Rome '08 Workshop

The Need for New Approaches: Some Informal Proposals 

Ambassador-at-Large Grigory V. Berdennikov

Russian Ambassador-at-Large 

Ambassador-at-Large Grigory V. Berdennikov


Other speakers have touched upon the emergence of non-state actors on the weapons proliferation scene. Another challenge is the fact that the development of nuclear energy, its renaissance, may cause serious proliferation of nuclear technologies and materials. 

In my view, given the very rapid rise of oil prices, more countries in the near term will opt to develop nuclear energy, an undertaking that is becoming more and more competitive. In principle, this is a welcome development, and, if managed properly, could be a blessing for mankind. But one should not forget that the edge between the peaceful uses of nuclear power and its military grade is very thin. For example, the same technological process for uranium enrichment is necessary for the production of nuclear fuel (if you wish to stop at 4 % of enrichment) and produces a nuclear explosive (if you continue to enrich it to 90%). The same is true for the technologies that reprocess spent nuclear fuel, which could lead to the separation of plutonium. 

The problem of sensitive nuclear technologies is compounded by the fact that they are perfectly legal under the existing nonproliferation norms, provided they are used for peaceful purposes and are under the IAEA safeguards. But it is clear that if the sensitive technologies appear in additional countries, the stability of the nuclear nonproliferation regime could be undermined. 


For us in Russia, it is also clear that we need new and innovative approaches to help resolve this dilemma. The former Russian president Vladimir Putin proposed some new approaches: 

  • In 2000, he proposed trying to develop new reactors that would be proliferation safe, i.e., that would not produce spent fuel from which plutonium could be separated. Of course, such reactors should be competitive and should answer the economic, environmental, and other needs of states. We are glad that this initiative was taken seriously by the world community, and for a number of years a growing group of countries has been working within the IAEA on its implementation under the INPRO project. 
  • In January 2006 President Putin put forward another idea that deals with the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle, that is, the enrichment process. He proposed an initiative to develop the Global Nuclear Infrastructure, including the establishment of an international uranium enrichment center in the Russian Federation as a pilot project, and invited interested countries to join the center, which is situated in Angarsk in Siberia and was established by Russia and Kazakhstan. 

Now Armenia is finishing procedures to join the center. The center is a joint-stock company based on a Russian enrichment facility, and the stock’s owners own its product—low-enriched uranium (LEU). The enrichment technology is solely under Russian control. With such a scheme, non-nuclear-weapon states—the stock’s owners in the company—are assured of a supply of enriched uranium for their nuclear power plants. At the same time, they have all rights to the profits that are earned as a result of the center’s operation, in proportion to the stock they own. The door to join the center is not closed, and we welcome other non-nuclear-weapon states to join it. The government of the Russian Federation has decided to include the Joint Stock Company International Uranium Enrichment Center (JSC IUEC) in the framework of the Safeguards Agreement between the Russian Federation and the IAEA. 

Another idea that we are actively working on and that flows from the idea of multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle is the creation of a guaranteed physical stock of low-enriched uranium to be provided in cases in which states, for political reasons, can not obtain required uranium in the open market. We plan to create such a guaranteed physical stock totaling approximately two full loads of fuel for a 1000 MW reactor. Such stock would be kept at the Angarsk facility and would be delivered into the custody of the IAEA at the request of the DG, and then transferred to the state having difficulty, for reasons that are neither economic nor technical, obtaining fuel on the open market for its nuclear power plants. The idea is to remove the political element from the fuel supply chain and to base supply purely on market and nonproliferation criteria. That means that the guaranteed stock would be available not free of charge but at a current market price and that, in order to be sure of its supply, the receiving state would faithfully fulfill its nonproliferation obligations. 

 We think we should not require an official pledge from receiving states to not develop or possess sensitive enrichment technologies. Such a requirement, which goes beyond existing nonproliferation norms, in our view would only create a political obstacle for the implementation of the scheme. Instead, we hope that economic forces will compel receivers not to undertake highly expensive enrichment provided they are guaranteed that there will be no political breakdown of the fuel supply. 

We are now trying to come to an agreement with the IAEA on how the scheme would work in practical terms, for example, which states could receive LEU from the guaranteed stock, how and when title transfer would be implemented, who would pay for transportation, and how the price for the LEU would be determined. This has not turned out to be an easy negotiating process, but we still hope it will be successful. We understand that we may have to first address the IAEA General Conference so that all the IAEA members can agree on the general principles of how the guaranteed physical stocks will be established and will function. Given the high level of apprehension among developing countries, this might take some time. 


Another initiative that I would like to draw your attention to is the statement by the Russian and U.S. presidents that was made on July 3, 2007, on the development of nuclear energy and nonproliferation. We hope that this statement will help to create more possibilities in this period of nuclear renaissance for working together worldwide, including with other nuclear-supplier countries. Practical work based on this statement will be greatly facilitated when the bilateral U.S.-Russia agreement on cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy goes into force. In our view the synergy of working together in this area could be very beneficial to everybody and to the nonproliferation regime. 

  • Russia could bring to such a joint effort elements that are not often found elsewhere. 
  • Our standing policy of building reactors abroad includes an offer to repatriate spent fuel. 
  • We can offer financing for such projects. 
  • We can provide nuclear fuel for the lifetime of the plant. 

In our view, the area in which joint efforts are most needed is reflected in the July 3 statement, which speaks to making available safe and proliferation-resistant energy and research reactors adequate for the energy needs of developing and developed countries. It is a fact today that many countries would like to have reactors with medium and smaller power capacity, though 1000 MW reactors are now predominantly available. So we think it would be a good idea to make a joint effort to offer what customers really want. Such an effort would, of course, be a long-term one. 

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