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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Group pledges $50M for nuclear fuel

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, CNN creator Ted Turner and former Sen. Sam Nunn pledged $50 million to the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency Tuesday to create a uranium stockpile.

The aim is to discourage countries from developing their own nuclear programs. The reserve would ensure supplies of low-grade fuel for nuclear power plants around the world. One example of a program they hope to discourage is in Iran, which critics fear is ultimately aimed at developing weapons.

The Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative is hoping its financial pledge to the International Atomic Energy Agency will prod governments into action on creating the stockpile. Buffett would provide the money, which is contingent on a $100 million match from IAEA member states.

"Under international law and under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, countries have the right to enrich nuclear fuel," Nunn, a Georgia Democratic senator from 1972 to 1996, said in a telephone interview from Vienna, where he announced the proposal at a 140-country IAEA annual conference. "If we have a lot more countries that do that — and we're on the threshold of that now — then it's going to be an extremely dangerous world."

"It's going to be very difficult to keep that weapons-grade material out of the hands of someone who might use it as a weapon, like a terrorist group," Nunn said.

Western leaders are currently locked in a standoff with Iran over its uranium enrichment, which the country says is for civilian power but that the United States and others warn is intended to make weapons.

Nunn said an international reserve might not have deterred Iran. But it would give the international community more leverage in addressing the situation, he said.

"It would certainly be a powerful tool in the hands of the international community, saying, 'You don't need your own nuclear fuel supply. You have this available,'" Nunn said.

Nunn, who founded the anti-proliferation group with Turner, said the State Department expressed support for the plan but that "there's a difference between welcoming it and putting up money." He acknowledged that rallying the international community around the proposal would be difficult.

A State Department spokeswoman said she could not immediately comment on the proposal.

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