- Nuclear Energy
- Expert Workshop Series
Since the dawn of the nuclear age, there have been repeated attempts at internationalizing or securing multilateral involvement in front-end fuel cycle activities, particularly uranium enrichment. However, these efforts have generally been met with failure. Often, multilateral approaches to enrichment have failed to go beyond the conceptual level as a result of perceptions of unfairness, fears of uncertainty and defection, and reservations about the possibility of domination by a single partner. While the primary objective remains addressing both nonproliferation and supply assurance considerations—in other words, optimizing access to enrichment services without raising the risk of diversion or seizure of weapons-sensitive materials and technology—the primary obstacle remains an issue of perspective. For many countries in the developing world, plans to develop multinational fuel banks and facilities have generally been framed as a North-South issue. While countries with enrichment capabilities fear the proliferation and misuse of such technologies for nefarious purposes, those without enrichment facilities increasingly believe that they are being denied their “inalienable” rights to peaceful nuclear technology.
Although demand projections for enrichment have depressed somewhat following the Fukushima accident and present world enrichment capacity outpaces current demand, these forecasts are susceptible to change in the upcoming years. Expectations of a nuclear renaissance, while tempered in Europe and North America, are nevertheless high in such regions as Northeast and South Asia, increasing the necessity of cooperation in the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle. Measures to help realize multinational enrichment facilities include gradual introduction of multilateral approaches, broad principles governing the behavior of all partners, increasing the attractiveness of co-ownership for countries contemplating nuclear programs, and involving back-end collaboration as part of a larger fuel cycle partnership. A potential model for future multilateral enrichment facilities is URENCO, which currently supplies about one-third of global enrichment demand. URENCO has experienced success in the world enrichment market as a multinational entity involving the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands, and has adhered to strict nonproliferation principles, creating institutional restrictions to access to its centrifuge technology, employing black box concepts, and allowing full scope safeguards at all of its facilities.