05/30/2013 - 16:17

A multinational fuel consortium: Obstacles, options, and ways forward

Olli Heinonen

Before joining as a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School of Government,...

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The World Nuclear Association estimates that by 2030, 600 nuclear reactors will be in operation around the world; 60 countries are considering nuclear power, out of which 10 to 25 are expected to bring nuclear power plants on line by 2030. This could lead to the construction of additional uranium enrichment plants, which, with adjustments, can produce material for nuclear weapons. Any of these states can work to be within reach of weapons capability while, until the last minute, remaining within their international nonproliferation obligations. In recent years, efforts have again intensified to limit the spread of nuclear enrichment by proposing various multinational approaches to reduce proliferation concerns. While there has been progress in the establishment of low-enriched uranium banks, several obstacles remain to be removed. A special consideration is given to the fuel-leasing option, which reduces distribution of additional enrichment capabilities, provides economic incentives, and addresses safety and security concerns of increasing spent fuel storages. However, in order to make such an approach attractive to industry, obstacles related to spent fuel take-back and waste disposal need to be resolved. Unless decisive actions are taken now, several states could be a political decision away from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.