Anya LoukianovaThe Angarsk IUEC Wants You!

Thanks for all of your comments on the previous post. Yet, I am surprised that no one mentioned the one ongoing attempt to practically implement the multilateral nuclear approaches concept – Russia’s International Uranium Enrichment Center at Angarsk.

We all know the story. The idea grew out of Russia’s 2005 proposal that Iran share ownership of a uranium-enrichment plant, based in Russia. But when that fell through, Moscow committed to creating the IUEC at Angarsk, the first of a network of international centers that would provide nuclear fuel cycle services on a non-discriminatory basis. (By the way, Jane blogged about it here.)

The Angarsk IUEC concept can be summarized as follows:

  • Equal, non-discriminatory membership for all interested countries not envisaging the development of indigenous sensitive nuclear technologies and meeting the established non-proliferation requirements;
  • IUEC membership “advantages” (political, economic, scientific and technical) for the enrichment services recipient countries should outweigh the “disadvantages” of refraining from the development of domestic nuclear fuel cycle capabilities;
  • IUEC enrichment capacities are to be placed under IAEA safeguards; involvement of the IAEA in the Center’s management;
  • Foreign IUEC members will have no access to Russian uranium enrichment technology.

And since January 2006, when Vladimir Putin first announced the concept, the Russians have come a long way in terms of practical implementation of the IUEC. They have a dedicated facility, the IUEC is legally incorporated as a joint stock company and is allowed to own nuclear materials.

Russia also has already recruited two additional participants – Armenia and the uranium-rich Kazakhstan; both of the countries have committed not to develop domestic enrichment capabilities. They’ve also apparently clinched a commitment to participate in the IUEC from Ukraine (despite all of the problems in bilateral relations). (Here is a good summary of IUEC progress.)

But quite a few challenges and questions remain:

  • Membership: The IUEC obviously needs more members. Rosatom has promoted the idea to quite a few other countries, including Japan, South Korea, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Finland, Belgium, Uzbekistan, and even Mongolia. (Early on, it was also pitched to the Indians, conditioning their participation on the NSG exemption.) But what countries would you want to commit to the center and how much stake should they get?
  • Incentives for potential members: These take forever to figure out and negotiate on a case-by-case basis. Participation in Angarsk usually comes with a package of other “stuff” – for example, just for little Armenia, the Russian package included creation of joint venture for uranium prospecting, mining, and processing, a promise to assist with safety issues with Armenia’s Metsamor nuclear power plant, and a Russian commitment to stand ready to build an Armenian NPP. What cookies do you offer to interested countries to get them to commit?
  • IAEA safeguards: Transparency of the IUEC is key. In January 2008, Russia sent a note verbale to the IAEA regarding inclusion of the IUEC into the list of Russian facilities that could be subject to the IAEA safeguards. Yet, only the material at the IUEC will be safeguarded. Further, Moscow has been hoping to resolve practical safeguards issues with the IAEA since early 2008, but there still no official agreement. How do you balance transparency with nonproliferation?
  • U.S. involvement: The Bush administration has been supportive of the IUEC. Earlier this year, there was even some talk of possible U.S. “material” cooperation with the Russians in the IUEC. These discussion, however, seemingly died out after the U.S.-Russian 123 Agreement was withdrawn. But would U.S. participation be a good thing or a bad thing politically for the purported non-discriminatory nature of the IUEC?

But, ultimately, the two questions I think really need answered are these:

  • Does the fact that Moscow is seeking to profit take away from its commitment to the idea of sharing the fuel cycle for the sake of nonproliferation?
  • Does the IUEC effort matter if Iran and other “countries of concern” are NOT participating? (Not participating yet?)

Comments

  1. X

    Why don´t you google “GB II” “AREVA” “Suez”. and maybe also “GLE”, “Cameco” and “GE-Hitachi”. It seems to me there is little awareness of other existing examples. The Russians are not doing anything spectacular. “Not to develop enrichment capabilities”… As if manufacturing centrifuges was something very easy. I wonder how many countries would like to go the Iranian way to have centrifuges. In the enrichment market: Everyone wants to make profit.

  2. Gelfant

    I partly concur with X, at least insofar as I don’t see why all this focus for RANF is on Russia, almost to the exclusion of other states. Why Russia? Why Russia now? And with the partially withdrawn US-Russia 123, what makes us think that Russia is the ideal partner, for the US or the world, in these areas—so we can all get on the MOX train?

  3. Wakeymugs (History)

    The IUEC is not a novel Russian idea, but one of a plethora of initiatives in hand in countries like France, US, Canada, Japan etc. Objectives and methodologies differ depending on the national aspirations of each. The E&R issue is being blown out of all proportion by political motives and the Indian intellectual elite is riding the bandwagon without understanding the aims and objectives of the different countries involved – a futile pastime considering India has a similar, though much curtailed programme of its own that makes it an unwanted competitor of Western political, technological and economic interests. Even more controversial is the consequences of splitting limited resources by participating in the IUEC, MOX development efforts and the development of thorium fuels for nuclear reactors. I do not see any NWS shelving its indigenous E&R capacities as that would impinge on their strategic freedom to create military capacities to nurture their nuclear weapons capabilities, the fuelling of strategic maritime assets, space programmes and so on

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