A friend shared a link on Twitter to a BBC article and video titled International nuclear bank – helping world peace?. The article discusses the long history of the proposals to establish a fuel bank that can be placed in territory under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency as a means of reassuring countries that they will have access to fuel if they decide to invest in building nuclear power plants.
The idea behind the concept is that this reassurance would dissuade countries from investing in a complete nuclear fuel cycle that includes enrichment or recycling capacity because the view of the world is that those technologies represent too much risk of nuclear weapons capability. In fact, in some people’s minds, an announcement of interest in either one of those technologies by a country that they do not like is tantamount to a declaration of an intention to produce weapons. People who cannot understand the desire for fuel cycle independence overlook the history of efforts by the world powers to control internal decisions and actions by using economic sanctions that can make extremely large investments virtually worthless. (What good is an aircraft without spare parts or a power plant without fuel?)
By establishing a bank with an inventory of already enriched fuel – at a level far below that required for nuclear weapons – the international community would be assuring countries that no one would try to control their internal decisions by threatening to withhold fuel deliveries. It is a reasonable idea that has a lot of international backing and the interest of some philanthropic organizations that want to allow access to the benefits of nuclear energy with less risk of nuclear weapons.
One final thought to keep in mind when you follow the link to the BBC article/video. Pay attention to the size of the space is where the BBC reporter is talking. The article calls it a “cavernous” warehouse, but it is only cavernous in the sense that a high school gymnasium is “cavernous”. That space could warehouse enough fuel to power several entire countries for a couple of years – that is one more illustration of why nuclear energy is such disruptive technology.
Just imagine the size of the storage space required if the fuel that we needed to warehouse was coal, oil or natural gas!