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EUR: Nuclear fuel bank plans held up at IAEA meeting

19 Jun 2009 4:32 AM

VIENNA, June 18 AFP - Plans by the UN atomic watchdog for a global nuclear fuel bank received a setback here on Thursday, after they were effectively blocked by developing nations, diplomats who attended the meeting said.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei had wanted the watchdog's 35-member board to give the go-ahead to pursue at least one of a number of different proposals for the creation of an international fuel bank.

An international supply of uranium would allow nations to obtain nuclear fuel for civilian purposes but limit their capacity to make a bomb.

US President Barack Obama is a strong proponent of the fuel bank concept.

Two concrete proposals were on the table of the IAEA's regular June board this week: a physical stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU )overseen by the agency itself that would be a last-resort reserve for countries facing supply disruptions, and a Russian proposal for a fuel bank on its territory.

The proposals appeared to gain momentum earlier this year when countries such as the EU, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative pledged $US150 million ($A189.27 million) to acquire 60-90 tonnes of LEU for the bank. That would sufficient to reload one 1,000-megawatt reactor over three years.

But in a joint statement by the G77 and Non-Aligned Movement, developing countries effectively dashed ElBaradei's hopes of moving forward on the proposals any time soon.

"The group is of the view that any proposal for the assurance of supply should not be designed in a way that discourages states from developing or expanding their capabilities in the nuclear fuel cycle," the statement said.

And diplomats who attended the meeting said the board had simply agreed that the nuclear agency "may continue its consultations and discussions" on the fuel bank proposals. But no precise timetable was agreed.

The idea behind the fuel bank concept is to keep countries such as Iran from acquiring the sensitive technologies -- such as uranium enrichment and reprocessing -- that can be used not only to produce nuclear fuel, but also the fissile material for an atom bomb.