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29 Mar, 2010 03:36

Russia, IAEA to set up n-fuel reserve in Siberia

Russia and the UN nuclear watchdog are due to set up the first-ever nuclear fuel reserve in Siberia. The fuel bank in the Siberian town of Angarsk will provide low-grade uranium for reactors worldwide.

A stockpile of nuclear fuel in the heart of Siberia may run counter to the current debate over nonproliferation, but it is central to plans for nuclear energy to be used for peaceful means – which some say is a country’s right.

“Any country thinking about investing billions of dollars in the construction of nuclear plants is sooner or later confronted by a question of how and where it can get nuclear fuel,” said Sergey Novikov, spokesperson for Russia’s state corporation Rosatom.

“This center will provide these countries with a guarantee that, no matter what political situation they are in, they can always get nuclear fuel – provided, of course, that the IAEA does not object,” he added.

According to Russian officials, the agreement has nothing to do with Iran, which already has a contract with Moscow for the supply of low enriched uranium for the Bushehr plant.

“It is common knowledge that the Islamic Republic of Iran is today capable of enriching uranium up to 4 percent, so they would not need this facility to gain access to low enriched uranium,” said Sergey Novikov.

While Russian officials stressed the common security aspect of the project, analysts say it also offers Moscow with public relations benefits.

The United States is currently working to create a similar facility under the IAEA auspices and many in Moscow believe in “the first come, first serve” approach.

“Initially, the two countries hoped to create a joint center under the control of the IAEA, but it did not work out and each went their separate ways,” said Anton Khlopkov, director of the Center for Energy and Security

“I think the two countries are still doomed to cooperate within the IAEA because each of them is interested in dissuading the other from acquiring nuclear weapons,” he added.

Both Moscow and Washington say they hope their nuclear arsenals will never have to be used but, if the need comes up, both hope to come to the rescue.

For years, Moscow and Washington were racing to build their nuclear arsenals. Now they are vying for the right to facilitate nuclear nonproliferation.

It seems no matter what they do the competitive spirit is always there, but at least now it is for a good cause.