The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 20 November signed contracts to purchase low enriched uranium (LEU), as a step towards the establishment of the IAEA LEU fuel bank in 2019.  

It is the IAEA’s largest procurement since it was founded in 1957. The contracts were signed with Kazakhstan’s JSC National Atomic Company Kazatomprom and France’s Orano Cycle. The companies will supply LEU for transport to a facility in eastern Kazakhstan where the material will be stored.

In December 2010, the IAEA Board of Governors decided to establish the fuel bank as an "assurance of supply mechanism of last resort" for member states which experience a supply disruption and are unable to secure nuclear fuel from the commercial market, state-to-state arrangements or by any other means.

The bank, owned by the IAEA and operated by Kazakhstan, will be a physical reserve holding up to 90 tonnes of LEU. This LEU can be used to make fuel for a typical light water reactor, and will be available for eligible countries.

The IAEA LEU Bank, built within the Ulba facility, a metallurgical plant that produces tantalum, beryllium and uranium, was officiall inaugurated in August 2017 by IAEA director general Yukiya Amano and President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The creation and operation of the bank has been fully funded by voluntary contributions from IAEA member states and other donors totalling $150 million. This is sufficient to cover estimated costs for 20 years of operation.

Photo: Racks for storing UF6 inside the IAEA fuel Bank