Uranium & Fuel

LEU Bank / First Delivery Sees $150 Million Kazakhstan Facility Become Operational

By David Dalton
18 October 2019

Bringing the project to fruition required ‘concerted efforts’ involving many areas of the agency’s activities
First Delivery Sees $150 Million Kazakhstan Facility Become Operational
The LEU bank is one of the agency’s most ambitious and challenging projects. Photo courtesy Ulba Metallurgical Plant/Kazakhstan.
The International Atomic Energy Agency took delivery of a shipment of low-enriched uranium (LEU) at a purpose-built facility in Kazakhstan on Thursday (17 October), officially establishing the agency’s LEU bank aimed at providing assurance to countries about the availability of nuclear fuel.

Owned by the IAEA and hosted by Kazakhstan, the bank is one of the agency’s most ambitious and challenging projects since it was founded in 1957. Plans for the facility were first passed by the IAEA board of governors in December 2010.

The bank has been fully funded by contributions from IAEA member states and other donors totalling $150m, covering estimated costs for 20 years of operation. Donors include the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the US, the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Norway and Kazakhstan.

The bank offers a supply of last resort for IAEA member states that experience a supply disruption due to exceptional circumstances and are unable to secure nuclear power fuel from the commercial market, state-to-state arrangements or by any other means. It will be a physical reserve of 90 tonnes of LEU, the basic ingredient to fabricate fuel for nuclear power plants.

Other assurance of supply mechanisms established with IAEA approval include a guaranteed physical reserve of LEU maintained by Russia in Angarsk and an assurance of supply guarantee by the UK for supplies of LEU enrichment services.

Bringing the project to fruition required “concerted efforts” involving many areas of the agency’s activities, a statement said. The project included negotiating a legal framework with Kazakhstan and the operator, Ulba Metallurgical Plant (UMP) in the eastern city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, designing and building an LEU storage facility and working with Kazakhstan to improve its legal and regulatory framework.

Transit agreements for the transport of the LEU to and from the site were signed with China and Russia. Separate transport contracts were needed with Kazakhstan’s KTZ Express JSC and Russia’s Tenex JSC.

The 90 tonnes of LEU was acquired from two vendors – Orano of France and Kazatomprom of Kazakhstan – in what was the IAEA’s largest single procurement in its history.

The Orano shipment was transported by truck to a French port, by ship to the Russian Federation and by train to Kazakhstan. Upon arrival at the site, the 32 cylinders of LEU – typically sufficient for one re-load of fuel for a light-water reactor – were checked by IAEA experts. The IAEA expects to receive the second LEU shipment from Kazatomprom by the end of 2019.

The IAEA said there are around 450 nuclear power reactors in operation today, supplying about 10% of the world’s electricity and one-third of all low-carbon electricity. Fifty-two nuclear power reactors are under construction.

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