Kazakhstan: a bank of uranium to prevent a nuclear conflict

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  • Italiano
Dario Citati

The last 29 August North Korea has launched a ballistic missile Hwasong-12, that precipitated in the Pacific Ocean after crossing northern Japan. Since then there were provocations and threats between Pyongyang and the United States of America and the whole world seems to live again the threat of a nuclear conflict.

The bitter irony is that precisely the day August 29 was declared by the UN International Day Against Nuclear Tests, on the basis of a proposal of 2009 of the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev. It is a symbolic date, because precisely on that day, eighteen years before, was decreed the official closing of the nuclear polygon of Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, at that time part of the Soviet Union. In the course of the decades, on this site at about 400 km from the capital Astana, 456 nuclear tests have caused irreparable damages to about 1,3 million people affected by radiations.

Like every year at the end of August, also this year Kazakhstan has hosted the most important international initiative against nuclear proliferation, this time even more current precisely due to the North Korean crisis. The international conference Confronting New Nuclear Dangers a symposium in the framework of the 62nd edition from Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs – brought together the major experts of nuclear of the world, including Mohamed el Baradei, former General Director for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Italian Paolo Cotta Ramusino, internationally renowned physicist engaged against the proliferation.

The initiative sponsored by Kazakhstan developed for the attempt to find a compromise between the need for the development of nuclear energy for civilian use and the commitment to disarmament at a global level. The fact that these two aspects are compatible is demonstrated precisely from the main novelty of the Conference of Astana: the opening of the Low Uranium Enrichment (LEU) Bank, officially inaugurated in an official ceremony at the Hilton hotel in Astana by President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

This is indeed a “bank of Uranium”, a reserve of low enriched uranium owned by the IAEA, financed with about 150 million dollars from several international actors (among others, the USA and the EU) and having its headquarters in Kazakhstan, in the metallurgical plant of Ulba, in Oskemen (Northern Kazakhstan). The bank, which will host a physical reserve of uranium with a level of enrichment of 4.95%(necessary for ensuring the production of nuclear fuel for the majority of the reactors) has the aim to sell low enriched uranium to the IAEA Member States where these would face difficulties with their traditional suppliers. The hope of the initiative is that this system can discourage the countries to develop their own atomic technologies also suitable for military use, without, however, renouncing to nuclear energy for civil purpose.

The decision of Kazakhstan to host the headquarters of LEU Bank is part of a scenario consistent with the Kazakh “multi-vectorialforeign policy, strongly oriented to cooperation with the West, without denying its ties with Russia. In the same days of the conference, on 28 August, at the headquarters of KazMunayGas, the holding company of the Kazakh state for energy, the Energy Minister of Kazakhstan Kanat Bozumbayev and the US vice-minister Dan Brouillette have signed a cooperation agreement which provides precisely the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

But it is of course the issue of North Korea to be the most current. In a briefing with the journalists, the Kazakh Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Roman Vasilenko reiterated that the search for compromise remains the cornerstone of the multi-vectorial Kazakh policy in all the most difficult dossier on the international agenda. As it is indicated by an analysis published on the Agency US News & World Report, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2017-2018 Kazakhstan will use the creation of LEU Bank as a basis for discussion for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in East Asia. This step alone is not sufficient, but certainly necessary and desirable to find a concrete basis for a diplomatic way out of the crisis.

Dario Citati – Director of the Research Program “Eurasia” of the Institute of Geopolitics IsAG, has followed as an accredited journalist the conference Confronting new Nuclear Dangers of Astana.

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