1. South Korean defense minister says North Korea likely to have 1 or 2 nuclear bombs
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South Korea's defense chief said Friday that North Korea is likely to have one or two nuclear weapons, amid growing concerns the communist regime may be preparing its first test of an atomic bomb.
Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung told a parliamentary meeting that the Seoul government doesn't doubt the North has nuclear weapons.
"North Korea is now estimated to have one or two" nuclear weapons, Yoon said, according to a video of the meeting posted on the National Assembly Web site.
The comment was seen as a change in South Korea's assessment of the North's nuclear capability, with Seoul previously saying only that the North had the capability to build one or two nuclear weapons.
North Korea has claimed it has nuclear weapons, but it is not known if the isolated country has performed any tests confirming its claims. Many experts believe the North has enough radioactive material to build at least half a dozen nuclear weapons.
Concerns about a possible test flared after an American TV network reported last week, citing U.S. officials, that suspicious activity was observed at a possible underground nuclear test site in the North.
The United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea have tried to convince the North to abandon its nuclear program at six-party negotiations that have been on hold since November.
2. Report: Japan confirms activity around suspected North Korea nuclear testing site
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Japan has boosted surveillance of North Korea after seeing vehicles entering and leaving a suspected nuclear test site but does not know whether a test is imminent, a news report said Thursday.
The vehicles have been seen in recent days at what is thought to be a nuclear testing site in the northeast of North Korea, Kyodo News agency reported, citing an unnamed government official.
It was unclear whether any nuclear tests by the North were imminent, but Japan is closely monitoring the situation, the official was quoted as saying.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry said Tokyo had boosted surveillance of the area and would continue to closely analyze intelligence, but said the government would not discuss specifics because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Defense officials also refused to confirm the Kyodo report.
American media reported last week that U.S. officials were monitoring potentially suspicious activity at a suspected underground nuclear site.
The report sent diplomats in the region scrambling to avert a possible test and get the North to return to multinational talks on its nuclear ambitions, which have stalled since November.
South Korea on Wednesday warned North Korea not to conduct a nuclear weapons test, saying it would further isolate the communist regime, while countries launched new efforts to persuade the North to resume stalled disarmament talks.
South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said a nuclear test by North Korea would be much more serious than its July missile tests and create a "threatening situation that will shake the foundation of the global nonproliferation system and will further isolate the North."
Concerns about a possible North Korean nuclear test grew after an ABC News report last week cited U.S. officials as saying that potentially suspicious activity had been observed at a suspected underground nuclear test site.
South Korea's military has said it sent personnel to keep a round-the-clock watch at a seismic monitoring station to detect tremors that could indicate a nuclear explosion.
North Korea's missile tests last month raised regional tensions and prompted U.N. Security Council sanctions against the North.
North Korea has claimed it has nuclear weapons, but hasn't performed any known test to confirm it has successfully manufactured an atomic bomb. However, many experts believe the North has enough radioactive material to build at least a half-dozen or more nuclear weapons.
Talks on North Korea's nuclear program have been deadlocked since November, when negotiators failed to make headway in implementing a September agreement in which North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
North Korea has since refused to attend six-nation talks on its nuclear program until Washington stops blacklisting a bank where the communist regime held accounts, a restriction imposed over alleged counterfeiting and money laundering.
Washington has called on the North to return to the nuclear talks without conditions, saying the issue is unrelated to the financial restrictions. The talks involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S.
North Korea insisted Wednesday it posed no threat to the South and condemned ongoing U.S.-South Korea joint military drills as a prelude to war.
"There are no forces of war threatening South Korea in the Korean Peninsula at present," the North's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, wrote in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
Seoul and Washington have said the exercises mostly simulation-driven drills that run through Sept. 1 and involve some 17,000 troops are defensive in nature.
South Korean officials have downplayed reports on North Korean moves towards a nuclear test, but they appear concerned the heightened nuclear standoff would further escalate tensions simmering on the peninsula since the the North's missile launches last month.
Officials here admitted they could not rule out the possibility that the North would conduct an underground nuclear bomb test to grab the attention of Washington, whose focus was primarily on Iran's nuclear program and the Middle East crisis.
"At this moment, we cannot rule out the possibility (of the North's nuclear test)," said Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, speaking to journalists on Wednesday.
South Korea is closely monitoring North Korea's nuclear activities around the clock and has dispatched military personnel to a state-run seismology institute to monitor for possible underground explosions, according to Ban and defense officials.
"The South Korea government is cooperating with relevant nations and is closely monitoring North Korea's activities through various channels," Ban said. "We are trying to gather as much information as we can."
The diplomatic chief also warned of serious consequences if the North conducts a nuclear weapons test, defying international calls. "(A nuclear test) would bring about much more serious consequences than its missile test last month," Ban said.
"It would pose a serious threat that would shake the international non-proliferation system from its foundation, and North Korea would be further isolated," he said.
U.S. television network ABC said last week said that North Korea may be preparing an underground nuclear test. A U.S. intelligence agency had recently detected "suspicious vehicle movement" at a suspected nuclear test site in North Korea, a senior military official was quoted as saying by ABC News.
North Korea claimed in Feb. 2005 that it possessed nuclear weapons, declaring itself a nuclear power. The communist state also boasted of having extracted more weapons-grade plutonium to make additional atomic weapons.
Ratcheting up tensions, North Korea test-fired a set of missiles on July 5, including a long-range ballistic missile. Washington has been put alert as the North's missile, which could be equipped with a nuclear warhead, may be capable of reaching the continental United States.
In response, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a strong resolution on July 15 condemning North Korea for its multiple missile launches and barring the country from acquiring or selling missile technology and materials related to weapons of mass destruction.
In protest against the U.N. measures, Pyongyang vowed to take "stronger physical action," indicating a nuclear weapons test.
Seoul's fear was heightened this week as the North strongly responded to an annual South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise.
The South Korean military said the computer war games are purely defensive, but North Korea denounced them as a preparation for an attack, saying it would no longer be bound to an armistice treaty that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
The exercise is "an undisguised military threat and blackmail against the DPRK (North Korea) and a war action," the North's military said in its Tuesday statement.
"The (North) Korean Peoples' Army side, therefore, reserves the right to undertake a pre-emptive action for self-defense against the enemy at a crucial time it deems necessary to defend itself," it said.
The two Koreas are still technically in a state of war since the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
For its part, the United States has stepped up pressure on North Korea to give up its missile and nuclear weapons program.
The U.S. Treasury Department has forced foreign banks to freeze North Korean accounts, further squeezing the cashapped Kim Jong Il regime. Pyongyang has already walked out of the multilateral six-party talks on its nuclear drive in protest against Washington's financial sanctions imposed last September.
U.S. President George W. Bush also asked China's President Hu Jintao to put pressure on Kim Jong Il to abandon his country's nuclear ambitions.
Washington and Beijing need "to continue to work together to send a clear message to the North Korean leader that there is a better choice for him than to continue to develop a nuclear weapon," Bush said.
Some analysts in Seoul call for South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to seek summit talks with the North Korean leader to seek ways to resolve the security crisis on the peninsula.
"An inter-Korean summit could provide a fresh momentum to resolve the nuclear and missile issues at a time when dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington remains cut off," said Paik Hak-soon, a North Korea expert at South Korea's private Sejong Institute.
With the purchase of two more German-made Dolphin submarines capable of carrying nuclear warheads, military experts say Israel is sending a clear message to Iran that it can strike back if attacked by nuclear weapons.
The purchases come at a time when Iran is refusing to bow to growing Western demands to halt its nuclear program, and after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
The new submarines, built at a cost of $1.3 billion with Germany footing one-third of the bill, have diesel-electric propulsion systems that allow them to remain submerged for longer periods of time than the three nuclear arms-capable submarines already in Israel's fleet, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The latest submarines not only would be able to carry out a first strike should Israel choose to do so, but they also would provide Israel with crucial secondike capabilities, said Paul Beaver, a London-based independent defense analyst.
Israel is already believed to have that ability in the form of the Jericho-1 and Jericho-2 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, which are buried so far underground they would survive a nuclear strike, he said.
"The Iranians would be very foolish if they attacked Israel," Beaver said.
German officials have said the contract for the new submarines was signed July 6, and the Jerusalem Post reported this week the subs will be operational shortly.
Israel, operating on a policy of nuclear ambiguity, has never confirmed or denied whether it has nuclear weapons. It is believed, however, to have the world's sixth-largest stockpile of atomic arms, including hundreds of warheads.
Iran so far has resisted calls by the U.N. Security Council to halt uranium enrichment, which can produce, among other things, the material for atomic bombs. The council set an Aug. 31 deadline that is accompanied by the threat of sanctions.
The dispute over Tehran's nuclear program revolves around Iran's insistence it wants to master the technology simply to generate electricity. Critics say Iran wants to make nuclear weapons.
The Dolphin submarine could be one of the best deterrents, Beaver said. The technology on the subs makes them undetectable and gives them defensive capabilities in the case of attack, he said.
"They are very well-built, very well-prepared, lots of interesting equipment, one of the best conventional submarines available," Beaver said. "We are talking about a third string of deterrence capabilities."
Michael Karpin, an expert on Israel's atomic weapons capabilities who published a book on the issue in the United States, said nuclear-armed submarines provide better secondike capabilities than missiles launched from airplanes.
"Planes are vulnerable, unlike nuclear (armed) submarines that can operate for an almost unlimited amount of time without being struck," Karpin said. "Secondike capabilities are a crucial element in any nuclear conflict."
In Germany, members of two opposition parties criticized the deal. Winfried Nachtwei, national security spokesman for the Greens, said the decision was wrong because Germany had obtained no guarantee the submarines would not be used to carry nuclear weapons.
"This red line should not be crossed," Nachtwei was quoted as saying by the newspaper Taz. "Otherwise it is a complete renunciation of Germany's policy of non-proliferation."
David Menashri, an Israeli expert on Iran, said Tehran is clearly determined to obtain nuclear weapons and "the purchase of additional Dolphin submarines by Israel is a small footnote in this context."
What also makes Tehran dangerous, Beaver said, is that it may not understand the consequences of carrying out a nuclear strike.
"They (Iran) have a belligerent leadership and that's why Israel is prudent in ensuring that it has that deterrent capability," Beaver said. "What they (the submarines) are is a very good insurance policy."
Many of the great and the good have dismissed the utility of nuclear weapons as well as finding the idea of their use morally indefensible but still they exist in enormous numbers in the arsenals of the great powers. US defence secretary Robert McNamara and US secretary of state Dean Rusk both came to be convinced during their tenure in the Kennedy administration that their use was unthinkable. President George H W Bush has written that in private he ruled out a nuclear response during the 1991 Gulf War although in public his administration did not. General Colin Powell, then the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, in his autobiography recalls chiding his boss, Dick Cheney, for even considering it.
Paul Nitze, one of the principal architects of containing the Soviet Union by nuclear deterrence, went further. He argued in a Washington Post article in 1994 that it was time to junk Americas nuclear dependence and rely instead on smart conventional weapons.
But in the 12 years since the Nitze article, few analysts or senior officials have joined the debate on whether precision conventional weapons could do the job alone. But as Dennis Gormley argues in the current issue of the quarterly journal of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a careful analysis of the reports by both government and think-tanks shows that conventional weapons can do anything that a nuclear weapon might be called upon to do, and to do it with less casualties and less political fall-out.
Conservative as he was in so many ways, it was President Ronald Reagan who tried to seize this bull by the horns. In late 1986, at a summit meeting with the Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, he offered to eliminate all offensive ballistic missiles within 10 years, provided that each side would then be free to deploy strategic missile defences. According to Steve Andreasen, who has served in the White House as director of Defence Policy on the National Security Council, Mr Gorbachev said no. Bur a year later, the two Presidents did agree to the more limited idea of eliminating all intermediate range cruise and ballistic missiles. Mr Reagans ballistic missiles demands another look, particularly since the element in the deal that the Soviets did not like, missile defences, is already accepted. Of all disarmament initiatives, it is the one most easy to monitor and implement. And it would abolish, as Andreasen writes, the most awesome weapon system ever devised. And yet, to placate the worriers it would leave nuclear-armed planes and cruise missiles in place, whilst dealing with the issue that President George W Bush raised during his first campaign for office, when he observed that the dilemma of ballistic missiles was that, for two nations at peace keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch. The beauty of the Reaganesque proposal is that it can easily be grasped by both politicians and public opinion. Most disarmament proposals have involved labyrinthine negotiations through the policy thickets. A global ZBM would reduce the incentive for either the USA or Russia to strike the other first with nuclear weapons. It would reduce the risk of an accidental or unauthorised launch and, moreover, simplify the challenge for missile defences. Most important, it would satisfy a craving that is evident in much of American and Russian public opinion ~ to take each other off the enemys list. After all, neither side has ever fired a deadly shot in anger against the other.
In the age of Bush 2, when pre-emption is now a doctrine, it would make it impossible to pre-empt with nuclear weapons a threat from a rogue state or terrorist group, which is why, from Mr Reagan onwards, proponents of ZBM put great emphasis on improving the accuracy and destructive potential of conventional weapons. Would Russia, China, Britain and France agree? Russia would find that it would simplify its strategic position. China would appear to lose out at first sight. But it has never chosen to build its ballistic missile force against the USA, which suggests it could be persuaded to rely on aircraft for its Asian defence. Britain and France would appear to be the big losers but London and Paris must be persuaded that it would be a major strategic gain to eliminate the threat of total annihilation. Besides, sooner or later, they both have to face up to the big unanswered question: who do they think they are ever going to use nuclear weapons against? If Britain and France cant find the honest answer to this question then no one can. They should not be the ones who stand in the way of what would be a major step towards the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
1. Argentina to expand peaceful nuclear program to meet energy needs
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Argentina announced an ambitious plan Wednesday to expand its nuclear program to meet rising energy demands, including extending the life of existing plants and possibly resuming uranium mining.
At a Government House news conference, Planning Minister Julio de Vido said the plan calls for increasing the life span of the aging Atucha I and Embalse nuclear power plants and completing construction by 2010 on the long-stalled Atucha II plant.
Two decades of delays have hampered completion of the Atucha II project, located some 75 miles (120 kilometers) northwest of the capital of Buenos Aires.
The nearby Atucha I facility has been operating since the mid-1970s, in conjunction with the Embalse plant in central Argentina.
De Vido emphasized the "strictly peaceful" nature of Argentina's nuclear program.
The planning minister was flanked by President Nestor Kirchner, who did not comment on the plan nor on a report by the leading newspaper Clarin saying the nuclear program could cost the government US$3.5 billion (euro2.7 billion) over eight years.
"When this government took office in 2003, the nuclear energy sector was reactivating," De Vido said. "Today we come to establish a strategic plan for the Argentine nuclear energy sector for the coming years."
The program calls for large-scale power generation to meet fast-growing energy demands, amid careful regulation by national authorities. Among other steps, he announced plans for "concrete steps" toward resumption of uranium mining.
De Vido did not comment on a Clarin report that Argentina might revive a uranium enrichment program shut down in 1983 due to budget constraints. Enrichment provides the fuel needed to operate such nuclear plants, but can also be a central to building nuclear weapons.
Argentina, one of the leading Latin American nations in nuclear power generation, has had to stave off potential energy shortfalls in recent years. The launch of a new nuclear strategy is seen by some as a way to boost the profile of the Kirchner's center-left government ahead of his likely re-election bid in 2007.
The move comes as Argentina and its South American neighbor Brazil are seeking new energy sources to counter crude oil prices that have crested US$70 (euro55) a barrel, along with soaring prices in natural gas and other fuels.
Last May, Brazil inaugurated a uranium enrichment center capable of producing nuclear fuel. The center is expected to save South America's largest economy millions of dollars (euros) that the country now spends to enrich fuel at Urenco, the European enrichment consortium.
Both nations have stressed the strictly peaceful nature of their nuclear programs, given a backdrop of international pressure against Iran to halt expansion of its nuclear program. Washington has cautioned Iran that it will seek sanctions in the U.N. Security Council if Tehran does not step enriching uranium.
On Wednesday, the environmental group Greenpeace criticized Argentina's new nuclear strategy, saying a renewable energy sources should be explored instead.
Nuclear energy "poses grave problems for safety, environmental contamination and impact on health," Greenpeace coordinator Juan Casavelos said in a statement. "It's unbelievable in our country, with its enormous renewable energy sources, that nuclear energy is being proposed as a real option."
2. Even the Utilities Differ Over Whether Nuclear Is the Energy Answer
Matthew L. Wald
New York Times
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Nobody in the United States has started building a nuclear power plant in more than three decades. Mayo A. Shattuck III could be the first.
As the chief executive of Constellation Energy, a utility holding company in Baltimore that already operates five nuclear reactors, Mr. Shattuck is convinced that nuclear power is on the verge of a renaissance, ready to provide reliable electricity at a competitive price. He has already taken the first steps toward achieving that, moving recently to order critical parts for a new reactor.
But Constellation's neighboring utility, the PPL Corporation, takes a different view. Even though PPL has successfully operated two reactors since 1983, its chairman, William F. Hecht, said that he had no plans for new nuclear plants.
When nuclear reactors were first commercialized almost half a century ago, every self-respecting electric utility wanted one. They were encouraged by a government that saw nuclear energy as a peaceful, redemptive byproduct of the deadly power unleashed at Hiroshima. The federal official for promoting nuclear energy, Lewis L. Strauss, said it would produce electricity ''too cheap to meter.''
It has never given consumers anything like that. But with the industry now consolidated so that most reactors are in the hands of a comparatively few operators, utility executives are sharply divided over whether nuclear power offers an attractive choice as they seek to satisfy a growing demand for electricity.
For them, the question comes down not so much to safety and environmental impact but to whether the potential reward is worth the financial risk. And those who already operate several reactors are prone to want more.
The debate within the utility industry over reviving nuclear power has taken on added importance, though, because unlike plants that burn coal and other fossil fuels, reactors do not produce gases that contribute to global warming.
And once again, Washington is encouraging utilities to push ahead. The summer of 2005's energy bill offered a generous production tax credit, insurance against regulatory delays and loan guarantees. Earlier legislation gave the industry money to help plan new plants. And they continue to benefit from a ceiling on liability damages in case of an accident.
Despite nuclear power's promise as a clean energy source that could hold down emissions of global warming gases, most environmentalists are skeptical of the latest claims by its advocates. They say that utilities, at best, will move ahead with a handful of plants that will receive lavish incentives from the government. But the risks of nuclear power are still so high, they argue, that no utility will be willing to put its own money into building a plant unless the federal government heavily subsidizes it.
''What dismays me about the present situation is the extent to which the Congress and the administration, and now an occasional state legislature, have rushed to anoint it as the solution to climate change,'' said Peter A. Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and former chairman of the public service commissions of both Maine and New York. If nuclear plants cannot compete without subsidies, he said, they should not be built.
Today, nuclear power supplies just under 20 percent of the electricity used in the United States. Its share has been slipping lately as new plants running on other fuels have come online.
With the price of natural gas increasing, coal has emerged once again as the most popular way to generate electricity, a trend that -- if it continues -- is expected to lead to a significant rise in emissions of carbon dioxide. The utility sector emits about a third of the carbon dioxide produced in this country, nearly all of that from coal.
Adding dozens more nuclear reactors to that mix could reverse the rise in carbon dioxide from the electricity-generating system, but its advance would also run up against certain limits.
Nuclear plants cannot replace all of the fossil fuel used in power generation because current nuclear designs do not easily alter the power output. Plants running on natural gas and coal, by contrast, can adjust their output over the course of a day to match demand.
For a long time, the underlying confidence of utilities in nuclear technology was moot because the economics would not support a new reactor; all those ordered after 1973 were canceled.
But now, because of high prices for natural gas and uncertainty about how emissions from coal plants will be regulated in the future, the nuclear industry is moving from near death to the prospect that perhaps a handful of plants will be ordered in the next few years. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission counts 27 potential reactors under consideration; 103 are now operable.
For all the momentum behind the push, however, there is still a high degree of skepticism within the utility industry.
PPL, for example, has successfully operated two reactors in Berwick, Pa., for 23 years. But with some utilities around the country making preliminary moves or joining consortiums to explore new designs, PPL is absent.
There are better places to put the money of shareholders, Mr. Hecht of PPL said. At the moment he sees a much greater advantage in cleaning up his coal-fired plants, investing $1.5 billion to scrub out most of the sulfur dioxide. That would not only benefit the environment but also generate pollution credits PPL can profitably sell.
That decision was ''dull and basic,'' Mr. Hecht said, but adheres to a paramount goal: maximizing shareholder returns. He won't rule out nuclear plants forever, Mr. Hecht said in an interview, but the business case would have to be a lot clearer than it is now.
''Technology often has zealots, it seems, behind it,'' he said of companies moving forward on nuclear power.
By contrast, Constellation Energy not only wants to build reactors for itself, it also has formed a partnership with a reactor manufacturer to build and operate them for other utilities.
''This organization has a history of feeling that they have done well in nuclear,'' Mr. Shattuck said. Constellation executives think that they ''can continue to do well in nuclear and shouldn't shy away from their responsibility.''
Constellation plans to apply for a reactor-operating license by the end of 2007, probably at either the Calvert Cliffs site in Maryland where it runs two nuclear reactors built in the 1960's and 1970's, or at Nine Mile Point, in Scriba, N.Y., on Lake Ontario, where it operates two reactors it bought in 2001.
Its decision has implications beyond the corporate bottom line for the global environment. There are also arguments over nuclear waste and the risk of accidents. Around New York City, especially, there is concern over reactors as terrorist targets.
But the risk that really matters to utility executives is financial. Among the companies that would actually build these plants, executives focus more on uncertain factors like the future price of power, the cost of producing competing fuels, and the cost of cleaning up coal plants to meet standards for the pollutants that Washington does regulate -- sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot.
At this point companies do not face any constraints on carbon emissions.
Companies that want to build -- among them Entergy, Dominion and Duke Energy -- talk about new designs intended to further reduce the risk of an accident and their ability to manage nuclear waste until the government eventually opens a national waste repository.
Opponents often cite the risk of accidents and the problem of nuclear waste, but the companies that do not want to build say that those are not factors in their decisions.
When PPL builds a power plant, it usually sells the power first, and uses the signed contracts to reassure the investors and the bankers from whom it is seeking financing. ''I'm not going to build any large generation unhedged,'' Mr. Hecht said.
But this is not easy with a nuclear plant. For one thing, Mr. Hecht said, no one could be sure when it would be finished. And despite the industry's efforts to shorten the time from order to completion, it could still be 10 years, he said.
''If you build 1,000 megawatts,'' he asked, ''how are you going to find someone to buy it 10 years out, for 10 years after it is finished?''
A nuclear plant ordered in 2007 could well turn out to be a more economical power source in 2020 than a coal plant ordered at the same time, he said, but the range of uncertainty is much larger. He is content to let others take the lead.
Constellation Energy insists it is driving risk out of the proposition. Constellation, which doubled its nuclear bet in the 1990's by buying more reactors as the utility industry reorganized, contends that it has demonstrated one marketable skill -- running reactors profitably -- and that it could quickly follow a new plant with a copycat, building both on time and on budget.
Constellation has an expertise gained in the early, difficult years of nuclear power, Mr. Shattuck said, citing Michael J. Wallace, president of his company's generation division.
''Mike is the only executive in the utility sector today who was an executive responsible for building new nuclear plants last time around,'' he said. Mr. Wallace oversaw the construction and start-up of two nuclear plants built in Illinois: Byron, which fully entered commercial service in 1987, and Braidwood, the following year.
Constellation proposes a fleet of plants, identical down to the ''carpeting and wallpaper,'' Mr. Shattuck said, reducing the design costs on subsequent reactors to near zero. Operating processes would be identical, and operators could be shuffled among the plants, something that is often impossible today even with adjacent reactors. The company wants partners that would offer either equity or operating skills.
Constellation has a partnership, called UniStar Nuclear, with Areva, the French-German company, which is owned by Framatome and Siemens, to build a model. One model is under construction in Finland.
''A lot of it is establishing a model that mitigates risk as you move forward,'' Mr. Shattuck said. ''A lot of players out there haven't quite figured out how they're going to go to their boards and ask for $4 billion, for which I'll get cash flows in 13 years.''
Last December, Constellation and FPL, parent of Florida Power and Light, announced that they would merge, creating the country's largest competitive marketer of power. That would put the company in an even better position to build new reactors, Mr. Shattuck said.
Some experts, however, remain skeptical that new reactors should be built, although they acknowledge this is increasingly likely. In the last 20 years or so, said Mr. Bradford, the former regulator, utility restructuring has often shifted the risks of new construction from ratepayers to investors.
''What the Congress has done now, for the first six or so plants, is to find a third pocket,'' he said. ''Now they've called upon the taxpayer to pony up.''
But even if a few plants are built, industry insiders do not expect nuclear power to assume a significantly greater role. Roger W. Gale, an electricity expert and former Energy Department official, asks several hundred utility executives each year what they foresee in their industry.
While they are convinced that a new plant will be ordered soon, the more than 100 senior utility executives who responded also said they do not expect ''a future where nuclear generation represents a larger share of generation'' than today.
Nuclear power is getting its best press in years. More pundits are warming up to the peacetime atom than at any time since the 1970s.
As was the case 30 years ago, nuclear energy is gaining converts as energy prices spiral ever upward and America's reliance on Middle East oil goes unchecked. But the current swell of support for nuclear has more to do with the perils of coal than with oil.
COAL IS America's most important fuel source for electrical power generation and it is responsible for more than one-third of the nation's carbon-dioxide emissions - pollution that promotes global warming.
When it comes to emitting carbon, nuclear power is cleaner, and that's just the first of many reasons to love nuclear, so say its backers. Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, and an unlikely convert to the nuclear cause, urges that mining uranium is much safer than in years past, and that spent nuclear fuel is not so much waste as it is "potential energy" available for extra rounds of power generation. What waste remains, Moore contends, is not nearly so risky as commonly assumed.
"In 40 years," Moore and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman write in a Washington Post op-ed, "used fuel has less than one-thousandth of the radioactivity it had when it was removed from the reactor. ... Imagine if the ratio of coal to nuclear were reversed so that only 20 percent of our electricity was generated from coal and 60 percent from nuclear."
Imagine indeed. For ample imagination is needed to embrace a plan that costs so much, promises so little in clean energy, and risks so perilously the country's national security.
More nuclear plants in the United States will not alleviate the global warming problem, so long as other countries roll out new coal-fired power plants. By some estimates, China commissions a new coal-fired power station every 10 days, even as it moves forward on ambitious plans to open new nuclear plants.
IN THE UNITED States, hundreds of nuclear plants would be required to replace the current supply of electricity generated from coal. Siting even a handful, not to mention hundreds, of new plants would send attorneys on both sides of the debate back to school for refresher courses on plant commissioning; no nuclear power station has been commissioned in the United States in more than 25 years. Imagine nuclear waste stored at hundreds of surface sites at new nuclear plants around the nation.
The probability for a serious accident grows as opportunities to mishandle radioactive materials increase. More plants mean more chances for waste to seep out of temporary storage sites, or that somewhere, sometime, mistakes will be made processing, transporting, or simply keeping track of fissile materials. It's the latter problem that gives most grave pause.
As the United States ramps up nuclear power production, thereby generating greater amounts of reusable nuclear fuels and radioactive wastes, nuclear proliferation risks mount. The thousands of new jobs created to mine and process uranium, manufacture, load and unload fuel rods, and transport and store waste represent thousands of additional people with discretion over potent and greatly feared forms of energy.
A FULL-STEAM-AHEAD plan for nuclear energy means millions of additional chances for radioactive products and byproducts to end up in the wrong hands. Nuclear power plants offer one-stop shopping for terrorists: they can be sabotaged or their radioactive contents can be siphoned for weapons.
These risks should urge us to keep developing alternatives to nuclear, be it wind energy, fuel cells, biofuels, reduced energy demand, deep injection of carbon dioxide, or any number of other plausible options. None of these options, alone, will solve the global warming problem, but nuclear power does not belong on the option list, period.
(Editor's note: The writer is a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.)
Building a nuclear energy plant requires first and foremost a political preference coupled with environmental consideration of the pros and cons of the eventualities. After a half a century of wavering, since 1956, now it seems that the political will is there as the decision has been taken by the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government. The question of whether or not it was the right decision is now behind us. To many, energy-hungry Turkey has no alternative but to join the nuclear club for no doubt peaceful purposes.
As the historic decision has been taken by the government, now a certain process has to be followed, locally and internationally, like officially getting in touch with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna for approval. Nobel Peace Prize winner and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei was in Istanbul recently and in a public statement gave his personal green light to Turkey's application. The informal contacts with the IAEA and with individual countries producing nuclear technology have been in process for some time now.
Such a vitally important decision, no doubt, requires careful consideration, study and planning towards a comprehensive strategy. It is reported that there is a Nuclear Energy Strategy Document to be presented to the government for approval that was prepared in 2005. It seems that such a study is already in the prime minister's office for approval in draft form. In other words it is not certain if there is a strategy to be followed for nuclear energy at the moment.
It is good to know that any nuclear plant anywhere is not only built to produce electric energy, but it is above and beyond that power purpose. Experts claim that a nuclear power plant of 100 MW can only meet 5 percent of Turkey's electric energy needs. That is to say, and according to some, such a nuclear plant will not meet Turkey's demand to a great degree. There is definitely an important shortage in electric power supply even at the moment, and rapidly industrializing and growing Turkey is obliged to diversify its electric supply sources. Hence, Turkey has no other possibility but to resort to nuclear energy.
While the prospective nuclear energy plant in Turkey will need at least five to seven years to be built and become operational, Turkey's electric energy supply requirement must be met immediately and cannot afford to wait. For that purpose the private sector in Turkey and international finance has to be encouraged by the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry to initiate new power plants to meet the rising demand, presumably on a build-and-operate basis. Unfortunately Turkey will definitely face power shortages by 2012, if not earlier.
Energy and Natural Resources Minister Hilmi Guler has already invited 13 prominent Turkish private sector company CEOs, to solicit their opinions on how to build this first nuclear plant with foreign partner collaboration. The minister's unacceptable condition was to build this plant "without a Treasury guarantee." It was obvious that the lack of such a guarantee would make it impossible to find international credit such as the U.S. Eximbank or Japanese banks for a nuclear plant, the cost of which may not be less than $3 billion to build with an uncertain future to operate. It seems that this is where the meeting on April 13, 2006 with Guler and State Minister Ali Babacan became bogged down. It was understandable that none of the 13 conglomerates were ready to risk their money in a nuclear plant, in the absence of a Treasury guarantee. There seems to exist also the inherent risk that the Erdogan government or its successors may have in the process second thoughts and cancel the project when it is halfway through. In the Philippines for example, a nuclear plant was completed with the government guarantee but could not be activated because of strong political opposition from environmentalists.
Even if a letter of intent is given to a consortium of companies involved in the project, it may not be good enough to convince international finance against the possible risk of canceling the project at any stage.
Guler is on record saying that "nuclear energy is not an alternative for Turkey, but a must, and Turkey is definitely obliged to go nuclear." The minister himself wisely had a brainstorming meeting with dozens of experts who provided technical reports for him so that a common consensus could be reached.
As of 2005 there existed in 31 countries 443 licensed nuclear plants worldwide. All these combined met 17 percent of the total electric power demand. France, for example, as a leading country in nuclear power meets 78 percent of its demand through nuclear plants. The United States has 103 nuclear plants but can only meet 20 percent of its huge demand for power. The United Kingdom with 13 nuclear plants can meet 30 percent of its power requirement.
The other side of the coin is that Austria gave up operating its nuclear plants in 1978, Italy followed suit in 1987 and Switzerland has 40 nuclear plants, some of which are already closed. Sweden has also closed down around 12 plants.
It is highly interesting to know that it is much cheaper to build a nuclear power plant than to decommission one. Just to give an idea, if the building cost is 10 one must spend 200 to shut a nuclear plant.
Turkey's first nuclear plant will probably be built in Sinop, as announced by Erdogan. It has already provoked local opposition from environmental activists. If there is a time constraint, Mersin Akkuyu is there to replace Sinop, which is already under license, said Turkish Atomic Energy Agency (TAEK) President Oktay Cakiroglu on April 14, 2006. The disadvantage of Mersin Akkuyu is that it lies in close proximity to the Ecemis fault line.
Turkey's first nuclear plant is envisaged to be operational by 2015, according to a National Nuclear Technology Policy document said to have been prepared by TAEK in Ankara. The details of this document are yet to be made public. Turkey's nuclear plant in the future, according to reports, will use natural uranium and pressurized water technology called CANada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU), which represents the most recent technology and is said to be available only in the United States and Canada. In that sense and for practical reasons, American and Canadian companies stand a better chance of winning the contract. However, companies in Russia, South Korea and France are reportedly and for a good reason interested in building Turkey's first nuclear reactor for peaceful purposes. It is true that it may not be environmentally friendly, but the economic theory of comparative advantage always wins the order of the day as a way out in a chaotic lack of energy impasse, like it or not.
5. EGYPTIAN PAPER REPORTS US, ISRAELI PRESSURE OVER NUCLEAR PROGRAMME
(for personal use only)
Text of report by Imad Khayrat entitled "Our nuclear plants are an unrealized dream. Ministers discuss turning the Al-Dab'ah site into a tourist resort" published by Egyptian opposition Wafd Party daily newspaper Al-Wafd on 17 August
For about a year now, US pressure has been stepped up on Egypt to make it give up the idea of building a plant for nuclear reactors in the Al-Dab'ah area on the northern coast. Since then, efforts have been made to bury the idea of building the plant.
Israel joined the United States in exercising pressure on the Egyptian political regime to disable the modest Egyptian nuclear programme so that there is no nuclear power in the region except Israel.
These pressures coincided with the dubious silence that has become a distinctive characteristic of the leaders of the three nuclear agencies in Egypt. The pressures also coincide with the media blackout policy practiced by Minister of Electricity Hasan Yunus who is tasked with overseeing the Egyptian nuclear programme, on all questions regarding the programme.
This state of affairs indicates that the final say on our nuclear future and indeed on the future of energy in Egypt is up to clandestine and undeclared parties.
A quick look
If we go back to the history of the Egyptian nuclear programme we will find that former President Abd-al-Nasir issued a decree to set up a nuclear energy commission on 17 February 1955, chaired by officer Kamal-al-Din Husayn who was the minister of education at the time.
Abd-al-Nasir issued another decree in 1957 to turn the commission into an atomic energy agency. Afterwards, President Al-Sadat issued a decree in 1975 to turn it into an independent nuclear energy commission to be supervised by the minister of electricity. In 1976, the commission included a section for reactors.
Since then, the state wasted approximately half a billion [Egyptian] pounds on studies to build the first nuclear plant in the Al-Dab'ah area. There has been a great controversy over the need to build the plant to anticipate the decrease in the production of oil, which is expected to completely run out in the near future. In this case, we will have to import oil from abroad.
In the meantime, some people called for beginning to implement the project of the nuclear plant in Al-Dab'ah to secure energy in the future, in addition to desalinating sea water and using it for agriculture in the western desert.
Instructions by higher authorities
Since every step forward is followed by many steps backward, we did not know about the secret force that blocked the implementation of the project until instructions came from higher state authorities a few months ago.
Under these instructions, the former tourism minister, engineer Ahmad al-Mughrabi, was asked to contact Lt-Gen Muhammad al-Shahat, governor of Matruh, where the site of the proposed Al-Dab'ah nuclear plant is, to carry out a mission with which the two men were tasked without referring to Minister Hasan Yunus who is in charge of every nuclear activity in Egypt.
The mission was secret and raised a lot of question marks. Al-Mughrabi took with him a number of Jewish and American friends on his trip to Al-Dab'ah, accompanied by the governor of Matruh.
They headed to the site of the Al-Dab'ah nuclear plant. At the gate of the plant where security men check the identity of visitors, the people accompanying the minister and governor refused to declare their identity. Then the governor intervened and prevented the security men from seeing their passport saying that the visit was secret.
When Dr Hasan Yunus was informed, he had no objection. He only told journalists that, under a presidential decree, the site of the plant belongs to the nuclear energy commission and that no action can be taken without a presidential decree.
A few days later, engineer Ahmad al-Mughrabi, minister of housing and former minister of tourism, visited the office of Dr Yunus. Al-Mughrabi came to apologize to Yunus. He told Yunus that a higher party asked him to prepare a visit to the plant by a delegation of Egypt's friends to pave the way for turning the site into an international tourist resort and injecting tourism investments in it.
Al-Mughrabi informed Yunus that he did not act on his own. He told Yunus: Parties that are more senior than you and me organized the visit. Yunus did not reply and the crisis was over. Afterwards, the two ministers received instructions not to make press statements on this issue while the higher authorities began to act differently away from the media. And they finally decided to strike the project of the plant from outside.
Arab and foreign officials and investors made successive secret visits to inspect an area adjacent to the Al-Dab'ah plant on the northern coast. The main plan to hit the plant focuses on injecting huge investments to build tourist resorts outside the plant fence and build a private airport, hotels, parks, factories and casinos, so that these projects will be an obstacle to building the plant.
If Egypt decides to build the plant, these facilities, which will have cost millions of dollars, will have to be removed and the most difficult question will then be: Should we build the plant here and destroy all these projects or should we build the plant in Sinai without causing losses to the existing projects?
Currently, it seems that the public opinion in Egypt has two difficult options. We should either give up the project of building a nuclear plant to generate electricity at a time when oil is diminishing and prospects of securing energy in Egypt are decreasing according to reports prepared by international consultants, or think of an alternative which is safe to the United States and Israel. It is the building of a nuclear plant to generate electricity in Sinai, shared by Israel.
If this happens, Israel will be close to the plant and will know about everything in the plant, in which case Israel will exclusively make nuclear decisions in the region and the disorder in the strategic balance will continue to exist.
Dr Hafiz Hajji, former head of the nuclear plants commission, asserts that after studying all sites in the republic, it transpired that two sites, one in the Sidi Karir area and the other in Al-Dab'ah region, are suitable.
He said that parliament members from Alexandria objected to building a plant in the Sidi Karir area and that preference was then given to the Al-Dab'ah region which is far from residential areas.
He added: In the early 1990s, agreement was reached with an Egyptian bank to finance the project, in addition to agreements with the Canadian Atomic Energy Agency and the US Bechtel company. We were about to begin implementing the project with 40 per cent of the components being local.
He continued: However, the project was discontinued under instructions by higher authorities. We do not know why.
He noted that unknown parties deliberately work to stop the building of this plant.
Dr Ahmad Hashad, a nuclear energy expert, says that Israel's attempt to stop the implementation of this project is no longer a secret to anyone.
He added: Their main aim is to stop the project of Al-Dab'ah and look for a substitute plant to be built in northern Sinai, so that it is close to Israel's eyes. In this case, it will be a joint plant between Egypt and Israel, while the Palestinians will be expelled to Sinai. Also, Israel will always be present in Sinai as a result.
He pointed out: The ruling Egyptian regime's fulfilment of Israeli and US desires is the most powerful evidence that our ruling regime is eager not to engage in confrontations with big powers. This regime implements the principle of "do not quarrel with the big ones" without considering the future of energy in Egypt.
1. IT'S TIME TO DUST OFF A VENERABLE INITIATIVE: GLOBAL DISARMAMENT
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Wasn't the threat from nuclear weapons supposed to end with the Cold War?
Even during the Cold War, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was remarkably successful in keeping warheads from spreading around the globe. Nearly a dozen nations with nuclear ambitions were deterred, including Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Poland, Romania, South Africa and Sweden. By 1990, the "nuclear club" still comprised just the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France and the United Kingdom.
With America the only superpower left standing, there is no more need to target Moscow. Today there are fewer than 6,000 active warheads on each side, and the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan have dismantled their arsenals. Yet nearly 15 years after the demise of the USSR, nuclear jitters continue:
Israel's widely acknowledged nuclear capability remains a provocation to surrounding Arab nations. In 1981, Israel destroyed a suspected nuclear weapons site in Iraq.
Speculation about dictator Saddam Hussein's nuclear intentions helped propel the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003.
India and Pakistan both conducted nuclear tests in the late 1990s. A nuclear exchange in this densely populated region is practically unimaginable.
North Korea, one of the world's most isolated nations, also is knocking on the door to the nuclear clubhouse. This summer, North Koreans launched missiles that in themselves are not much to worry about; a nuclear-capped missile headed for South Korea, Japan or even the United States is another matter.
Iran's mercurial President Ahmadinejad seeks weapons-grade nuclear materials - for "peaceful" purposes - when he's not calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. If Iran got "the bomb" and conveyed a warhead to Hezbollah, what then?
Russia is in line to acquire the world's largest nuclear waste dump. But what if Russia loses track of material that could be converted into a nuclear bomb?
The unexpected "proliferation" of concerns about nuclear weapons invites reconsideration of a long-dormant initiative: nuclear disarmament. That goal actually was included in the treaty of 1970. Article VI commits the 187 signatories, including the United States, to "pursue negotiations in good faith ... on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."
Earlier this year, Robert Joseph, the State Department's arms-control expert, acknowledged to visiting journalists that there is no longer any need for "nonategic" nuclear weapons, and said the United States actively seeks to fulfill the terms of Article VI - "though few people write about it." Noting that China and Russia are still building nuclear weapons, he added: "We do press others to do more, and will continue to do so."
If the United States really is pressing for global nuclear disarmament, it has been a nearly invisible effort. Isn't it time to go public?
2. Kazakhstan's example; Denuclearization is the way to go
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The international tensions over Iran's nuclear program and the global outcry over recent missile tests by North Korea and its nuclear weapons program, coupled with the growing threat of international terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons, have again shown the world the importance of strengthening the efforts for nuclear nonproliferation. In order to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, the world must learn from the experience of Kazakhstan, which has proven that the one path to true security and prosperity lies through nuclear disarmament and the promotion of peaceful relations with the world.
In the early 1990s, Kazakhstan inherited from the Soviet Union more than 1,000 nuclear warheads with yields equivalent to one megaton of TNT each. Kazakhstan then became the first country in the world to voluntarily renounce these deadly weapons, which at that time constituted the world's fourth-largest nuclear arsenal, larger than those of Great Britain, France and China combined.
Despite urgings from some of Kazakhstan's "well-wishers," who offered financial assistance in return for our keeping the nuclear weapons and becoming the world's first Muslim nuclear power, and despite the huge temptation to turn overnight from an obscure country into an influential member of the nuclear club, President Nursultan Nazarbayev took the decision to voluntarily and permanently rid Kazakh soil of nuclear weapons.
This was not the first bold anti-nuclear act by the Kazakh leader. Earlier, when the Soviet Union was still there and despite threats from the Kremlin, he shut down the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in eastern Kazakhstan. During the four decades that the Semipalatinsk test site existed, it became the world's second-largest nuclear test site. The Soviet Union conducted more than 450 nuclear tests there, contaminating an area comparable in size to New Mexico and ruining the lives of 1.5 million people who lived there. At the time of Mr. Nazarbayev's decision, it was comparable to the governor of Nevada ordering the shutdown of the U.S. nuclear test site in his state.
Since regaining our independence in 1991, Kazakhstan, in cooperation with the United States under the Nunn-Lugar program, has removed all nuclear weapons from its lands and eliminated the test site's infrastructure. Last month, the House of Representatives declared in a unanimous resolution that "Kazakhstan's leadership and cooperation with the United States on nonproliferation matters is a model for other countries to follow."
Kazakhstan's leadership in nuclear disarmament and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons takes on increasing importance as the global community works to reduce the threats of catastrophic terrorism. As the late Sen. Sam Nunn once said, "The threat of nuclear terrorism puts us in a race between cooperation and catastrophe. The kind of cooperation we see again and again from Kazakhstan can help us win that race."
We now implement important new projects in partnership with the international community. One such project was completed earlier this year by the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), and Kazakhstan's national atomic company, KazAtomProm. Together, they blended down almost three tons of highly enriched uranium enough for two dozen atomic bombs in the wrong hands to become fuel for peaceful uses.
This project, carried out under the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) safeguards, has shown the best way of ensuring nuclear security and preventing problem states and terrorists from obtaining nuclear weapons. It is this method, blending down highly enriched uranium and preventing its use as fissile material, the key component of nuclear weapons, which was successfully implemented in Kazakhstan. IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei said of the project that "the NTI-Kazakhstan effort could well serve as a model for future projects in other countries."
Throughout the years of independence Kazakhstan, a secular Muslim-majority and democratically developing nation, has been a strong advocate of peace and nonproliferation and a firm and consistent opponent of all forms of weapons of mass destruction. After a decade and a half of these efforts, it became clear that by voluntarily giving up nuclear weapons and promoting peaceful relations with the world, Kazakhstan has ensured conditions for the development and prosperity of its people.
Kazakhstan's strong economic growth in recent years, attracting $45 billion in foreign investment, and the improvement of living standards for our people are powerful and convincing arguments that Kazakhstan has gained, not lost, from renouncing nuclear weapons. This is what former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix had in mind when he said in June at the United Nations, "The first line of defense against the spread of nuclear weapons is indeed to make states feel that they don't need them," and that security must be rooted in foreign policy, not military action.
Countries of the world can gain if they follow Kazakhstan's example and make the non-nuclear-weapons choice. We urge them to do that. That is the only way we can ensure a more peaceful and secure future for our children.
Kanat Saudabayev is Kazakhstan's ambassador to the United States.
1. Congress wants to get over the mountain on nuclear waste
Las Vegas Sun
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There have been no announcements or sudden movements, but the signs are clear. The nuclear energy industry is revving up with plans to build the first nuclear power plants in this country in three decades. The issue of nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain is closely tied to that progress.
Legislation pending in Congress would provide an alternative to creating a permanent waste repository at Yucca Mountain. If approved, the legislation will allow for creation of interim storage sites around the country, a step that would remove the handcuffs from an industry that has been barred from building new nuclear plants until the nation finds a way to store the waste. It is now stacked up at each of the nation's 104 nuclear plants.
Yucca Mountain, now nearly 20 years behind schedule, is currently the only option as a storage site. The government has refused to create any alternative for fear it would slow development of Yucca.
Now, however, lawmakers and others are recognizing that Yucca's delays could be indefinite, if not permanent.
Constellation Energy and AREVA, a partnership established last year to build nuclear reactors, announced two weeks ago that they have placed orders for the heavy steel forgings necessary to build the first new nuclear power plant in the United States since the 1970s. At least 20 reactors are under discussion around the nation.
But none can be built until the waste disposal issue is addressed. Many backers of the interim storage legislation, including Republican Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, insist that it is merely a way to let the energy industry move forward while Yucca is developed. In fact, separate legislation to get Yucca back on track is also pending before Congress.
Domenici, the Senate's leading nuclear power advocate, also argues that the interim solution would give the Energy Department time to push ahead with research into a new form of waste reprocessing that could change the equations involved in storing the waste permanently.
But not all supporters of the legislation agree with Domenici. If they did, you could expect to see much teeth gnashing from Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the army of Nevada elected officials opposed to developing Yucca.
Instead, they are grinning like Cheshire cats. They think that interim storage sites might not be all that "interim."
History is on their side. It shows that creating a site - any kind of site - to store nuclear waste is a big step. From there, it's but a short step for "interim" to evolve into "permanent." When interim storage was debated 20 years ago, opponents made their case by arguing what was known as the law of nuclear waste - wherever the waste lands, that's where it stays.
You won't hear Nevada officials using that language, for fear of stirring up opposition. But what you do hear is an industry increasingly interested in alternatives.
"There was an expectation in the '80s and '90s we were going to have a repository fairly soon," said Steven P. Kraft, senior director of used fuel management for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the main lobbying arm of the nuclear industry. "Now people are so frustrated about the lack of progress in a repository they're beginning to think about what kind of facilities we need to accept this material."
Gov. Kenny Guinn summed up the state's view last week in an opinion piece in the Reno Gazette-Journal. The legislation "implicitly recognizes for the first time that the country is on the wrong track in its approach to dealing with spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste," he said.
"Although the battle is not yet over," he wrote, "I am very encouraged by the new thinking and direction in Congress."
Yucca Mountain researcher Allison Macfarlane now gives Yucca Mountain a 50-50 chance of ever opening.
She believes the pending legislation is simply a way to address the reality - that waste has stacked up at power plants across the nation and is not likely to move from there any time soon.
"This is the de facto interim solution," said Macfarlane, an associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University in Washington, who co-wrote a book on Yucca Mountain this spring. "It could go either way with Yucca Mountain There's a good possibility it will fail."
What a difference a generation makes. In 1987, most of the country outside of Nevada breathed a sigh of relief when Congress put Yucca Mountain on the short list to house the nation's waste. No one wanted the dump in their back yard.
When Yucca missed its first opening deadline and waste kept piling up, President Bill Clinton vetoed a 2000 proposal led by Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert for temporary storage in Nevada.
Now Yucca is uncertain, and interim storage plans would dump waste in many back yards. Any of the 31 states with nuclear reactors could be designated by the federal government as an interim site where waste could be stored for up to 25 years under the legislation.
As a result, various governors have dashed off letters urging the Energy Department to move ahead with Yucca.
At a House committee hearing last month, Republican Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the state with more nuclear waste than any other, put it bluntly: "That's the stupidest idea I ever heard of and we cannot go there."
"Certainly, there's been a fair expression of concerns," said Charles Pray, a former Energy Department official in the Clinton administration who now serves as Maine's nuclear safety adviser. "It's taking us right back to the early 1980s when Congress directed the Department of Energy to find a national repository."
For Domenici, it's all about the math. Even if Yucca Mountain gets up and running by 2017 as now planned, it will still take decades to move all of the waste now sitting at nuclear reactor sites nationwide - a point he reiterated in a letter Monday to one of the governors. Plus more waste is being generated each day - at a rate of 2,000 metric tons a year.
Every day the waste sits, the government amasses enormous financial liability for not opening Yucca on time - or providing some other storage solution. Nuclear power companies nationwide have sued to recover the cost of continuing to store the waste near their plants, and the government is bracing for $7 billion in court-ordered payouts until Yucca opens.
Domenici and the Bush administration envision a sweeping change in the way the nation treats its waste, with the waste making a midway stop rather than going directly into permanent storage.
Instead, it would be recycled, converted back into fuel. That cycle could be repeated many times before it reaches a form so depleted that it cannot be recycled again. That final, spent waste would be much less toxic than existing leftovers.
At that point, in the opinion of Domenici and the Bush administration, the stuff should go to Yucca.
Skeptics in the scientific community say the idea is preposterous, as do environmentalists and others who seek to prevent construction of any more nuclear plants.
The kind of recycling being advocated was shelved by this country nearly 30 years ago, the critics say. The science involved is unproven and the technology does not exit. To pump the billions of dollars into trying to develop the technology would be an enormous waste.
But Bush promoted the new form of recycling earlier this year, and the Energy Department announced this month that it was soliciting ideas to begin the research.
"There's always interest in these proposals," said Craig Nesbit, spokesman for Exelon Nuclear, the nation's largest nuclear energy company. "It's never a bad idea to look at all your options."
1. When the spinning has to stop; Dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions
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If Iran won't end enrichment, sanctions should follow
EVEN after the ferocious fighting performance of its Hizbullah ally against Israel, Iran is unloved in much of the Middle East. But its influence is on the rise. And it seems determined that the influence will in future be nuclear-powered. While offering America, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China "serious talks"—the six were this week studying its 21-page reply to their June proposals for ending the nuclear stand-off—Iran blows raspberry after raspberry at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which serves as the United Nations nuclear guardian, and at the UN Security Council.
The council demanded last month that Iran should stop its uranium enrichment and work related to plutonium production by August 31st, or face sanctions. Iran has refused. But it has a suggestion: if it is ready for talks, why not put off sanctions and see what talks might achieve, even if some enrichment work continues? Iran is hoping that Russia and China, which have protected it in the past, will argue for the council's end-of-month deadline to be postponed (see page 41). The council should resist this pitch. It was right to draw the line against enrichment, and should stick to its timetable.
Iran dismisses last month's UN resolution as "illegal", claiming that it has an "inalienable right" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to peaceful nuclear technology—and keeping the lights on, it claims, is all it intends. The effort to prevent it making uranium and plutonium, it insists, is just a dastardly Western plot to block developing countries' access to advanced technology.
The facts of the case are rather different. Although both materials can be used in generating civilian nuclear power, they can also be abused for making bombs. The NPT lets signatories enjoy the benefits of civilian nuclear technology, but only provided they observe its ban on seeking nuclear weapons and put their nuclear activities under IAEA safeguards. For 18 years until 2003 Iran lied to inspectors in order to cover up illicit nuclear experiments. Some fibs have continued. Despite more than three years of investigation, inspectors believe Iran is still withholding crucial information about how much enrichment equipment it bought on the nuclear black market and what it has done with it. The IAEA's 35-nation board eventually had no choice but to find Iran in non-compliance with its safeguards agreement and to send its case to the Security Council, hoping for UN backing in winkling out the facts.
Iran rejected the council's first polite request to suspend its troubling enrichment activities until the inspectors' work was completed. So last month the council voted to demand that Iran comply, threatening sanctions if it refused. That resolution had the backing not just of America and its European allies on the council, but of veto-capable Russia and China too.
And the reason so many countries appear to be "ganging up" on Iran? It is not just its years of safeguards-abuse, but the nature of some of the experiments it concealed, which have little point except as part of a bomb-building effort. There have also been indications of direct military involvement in Iran's nuclear dabbling, and of design work on missile cones capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The best way for Iran to refute these allegations and build confidence in its professed peaceful intent would be to suspend its enrichment work and co-operate as fully as possible with the IAEA's inspectors. Instead, it has done the opposite: as their questions have become more pointed, Iran has redoubled its enrichment efforts and restricted the inspectors' work.
The demand for a suspension of enrichment work is not an attempt at the nuclear mugging of Iran. The proposals put to Iran in June by the Americans, Europeans, Russians and Chinese include, along with trade and political talks, the offer to co-operate in other advanced nuclear technologies, including building reactors for power generation, and assurances of fuel supplies to keep them going—enabling Iran to gain all the benefits of civilian nuclear technology at far less cost than enriching on regardless. Nor does the package rule out a return to enrichment by Iran some day, though only when the IAEA and everyone else can be confident it really is keeping its promises not to pursue military nuclear work.
Given Iran's past nuclear record and the suspicions about its future intentions, the condition for further talks on the incentives on offer has to be an end to enrichment now. Letting Iran spin out talks, while it continues to learn how to spin centrifuges that could one day produce the fissile material for a bomb, would be folly. If Iran goes on enriching beyond the council's deadline, sanctions must follow.
2. Former Iranian president defends nuclear program
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Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami on Friday defended his nation's right to the peaceful use of nuclear power, insisting that the Islamic republic had no desire to build an atomic bomb.
"We are seeking a peaceful kind of use of nuclear technology," Khatami told a seminar at the United Nations University in Tokyo, speaking through a translator.
"Iran doesn't want to get access to nuclear weapons. Not at all. We do not need them," said Khatami, a reformist who was president from 1997 to 2005 and has since been replaced by the more hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Khatami reiterated Tehran's view that it has "the legitimate right" to produce energy from nuclear technology as other countries do.
"If they are very much concerned about nuclear weapons, we are a member of NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty) and we have signed the protocol," said Khatami, who was in Japan for a conference on religion and peace in Kyoto.
Khatami on Thursday met with Japanese Prime Minister Juniciro Koizumi and warned against possible UN sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program, foreign ministry officials said.
Western nations have reacted coolly to Iran's response to an offer by the five permanent Security Council members and Germany of incentives in return for a halt to uranium enrichment.
The standoff over Iran's nuclear program has to be resolved through negotiations, Khatami told Koizumi.
Koizumi said that Japan -- a major importer of Iranian oil -- wants Tehran to take a cooperative stance toward the international community and to suspend uranium enrichment.
The Security Council adopted a resolution last month giving Iran until August 31 to freeze its uranium enrichment programme or face possible sanctions.
From the point of view of Washington and Tel Aviv, Tehran's latest offer of "serious talks" on nuclear matters is not being taken seriously. Iran's cat-and-mouse game over its nuclear project continues and the deadline of Aug. 31 for Iran to stop enriching uranium is just a week away.
But from Tehran's point of view the diplomacy is going rather well, despite (or perhaps because of) Iran's evident role in the dangerous brinkmanship that its client Hezbollah has staged this summer in Lebanon. The fact that Hezbollah seems to have got away with it and Israel has been discomfited has boosted Iran and left the Bush administration looking even less capable of directing the affairs of the Middle East.
A detailed new report issued this week from Britain's top foreign policy think tank, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, says "Iran's influence in Iraq has superseded that of the United States, and is increasingly rivaling the U.S. as the main actor at the crossroads between the Middle East and Asia."
Moreover, the report says, the Bush administration has directly helped strengthen Iran to become a major regional power.
"The war on terror removed the Taliban and Saddam Hussein -- Iran's two greatest regional rivals -- and strengthened Iran's regional leverage in doing so," it says, adding that "Israel's failure to defeat Hezbollah has reinforced Iran's position as the region's focal point against U.S.-led policy."
Iran's role within other embattled areas in the region like Afghanistan and southern Lebanon has now increased hugely, says the report, which was prepared with considerable input from British officials and diplomats, as well as academics and regional experts.
"While the U.S. has been playing poker in the region, Iran has been playing chess. Iran is playing a longer, more clever game and has been far more successful at winning hearts and minds," says Nadim Shehadi, one of the report's authors and a fellow of the Institute's Middle East department.
The report stresses that the Bush administration and its allies have yet to appreciate the extent of Iran's regional relationships and standing -- a dynamic which is the key to understanding Iran's newly found confidence and belligerence towards the West. As a result, the U.S.-led agenda for confronting Iran is "severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region."
"While the U.S. may have the upper hand in 'hard' power projection, Iran has proved far more effective through its use of 'soft' power," the report says. "The Bush administration has shown little ability to use politics and culture to pursue its strategic interests while Iran's knowledge of the region, its fluency in the languages and culture, strong historical ties and administrative skills have given it a strong advantage over the West."
This is not what the Bush administration wants to hear, least of all from the foreign policy establishment of its closest ally, and just a week away from the deadline by which Iran is supposed to stop enriching uranium -- or else.
The problem is whether the "or else" is remotely credible, given the obvious reluctance of China and Russia to help the Bush administration out of the briar patch. China's Foreign Ministry said Beijing "has always believed that seeking a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic talks is the best choice and in the interests of all parties concerned." And a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Russia will continue "seeking a political, negotiated settlement concerning Iran's nuclear program."
Not much sign there of a solid international front against Iran, despite Tehran's track record as detailed by the International Atomic Energy Agency as a proven cheat on nuclear matters.
It is increasingly clear to Tehran that the United Nations Security Council is not about to authorize any serious measures that might bring pressure on Iran to inhibit its sovereign right under the non-proliferation treaty to develop and build nuclear power stations and to run them with enriched uranium.
Study the small print of the NPT and the most remarkable features of this keystone treaty on the control of nuclear technology are how little it can do to prevent countries from going nuclear and how much they can get away with while staying within the letter of the law. The treaty's controls against proliferation are quite feeble -- just ask Saddam Hussein's Iraq, North Korea or Iran, to name just three of those who made giant strides towards nuclear power status while supposedly constrained by the NPT. And if Iran decides to walk out of the NPT, there is nothing under international law that the United States can do about it.
Moreover, the international controls that are available can prove surprisingly flexible when it suits the United States. Under the deal that President George W. Bush negotiated with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India is being given a painless way back into legality and "compliance" with the NPT (which it has never signed) because the Bush administration thinks it makes strategic sense to have a nuclear balance in Asia against China.
By contrast, the Bush team understandably thinks it strategically dangerous to allow the Ayatollahs, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with his rhetoric of "wiping Israel off the map," to develop nuclear weapons. And so Bush has gritted his teeth and offered Tehran carrots as well as sticks, joining Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany to offer Iran a package of incentives -- including help with civilian nuclear technology -- if Iran suspends enrichment.
Will it work? A similar package of incentives failed to stop North Korea, which simply pocketed what bribes it could, and opened a secret new nuclear program after suspending the old one. Iran may well do the same.
Or Tehran may buy time by proposing to sit down with IAEA, Russia, French and Chinese officials to draft an agreement of compliance and inspection that would allow Iran to undertake sufficient enrichment for nuclear power but put controls on the more intensive enrichment required to make nuclear weapons.
More cunningly still, Iran could offer to abide by the same rules that are being applied to India. The point is that Tehran seems to have more options than President Bush, who right now seems to be faced with the choice of accepting a nuclear Iran, trying to impose some hollow sanctions, or looking at that military option that he always says is on the table.
4. Iran refuses U.N. inspectors access to its underground nuclear site
(for personal use only)
Iran turned away U.N. inspectors from an underground site meant to shelter its uranium enrichment program from attack, diplomats said Monday, while the country's supreme leader insisted Tehran will not give up its contentious nuclear technology.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's comments came on the eve of a self-imposed deadline to respond formally to Western incentives aimed at curbing its atomic program, deflating hopes that Iran will accept a U.N. Security Council demand that it freeze enrichment by Aug. 31 or face the possibility of sanctions.
Iran's unprecedented refusal to allow access to its underground facility at Natanz could seriously hamper U.N. attempts to ensure Tehran is not trying to produce nuclear weapons, and might violate the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, diplomats and U.N. officials told The Associated Press.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, the diplomats and officials from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, described other signs of Iranian defiance.
They said Iran denied entry visas to two IAEA inspectors in the last few weeks after doing the same earlier this summer for Chris Charlier, the expert heading the U.N. agency's team to Tehran. Additionally, they said, other inspectors were given only single-entry visas during their visits to Iran last week, instead of the customary multiple-entry permits.
Iran's reported actions were likely to harden Western resolve to punish the Tehran regime if it refuses to give up uranium enrichment, which can be used to create the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
Diplomats told AP on Monday that sanctions could include a ban on the sale of missile and nuclear technology to Tehran, international refusal to grant entry visas to people involved in Iran's nuclear program and a freeze of their assets, and a ban on investment in Iran.
IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei is to report by Sept. 11 to the agency's board on Iran's compliance with the Security Council deadline on freezing enrichment and on other aspects of Tehran's cooperation with U.N. inspectors.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said that "nothing surprises me about how Iran treats its obligations" under the nonproliferation agreement. He said Iran concealed things from inspectors in the past and alleged Tehran also has falsified data.
Although Bolton said he had no specific knowledge of the reported recent blocking of U.N. inspectors, he said, "More obstructionism doesn't surprise me at all."
IAEA officials at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria, refused to comment.
The Islamic republic has promised to formally respond Tuesday to an offer of economic and political rewards for it to freeze enrichment and negotiate strengthened monitoring of its nuclear program.
The proposal from six world powers the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany includes promises that the United States and Europe will provide civilian nuclear technology and that Washington will join direct talks with Iran.
But Iran's supreme leader again ruled out an enrichment freeze.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has made its own decision and in the nuclear case, God willing, with patience and power, will continue its path," Khamenei was quoted as saying Monday by state television.
He accused the United States of pressuring Iran despite Tehran's assertions it is not working on nuclear weapons, as Washington and its key allies contend. Iran says its enrichment work is intended solely to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that will generate electricity.
"Arrogant powers and the U.S. are putting their utmost pressure on Iran while knowing Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons," Khamenei said.
Iran said Sunday that it would offer a "multifaceted response" to the incentives proposal but already insisted a full enrichment freeze was out of the question.
In Washington, President Bush said Iran already was giving an inkling of its response. "Dates are fine," he said, "but what really matters is will. And one of the things I will continue to remind our friends and allies is the danger of a nulear-armed Iran."
A State Department spokesman, Gonzalo Gallegos, said, "We await their final decision."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed for a "solid answer" from Iran. "I still hope that it will be positive, although some signals have been very confused," she said.
Tehran says uranium enrichment does not violate any of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
But U.N. officials suggested the refusal to allow IAEA inspectors access to the underground nuclear site being built at Natanz was in itself a violation of the treaty because it contravenes Tehran's commitment to inform the agency of the progress of such projects.
Iranian officials have said the country intended to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 3,000 interconnected centrifuges in underground halls at Natanz, in central Iran, by late this year and would later expand the program to 54,000 centrifuges.
Former U.N. nuclear inspector David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, describes the site as a vast complex 75 feet underground, covered by layers of materials. It is unclear whether that includes concrete.
5. Iran says it is ready for 'serious negotiations' on nuclear dispute; news agency says Tehran won't suspend uranium enrichment
Ali Akbar Dareini
(for personal use only)
Iran said Tuesday it was ready for "serious negotiations" on its nuclear program, but a semi-official news agency reported the government was unwilling to abandon nuclear enrichment the key U.S. demand.
Ali Larijani, the country's top nuclear negotiator, delivered a written response to ambassadors of Britain, China, Russia, France, Germany and Switzerland to a package of incentives aimed at persuading Iran to roll back on its nuclear program.
Larijani refused to disclose whether the response included an offer to suspend uranium enrichment, and no details of Iran's response were released. The state-run television quoted Larijani as telling the diplomats Iran "is prepared as of Aug. 23rd to enter serious negotiations" with the countries that proposed the incentives package.
But the semi-official Fars news agency reported that Iran rejected calls to suspend "nuclear activities" or uranium enrichment and "instead has offered a new formula to resolve the issues through dialogue."
Iran delivered its response to the incentives offer nine days before a U. N. Security Council deadline for Iran to halt uranium enrichment or face economic and political sanctions.
The White House deferred comment on the Iranian government's response.
"The Security Council's deadline is Aug. 31. I'm not going to parse the Iranian government's document today here on the airplane," White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said on Air Force One as President George W. Bush flew to an appearance in Minnesota. "That is a job best left to the diplomats."
She said the U.S. government has received a copy of the document, but that she doesn't believe the president had seen it yet.
"We are aware of the rhetoric that has been coming out of the regime about a nuclear program and the president made very clear to everyone yesterday in his press conference that he thinks that that would be a mistake and dangerous for the region and the whole world," she added. "So let's let the diplomats take a look at this response before we parse it out too much here."
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said the Iranian document was "extensive" and required "a detailed and careful analysis." He did not elaborate or provide any details.
In New York, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said Washington will "study the Iranian response carefully" but was prepared to move forward with sanctions against Tehran if its response to the incentives package was not positive.
Tuesday's announcement was the latest development in the yearlong standoff between Western countries and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program. Iran insists the program is for peaceful purposes, but the United States and other countries suspect Tehran is trying to build a nuclear arsenal.
Last month, the Security Council set an Aug. 31 deadline for Iran to halt uranium enrichment or face economic and political sanctions.
Iran called the resolution "illegal" but had said it was willing to offer a "multifaceted response" to the incentives package that the United States, the four other permanent council members and Germany offered to Tehran in June.
Iranian officials familiar with Larijani's response said Tehran offered a "new formula" to resolve the dispute. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
"Iran has provided a comprehensive response to everything said in the Western package. In addition, Iran, in its formal response, has asked some questions to be answered," one official said without providing more details.
At the same time, however, the Iranians have been signaling they are not prepared to abandon nuclear enrichment a component in manufacturing nuclear weapons as a precondition to talks. Last month, a senior Iranian lawmaker said the country's parliament was preparing to debate withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if the U.N. Security Council adopts a resolution to force Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.
However, if the Iranians left the door open to halting enrichment as talks progressed, that would drive a wedge between the American, British and French on one side and the Russians and Chinese on the other.
Last month, Russia said the Security Council was in no rush to pressure Iran over its nuclear program, striking a more conciliatory tone than the United States.
On Monday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the Islamic Republic "has made its own decision and in the nuclear case, God willing, with patience and power, will continue its path."
Khamenei accused the United States of putting pressure on Iran despite Tehran's assertions that its nuclear program was peaceful.
Furthermore, Iran prevented inspectors from the U.N. nuclear agency from inspecting an underground site meant to shelter its uranium enrichment program from attack. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei is to report by Sept. 11 to the agency's board on Iran's compliance with the U.N. deadline to freeze enrichment and other aspects of Tehran's cooperation with U.N. inspectors.
In February, Iran for the first time produced its first batch of low-enriched uranium, using a cascade of 164 centrifuges. The process of uranium enrichment can be used to generate electricity or in building a bomb, depending on the level.
The Western incentives package has not been made public but some details have leaked. They include an offer to lift a ban on sales of Boeing passenger aircraft, providing Iran with some nuclear technology to build reactors for civilian purposes and guaranteeing a supply of nuclear fuel.
Iran has pursued a confrontational stand on the nuclear issue following the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year. The hardline president has insisted that Iran has a right to pursue nuclear technology despite threats of sanctions.
Ahmadinejad has used the nuclear issue to encourage a sense of national pride among Iranians by standing up to the United States and other Western countries.
The failure of Israel to destroy the pro-Iranian Hezbollah movement in the 34-day war in Lebanon may embolden hard-line groups within Iran to risk a showdown with the Americans, who are bogged down in neighboring Iraq.
1. Cancer-causing tritium is found under the nuclear plant. Drinking water supplies are tested.
Seema Mehta and Dave McKibben
Los Angeles Times
(for personal use only)
Radioactive, cancer-causing tritium has leaked into the groundwater beneath the San Onofre nuclear power plant, prompting the closure of one drinking-water well in southern Orange County, authorities said.
Officials have not found evidence that the leak from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, California's largest, has contaminated the drinking water supply.
As a precaution, San Clemente officials shut down and are testing a city well near the contaminated area.
"We owe it to our residents and business folks to properly test the water," said Dave Lund, San Clemente's public works director.
In recent years, tritium leaks have been found at more than a dozen nuclear plants across the nation, prompting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to form a task force this year to study the cause of the contamination. The findings are scheduled to be released this month.
Sandwiched between Camp Pendleton and the Pacific Ocean in northwestern San Diego County, the San Onofre power plant has had a controversial presence on the coast since its construction in the 1960s.
In the years since, sea lions and endangered sea turtles have been killed when caught in the plant's seawater intake pipes for its cooling system. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearby residents also have grown wary of the plant as a potential terrorist target that stores highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel.
One of two nuclear power plants in California, San Onofre provides 2,150 megawatts of power, enough for 2.2 million homes throughout Southern California.
The plant is operated by Southern California Edison and houses two working reactors. A third, 450-megawatt reactor was shut down in 1992 and is being dismantled.
While workers were taking apart the containment dome that housed the inactive reactor, they discovered that groundwater beneath the reactor complex was tainted with tritium, said Ray Golden, spokesman for the power plant. The source of the leak has not been determined, he said.
Tritium occurs naturally in the environment but is also a byproduct of nuclear fission, said Victor Bricks, spokesman for the NRC's regional office in Arlington, Texas. It has a half-life of 12 years, meaning its radioactivity is reduced by half every 12 years.
Tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that can cause not only cancer but also miscarriages and birth defects, is increasingly stoking fears in communities near nuclear plants across the country.
A tritium leak that contaminated millions of gallons of groundwater near the Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station in northeast Illinois led that state to sue the owner of the plant in March.
"So far, the spills ... haven't resulted in people off-site being exposed to excessive amounts of radiation," said David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on environmental problems. "But the law is supposed to be that nothing radioactive leaves the site, either in water or in air, unless it's monitored or controlled. They have had a series of failures."
Samples of the groundwater beneath San Onofre's decommissioned unit contained 50,000 to 330,000 picocuries per liter, Bricks said.
In drinking water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's safety limit for tritium is 20,000 picocuries per liter, a measurement of radioactivity based on one-trillionth of a unit. The state of California has recommended a "public health goal" of no more than 400 picocuries per liter, a level the agency determined could still cause one cancer case per million people exposed.
San Onofre has extracted more than 10,000 gallons of the contaminated groundwater and piped it into the Pacific about 8,600 feet offshore, where it is instantly diluted in seawater, Golden said.
Since groundwater will continue to seep into the contaminated area, plant officials will continue removing contaminated water and discharging it into the ocean until they can remove all traces of the contamination.
It's unknown how much tritium has seeped into the ground, where it came from, or when the leak occurred, Golden said. It's likely that it leaked from the reactor, the spent-fuel pool, various water storage tanks or pipes. The leak probably occurred sometime between 1968 and 2004, Golden said.
Edison officials have tested nearby soil, water and sand all around the plant over nearly four decades and have never seen unusual radiation levels, so there is nothing to indicate that the contaminated groundwater has left the site, he added.
John Robertus, executive officer of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, which governs the area, also said that because of the area's hydrology, it's unlikely that local groundwater sources were contaminated. Groundwater is likely to migrate toward the ocean and away from drinking water wells, he said.
There are two drinking water wells about two miles from the site, one on Camp Pendleton and one in San Clemente.
A Camp Pendleton spokeswoman said the base draws its water from 20 on-base wells regularly checked for pollutants, including radioactive ones.
In San Clemente, Lund said, the city gets 3% of its drinking water from the well two miles north of the plant. Much of that is used to irrigate San Clemente's city golf course, but some serves homes in the southernmost part of town, he said.
The city gets the rest of its water supply from the Colorado River and Northern California.
"There's concern, but I don't think it should be heightened concern," said Mayor Wayne Eggleston. "We just have to wait for the results."
Some residents and visitors were worried Thursday evening.
"I have a lot of concerns. It's radioactive, isn't it?" Craig Ervin, a San Clemente resident playing golf at the municipal course. "I don't know why they put that plant next to a city."
Lucio Tiberio, a San Diego resident who had just finished surfing at nearby Trestles, was more concerned about the tritium's effect on the ocean. "There's pollution everywhere, but this is scary because there's no way you can see it," he said.
The regional water board regulates all discharges from the plant but has no jurisdiction over nuclear waste, which is handled by the federal government.
Robertus, the board's chief, said he was unhappy to learn of San Onofre's disposal methods for the contaminated water.
"My hands are tied; we don't regulate radioactive waste," he said. "I'm not particularly pleased with hearing ... that they're dumping nuclear radioactive waste" into the ocean.
NRC spokesman Bricks said the ocean dumping meets his agency's standards.
But Daniel Hirsch, director of the nuclear watchdog group Committee to Bridge the Gap and former director of a nuclear policy program at UC Santa Cruz, said it was foolhardy to make the ocean the dumping ground.
"It's extremely hard to clean up water that's contaminated with tritium," he said. "There's this incredible illusion that you can dump radioactive waste in the ocean and it won't come back to you in the fish you eat. That's troubling. Dilution is irrelevant."
1. Report: India to retain right to conduct future nuclear tests
(for personal use only)
India's prime minister says the country will retain the right to carry out future nuclear tests despite a civilian nuclear deal with the United States, a news report said.
"There is no scope for capping of our strategic (nuclear) program. It will be decided by the people, government and Parliament of the country and not by any outside power," Press Trust of India quoted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as saying in Parliament on Wednesday.
U.S. President George W. Bush and Singh signed an agreement in July 2005 that would allow U.S. agencies and companies to sell India nuclear fuel and technology. In return, India would have to strengthen nuclear safeguards, allow international inspections of its civilian facilities, and separate its civilian and military nuclear programs.
On Wednesday, the prime minister also said India would not make any commitment that goes beyond a unilateral moratorium on future nuclear tests.
If required by circumstances, he said, India would have the sovereign right to make a decision on atomic tests in its national interest, PTI reported.
He also said India did not favor a bilateral comprehensive test ban treaty with the United States. "This has been made unambiguously clear (to the U.S.)," PTI quoted him as saying.
After its controversial 1998 nuclear tests, India announced a unilateral moratorium on further tests and said it would use nuclear weapons only if attacked.
Singh's comments in Parliament came in response to criticism by Hindu nationalist opposition and leftist allies, who say the government is succumbing to U.S. pressures that allegedly aim to cap India's independent nuclear program.
The opposition and communist allies sought assurances from Singh that India's nuclear program would not be curbed by what they describe as the shifting of goal posts by American legislators.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved the deal last month but added stringent new clauses, including requiring annual certification on the use of the technology and fuel for peaceful purposes.
The U.S. senate is expected to vote next month on the civilian nuclear plan. The vote will be followed by several other legislative and diplomatic steps before the treaty can be enforced.
2. POLITICS-INDIA: U.S. NUCLEAR DEAL CLEARS DOMESTIC OPPOSITION
Inter Press Service
(for personal use only)
The controversial United States-India nuclear cooperation agreement has overcome a threat by India's major opposition parties to press for a Parliamentary resolution which would have tied the Manmohan Singh government's hands in final-stage bargaining with Washington.
However, the deal, which legitimizes and normalizes India's nuclear weapons and promotes civil nuclear cooperation with it, may have to clear more hurdles before it is translated into legal and practical arrangements in the U.S. and bodies like the Nuclear Suppliers' Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Yet, the chances of its going through have greatly improved.
"This is doubtless a significant, although not unexpected, victory for the Indian government," says M.V. Ramana, an independent nuclear analyst at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, Bangalore.
The victory was not effortless. On Thursday, Prime Minister Singh made a half-emotional 80-minute-long intervention in the Upper House of Parliament, defending the deal and promising that he would not "deviate" from agreements inked with President George W. Bush in July 2005 and this past March.
Following this, the bulk of the opposition parties dropped their insistence on a "Sense of the House" resolution, although the right-wing ultra-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continued to express reservations.
The opposition had been pressing for such a motion because it wanted to counter efforts in the U.S. Congress to impose certain conditions for the deal's approval, which go beyond the two Bush-Singh agreements.
Last month, the Senate and House of Representative foreign relations committees separately finalized two texts of resolutions pertaining to the deal after much lobbying and wrangling. The House passed the resolution on July 26. The Senate is likely to vote on its text soon.
After the vote, the two resolutions will have to be "reconciled" before the entire Congress can approve a fresh text and grant the U.S. president a special one-time authority to waive certain clauses in U.S. domestic laws that bar nuclear cooperation with any country which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), or which runs a nuclear weapons program and or has conducted a nuclear explosion. (India is not an NPT signatory and conducted nuclear tests eight years ago.)
The toughest bargaining between the U.S. and India is expected at the "reconciliation" stage. The Bush administration is likely to make a no-holds-barred effort to whittle down the additional conditions placed on the deal by Congress.
"There is an inherent tension between Bush's goal of recruiting India as a strategic partner by offering it this unique nuclear deal, and the constraints under which Congress works," Raman told IPS. "Congress will emphasize institutional arrangements that are generic, not India-specific. It will do so by citing U.S. precedents. But Bush wants to do something altogether new, beyond precedents."
The U.S. and Indian governments have gone out of their way to persuade their lawmakers to support the deal. In the U.S., Bush officials have downplayed India's non-compliance with the NPT, emphasized her non-proliferation record, and stressed the benefits of allying with a rising economic and military power.
It is the Bush administration, not the Indian government, which originally proposed the agreement. Bush himself has been keen on it. He told Singh on arrival in his first-ever visit to India in March: "Prime Minister, I want that deal."
The Singh government recruited sections of the media and the "strategic community" to campaign for the deal. Several newspapers have run a crusade for it, citing various real or imagined merits, including the indispensability of nuclear power for India's growth and energy "independence," access to uranium (which is running out in India) for weapons, and a special relationship with the world's sole superpower.
It also orchestrated partial opposition to the deal, in particular to its modification, through serving and retired Atomic Energy Commission officials.
On Feb. 6, AEC chairman Anil Kakodkar gave an extraordinary interview to an Indian daily in which he opposed the inclusion of fast-breeder reactors in the civilian facilities India must place under IAEA inspections. Less than a month later, the U.S. conceded his demand.
Just three days ago, timed on India's Independence Day, eight retired AEC officials issued a joint statement directed at parliamentarians, expressing strong opposition to U.S. Congress-proposed modifications to the deal.
This will help Manmohan Singh argue that there must be no change in the "goalposts" set by the earlier agreements; such change won't be acceptable to India's democracy.
The nuclear scientists' arguments and the opposition's support to them will figure prominently in the last-mile bargaining between the two governments. Singh cited these and similar objections when he met Bush last month at St. Petersburg, Russia.
During his intervention yesterday, Singh said that any "deviation" from past agreements "will not be acceptable to us. There is no question of our strategic nuclear autonomy being compromised and new and unacceptable conditions being introduced."
He said "the central imperative" in India-U.S. discussions is "to ensure the complete and irreversible removal of existing restrictions imposed on India through iniquitous restrictive trading regimes."
It won't be easy for Singh to persuade Bush to drop all the Congress-stipulated conditions. Some of these are "internal" to the U.S., such as periodic certifications by the president that India is not diverting uranium to its weapons program. Some are "non-binding," such as the demand that India join U.S. efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
However, the congressional resolutions also impose some special India-specific obligations, or restrict India's access to uranium enrichment and spent-fuel reprocessing technologies. They mandate a change in the sequence of steps India must take before Congress fully approves the deal.
For instance, India must get advance approval from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers' Group and sign India-specific safeguards with the IAEA. (Under the earlier agreements, these steps would follow congressional approval.)
"India's effort will be directed at finessing these 'external' stipulations," says Ramana. "There is plenty of scope for doing so. India can sign an IAEA safeguards agreement, but will not enforce it till Congress approval comes through. It has time till 2008-10. Similarly, India is demanding that in return for perpetual safeguards, it must get guaranteed uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel even if the U.S. backs out in case India conducts a test."
Some of these arrangements will depend on the NSG. That remains a bit of an unknown. The group includes countries like China, the Nordic states, New Zealand and Ireland which are skeptical of the deal and oppose special exceptions for India in multilateral agreements.
"There is also the possibility that a future U.S. president will demand stricter compliance by India with various conditions than Bush," says Ramana. "It's not excluded that the deal could fall through if future political circumstances change."
However, Singh says he is aware of the risks and has decided to take them in India's larger interests. His latest statements have substantially defused the AEC officials' objections. Singh now enters the last phase of negotiations with his hand strengthened.
Meanwhile, it is becoming clear that the deal will not contribute to, but will detract from, the cause of nuclear disarmament. It will also promote nuclear power, an expensive and hazardous energy path on which there is no consensus in India.
1. IRAN NUCLEAR OFFICIALS DISCUSS BUSHEHR PLANT CONSTRUCTION DURING RUSSIA VISIT
BBC Monitoring and Itar-Tass
(for personal use only)
Moscow, 23 August: Iranian enterprises intend to produce part of the equipment for the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which Russian specialists are building. This was discussed, as ITAR-TASS was informed by the Russian Atomstroyeksport company [which builds nuclear power stations abroad] today, at talks on Tuesday [22 August] with the executive director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Mahmud Jannatian, and the chief of the Bushehr nuclear power station project, Ali Reza Moradian.
"During the meeting, there was discussion of issues to do with implementing the timetable for the construction of the nuclear power station and technical matters to do with the realization of the Bushehr nuclear plant project - deliveries of nuclear power plant equipment to the station, carrying out assembly, commissioning and adjustment work and training production personnel," an Atomstroyeksport spokesman noted. "Issues to do with the manufacture of equipment needed for the functioning of the nuclear power plant directly at Iranian enterprises were also discussed," he added.
Today the Iranian representatives are to visit Kalinin nuclear power station, where they will take a look at the work of a training centre and discuss issues to do with continuing the training of Iranian personnel for the Bushehr plant.
The Rosenergoatom concern, which manages all of Russia's 10 nuclear power stations, believes that interest in the Kalinin nuclear plant on the part of the Iranians is justified as in Iran Russian specialists are completing work to build the first set of Bushehr nuclear power station with a VVER-1000 reactor, similar to the reactor installed at the No 3 set of the Kalinin nuclear plant and launched last year.
Rosatom said that interest in the training of specialists at the Kalinin nuclear power plant is also being shown by Chinese and Indian atomic industry officials, in whose countries Atomstroyeksport is building and putting into operation power sets similar to the last set of Kalinin nuclear power station.
1. Japanese police arrest Mitutoyo president over alleged nuclear-related exports
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The president of precision instrument maker Mitutoyo Corp. was arrested in the alleged export to Malaysia of equipment that can be used in making nuclear weapons, officials said Friday.
Tokyo police arrested Kazusaku Tezuka, along with four other Mitutoyo executives and employees, on suspicion of violating foreign trade control laws, trade ministry official Hiroyuki Murakami said.
Mitutoyo is suspected of illegally exporting to its subsidiary in Malaysia two three-dimensional measuring devices that can be converted for use in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, one each in October and November, 2001, Murakami said.
Three-dimensional measuring machines map cylindrical shapes to great detail and cannot be exported without government permission, according to Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry officials. High-tech versions of the machine can measure centrifuges used in uranium enrichment, Murakami said.
Police also suspect Mitutoyo may have exported similar equipment to a company connected with Iran's nuclear program via an Iranian trading company based in Tokyo, Kyodo News agency said.
Police refused to comment on the reports. Mitutoyo responded to phone calls with a recording saying the company was not open for business Friday.
Police raided Mitutoyo's offices near Tokyo in February over suspicions it had exported three-dimensional measuring machines to Japanese companies in China and Thailand in 2001 without seeking permission, media reports said.
At that time, Mitutoyo denied it attempted to evade the law.
Separately, Japanese news reports said the International Atomic Energy Agency also discovered Mitutoyo-made machinery at nuclear-related sites in Libya during inspections in December 2003 and January 2004.
The equipment was shipped to Libya via Dubai by Scomi Precision Engineering Bhd., a Malaysian manufacturer linked to an international nuclear trafficking network, Kyodo reported.
The company, also known as SCOPE, imported six units from Mitutoyo in early 2002, Kyodo said.
The company was linked to a proliferation network led by Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, when some 25,000 SCOPE-produced centrifuge parts for enriching uranium were seized in October 2003 en route to Libya.
Malaysian police cleared SCOPE of allegations that it knew the parts were bound for Libya, or intended for nuclear use. The company said it thought they were destined for the oil and gas industry in Dubai.
Libya said in 2003 it had given up what had been a secret nuclear, biological and chemical weapons program, handing over drawings of a crude nuclear bomb to the IAEA.
Japan's technological prowess as Asia's most advanced economy makes it an attractive shopping ground for countries and others eager to build a nuclear weapon. Resource-poor Japan is active in nuclear energy.
International underground weapons networks are essential for extremists, writes Gordon Corera
SOME sellers in the nuclear black market are amateurs trying to make a quick buck; others are far more dangerous. A serious fear is that organised crime recognises the profits and could move in to fill the vacuum. As international organised crime networks increasingly overlap and even merge with terrorist networks, this could be a route for terrorists getting hold of technology or nuclear material.
There's little doubt of al-Qa'ida's desire for nuclear weapons, and the more states there are with the bomb and the more technology and material there is in the marketplace, the more likely it is that al-Qa'ida will succeed in its ambition.
Since the early 1990s, Osama bin Laden has been seeking nuclear material.but the cylinder he received proved to be useless. Another individual in Sudan tried to get material for al-Qa'ida but was probably scammed into buying low-grade reactor fuel or other useless material. In 1998, bin Laden said that getting hold of unconventional weapons was a ''religious duty''. Terrorists are unlikely to be able to develop their own infrastructure to produce fissile material. The Japanese terrorist cult Aum Shinrikyo tried to develop nuclear weapons but lacked the scientific expertise to fulfil
So if terrorists get hold of a weapon, it will likely be from a state. Buying or stealing has always been a fear when it comes to the nuclear stockpiles of the former Soviet Union and Pakistan. In late 2001, this possibility was beginning to look very real. A CIA source called Dragonfire warned that al-Qa'ida already had its hands on a weapon, to be detonated in New York.
Events on the ground in South Asia compounded the growing anxiety. As US troops and intelligence operatives swept through Kabul in October 2001, they found startling new details of al-Qa'ida's ambitions regarding nuclear weapons, and the role of Pakistan. The speed of the Taliban's fall meant that safe houses were abandoned still filled with documents that offered a huge intelligence haul. They revealed al-Qa'ida's capabilities and intentions had been seriously underestimated. It was further along with its biological weapons program than had been previously thought.
What really set off alarm bells was that the documents found in Kabul made clear that Pakistani nuclear scientists had met the Taliban and al-Qa'ida to discuss the development of nuclear devices. One of the men who had met them was Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a scientist whose zeal had caught former Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's eye in Multan in 1972. After being shoved aside by Khan, he moved to the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, rising to become the director for nuclear power. But he also became increasingly radical and religious.
He wrote a book entitled Doomsday and Life after Death. In 1999 he was forced out of the nuclear establishment amid increasing concern over his views (including advocating the transfer of nuclear technology and materials to other countries) after he protested against Pakistan signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Another scientist who went with Mahmood to Afghanistan, Chaudhri Abdul Majeed, had retired from Pakistan's nuclear program in 2000.
After the two men left Pakistan's program, they founded a charity called Umma Tameer-e-Nau, which carried out relief work in Afghanistan. Mahmood's sympathies for the Taliban were well known and when he was visiting Kabul in 2000, bin Laden is reported to have heard of his presence and sent an al-Qa'ida operative to his hotel to arrange a meeting. A second meeting with bin Laden occurred in August 2001 in a Kabul compound. Mahmood's son said: ''Osama asked my father, 'How can a nuclear bomb be made, and can you help us make one?''' According to the White House, during a follow-up meeting, an associate of bin Laden indicated that he had nuclear material.
No one is sure of the exact nature of the conversations and how much advice Mahmood may have given, although his son says he declined to help.
If the Taliban had not been overthrown, the relationship could have moved forward. When it emerged Mahmood had met bin Laden as well as Mullah Omar and discussed nuclear weapons, there was panic in Washington. CIA director George Tenet raced to Islamabad. Pakistani officials stressed that nothing sensitive had been passed on, but there were suspicions other scientists had been to Afghanistan. There was no evidence that al-Qa'ida had fissile material for a weapon and there seemed to be a realisation that a dirty bomb might be more feasible than an actual nuclear bomb.
Mahmood and Abdul Majeed were arrested by Pakistani intelligence officers on October 23 along with the entire UTN board, which had ties to the Pakistani military: former military intelligence chief General Hamid Gul was reported to have been UTN's ''honorary patron''. Gul met Mahmood in Kabul the same month Mahmood met bin Laden, although Gul said he knew nothing of contacts with bin Laden, according to reports filed by Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl shortly before he was killed. Mahmood was interrogated jointly by the CIA and ISI and failed six lie-detector tests.
But for all the fears of nuclear leakage from Pakistan, Islamabad was not confronted about Khan. There were too many other priorities and too much still to learn about the network.
The tremendous danger posed by the nexus between the development of weapons of mass destruction by states and the desire for those weapons by non-state terrorist groups was fast becoming the new orthodoxy in Washington. After the surprise attack of 9/11 and fear that the next attack might involve unconventional weapons, a new forward-leaning policy was formulated.
This policy put the greatest emphasis on stopping states from developing weapons of mass destruction rather than closing down the networks that might be supplying them: hence the identification of Iraq, Iran and North Korea in George W. Bush's ''axis of evil'' speech in January 2002. The Bush White House never had much faith in traditional arms control regimes and treaties, with their universalistic principles, perceiving them as ineffective and too focused on process rather than results, in turn constraining US action. The problem was dangerous regimes, not dangerous weapons.
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