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No international spent fuel storage in Mongolia!

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

The Mongolian government told Japan government officials and others concerned in late September that it had decided to abandon its plans to cooperate with Japan and the US and build facilities to store and dispose of spent fuel, it was learned on October 14. Mongolia appears to have judged the plan unfeasible because of opposition movements in the country.

Negotiations on the Mongolian nuclear projects started when US Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel B. Poneman visited Mongolia in September, 2010. Officials of Japan, the United States and Mongolia held their first round of talks on the projects in Washington in February this year. Then, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which wants to procure nuclear fuel from Mongolia, joined in the negotiations. In early July, Poneman sent a draft of an intergovernmental memorandum of understanding (MOU) to then-Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda in an effort to secure a deal by the end of this year.

The Japanese daily Mainichi reported on the secret talks between the three countries in May, but the Mongolian government has officially denied the existence of such negotiations. After the Mainichi's report, Mongolian citizens harshly reacted to the envisioned projects and demanded the government withdraw the plans and disclose information.

Following such developments, Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj issued a presidential order on September 13 banning negotiating with foreign governments or international organizations such as the IAEA on nuclear waste storage plans in Mongolia and fired  government officials who had attended trilateral talks with the United States and Japan in Washington from February 3 to 4 as representatives of Mongolia.

It seems that the Mongolian government was considering processing uranium into nuclear fuel and exporting it in an attempt to make "good use" of the uranium resources. For this purpose, Mongolia was exploring the idea of introducing "nuclear fuel lease contracts" in which Mongolia would receive spent nuclear fuel from countries that buy uranium nuclear fuel from Mongolia. The US Department of Energy took the idea and came up with a proposal that Mongolia collect, store and dispose of spent nuclear fuel from other countries. Since then, the United States and Japan had been negotiating with Mongolia on the project. Public opposition against the international waste storage plans was large. When US vice-president Joe Biden, visited Ulaanbataar in August this year, several demonstrations organised by many groups like the Green Coalition and the Khmalag Mongol Movement took place.

When in the mid 1980's China developed plans to store spent fuel from abroad in the Gobi desert, Mongolia protested sharply, citing serious risks of contamination of Mongolian as well as Chinese territory, through seepage of radioactive material in the groundwater. In 1990 public opposition and grassroots activism was aimed at the Russian uranium mine Mardai in northeast Mongolia, near the Siberian border. The Russian mine was seen by many as the symbol of 60 years of Soviet neo-colonialism.

Sources: Mainichi (Japan), 15 October 2011 / Mongolia-web, 20 August 2011 / Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden), 28 March 1990 / Nature, 14 June 1984 
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