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Berlin Hosts Gathering on Worldwide Nuclear Fuel Trade

IAEA Chief Calls for "New Framework in Nuclear Energy"

Fuel Rods

The Berlin conference is geared for information exchange between countries on the commercial, technical and political aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle. Above, fuel rods are seen being prepared at a fuel fabrication facility. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

At the invitation of the governments of Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, representatives from over thirty countries are taking part in an international conference entitled Nuclear Fuel Supply: Challenges and Opportunities. The two-day talks in Berlin are focusing on an array of issues that span the political, commercial and technical aspects of the uranium market while giving attendees a forum to discuss complexities built-in to the oft-discussed "nuclear renaissance."

IAEA Director-General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei opened the conference by stressing the critical issue of assurance of nuclear fuel. "If expectations of a surge in nuclear power materialise, the question arises - how will the nuclear fuel cycle in general be managed and, specifically, where will the nuclear fuel come from? Will it remain in the hands of the few existing suppliers? Or will additional States develop their own national enrichment and reprocessing capabilities? I believe it is possible - and indeed essential - to create a new mechanism that will assure supplies of nuclear fuel and reactors to countries which want them, while strengthening non-proliferation through better controls over the sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle," said Dr. ElBaradei.

The conference´s objective is to provide an opportunity for new-start countries to exchange information with established nuclear energy countries and uranium providers on facets of the global uranium market, the enrichment market and the broader picture of the nuclear fuel trade. Attendees included representatives from foreign ministries, nuclear regulatory bodies, IAEA representatives and nuclear and nuclear fuel industry leaders.

With 17 of the 35 nuclear power reactors under construction in developing countries, the international community along with the IAEA is mindful that plants be built in line with safety, security, economic and non-proliferation requirements. The Berlin conference sought to bring together States who are on the verge of introducing nuclear energy with States and industrial partners who have specific experience in nuclear fuel supply.

"Our aim is to offer international partners a platform for informed discussion of the issues and options for nuclear fuel supply and to bring together decision-makers, technical experts and potential suppliers of enrichment services," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who served as host of the conference.

With over a dozen proposals on the books regarding multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle, events such as the two-day conference in Berlin have become important venues for States to exchange information and strategize on methods to increase efficiency while remaining mindful of the goals of non-proliferation.

Prior to the Berlin conference, Dr. ElBaradei met with Foreign Minister Steinmeier to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue.

Background

As an increasing number of nations plan for the development of civilian nuclear energy, concern has grown over the potential for diversion of nuclear material and technology from peaceful to military use. The establishment of a multilateral nuclear fuel supply system has been considered as a means of not only minimizing this risk, but also assisting nations in their peaceful development of nuclear power. Providing a reliable fuel supply to nations with a burgeoning nuclear power programme eases the economic cost and nuclear weapons-related risks intrinsic with building enrichment capabilities.

Enriched uranium provides the fuel for many of the world´s nuclear power reactors, and the enrichment process is a vital process in a multi-step nuclear fuel cycle. The enrichment of uranium, while a necessary step in the creation of the fuel that power many of the world´s civilian nuclear reactors, can also be employed for use in nuclear weapons. By providing a secure and reliable supply of the fuel needed for nuclear power generation, a multilateral fuel cycle could limit the dissemination of enrichment technologies.

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