IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano Qian Yi/ZumaPress

A Radioactive Bank to be Welcomed

On August 27, Kazakhstan will launch a major new international fuel bank, which it will operate on behalf of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The new facility should once and for all remove the main excuse that has been advanced, sincerely or not, for building and maintaining homegrown enrichment capability.

CANBERRA – One of the many things the world has learned from the Iran nuclear saga is that its leaders made a mistake, when negotiating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the 1960s, in not doing anything to constrain uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. This failure apparently stemmed from the belief – long since proven wrong, certainly in the case of uranium – that the only states ever likely to possess that technical capability already possessed nuclear weapons, or (like Germany) were totally committed never to acquire them.

As a result, any member state can argue for its “inalienable right” under the NPT to pursue any stage of the nuclear fuel cycle. Although any such right extends only to activities for “peaceful purposes,” the loophole is gaping. Any technically capable state – and there are now dozens of them – can build uranium enrichment facilities with the official purpose of producing fuel for nuclear power or research reactors, but which are nonetheless inherently capable of producing the much higher-grade fuel needed for nuclear weapons.

It is not for nothing that such facilities have been described as “bomb starter kits,” and that Iran’s progress down that path – whether deliberately designed to give it a latent weapons breakout capability or not – has spooked so many others in the international community. That is why there was so much pressure to produce the deal now on the table, which dramatically limits Iran’s enrichment capability.

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