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Internationalization of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Goals, Strategies, and Challenges
fuel reprocessing facilities, designed both to increase international confidence that significant diversions from declared facilities would be detected and to strengthen the ability to provide timely warning concerning covert facilities and activities.
The countries that currently provide nuclear fuel services should redouble efforts, with other countries and the IAEA, to establish mechanisms for increasing reliability of supply of nuclear fuel, so that countries that do not now have enrichment technology would have reduced incentives to build their own uranium enrichment facilities.
The international community should help countries provide adequate capacity for safely storing spent fuel (on their own territory or elsewhere), or reliable reprocessing services from existing providers, to reduce countries’ incentives to establish their own reprocessing facilities. Separated plutonium or fabricated plutonium fuel should not be sent to countries that have not previously received such material and do not have reprocessing capabilities. The spread of separated plutonium to additional countries poses many of the same proliferation risks posed by the spread of reprocessing capabilities.
For similar reasons the United States and other nations should reduce and seek to minimize commerce in and the transfer of highly enriched uranium (which poses proliferation risks) except if sealed in a reactor core.
To ensure a reliable supply of nuclear fuel, a country needs reliable fuel fabrication services as much as it needs reliable sources of uranium and enrichment services.
To assist in the international fuel assurance programs, it would be helpful if nations with fuel fabrication facilities made those available.
Fuel fabrication technology for uranium oxide fuel with low-enriched uranium is not sensitive from a proliferation perspective. Hence, if countries choose to establish their own fabrication capabilities to produce fuel assemblies for their own nuclear power stations, without establishing uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing capabilities—as South Korea has done, for example—this should not pose significant international concerns.
Several messages are clear from the NAS-RAS workshop and other recent discussions in Vienna about assurance of supply:
Few countries have declared a willingness to forgo forever a right to develop their own uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing nuclear technology in the future.3
The charter of the International Uranium Enrichment Center in Angarsk, Russia, requires members other than the host country to commit to not develop their own uranium enrichment capabilities. As of June 2008, Kazakhstan and Armenia have made that commitment and become members.