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Internationalization of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Goals, Strategies, and Challenges
nuclear fuel or manage their spent fuel, they will also acquire the means to create material that is directly usable in nuclear weapons.1
The director general of the IAEA, former President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, President George W. Bush of the United States, and at least six other world leaders and organizations have proposed approaches to multinational or international fuel cycle facilities or fuel supply assurances. The goal is to reduce the likelihood of, or inhibit, the spread of enrichment and reprocessing to other countries by eliminating one motive for acquiring enrichment and reprocessing technologies.2 With funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) assembled two committees of experts to carry out this joint consensus study on how to evaluate schemes for structured internationalization of parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, including both institutional arrangements and technical options. The statement of task can be found in Appendix A, and brief biographical sketches of the joint committee members are in Appendix F.
Five key motivations have spurred proposals for multinational or international fuel cycle approaches:
Assured fuel supply or spent fuel management. Countries may feel more assured that they will always have reliable fuel supply for their reactors (and therefore have less incentive to build their own enrichment plants) if, for example, they are participants and part owners of a multinational enrichment plant, or if there are international mechanisms in place to provide backup supplies if a supply interruption occurs. International arrangements that would allow countries to send their spent fuel away after it was used could substantially reduce countries’ incentives to invest in reprocessing plants—and fuel-leasing arrangements, in which fuel would be supplied with a promise to remove the spent fuel later,3 could create particularly strong incentives for states to rely on an international fuel supply rather than having to invest in both their own fresh fuel facilities and spent fuel management facilities. A variant on the fuel-leasing idea is reactor leasing, where a sealed reactor with a core of long-life fuel is leased and then returned to the vendor unopened. (These arrangements are discussed further later in the report.)
Opportunities to participate in fuel cycle profits and management. If countries can have a share in the profits from enrichment or reprocessing, and take part in the management of an enrichment or reprocessing enterprise, by taking part in a multinational facility in another state, this may reduce their incentive to invest in an enrichment and reprocessing plant of their own. Kazakhstan, for example, after joining Russia’s International Uranium Enrichment Center at Angarsk, indicated that it was no longer interested in building its own enrichment plant.
The IAEA defines “unirradiated direct use material” as nuclear material that can be used for the manufacture of nuclear explosive devices without transmutation or further enrichment, including unirradiated plutonium containing less than 80 percent Pu-238, uranium enriched to 20 percent or higher in the isotope U-235, and U-233.
See IAEA, 2005b, for a description of the context and options as laid out by IAEA.
The United States will have difficulty in convincing nations to accept its word. Examples such as the supercollider, the international space station, and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project indicate that the United States can be an unreliable partner. The United States must overcome this attitude for it to become a trusted participant in a fuel assurance program.