Fresh from hosting international talks on Iran’s nuclear program this month, Kazakhstan is quietly pushing its offer to host a global nuclear fuel bank that would serve non-proliferation efforts by providing safe access to low-enriched uranium.
Kazakhstan is hoping to reach agreement this year with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on hosting the fuel bank, Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov told the Express K newspaper on April 4.
Astana has long sought to position itself as a leader in non-proliferation efforts, citing President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s renouncing of nuclear weapons at independence and Kazakhstan’s Soviet nuclear legacy.
The government offered to host the nuclear fuel bank in 2011 and has been in talks with the IAEA. The site under consideration is the Ulba Metallurgical Plant, which has produced nuclear fuel pellets since Soviet times and – Idrissov pointed out – has never experienced a nuclear leak in four decades of operation.
Kazakhstan is a good choice because of its “stable sociopolitical situation,” “measured foreign policy course,” and “positive image” in boosting non-proliferation efforts, Idrissov suggested. He also pointed to Kazakhstan’s strong export controls and nuclear knowhow: it has a thriving nuclear sector and is the world’s biggest uranium producer.
Kazakhstan seems a sure-fire choice for another reason, too: according to the IAEA, it was the only state to apply to host the fuel bank, which will serve as a secure emergency supply of low-enriched uranium for peaceful purposes in the event of supply disruptions.
Astana’s offer has come up against some resistance at home, where the devastating legacy of Soviet nuclear weapons testing at the now mothballed Semipalatinsk test site is keenly recalled.
So what is in it for Kazakhstan? A diplomatic boost of the type Astana is always keen to secure: As Idrissov put it, it would be “testimony to the rise in the country’s political weight, in its authority on the international stage.”