China and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 5 April signed an agreement on the transit of low-enriched uranium (LEU) in support of the IAEA LEU bank, a statement said. Under the agreement, China will ensure the safe transit of LEU through Chinese territory to and from the bank, which has been under construction in neighbouring Kazakhstan since August 2016, the IAEA said.
In August 2015, the IAEA and Kazakhstan signed a legal framework agreement for the establishment of the bank at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Oskemen in northern Kazakhstan. The bank will be a physical reserve of up to 90t of LEU suitable to make fuel for a typical light water reactor. It is intended to provide IAEA member states with a stable supply of fuel even if other supply mechanisms are disrupted. IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano said the agreement with China is a milestone which will help bring the LEU bank into operation.
The IAEA in 2015 signed a similar transit agreement with Russia, providing for the transport of LEU and equipment through Russian territory to and from the bank. According to the IAEA, funding for the bank has come from the European Union (€24.4m or $26m), Kuwait ($10m), Norway ($5m), the United Arab Emirates ($10m), the USA ($49m) and US-based organisation Nuclear Threat Initiative ($50m). Kazakhstan has contributed funding of $400,000 plus in-kind contributions.
Other assurance of supply mechanisms established with IAEA approval include a guaranteed physical reserve of LEU maintained by Russia at the International Uranium Enrichment Centre in Angarsk, and an assurance of supply guarantee for supplies of LEU enrichment services in the UK. The USA also operates its own LEU reserve.