In recent months, news outlets in Japan and the U.S. have reported that Mongolia is negotiating with those two countries to serve as a regional depository for spent nuclear fuel. The proposed plan would permit geographically constrained countries in the region, such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, to dispose of their spent fuel in the spacious Central Asian state.
The veracity of the reporting on the negotiations is still unknown. When the story first broke in March, the Mongolian Foreign Ministry was quick to dismiss the notion that Mongolia would host Asia's nuclear waste. The statement went on to declare that Mongolia's constitution prohibits the "import of dangerous waste to Mongolian territory." As noted last month, Mongolia has good reason to take such a stance, especially in light of the nuclear shadow cast by the recent events in Fukushima, Japan. Whether the government's position is cosmetic or genuine has yet to be comprehensively determined.
Last week, only a month after the depository claims were dismissed by Mongolian officials, the Mainichi Daily News, a Japanese newspaper, reported that the "secret deal" was advancing between the U.S. Department of Energy and the Mongolian government. The discussions highlight a larger struggle over global nuclear market share, with the U.S. and Japan positioned against industry rivals Russia and France. Russia's state-owned nuclear-energy corporation Rosatom continues to serve as a potent competitor in Mongolia to the U.S.-Japan nuclear alliance. Russia has the advantage of having established a historical record with Mongolia on nuclear energy matters, including a legally binding partnership and significant economic investment. France is a relatively new player in Mongolia's nuclear industry, but its multinational nuclear corporation Areva has plenty of resources and expertise as well as global reach.