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Russia and Kazakhstan join forces in the nuclear sector

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - Russia and Kazakhstan have signed an agreement to set up the International Uranium Enrichment Center. The document formalized the two countries' uranium processing cycle, from the production of uranium ore to its refining into low enriched uranium.

This inordinate event is important not only for Russia and Kazakhstan, but also reflects international interest in uranium enrichment. The establishment of the center creates new opportunities for all countries, including those who do not have nuclear technologies but still want to gain access to reliable nuclear energy.

"Any country can become a member of the center by signing an intergovernmental agreement granting it guaranteed access to uranium enrichment services," Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Federal Nuclear Power Agency, said.

Those who have nuclear fuel can develop nuclear power generation without creating dual-purpose technologies.

The global non-proliferation regime has been agreed upon and imposed on nuclear technologies because hypothetically they can be used for both civilian and military purposes. The establishment of the International Uranium Enrichment Center fits into the principles of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and sensitive technologies.

President Putin said that the center was "the first step toward establishing a global infrastructure of nuclear power generation," referring to international centers where full-cycle nuclear fuel services will be provided to any applicant in a non-discrimination procedure controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei supported Putin's idea. He said the countries that have the nuclear power generation technology should share these fruits of civilization with other countries wishing to develop the nuclear power industry.

The Russian-Kazakh center will be set up at the Angarsk chemical electrolysis plant in the Irkutsk Region (Eastern Siberia). Built in 1990, it is the youngest plant in the sector with modern equipment for uranium enrichment and conversion.

The Angarsk plant had been removed from the list of strategic, meaning secret, enterprises.

"This is an unprecedented fact, as nobody in the world has done this before," Kiriyenko said. "Now it is open to IAEA inspections."

Cooperation with the IAEA is crucial for the center, which can play its role only with the international nuclear watchdog's safeguards.

"When our countries join forces, this creates a cumulative effect," he said about the decision of Russia and Kazakhstan to work jointly on this project. Taken together, they have the world's largest uranium ore reserves and enrichment facilities (Russia has 45% of the world's total). This makes the work of the center guaranteed and predictable. The enrichment facilities should start working in 2013.

Russia is not simply cooperating with Kazakhstan in some segments of the nuclear sector. The two countries have a common goal of joining forces in order to become the leader of the global nuclear market. There are objective conditions and a package of intergovernmental agreements for this.

In 2006, Moscow and Astana signed a contract on the delivery of Kazakh uranium to Russia until 2022, with the Zarechnoye uranium deposit in southern Kazakhstan fitting the scheme. Their partnership potential has been strengthened through the establishment of three Russian-Kazakh joint ventures ensuring a harmonious approach to their nuclear power goals.

The Akbastau venture will develop two uranium deposits in Kazakhstan, the South Zarechnoye and Budennovskoye. The Atomnye Stantsii (Nuclear Power Plants) venture in Almaty will design low- and medium-yield innovation power plants to be based on Soviet submarine reactors. And the Angarsk venture will enrich uranium.

The next logical step should be the establishment of a joint uranium exploration venture.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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