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Kazakhstan inaugurates IAEA-backed nuclear fuel bank

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ASTANA: Kazakhstan inaugurated on Tuesday a new internationally-controlled uranium fuel bank seen as potentially important in curbing nuclear proliferation and reducing regional security tensions.

The bank is capable of storing enough low-enriched uranium fuel to light up a large city for three years and it is hoped that access to the fuel will dissuade countries from launching their own nuclear enrichment programmes.

Iran’s nuclear programme set off years of tensions across the region and with the West amid concerns it was looking to build an atomic bomb.

 The bank “will function under the complete control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” which operates under the auspices of the United Nations, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said at the ceremony held in the capital Astana.

The new low-enriched uranium bank is located over 800 kilometres (500 miles) away in the northeastern town of Oskemen.

Having given up its own nuclear weapons following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan portrays itself as a key player in nuclear diplomacy. It is the world’s top producer of raw uranium.

The Central Asian country hosted talks on Iran’s nuclear programme in 2013.

The IAEA called the opening of the facility, which does not yet contain any fuel, a “key milestone” offering confidence to countries about the availability of nuclear power fuel.

Built at a cost of $150 million, the 880 square-metre (9,470 square-foot) structure will contain up to 90 tonnes of low-enriched uranium that is suitable to make fuel for a typical light-water reactor, or one that uses ordinary water.

A reserve of this size would be able to power a large city for three years, according to the IAEA.

Billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffet provided $50 million in start-up cash for the bank.

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