Kazakhstan offers to host global nuclear fuel bank

ASTANA Mon Apr 6, 2009 3:58pm BST

ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakhstan, once home to Moscow's atomic bomb tests, offered on Monday to host a global nuclear fuel bank, part of a U.S.-backed plan to put all uranium enrichment under international control.

Speaking alongside visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of the former Soviet republic told reporters he could consider the idea.

"If such a nuclear fuel bank were to be created, Kazakhstan would be ready to consider hosting it on its territory as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation agreement and as a country that voluntarily renounced nuclear weapons," he said.

The idea, supported by U.S. President Barack Obama, rests on the creation of a global repository that would allow countries to tap into its reserves to fuel their nuclear plants without having to develop their own nuclear enrichment capability.

Ahmadinejad listened to the statement attentively at the joint press appearance but did not react.

Iran is accused by the United States and other Western nations of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran says its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.

In a statement later, Ahmadinejad described Nazarbayev as his "brother" and "friend" but said nothing on the nuclear issue. Kazakhstan is one of the world's top uranium exporters.

Creating such a repository in the Caspian nation accessible from Iran by sea could serve as an important step in U.S.-Iran relations at a time when Obama is pushing for a "new beginning" in their ties after decades of mistrust.

The bank is due to be supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Kazakhstan, its vast thinly populated steppes used in Soviet times to test nuclear weapons, inherited a stock of nuclear arms after the Soviet Union collapsed. It gave up its arsenal shortly afterwards, winning praise in the West.

(Writing by Maria Golovnina)

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