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    Russia, Kazakhstan sign deal on uranium enrichment center

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Kazakhstan has produced a bilateral agreement to set up an international uranium enrichment center in East Siberia.

    ASTANA, May 10 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Kazakhstan has produced a bilateral agreement to set up an international uranium enrichment center in East Siberia.

    The venture, which was part of Moscow's non-proliferation initiative to create a network of enrichment centers under the UN nuclear watchdog's supervision, will be based at a chemical plant in Angarsk and will also be responsible for the disposal of nuclear waste.

    "We consider this document the first step in the implementation of our initiative to create a global nuclear energy infrastructure," Putin said during his talks with Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.

    The center will come on stream in 2013 and offer uranium enrichment services to countries interested in developing nuclear energy for civilian purposes.

    Last October, Russia and Kazakhstan, which holds 15% of the world's uranium reserves, signed constituent documents to establish their first joint venture to enrich uranium. A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited the Angarsk chemical plant in March.

    The Angarsk plant was previously removed from the list of "national strategic facilities," and there are no further legal obstacles to its operation.

    Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Russian Federal Agency of Nuclear Power, and Kazakh Energy Minister Baktykozha Izmukhambetov signed the agreement following talks between the two countries' leaders.

    "Now that the agreement is signed, the process of establishing the center is complete," Kiriyenko said, adding that any country could join the project by signing a similar intergovernmental agreement in order to secure access to uranium enrichment services and receive nuclear fuel.

    He said Russia accounted for 45% of the world's uranium enrichment capabilities and that the Angarsk plant would be able to cover uranium needs in the next few years, and new facilities could be built afterward if necessary.

    Kiriyenko said several countries had voiced their readiness to join the project, adding that Armenia was one of them and that a preliminary protocol had been signed with Ukraine.

    Russia came up with the initiative to establish joint nuclear enrichment centers last year so that countries could have transparent access to civilian nuclear technology without provoking international fears that low-enriched uranium could be used for a weapons program. Russia made a similar proposal to Iran, which has been at the center of international concerns following the resumption of nuclear research in January 2006 in what the Islamic Republic claims is for power generation.

    Russia and Kazakhstan will also sign a deal soon to establish a fifth joint venture for uranium prospecting and production. Kazakhstan and Russia rank second and third in uranium reserves after Australia, with over 1 million metric tons and 800,000 tons respectively.

    "With Kazakhstan we possess the entire technological chain - from producing uranium to achieving the final product, low-enriched uranium," Kiriyenko said.

    Putin announced Russia is also ready to assist in the construction of a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan. "I am sure that our experts will discuss this issue today," Putin said. "It is important to continue work on the program to create a common electricity market for Russia and Kazakhstan and start implementing it in the near future."

    He added that forming a joint venture to develop innovative projects on power units with nuclear reactors of low and medium capacity was another crucial bilateral project in the nuclear sector.

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