The IAEA, the UN's nuclear watchdog, recently proposed a voluntary mechanism based on the Concept for a Multilateral Mechanism for Reliable Access to Nuclear Fuel submitted to it on June 12 by the six nations that now provide the bulk of enriched uranium: France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
But Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, gave the initiative a cautious welcome. "This mechanism is interesting, but dangerous, because it could destroy the economic functioning of the global market," he said.
Under the proposal, reserves of enriched uranium, held nationally or by the IAEA, will serve as a "last resort" fuel reserve. The agency would determine eligibility based on a country's compliance with IAEA safeguards, and acceptance of nuclear safety standards, as well as its renunciation of uranium enrichment or spent-fuel reprocessing.
Kiriyenko, whose country produces around 6% of the world's uranium but plans a dramatic increase in spending on surveying and production in the next two years, said it was unclear what rules would be applied to allow the use of this reserve and for what price it could be sold.
"It is important to maintain stability on the global uranium market," he said.
The agency head said a Russian proposal to create a joint uranium enrichment venture under the aegis of the IAEA was a suitable alternative to the reserve proposal. President Vladimir Putin put forward the initiative for an international center on Russian soil at the height of the Iranian nuclear crisis at the start of the year.
Delegations from 140 countries will meet at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna on September 19-20 in an attempt to encourage countries to forgo uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, two critical technologies that could lead to the production nuclear weapons, while ensuring that they receive civilian nuclear fuel.