Kazakhstan is no stranger to the horror of nuclear weapons, with over 450 detonations carried out at the Semipalatinsk Test Site under the Soviet Union, releasing plutonium-239 into the atmosphere, an isotope with a half-life of 23,000 years. Today, the country is a champion of non-proliferation and is aspiring to host an international nuclear fuel bank.
Kazakhstan is the source of almost 30% of the world’s uranium, with state-owned Kazatomprom, Katco, and Canada-based Cameco among the principle producers. Close cooperation with foreign partners is also the name of the game for Kazatomprom, which is interested in moving onto “further stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, in which Kazakhstan is not yet present, such as conversion, enrichment, and the fabrication of fuel assemblies,” as Vladimir Shkolnik, President of Kazatomprom explained to TBY.
In concert with the country’s own nuclear power industry and aspirations to build a nuclear power plant of its own, the nation’s politicians are busy promoting Kazakhstan as a destination for an international fuel bank. The proposal, a German government initiative, calls for the creation of a multilateral uranium enrichment center with extraterritorial status, allowing countries access to enriched nuclear fuel without the need for enrichment technology. Kazakhstan’s proposal to host the bank was first made in 2009, and a formal application was made to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2011. The project is a boon in the battle for nuclear safety, guaranteeing nuclear fuel for civilian nuclear energy projects should the state in question comply with the provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. “Proposing to host a fuel bank in its territory, we hereby reaffirm that Kazakhstan is an active supporter of the non-proliferation regime, and a leader in strengthening global security,” Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, told TBY. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) announced funding for the bank of $50 million, with the US, the UAE, Norway, and the EU putting up the remaining $100 million needed for the project to meet its initial funding target. However, there is competition in the form of a Russian international fuel bank, agreed upon with the IAEA in 2010 to be set up at Angarsk in Siberia.
Kazakhstan has also been lauded by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), an agency to be established upon ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). “My biggest source of inspiration is the resounding support for the CTBT from countries like Kazakhstan,” said Tibor Tóth, CTBTO Executive Secretary, adding that the country had “consistently made political, technical, and financial investments into the treaty and its verification regime, even in difficult political and economic times.”
The CTBT will be enacted 180 days after the treaty has been ratified by eight remaining states: China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Israel, Pakistan, and the US. Kazakhstan also hosted an exercise in 2008 to improve the CTBT on-site inspection capabilities, with five of the 337 facilitates making up the CTBT’s International Monitoring System (IMS) also located in the country to “ensure that no nuclear test goes undetected,” Tóth commented, adding that, “thanks to the help of countries like Kazakhstan, the world is a little bit safer from the devastating threat posed by nuclear weapons.”
© The Business Year