1. Putin Signs Law on Ratification of Additional Protocol with IAEA ï¿½ 1
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President Vladimir Putin signed a law on the ratification of an additional protocol between Russia and the UN nuclear watchdog to a Soviet-era agreement on guarantees in Russia, the Kremlin press service said Wednesday.
The law was adopted by the lower house of parliament on September 14 and approved by the upper house on September 19. Russia's Nuclear Power Ministry signed the document on behalf of Russia on March 22, 2000.
The document envisions a set of additional organizational and technical measures to control civilian nuclear activity among Non-Proliferation Treaty member states. In particular, Russia must provide information to the International Atomic Energy Agency on its nuclear exports to non-nuclear powers and data on its cooperation with them. States possessing nuclear weapons are given the right to select control measures from those proposed in the protocol, which they deem possible to use on their territory.
"This protocol confirms Russia's leading role in strengthening the global nuclear non-proliferation regime," Nikolai Spassky, deputy head of the Nuclear Power Agency, said in September, adding that the protocol's adoption would not harm Russia's security, as it is based on "the principle of voluntariness."
1. NKorea Agrees to Declare, Disable Nuclear Programmes
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North Korea has agreed to declare all its nuclear programmes and disable its main atomic reactor by the end of the year under US supervision, according to a six-nation agreement released Wednesday.
The deal -- the second phase of a long-running process aimed at ending the North's atomic weapons drive -- was immediately welcomed by US President George W. Bush, as well as other six-party participants Japan and South Korea.
North Korea "agreed to disable all its existing nuclear facilities" as the next step in a landmark agreement reached by the six parties in February, according to a copy of the text released by China, the host of the talks.
As part of the second phase, North Korea will disable its five-megawatt plutonium producing reactor and two other key facilities at Yongbyon by December 31.
Those facilities were described by Bush as the "core" of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, according to a US government statement released in Washington.
The Yongbyon facilities, as well as two other minor ones, were shut down in July as part of the first phase of the February accord.
"At the request of the other parties, the United States will lead disablement activities," Wednesday's statement said, adding that US experts would lead a team to the North within two weeks to begin preparations.
North Korea also agreed to provide a "complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programmes" by December 31, according to Wednesday's statement.
The reclusive North has spent decades developing its nuclear programmes and no-one outside the country knows for sure how much atomic material it has produced, or whether there are any other facilities it has yet to declare.
While Yongbyon produced plutonium, the United States had previously accused the North of also running a secret programme to develop highly enriched uranium.
Both highly enriched uranium and plutonium can be used to make nuclear weapons. However there was no mention of uranium in Wednesday's statement.
In return for pushing ahead with disarmament, the five other parties to the talks will provide North Korea with another 900,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil or its equivalent in aid, the pact said.
The impoverished nation has already received 100,000 tonnes from South Korea and China after it shut down Yongbyon and allowed inspectors from the UN's atomic watchdog back into the country.
Bush last week gave the go-ahead to deliver another tranche of 50,000 tonnes. Wednesday's statement said the United States agreed to work to improve bilateral relations with North Korea, "moving towards a full diplomatic relationship."
Washington also committed to work towards removing the North from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, but only if Pyongyang continued pushing ahead with disarmament, the agreement said.
Pyongyang was tasked with improving its troubled relations with Japan and resolving issues left over from an "unfortunate past" -- an apparent reference to Japan's wartime occupation of the Korean peninsula and the kidnapping of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang.
The agreement came after the chief envoys from the six nations held four days of talks in Beijing that ended on Sunday. Russia is the final member of the forum.
They said then that the deal had been brokered but the statement was not released until the governments of all six nations had approved it.
The six-party talks, which began in 2003, failed to stop North Korea from conducting its first test of an atomic bomb in October last year.
But negotiations continued and finally resulted in the February accord that has become the blueprint for disarmament.
The third and final disarmament phase to be implemented in early 2008 would require North Korea to surrender all its fissile material and nuclear weapons, which experts see as an ambitious task.
1. IAEA Chief Says Iran Must Come Clean Or Face 'Backfire'
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Muhammad el-Baradei, the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, has warned Iran that it must "come clean" about its controversial uranium-enrichment activities or face new UN sanctions.
In an interview published in today's "Financial Times," the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran must answer key questions about its uranium-enrichment program before the end of this year or face new penalties.
El-Baradei said he expected Iran to clear up suspicions about its acquisition of advanced centrifuges before he reports to the IAEA governing board on November 22.
He said the two key issues that Tehran must clarify in the next few weeks were the extent of its research and development capabilities on enrichment and its capacity to build weapons from nuclear material.
And he said the key was for Iran to show that it is working with the UN nuclear watchdog "in good faith, with good intentions."
But el-Baradei also said that if Iran failed to deliver on its promises to answer those questions, its unwillingness to cooperate would "backfire in their face."
He said: "I've told the Iranians, 'This is your litmus test. You committed yourself to come clean. If you don't, nobody will be able to come to your support.'"
El-Baradei's remarks are seen as his strongest rebuff to date against Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad told the UN General Assembly in New York on September 25 that Tehran believed "the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed and has turned into an ordinary agency matter" for the IAEA.
Although questions remain unanswered, Ahmadinejad insisted that Tehran has no interest in developing nuclear weapons and that all of its nuclear activities are "peaceful and transparent."
"In the last two years, because of abuse of power on the [UN] Security Council, arrogant powers have tried to intimidate with military action and threatened economic sanctions," he said. "But because of its belief in God and national unity, Iran continued to walk forward, step by step. And now Iran as a country has the industrial-scale, fuel-cycle capability for peaceful purposes."
In August, el-Baradei agreed to a plan with Iran under which Tehran would answer questions about its nuclear program from as far back as the 1980s. That move irritated the United States and some European Union countries, which see the plan as an opportunity for Iran to continue enriching uranium.
But the plan has been viewed favorably by Russia and China, which are permanent, veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council.
On September 30, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters that Tehran would cooperate with the IAEA in order to put a stop to any possible sanctions.
The UN Security Council already has passed two resolutions imposing sanctions against Tehran as punishment for its refusal to suspend sensitive uranium-enrichment activities.
An independent group of nuclear weapons experts said Monday that substantial work remained to be done on a new generation of warheads in order to show, short of underground testing, that the bombs would be reliable.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, a part of the Energy Department, is backing an effort by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California to develop a hydrogen bomb that would replace parts of the existing Cold War-era stockpile.
The project has moved further than any U.S. nuclear weapons program in two decades. But in a recent report to Congress, the panel of outside experts said technical uncertainties in the manufacturing process and predictions about how the warhead would perform when detonated must be resolved before the bomb could be certified.
"Certification is not yet assured," said an unclassified summary of the JASON report, which also raised concerns about a plan to use new technology to make a stolen bomb useless should terrorists steal it. The report asked for an "improved physical understanding" of how the new system would work.
The push to develop a new weapon, known as the reliable replacement warhead, also has run into unexpected opposition in Congress. The Bush administration had requested $89 million for the project in fiscal 2008, up from $36 million a year ago. But a key House committee, followed by the full chamber, voted in June to eliminate all funding, saying the U.S. needs to reassess its nuclear weapons strategy.
Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development, said Monday that only after the agency had completed the panel's recommendations could Congress consider going ahead with the new weapon.
But Energy Department officials said the report actually confirmed that their technical approach to the new bomb was correct. "I am pleased that the JASON panel feels that we are on the right track," said Thomas D'Agostino, administrator of the nuclear security agency.
Separately, the government announced Monday that it dismantled three times as many old nuclear weapons as planned in fiscal 2007. President Bush in 2004 directed that the overall U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons -- a classified number, but believed to be about 6,000 bombs -- be reduced 50% by 2012.
1. Russia Has No Plans to Import Spent Nuclear Fuel
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Russia does not intend in the foreseeable future to bring in spent nuclear fuel from other countries for storage and subsequent reprocessing, a senior nuclear industry official said Tuesday.
"There will be no import [of spent nuclear fuel] for storage or processing until we have resolved our own problems," said Andrei Malyshev, deputy head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom).
He said only spent Russian-produced nuclear fuel may be brought into Russia.
"We only bring [fuel] from Ukraine and Bulgaria - fuel that we delivered earlier. Russia has never imported any foreign-made fuel," he said.
The Rosatom official said that he does not exclude the import of foreign-manufactured nuclear material for research purposes, adding that Russia has a unique technological base for nuclear fuel related research.
He also said that Rosatom would spend about 11 billion rubles ($400 million) in the next three years to build a "dry" storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in the town of Zheleznogorsk, in the Krasnoyarsk Territory in Siberia.
Malyshev said that the first unit is due to be put into operation in 2010, and that the storage facility, to be completed by 2015, will have an aggregate capacity of 36,000 metric tons of fuel.
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