Assured fuel supply for nuclear power plants, which Mohamed El Baradei advocated in his remarks today, would be a very good idea. If only it was easy to implement.
El Baradei was right when he said that unless it a country is 100 per cent certain that it would get the fuel, the whole scheme will not work. But then he went on saying that countries will get the fuel only if they are in compliance with their NPT obligations. Which is exactly the problem – if a country is in compliance, it does not have to worry about guarantees, fuel banks and so on. It would just buy the fuel on the market. And if there are doubts about the compliance (we are not talking about actual non-compliance yet) then IAEA, the guardian of the arrangement, won't let it get the fuel from the bank.
If IAEA would act as the primary guarantor of fuel supply, it will become the natural place to apply political pressure in case someone would want to. One can argue that the IAEA track record of resisting political pressure has been quite good so far, but not everyone would consider this a strong guarantee.
Centralization (read monopolization) is a wrong way to provide guarantees of uninterrupted supply, even if the monopolist is a respected institution that just won a Nobel Prize. Diversity of suppliers would work much better. But even that might not be enough. To make sure that the assurances of supply are hundred per cent reliable, we may have to promise that the supply will continue even if a country is not (entirely) compliant with its NPT obligations.
(Originally posted on the 2005 Carnegie Non-Proliferation Conference web site)