A New World Bank… For Uranium

by Joshua Foust on 5/9/2007

Kazakhstan and Russia are supposedly in talks to establish an official bank in Siberia that will serve as an international repository for enriched uranium. Though official American reaction to the idea is muted, there has to be at least some support for the idea, as it provides a way for countries to acquire peaceful and non-weaponized radioactive material without the trouble of developing their own enrichment programs (which have, like in the case of Iran, all kinds of worrying dual-use considerations).

For a situation like Iran, this could prove a useful out. Iran is looking to expand economic ties with Turkmenistan in part because its own oil and gas production facilities are so dilapidated they will be functionally useless in less than a decade. This is also a big reason behind their push for nuclear energy: spending a few billion dollars on nuclear power plants is far less expensive than reinvigorating their entire oil supply chain.

Indeed, Iran has repeatedly said it only wants to enrich uranium for its power plants. The joint Kazakhstani-Russian uranium bank would give Iran a way of acquiring uranium without irking Europe and the U.S. by being two steps away from building nukes. In such a scenario, it is even conceivable that the U.S. (under a different administration, obviously) could offer Iran an India-type bargain, in which it either froze or renounced further weapons research in return for collaboration in building non-breeder reactors, thus side-stepping the weapons issue.

That would rely on Iran not really wanting weapons for whatever reasons—an assumption I’m not yet willing to make. But the enriched uranium bank provides a possible out for other countries to further develop peaceful nuclear energy without raising any alarms about further proliferation—surely a net boon to global counter-proliferation.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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