1. US-Russia effort to contain nuclear experts fades
Fred Weir and Mark Clayton
The Christian Science Monitor
(for personal use only)
At a Moscow conference in 2000 on stopping the global migration of nuclear-weapons know-how, a Russian security official revealed that Taliban envoys had tried to recruit a Russian nuclear expert.
That expert didn't go to work for the Afghan regime. But three of his colleagues did leave their institute for other nations - and Russian officials had no idea which ones, US experts say.
With the threat of nuclear terrorism looming large in a post-9/11 world, the brain drain of Russian nuclear expertise is an even more critical concern than it was six years ago, many say. Yet a unique 1998 US-Russian partnership to offer new opportunities and skills to destitute Russian nuclear specialists living in remote former-Soviet "science cities" is set to expire Friday unless last-minute diplomacy saves it.
A stronger Russian economy and growing wariness of US access to sensitive nuclear programs has dampened Moscow's enthusiasm for the Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI) program, as has a three-year wrangle with Washington over legal liability issues, observers say.
"It will be a great pity if this program dies, because it really had an impact around here," says Yuri Yudin, a former atomic scientist who heads the Analytical Center for Nonproliferation in the closed city of Sarov, one of several NCI-funded projects. "The objective was to create nonmilitary businesses and new jobs that could become self-sustaining, and it had considerable success. But the task is far from finished."
Others say losing the program would be another "unsettling sign" of erosion in US-Russia nuclear security cooperation.
"If we eliminate this program we will be losing a major nonproliferation agreement," says Kenneth Luongo, executive director of the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, a nuclear nonproliferation group in Washington.
Ten Russian cities - mainly linked to nuclear weapons and missile research - remain "closed" today, even to Russians who lack special permission. The closed nature of the cities became traps for some of the estimated 35,000 Russian scientists who needed work after the Soviet Union's collapse. For these scientists, who live under security surveillance, jobs needed to be created in the closed cities.
The tiny NCI program, which has helped 1,600 scientists in its existence, has been folded into a much larger DOE effort that employs more than 13,000 Russian scientists with grant funding. But NCI is unique in its focus on job creation in closed cities by converting existing nuclear complexes into other businesses, such as computer centers, US officials say.
"If you put the money through different channels, it's not the same," Mr. Luongo says. "The program's underpinnings and momentum ... are lost."
The head of Russia's nuclear agency RosAtom, Sergei Kiriyenko, is slated to meet US Department of Energy chief Samuel Bodman in Vienna this week in an eleventh-hour chance to save the program.
"It [NCI] has been definitely a useful tool, a unique way to work with Russian WMD scientists and engineers," says Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration that administers NCI.
Not everyone agrees the program is still needed. Valentin Ivanov, a member of the Russian parliament's energy committee, says that while there's still plenty of room for US-Russian cooperation on nuclear disarmament, the problems of the closed cities are a "domestic matter" that Moscow now has the means to address.
"We thank the US for its help, which was greatly needed in the 1990s," he says. "But this is a new time, Russia has a budget surplus now, and [US help] is not necessary anymore."
Negotiators for RosAtom and DOE failed to renew the deal in 2003 after the US side demanded a blanket liability exemption for Americans working on NCI projects, and the Russians balked. Earlier this year, the US acquiesced to the Russians. But whether it will be enough to interest Moscow in extending the deal remains highly uncertain, US officials and other observers say.
Even before the legal dispute, Moscow complained that NCI budgets in the $20 million range were too low, that much of the money was being spent in the US, and that highly qualified scientists were being re-trained to do low-level jobs like computer programmer and paramedic.
But Russian security concerns may also have played a role.
"Access to closed cities was the biggest stumbling block. Russian secrecy paranoia still exists," says Gennady Pshakhin, an expert at the Institute for Physics and Power Engineering in the formerly closed city of Obninsk. He says if his institute - which specializes in civilian nuclear energy - invites a foreigner to visit, it must obtain clearance from President Vladimir Putin or Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.
Supporters say the NCI made a big difference in some places, and could have done much more if more time and resources had been devoted. In Sarov - Russia's Los Alamos - NCI helped to close down one of the ex-USSR's biggest nuclear warhead factories, and turn it into a computer center that's now used by firms like Intel and Motorola. About 1,000 new jobs were created, Mr. Yudin says.
"The program really helped to diversify Sarov's economy; it changed peoples' mentality and helped to prepare them for the market," says Alexei Golubov, a former nuclear researcher who now works as an information analyst. "It was like a small window that opened onto the world for us."
Impelling NCI and other such programs is evidence over the years that Russian scientists might be willing to shop their skills to rogue regimes. In one reported 1992 incident, a planeload of Russian scientists was stopped by police "on the tarmac" as they embarked for North Korea. In 1998, an arms expert in Sarov was arrested by the FSB security service for allegedly spying for Iraq.
A study last year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology surveyed the attitudes of 602 Russian nuclear, biological, and chemical WMD scientists. The study found that the mean income for such scientists was about $110 a month, and that 21 percent were willing to move to a "rogue nation" to work. As for the impact of assistance programs like NCI, the survey found 12 percent of those with grant funding would consider work in a rogue state, versus 28 percent without funding.
However, it's doubtful that any atomic experts could illegally leave Russia now, Pshakhin says.
"A lot of nuclear scientists are still underemployed, but things are a bit better," he says. "Nuclear scientists are under very strong monitoring. We are not allowed to move freely. Any attempt by a foreign power to recruit Russian scientists would immediately come to the attention of the FSB."
RosAtom chief Mr. Kiriyenko has announced plans for a sweeping revival of Russia's civilian atomic power industry. Military leaders also talk of putting weapons experts back to work.
Vladimir Fortov, head of the department of energy for the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that while Russia is returning some scientists to their old jobs, the NCI training programs remain valuable.
"They aided Russian-American mutual understanding, and it will be very unfortunate if they are discontinued," he says.
In a speech at the 50th annual regular session of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, IAEA chief Mohammed Elbaradei confirmed what many of us knew in praising China and Russia, which ï¿½currently have the most ambitious plans for short-term nuclear expansion.ï¿½ Nine months ago, he might not have made that statement.
Today, Russia has emerged as one of the more vocal proponents for, and aggressive strategists in, the full spectrum of the nuclear fuel cycle. From nuclear waste disposal to uranium mining and enrichment, and in moving forward to construct nuclear reactors, Russia could possibly become an even more significant future player in the nuclear sector than China is envisioned. Russiaï¿½s civilian nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko told Russian television earlier this week, ï¿½Russia believes 25 percent of the worldï¿½s market in nuclear fuel-cycle services, including uranium enrichment, is an optimal share. Technically and technologically, we are well positioned for this.ï¿½
And whoever control this much market share should help decide the price. ï¿½The Russian people Iï¿½ve spoken with seem to think $100/pound is a given,ï¿½ Sprott Asset Management Market Strategist Kevin Bambrough told us upon his return from the recent World Nuclear Association Conference in London. ï¿½If anyone is in the know, or can affect market psychology, it would be them.ï¿½
Russiaï¿½s Nuclear Progress in 2006
Last week, Tenexï¿½s general director Vladimir Smirnov announced the formation of a new national uranium exploration and mining company, provisionally named "The Uranium Mining Company." He said it will be established by the end of this year, and hopes to boost production by tenfold over the next two years.
This week, Kiriyenko announced Russiaï¿½s ï¿½internationalï¿½ center to enrich uranium should be built by the end of this year, and ready to launch by early 2007. As announced earlier, the site will be in eastern Siberia at the Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Plant. The city is located 3,000 miles east of Moscow. Russian President Putin suggested at the current IAEA conference that the international community set up enrichment centers under the supervision of the IAEA to prevent discrimination in access to nuclear energy. Putinï¿½s veiled remarks were likely aimed at encouraging Iranï¿½s civilian nuclear energy program, for which Russia is rebuilding the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Russia also proposes to joint venture another uranium enrichment center in Kazakhstan with that country.
In early September, Sergei Obozov, head of Rosenergoatom, Russiaï¿½s nuclear power monopoly, announced plans to start building nine nuclear reactors in 2007. But, it wonï¿½t stop there. According to an estimate calculated in September by the World Nuclear Association, Russia has 26 reactors proposed or planned by 2020. The country hopes to power 23 percent of its electricity with nuclear energy. This would give Russia nearly 60 reactors, almost as many as France and Japan presently have operational.
Russia is also revamping its nuclear industry, consolidating its civilian nuclear companies into one state-run company. It will be called Atomprom, and the country hopes to compete with other industry giants, such as AREVA, General Electric and Toshiba to build reactors.
This is where the business might get even more interesting. ï¿½Pairing of new reactors with uranium contracts could be huge,ï¿½ Bambrough explained. ï¿½Companies wanting to build reactors are going around the world, wanting to joint ventures with mining companies to increase uranium supply for themselves. The reason they want to do that is to offer a full suite of services. They know they can not sell a reactor without supply.ï¿½ Based upon how Russiaï¿½s nuclear ambitions are unfolding, this is their likely course of action. AREVA, which sells reactors, has mining operations in Canada, Africa and elsewhere.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday his country was prepared to negotiate a suspension of its most sensitive nuclear work if it received fair guarantees in talks with major powers, but the United States and many experts reacted skeptically.
Ahmadinejad told a news conference at U.N. headquarters that talks with the European Union on Iran's nuclear program were on the right track and he hoped no one would try to sabotage them, an apparent reference to Washington.
Asked if Iran would meet a U.N. Security Council demand that it suspend uranium enrichment, which can be used to make fuel for power stations or bombs, he said Tehran was prepared to discuss such a move but gave no timeframe for doing so.
"We have said that under fair conditions and just conditions we will negotiate about it," the president said.
But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there was no room for haggling on the key condition set by the six major powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- for negotiations on a package of economic and technological incentives.
"If they suspend, then the negotiations can begin. It's as simple as that, I don't think we need any further conditionality," Rice told reporters.
In a relaxed hour-long joust with reporters, Ahmadinejad avoided saying whether Iran would respect a U.N. arms embargo on Lebanon's Hizbollah militia and insisted he was not anti-Jewish while denouncing what he called a power-hungry Zionist lobby.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has been holding talks with Iran on behalf of the six powers on a formula and a sequence of steps for beginning negotiations.
"We believe those negotiations are moving on the right path. Hopefully others will not disrupt the work -- in small ways perhaps. We think it is a constructive path to take," Ahmadinejad said.
While there have been hints at progress in Solana's talks, this was the most explicit public statement by an Iranian leader that Tehran is considering complying with the key condition for talks on broad cooperation with the West.
After Iran ignored a U.N. deadline to halt enrichment by August 31, the six powers agreed this week to give Solana until early October to reach a deal with Tehran.
If Iran did not agree to suspend enrichment at that point, the six powers would seek U.N. sanctions on Iran, they said.
Critics say Iran is trying to drag out diplomacy, fudge deadlines and split the international community while pressing ahead with uranium enrichment.
"Saying that we are considering, that we are thinking about ... aren't the same thing as actually saying 'Yes, we are going to do it' and then ... doing it in a verifiable way,' State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.
The six powers made a comprehensive proposal in June for economic, technological and political cooperation, including supplying a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor, if Iran halted work the West suspects is designed to produce atomic weapons.
Iran responded with a 21-page counter-proposal in late August, evading a clear commitment to suspend enrichment.
Ahmadinejad insisted Iran's nuclear program was peaceful and fully open to inspection and asked why Washington supported other states in his region known to possess nuclear weapons, an apparent reference to Israel, Pakistan and India.
Building on his U.N. General Assembly speech on Tuesday, he questioned the legitimacy of the Security Council to sit in judgment on others when its own members stockpiled nuclear weapons and were involved in "oppression."
Since major powers had broken commitments to supply Iran with civil nuclear technology in the past, it wanted guarantees that the outcome of negotiations would be enforced this time.
An exiled Iranian dissident who first revealed Tehran's secret nuclear program in 2002, Alireza Jafarazadeh of the National Council of Resistance, said Ahmadinejad was "a master at making vague statements and building hollow expectations to buy time to continue enrichment while holding off sanctions."
The news conference capped a week in which Ahmadinejad won overwhelming support from the non-aligned group of developing nations at a summit in Cuba, and dueled at a distance with Bush in U.N. addresses.
North Korea has constructed an underground tunnel for possible use in a nuclear weapons test, a Grand National Party lawmaker with close ties to the intelligence community said yesterday.
Chung Hyung-keun cited sources in the National Intelligence Service for his claim. He said a shaft 700 meters (0.4 miles) deep has been sunk into Mount Mantap in North Hamkyong province with a horizontal tunnel running nearby.
Mr. Chung was in Washington, where he was lobbying against the quick transfer of wartime control of the Korean military back to Seoul.
Mr. Chung is a member of the National Assembly's intelligence committee.
Pointing out similarities between the suspect site and those for underground nuclear tests in the U.S. state of Nevada and in India and Pakistan, he said that Pyongyang seemed to be preparing for a similar test. He said the vertical shaft was more than twice as long as would be necessary, interpreting that as a desire by North Korean scientists to reduce the risk of atmospheric fallout.
On the other side of the world, Libya's leader, Muammar Qadhafi, told Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook of Korea on Wednesday in Tripoli that he would try again to mediate the North Korean nuclear crisis, an official at Ms. Han's office said yesterday. In 2003, Libya forswore further attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction and scrapped its programs in return for diplomatic ties and economic relations with Europe and the United States. But while Mr. Qadhafi said he would try to make the North see reason, he also complained that his country had not received enough support and compensation for scrapping its programs.
Separately, Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador in Seoul, told Yonhap News yesterday that Washington was considering what additional steps it could take to pressure Pyongyang to return to nuclear talks, but that the United States would not "rush into any decision." Mr. Vershbow continued, "Assistant Secretary [Christopher] Hill is prepared to enter into bilateral talks in a constructive spirit if North Korea is committed to return to the six-party talks."
Earlier this week, a U.S. State Department spokesman appeared to distance himself from earlier, similar remarks by the U.S. envoy that bilateral contacts could precede a resumption of those multilateral negotiations.
The United States is preparing to press for severe sanctions to punish North Korea for its missile tests and to try to forestall a future nuclear test.
Testing an atomic weapon is an admission ticket to the nuclear club. Prospects of such a move by North Korea have raised deep concerns not only here but also in Tokyo and Beijing.
Tokyo would likely respond by starting a program of its own, for which it already has ample fissile material. Such a course is being urged by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who is slated to exercise great influence in the new government. A nuclear-armed Japan in turn would pose a huge threat to China. It is clearly in the interests of all to keep North Korea from crossing that red line.
But will the sanctions Washington seeks deter North Korea? It is not likely. Sanctions have a poor record of changing behavior, especially with a proud, stubborn country like North Korea. Indeed, they might well drive it to desperate measures, like selling nuclear materials to our adversaries. Then what? Bomb their sites?
But we don't know where all the fissile material may be hidden. So bombing cannot be effective, and North Korea might well retaliate by shelling Seoul or hitting our troop garrisons in South Korea or Japan with missiles. That would surely mean war just when we are so deeply mired in the Middle East.
Crisis in 1994 averted
A similar situation arose in 1994, when the United States threatened to ask the United Nations to impose sanctions on North Korea for defying the international community over its then nascent nuclear program. Tensions rose to fever pitch when Kim Il-sung, the leader of the North, declared that sanctions would mean war, prompting the United States to augment its forces in South Korea in a major way.
The crisis was averted when former President Jimmy Carter went to Pyongyang and, in direct talks with Kim Il-sung, obtained a freeze on their nuclear program.
In exchange, the North Koreans expected U.S. help in obtaining two light water reactors for electricity, funded by South Korea and Japan, and an assurance against the use of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. This was later formalized in the Agreed Framework negotiated between the two countries in Geneva. This freeze was monitored by international inspectors and held for eight years.
In 2002 the United States charged North Korea with having secretly pursued a separate nuclear program since the late 1990s. Bilateral talks stalled, the North reopened its frozen facilities, and now it has reprocessed enough plutonium for more than a half-dozen bombs. Several attempts at multilateral talks, involving the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the United States, have failed to make progress toward a new verifiable halt to its nuclear program. As a result, the situation is at a critical stalemate.
A big downside
There is a strong aversion to dealing with North Korea. The reasons cited today echo those heard in 1994. North Korea was and is an extremely difficult nation to deal with.
Then as now the U.S. administration felt justified in imposing severe penalties and refusing to engage their leaders directly. But the downside then as now was enormous. Our policy then as now was leading to likely disaster.
In 1994 conservative pundits pilloried the Carter visit and the subsequent Geneva agreement. But North Korea produced no nuclear material for eight years under its provisions until it was scrapped in late 2002.
The North sought other ways to get around the freeze, but they had not become effective. And both sides had long since failed to fulfill all the provisions of the agreement. Nevertheless, during those years a collision course was avoided, and unlike the period since 2002, North Korea's nuclear arsenal did not expand. But now we are back to square one.
The Bush administration has been divided on how to deal with North Korea, usually coming down on the side of regime change, which precludes negotiations. As a result, Christopher Hill, our able representative in talks with the North, has for the most part had his hands tied. The North invited him to Pyongyang a while back for direct talks, but Washington refused to allow him to go. In the meantime, the North continues to churn out plutonium for bombs.
Baker would fill bill
The situation is at the point where only a high-level emissary from Washington could possibly break the deadlock, someone trusted by the administration with authority to negotiate. Someone like former Secretary of State James Baker.
Is this appeasement? Hardly. To talk to an adversary, as we did with the Soviet Union all during the Cold War, was not appeasement. Force is always available if talks fail. The alternative will be to continue to drift into a nuclear arms race we cannot stop short of war itself.
North Korea has said repeatedly that it wants guarantees from the United States against pressure for regime change. And despite its avowals to the contrary, capitalist enterprise is at work just across the DMZ from South Korea and could, under the right conditions, spread its seductive power. Are a security guarantee and a willingness to invest there too much to ask in exchange for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula?
If the North won't agree under those conditions to give up its nuclear ambitions ï¿½ and it may well not ï¿½ then at least a genuine attempt by the United States to bridge the gap will have won broad support for any tougher measures that we may have to take. Not to try at all would be unconscionable.
1. Nuclear Fuel Waste from the Institute of Nuclear Sciences in Vinca, Serbia to be Transported to Russia
Focus Information Agency
(for personal use only)
An agreement has been signed in Vienna for the transportation of the nuclear fuel waste from the Institute of Nuclear Sciences in Vinca, Serbia to the Russian Federation, the Serbian B92 reports.
The agreement was signed by representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Institute of Nuclear Sciences in Vinca, and a consortium of three Russian companies that will perform the transportation of the fuel, the Serbian Minister of Environment Alexandar Popovic stated.
The transportation of the nuclear fuel waste from the site in Serbia comes as a result of IAEAï¿½s branding the Institute in Vinca as one of the world's most dangerous disused nuclear site since it combined the threats of nuclear proliferation and environmental disaster. IAEA claimed further that it might be an easy target for terrorists seeking to build a "dirty" bomb.
The Communist-era reactor in Vinca had closed 22 years ago was housing thousands of spent fuel rods, made of a highly radioactive mixture of uranium and plutonium, some of which were prone to leaking. People living in the village next to the complex had been a under constant threat of radiation leakage.
The IAEA estimates that the cost of disposing of the nuclear material could be as much as ï¿½50 million.
The U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration has revealed that more than 5,500 curies of radioactive cobalt-60 and cesium-137, enough material for at least five "dirty bombs," have been removed from Chechnya and safely returned to Russia for protection.
The NNSA's Global Threat Reduction Initiative, or GTRI, and the government of the Russian Federation "jointly supported the mission to remove the radioactive sources from a petrochemical production site in Chechnya," the agency announced in a statement last month.
"It is critical to international security that high-risk, radiological material is safely removed and secured before it falls into the hands of terrorists. Through joint cooperation with Russia, dangerous material has been removed from an area known for violence," said Linton F. Brooks, head of NNSA.
The radioactive materials were extracted from their original location in rebellion-torn Chechnya and placed into two special transportation casks, the NNSA said. "The casks were loaded onto a truck and securely delivered to a facility in the Moscow region to be analyzed and stored temporarily. Once the materials are evaluated, they will be transferred to the Radon Moscow Scientific Production Association for permanent disposal. The work was carried out by a group of Russian specialists," the agency said.
The NNSA described GTRI's mission as being "to identify, secure, recover and/or facilitate the final disposition of high-risk vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials around the world as quickly as possible."
"In the past three years under GTRI, over 200 radiological dispersion devices worth of material has been recovered from 23 different sites in cooperation with the Russian Federation," it said.
1. Georgia looking to build its first nuclear power plant
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Georgia is looking to build a nuclear power plant to reduce its dependence on imported fuel, a leading Georgian television network said Friday.
Power supplies have been a major problem for Georgia since the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, with the South Caucasus nation's derelict energy sector covering only 40% of its domestic needs.
In his February 2005 State of the Nation address, President Mikheil Saakashvili promised 2006 would be the first year since 1992 without blackouts.
Imedi TV said the possibility of building a nuclear power facility in Georgia was discussed Thursday at a Berlin forum organized by the German Council on Foreign Relations, known by the acronym DGAP.
Parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze, who attended the forum, was quoted by the broadcaster as saying there is nothing sensational in Georgia's intention to build a nuclear power plant for civilian use, and that being a democracy the country will make sure all related international standards are met.
Mart Laar, the Georgian president's economic adviser and a former prime minister of Estonia, suggested in television remarks the issue is too serious to be decided by the president on his own, and that it should be put to a national vote.
Laar also said that some of European countries have already expressed an interest in helping Georgia build its first nuclear power plant.
DGAP head Alexander Rahr said nuclear engineering could be a good way for the West to help Georgia settle long-running conflicts with its breakaway provinces, without facing the risk of straining relations with Russia.
Russia remains Georgia's main energy supplier, and a disruption in Russian supplies earlier this year deepened the rift between the two post-Soviet countries.
In late January, two blasts on pipelines running through southern Russia cut natural gas supplies to Georgia, and an explosion in a high-power electricity transmission tower in Russia's North Caucasus caused blackouts in much of the country.
Georgian authorities alleged at the time that Russia orchestrated the attacks.
2. Bulgarian Nuke Gets EUR 50 M to Dismantle 2 Units
Sofia News Agency
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The only operating nuclear plant in Bulgaria, at Kozloduy, will be funded with EUR 50 M to ease the dismantling of two of its units.
The free financing to be provided by the European Commission was approved Thursday under the draft project of a financial agreement between Sofia and Brussels, under the PHARE program.
Earlier in June the Economy and Energy Ministry announced plans to partially dismantle equipment at two mothballed reactors at its nuclear power plant at Kozloduy as a guarantee to the European Union that it will not attempt to reopen the facilities.
Bulgaria agreed in 2002 to mothball two of the six Soviet-type reactors at Kozloduy in the northwest of the country and to shut down a further two at end-2006 to secure a chance of joining the EU on 1 January 2007.
Kozloduy's reactors five and six, which are of a more modern design, are to remain in service.
Official estimates have shown that after closing the reactors Bulgaria will have to cede its position as top energy exporter in the Balkans and some energy experts have called on statesmen to renegotiate the shutdown.
Is Uranium a good bet? If the evidence from Asia is anything to go by, the answer is yes. The economies of China and India are growing fast. Neither produce enough power for existing requirements.
The US Government's National Intelligence Council has estimated that India's energy consumption will at least double by 2020. China's will rise by 150 per cent. That heralds an environmental disaster.
Why? Because the power that both produce comes largely from the dirtiest, most harmful means: burning coal. The situation is unsustainable. Nuclear power is an obvious solution and, in a few decades, Asia could be home to at least half the world's nuclear reactors.
Coal burning accounts for about 70 per cent of the energy produced in China, compared with a global average of about 25 per cent. China wants to get this down to 60 per cent by 2020, but even if it is possible it will mean coal-generated power will dramatically increase in absolute terms.
As things stand, China uses more coal than the US, the European Union and Japan combined, and its coal consumption this year is up
14 per cent on last year. According to one report, a new coal-fired power station opens in China every seven to 10 days.
Not surprisingly, China has quickly become one of the most polluted countries. Air quality is abysmal. Official estimates are that 400,000 Chinese die each year from diseases related to air pollution. Separately, the World Bank says 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in China.
Pollution levels in India are also rising but the problem is not as acute as in China. Nonetheless, India is stepping up its construction of coal-fired plants, meaning that its greenhouse gas emissions will accelerate. And given that India's population is expected to pass China's in 2030, that's a worrying trend.
Both are looking to generate more power from gas and hydro-electric schemes. But both sources will only slow the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions. And so nuclear energy is looking increasingly viable, and even desirable.
According to the World Nuclear Association, of the 442 operational reactors in the world, almost a quarter, or 109, are in Asia. Another 28 are under construction worldwide. Fifteen of these are in Asia. More are planned, so that in total, 285 nuclear reactors are either operational, under construction, planned or proposed for South and East Asia.
The most nuclear of Asia's economies are South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, which generate 45, 29 and 20 per cent respectively of their power from nuclear sources. China's nuclear power plants generate just 2 per cent and India's 2.8 per cent. This is when, worldwide, nuclear accounts for 16 per cent of all the power generated. There is room for growth.
A sign of things to come was the nuclear co-operation treaty between India and the US earlier this year. And the US Government's Export-Import Bank recently provided US company Westinghouse with $US5 billion in loan guarantees for bids to supply technology to build nuclear power plants in China's Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces.
Australia's agreement to sell uranium to China is instructive, as was the recent announcement that a representative of China's main nuclear power plant operator, the Chinese National Nuclear Corp, had joined the board of South Australia-based explorer UraniumSA, which is preparing to float on the stock exchange.
China plans a fivefold increase in its nuclear power capacity by 2020. It now has 10 operational nuclear reactors. With five more under construction, 13 more planned and a further 50 proposed, China expects to have at least 78 nuclear reactors in the future.
Assuming that each new plant will consume the same uranium as the average of the existing plants (in fact, the newer plants are likely to consume more), then
China's annual demand for uranium will rise to at least 10,093 tonnes, from the current 1294 tonnes.
That's almost a tenfold increase. China produces about half its current uranium needs, suggesting that almost all its future requirements will be imported.
Most of the uranium China imports probably comes from Kazakhstan, Russia and Namibia. We don't actually know because China withholds the data. Certainly, Kazakhstan is the world's fourth-biggest producer of uranium and supplies about 8 per cent of world demand. But a new source will be Australia.
As for India, its long-term plan is to increase nuclear's share of power output to 25-30 per cent by 2050. Government plans are for 47 nuclear reactors in the future, up from 14. Assuming that each new plant consumes the same uranium as the average of existing plants, then India's annual demand for uranium will be 3918 tonnes, up from 1334 tonnes. India is now self-sufficient in uranium. Eventually, it will become a net importer.
There might be some squeamishness now about China and India's nuclear programs, but if their use of fossil fuels continues to grow exponentially then it may not be long before the world actually begs China and India to build more nuclear reactors.
Even if India and China do nothing more than raise nuclear power's share of the total to the current world average, uranium has a very bright future indeed.
As Iran tries to buy time in its dispute with the international community over its nuclear program, the Arab world's interest in atomic energy is apparently growing. The secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdul Rahman al Attiyah, recently called on the "Arab nation" to work "together on a nuclear program," to prevent being left behind as others in the region -- namely Iran, which is Persian and sometimes at odds with its neighbors -- pushed ahead with atomic research.
Attiyah's call points to a shift in policy. Arab governments in the past have criticized both Iran's nuclear ambitions and Israel's (officially nonexistent) atomic program, while arguing for a nuclear-free Middle East and swearing off plans to pursue the bomb.
Of course, Attiyah and other Arab leaders say they want nuclear power only for civilian purposes -- but so does Iran's controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The mere suggestion of "nuclear cooperation at an Arab level" therefore raises fears in the West of an arms race.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates have all signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as an agreement that bans them from all forms of uranium enrichment. Western countries would naturally like to keep those agreements intact. But Nicole Stracke, from the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, warns that "If the Gulf Cooperation Council decides to pursue a nuclear initiative it could mean Saudi Arabia might rethink its participation in those agreements."
There have been several attempts to develop an "Arab bomb" since the 1960s. Saddam Hussein's nuclear program in Iraq was effectively ended by an Israeli air strike on a reactor in 1981. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi gave up his nuclear program in December 2003 in negotiations with the United States to rehabilitate his international status. Since the Middle East is awash in oil, the demand for new technologies has been low, and the only Arab nation with a working research reactor at the moment is Egypt.
5. Japan proposes international uranium supply program
Mainichi Daily News
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Japanese Minister for Science and Technology Iwao Matsuda on Monday proposed an international cooperation framework to ensure stable supply of uranium.
Matsuda unveiled the plan in his speech at an annual general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
According to his proposal, countries that can supply, refine, convert, enrich and store uranium ore would register with the IAEA. If the nuclear fuel market is disturbed, these countries would supply uranium via the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
Japan and other countries intend to establish a transparent uranium supply mechanism to prevent nuclear proliferation. The United States and five other countries, including Britain, France and Russia, have proposed that they guarantee nuclear fuel supply for countries that abandons uranium enrichment programs.
In the IAEA meeting, U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman called for an early adoption of the proposal. There are still obstacles to the safe expansion of nuclear power, such as the defiance and violations of Iran and North Korea, Bodman said.
1. Ukraine and Russia to stir up nuclear cooperation
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During a conference in Vienna Minister for Fuel and Energy of Ukraine Yuri Boiko and Russia's civilian nuclear chief Sergey Kirienko agreed to stir up cooperation between two countries in the sphere pf nuclear energy and the nuclear industrial complex.
As press secretary of Ukraineï¿½s Fuel and Energy Ministry Olena Gromnitskaya reported, the main reason of necessity to stir up joint works was ambitious plans of Russia on building new nuclear electric power station and Ukraineï¿½s desire to develop the uranium-mining complex.
The parties agreed to form a working group, which will be headed by president of the national nuclear company of Ukraine ï¿½Energoatomï¿½ Yuri Nadashkovsky and Russiaï¿½s civilian nuclear deputy chief Ivan Kamenskih.
Boiko also met with minister of science and preservation of the environment of Serbia Aleksandr Popovich. They discussed cooperation between the two countries in the sphere of nuclear security.
The US-India nuclear deal has stirred controversy within the US Congress and the Indian Parliament. The deal could ultimately improve and deepen relations between the world's oldest and largest democracies. But it has focused concern on the potential for sparking nuclear war or an arms race in South Asia, and little or no attention has been paid to how the deal's implementation might increase the threats of terrorism and military attack against Indian nuclear facilities.
These threats could grow in three ways. First, the deal can facilitate a substantial expansion of India's plutonium stockpile in the civilian and military sectors. Plutonium, a toxic and fissile material, could, in the hands of skilled terrorists, fuel improvised nuclear devices - crude but devastating nuclear bombs - or radiological dispersal devices, one type of which is popularly called a "dirty bomb."
Second, the deal can spur expansion of India's civilian nuclear facilities, increasing the number of targets for terrorist or military attacks. Third, the deal brings India into much closer alignment with the United States. This alliance has already stirred animosity toward India from Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda. Moreover, closer Indo-American relations could also breed resentment in Pakistan and result in a more vulnerable India, especially in armed conflict involving the subcontinent's nuclear rivals.
Al Qaeda-affiliated operatives may have launched or helped perpetrate the July 11 terrorist bombings in Mumbai (Bombay). Following these attacks, the US Embassy in New Delhi issued a warning about possible terrorist assaults against Indian government facilities, including nuclear sites. In response, New Delhi boosted security at its nuclear complex by early August. But security requires further strengthening. For instance, in late August, villagers near the Kakrapar nuclear facility reported seeing two men armed with automatic weapons inside a prohibited area, but still outside the most sensitive area of the facility. More recently, India's intelligence agencies have cautioned that Islamic militants could target the country's nuclear sites.
India has ambitious plans for a major expansion of its nuclear complex, which already presents a target-rich environment. This expansion could increase the risks of accidents, attacks, or sabotage. Without adequate quality controls in training, the risk of accidents increases, and even with high-quality training, a rapid influx of workers into the nuclear program increases the probability of saboteurs entering it.
Shaken by sectarian strife and terrorism for many decades, India resides in one of the most violence-prone regions of the world. Jihadist groups have caused much of this violence. Some of these groups have ties to Al Qaeda, which has considered using nuclear and radiological terrorism. Pakistan has sponsored terrorist groups to further its aims in the separatist regions of Jammu and Kashmir and could consider using such groups as proxies in a military attack against other regions of India, including those containing nuclear facilities.
Should threats to India by Al Qaeda and other militant groups put a halt to the potential benefits of the US-India deal? No. The United States and India should not permit their improving relationship to become hostage to terrorists. But the leadership of both countries can do more to protect Indian nuclear facilities in light of increased threats. India, with American cooperative work where appropriate, should:
*Ensure that the different modes of a terrorist or military attack are fully considered and continually evaluated in assessing the safety and security of its nuclear facilities.
*Separate more of its civilian nuclear facilities, including breeder reactors, from connections to the military program to reduce the target profile of these facilities and to help remove them from the shroud of secrecy surrounding the military program.
*Work with China and Pakistan toward a fissile- material cap to limit the amount of plutonium potentially available to terrorists.
*Develop cooperative nuclear security by sharing and implementing best practices with the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and other partners.
*Install in new facilities, and retrofit to the extent possible in existing facilities, sabotage-resistant safety systems. Apply additional safety and security measures such as extra diesel generators and relatively low-cost fortifications around spent fuel pools and vulnerable buildings, and establish active and passive air defenses for critical nuclear sites.
*Finally, create a more transparent and self-critical civilian nuclear infrastructure that would empower an independent regulatory agency and would continually be vigilant about insider sabotage or collusion with terrorists.
As Congress considers the US-India nuclear deal, it should also encourage cooperative nuclear security between the two countries.
The ongoing construction of Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu and India's interest in building six more reactor units came up for discussion between Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission Anil Kakodkar and his Russian counterpart Sergei Kiriyenko in Vienna.
Kakodkar and Kiriyenko met in Vienna yesterday on the sidelines of the international atomic energy agency (IAEA) session, according to a release by the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (ROSATOM).
"The (two) sides noted positive dynamics of the Kudankulam construction project. The Russian delegation affirmed the Indian interest in building another six power units and reactors of the same type," the release said.
Currently Russia is building two power units with vver-1000 light water reactors in India with 1000 mwte capacity each and New Delhi has evinced interest in six more units to increase the total capacity to 8,000 megawatts. However, Moscow has linked this to the lifting of nuclear suppliers group (NSG) restriction in the wake of Indo-US nuclear deal.
Noting the global development of atomic energy industry with various types of fuel and reactors, Kakodkar expressed India's interest in the international project on innovative nuclear reactors and fuel cycles (INPRO) initiated at the IAEA by Russia.
Kiriyenko also briefed Kakodkar about the Russian initiative to open an international uranium enrichment centre in Angarsk on the Russian territory next year for sustained supply of nuclear fuel for power generation to all the interested nations, including India.
1. Elbaradei views exhibition on achievement of cooperation between IAEA, China
Xinhua News Agency
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Mohammed Elbaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on Wednesday viewed the exhibition on the achievement of cooperation between the IAEA and China at the Austria Center in Vienna.
Elbaradei was briefed on the main achievements of nuclear application technology made in the cooperation between the IAEA and China, covering the application of nuclear technology in industry, agriculture, human health, and nuclear safeguard, as well as the application of the research reactor.
After viewing the exhibition, Elbaradei said to Sun Qin, head of the Chinese Delegation at the General Conference, that he was satisfied with the achievements by the IAEA-China cooperation, and expressed his hope that China would help other developing countries with their nuclear technology.
Sun said China would like to strengthen the cooperation with the IAEA.
The China Atomic Energy Authority attended the exhibition in Vienna in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the IAEA, and expressed China's support to the international energy watchdog.
Sun said China also came to exhibit the achievement of the application of nuclear technology, and promote the international cooperation and exchange of nuclear technology,
The 50th Annual Regular Session of the IAEA General Conference opened this week at the Austria Center in Vienna, Austria.
High-level delegates from the agency's 140 members are present at the five-day conference. The exhibition on the achievement of cooperation between the IAEA and China was part of the conference.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said that his country would start examining nuclear energy.
"We must benefit from sources of new and renewable energy, including peaceful uses of nuclear energy," he said in his closing address to the ruling National Democratic Party conference.
"I call for serious dialogue into what nuclear technology has to offer... especially when we are not starting from scratch -- we have knowledge of this technology," he said.
"The future of energy is a central element in the building of the nation's own future," Mubarak said.
Speaking to a packed auditorium, he also criticized foreign ambitions for the region.
"We live in a region which is going through a critical phase of disturbance and instability... which sees attempts to impose a new regional reality that does not suit the circumstances, conditions and priorities, and fails to see the challenges faced by its people," Mubarak said.
"The standstill in the peace process is the core issue behind the problems of the Middle East. The time has come for the international community to admit this reality and to deal with it in a serious and impartial way without delay," he said.
"Any talk of a broader or greater Middle East fails to acknowledge this reality," he said.
"Any talk of the war on terror must be accompanied by discussion on the root causes and a serious move to justly resolve them," he said.
On Tuesday, the president's son Gamal, who is the party's assistant secretary general and also heads the influential Policies Secretariat, said it was time for Egypt to examine nuclear energy.
"The time has come for Egypt to think about... the issue of alternative energy including nuclear energy," the young Mubarak said.
US Ambassador to Egypt Francis J Ricciardone said on Thursday that his country would encourage the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Speaking to Egypt's al-Mehwar television, Ricciardone said that "the United States encourages the peaceful use of nuclear power for civilian purposes throughout the world."
1. Arab nations seek condemnation of Israel's nuclear activities
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Arab nations asked the UN's atomic energy watchdog, the IAEA, to adopt a resolution condemning Israel's nuclear activities -- even as the UN pressured Iran on the same issue in New York.
Fifteen Arab countries along with Indonesia and Iran have placed a draft resolution concerning "Israel's nuclear capacities and threats" on the agenda of the IAEA's forthcoming general assembly, scheduled for Friday.
"For the first time since 1991" -- when a similar resolution was adopted -- "they seem ready to go all the way in dealing with this question," only six weeks after the Israeli bombardment of Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon, a Western diplomat said.
"If the draft resolution is kept on the agenda, there is also a good chance it will be adopted," putting Western powers -- who pushed through a resolution condemning Iran's nuclear programme via the IAEA's Board of Governors -- in an awkward position, the diplomat said.
In recent years similar resolutions against Israel have been proposed, but none found their way onto the IAEA's formal agenda because of Israeli support for an Egyptian appeal for a ban on nuclear weapons in the Middle East, he said.
But Syria's representative at the IAEA, Ibrahim Othman, one of the main sponsors of the resolution targeting Israel, told the agency's 141 members that Israel's "criminal aggression against Lebanon and Palestine" required that a formal text be adopted.
"It is true that the conflict in Lebanon complicated things, but we can't hope that they will pull back as has happened in the past," another Western diplomat said of the proposed resolution.
Negotiations were underway on Wednesday on the sidelines of official IAEA meetings in Vienna, he said.
The presence of this item on the agenda would put Western powers in an awkward position by forcing them to take a position on Israel's nuclear activities.
The issue rarely comes up at the IAEA because Israel -- unlike Iran -- is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Jewish state refuses to acknowledge or deny that it possesses nuclear arms, but most experts agree that it has at least 200 atom bombs at the ready.
On Wednesday Israel's representative at the IAEA, Gideon Frank, made it clear -- though without mentioning Iran by name -- that his country would not "remain indifferent" to Tehran's alleged nuclear arms programme, whose existence "seriously compromises the stability of the region" and poses "an existential threat" for Israel.
At the same time, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said during the UN General Assembly in New York that the international community must face up to the "rising danger" posed by Tehran.
World powers have given Iran until early October to respond to an offer to negotiate the cessation of their uranium enrichment activities or face sanctions, according to diplomats.
But the Arab nations "are tired of double standards," with Iran -- which claims that its nuclear programme is strictly for generating electricity only -- threatened with sanctions, while no mention is made of Israel, a Middle Eastern diplomat in Vienna said.
"We can count on a marathon session Friday with a flurry of amendments and separate votes," the first Western diplomat said, noting that the resolution could still pass even if Western nations abstain.
1. U.S.-Based Group Offers $50 Million To Promote Nuclear Security
U.S. Department of State
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A U.S.-based organization is offering the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) $50 million toward the creation of an international nuclear fuel reserve that would allow countries to reap the benefits of civil nuclear power without having to develop nuclear enrichment capabilities that could pose a weapons proliferation risk.
Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, announced the offer in a September 19 speech during the IAEAï¿½s 50th General Conference in Vienna, Austria.
A nongovernmental organization dedicated to reducing the threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, NTI, was founded in 2000 by Nunn and former media executive Ted Turner. The organization is governed by an international board of directors with members from China, France, India, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
From 1972 to 1996, Nunn served as a U.S. senator and, together with Senator Richard Lugar, proposed legislation creating the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program in 1991. It provides assistance to Russia and the former Soviet republics to secure and destroy their excess nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Nunn explained that under the NTI vision, the nuclear fuel reserve would be maintained by the IAEA as a backup source for countries choosing to develop nuclear power by purchasing fuel from other countries, foregoing the development of nuclear enrichment facilities. Should these countries face disruptions to their fuel supply, the IAEA then would step in to provide the needed nuclear fuel.
ï¿½We believe this concept is urgent because many nations are seeking nuclear energy to meet their development needs and are weighing available options to determine what will be the most secure and most economical way to ensure a reliable supply of nuclear fuel,ï¿½ Nunn said.
The fuel bank can help reassure these developing nations that they will have ready access to fuel if they pursue nuclear energy in accordance with their international treaty obligations.
By reducing the overall number of new enrichment facilities, the international community also better can ensure the safety of nuclear materials and technologies, thereby preventing their possible misdirection into weapons.
American businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett contributed to the fund, calling it an ï¿½investment in a safer world.ï¿½
However, Nunn said that NTIï¿½s contribution has two conditions that must be met within two years: first, the IAEA must take the necessary actions to approve establishment of the nuclear fuel reserve; and, second, IAEA member nations must contribute an additional $100 million or provide an equivalent value of fuel-grade uranium to help establish the reserve.
ï¿½We must find new and better answers to the imperative of the nuclear age,ï¿½ Nunn said. ï¿½We believe these dangers are urgent and that is why we at NTI are stepping forward. It is now up to governments to act and to act decisively.ï¿½
The State Departmentï¿½s press office says that the United States welcomes and supports the NTI initiative to establish an IAEA fuel reserve. A similar concept was presented to IAEA earlier this year by the United States, together with France, Russia, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman addressed the IAEA conference September 19, saying an international mechanism to assure an adequate supply of reactor fuel is critical both to meeting the world's energy needs and to advancing nonproliferation goals.
2. Global Nuclear Energy Partnership Could Help Meet Energy Needs
U.S. Department of State
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President Bush's proposal to make nuclear fuel accessible to all governments that forego uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing could meet the worldï¿½s growing energy demands, limit carbon emissions and reduce proliferation dangers, according to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.
Addressing a general session of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, Bodman quoted the president saying that the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership could "ensure that cheap, safe, and clean nuclear energy and its benefits are enjoyed by all who are in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations."
The secretary said world energy needs are met today primarily by using coal, natural gas and oil to generate electrical power. "But nuclear energy provides a host of benefits fossil fuels cannot match," Bodman said.
The secretary said four conditions must be present to achieve the maximum benefit from nuclear power:
ï¿½ Nuclear power must be competitive with fossil fuels in generating electricity;
ï¿½ Nuclear waste and spent fuel must be disposed of responsibly;
ï¿½ Nuclear power must be safe; and
ï¿½ The firmest safeguards over nuclear materials must be maintained.
Regarding disposal, he said the U.S. Energy Department wants to open a mountain repository for nuclear waste and spent fuel by 2017, and praised the progress Sweden and Finland are making in pursuing geologic repositories.
Bodman said the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, along with a Russian proposal to establish international nuclear fuel service centers (starting with one in Russia) "share the same goal: to facilitate the global expansion of nuclear power to meet growing energy demands, limit carbon emissions, and reduce proliferation dangers."
The U.S. proposal through GNEP is "to develop and deploy advanced technologies for recycling spent nuclear fuel that do not result in separated plutonium," Bodman said. The goal is a multilateral effort to develop advanced, proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors suited to the energy needs of developing economies.
Though different proposals have been made for the future of nuclear power, he said, there is consensus that an international mechanism to assure an adequate supply of reactor fuel is critical both to meeting the world's energy needs and to advancing nonproliferation goals.
Bodman said the United States plans to work with the IAEA and any others willing to construct a framework to guarantee fuel at fair market rates, and to accommodate the storage, transport and processing of spent fuel.
He called for the IAEA, with U.S. help, to facilitate supplier-recipient contacts, promote the use of technological advances and help countries develop the expertise needed for effective use of nuclear energy.
An assured fuel supply "would considerably increase the energy independence, and thus political and strategic independence, of all nations, particularly smaller ones," Bodman said.
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