $50 million
> to such a bank, provided governments put up an additional $100
> million. That threshold was passed in March, most of the money coming
> from the U.S. and the European Union.
> The $150 million would buy enough low-enriched uranium to fuel a
> 1,000-megawatt power plant, jump-starting a constantly replenished
> fuel stockpile that would be owned and sold by the IAEA at market
> prices and on a nondiscriminatory basis.
> On April 6, the day after Obama's address, another piece of that
> picture fell into place nearly 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) from
> Prague, when another president spoke in Astana, capital of the
> ex-Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.
> "If a nuclear fuel bank for nuclear energy was created, then
> Kazakhstan would consider hosting it," Kazakh President Nursultan
> Nazarbayev announced to reporters.
> The ex-communist Nazarbayev, a canny political survivor from
> Soviet times who has led Kazakhstan for two decades, is eager to
> develop his nuclear industry, based on Soviet-era facilities and
> Kazakhstan's large uranium deposits. Nazarbayev regularly reminds the
> world that he gave up leftover Soviet nuclear weapons in 1995.
> "It has a lot of qualifications," Nunn said of Kazakhstan. "It
> would be highly symbolic to put the fuel bank in a country that got
> rid of nuclear weapons."
> The NTI co-chairman told The Associated Press he first approached
> the Kazakh leader about hosting a fuel bank "a couple of years ago."
> By this May 5, Nazarbayev's foreign minister was in Washington
> discussing the plan with Gen. James Jones, Obama's national security
> adviser.
> Most intriguing, perhaps, was the fact that Nazarbayev's
> announcement came with Iran's visiting president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
> standing at his side. The Iranian called the fuel bank "a very good
> proposal." In fact, Tehran has suggested that an international
> consortium might also enrich uranium on Iranian soil.
> Iran isn't likely to give up its controversial fuel facilities,
> which some fear could lead to an Iranian bomb. But Nunn said a Kazakh
> or other multinational fuel bank, by involving Iran in an enterprise
> with international oversight, "could be a very useful tool, not the
> whole answer but part of an answer" to what he called "the Iranian
> challenge."
> First, however, the tool must win IAEA approval - something far
> from guaranteed, say sources familiar with the debate within the
> agency board.
> Countries as diverse as Italy, Egypt and South Africa, none of
> which enrich uranium, have balked at the notion of an international
> stockpile - not in itself, but because such a framework would raise
> suspicions about any country that then chooses to enrich on its own,
> even if that remains legal under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
> Many who object to the treaty's "have and have-not" regime on
> nuclear weapons, which legitimizes only five nations as nuclear
> powers, don't want to see the same evolve on energy technology.
> "We cannot have divides where some own nuclear technology and
> others not," Egyptian diplomat and nonproliferation expert Mohamad
> Shaker complained at the Rome conference. "Have-nots" must have an
> equal role in any technology consortiums, he said.
> The NTI proposal may be put on hold until September while IAEA
> governors next month consider a Russian plan that is more developed
> and less ambitious, since it doesn't put the IAEA into the fuel sales
> business.
> Instead, the Russians would maintain their own fuel stockpile at
> a Siberian enrichment plant, which they would make available via the
> IAEA, "depoliticizing" sales by leaving it to the U.N. agency to
> certify buyers.
> The agency's ElBaradei, meanwhile, views these as early steps in
> a longer process that eventually would bring all new enrichment
> facilities under some multinational control, and then internationalize
> older, existing plants, including those of the U.S. and other nuclear
> powers.
> "It's a bold agenda," he told a nuclear industry meeting in
> March.
> "It's going to take some time, but I think we need to start."