1. Officials Say Failures at Russian Nuclear Facilities Decreasing
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The head of Russia's nuclear regulating agency said Tuesday that the number of failures at the country's nuclear facilities decreased last year compared with 2005, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
Konstantin Pulikovsky said 162 failures were detected at nuclear facilities, such as atomic power and uranium processing plants, in 2006 with 21 fewer than in 2005, RIA-Novosti said.
Of those, 42 were reported at nuclear power stations _two failures fewer than the previous year, the official said. Pulikovsky also said there were no incidents which led to radioactive emissions last year, according to the report.
Russia now has 31 reactors at 10 nuclear power plants, providing 16 to 17 percent of Russia's electricity generation.
In recent years, the country has overcome a public backlash against nuclear power that followed the April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and the government has supported efforts to revive nuclear industries. It plans to build 42 more atomic reactors by 2030, which should provide about a quarter of power generation.
1. Iran Says Wants Atom Talks; Powers Talk More Sanctions
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Iran wants a negotiated solution to its nuclear standoff with world powers but this must recognize an Iranian right to a peaceful nuclear program, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Thursday.
Four Western powers, Russia and China were due to discuss elements of a new U.N. resolution by telephone on Thursday to pressure Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can yield nuclear fuel for either power plants or bombs.
New steps could include a travel ban on senior Iranian officials and some limits on non-nuclear business.
But diplomats said a U.S. push for an arms embargo on Iran was unacceptable to Russia and Germany wanted to drop the idea.
"A wish list of incrementally increased sanctions has been circulated but the discussion is nowhere near mature and this will not go to the (U.N.) Security Council for 2-3 more weeks," an EU diplomat said. Another said: "It will be a long process."
Tehran wants to negotiate without bowing to a demand to first stop enriching uranium. Washington and leading European nations say they suspect Iran, the world's fourth biggest oil producer, has a covert atomic bomb agenda.
"Everybody insists on a negotiated solution to this issue ... so we are suggesting to various parties that these negotiations go forward," Mottaki told reporters in Madrid after talks with Spanish counterpart Miguel Moratinos.
"We should be allowed back to the negotiating table to put forward our arguments before the media and the people," he said.
"We believe that the time has arrived to take things calmly and find peace. The U.S. reasoning that they can have nuclear weapons and others can't have nuclear energy is not valid."
Officials from the five permanent Security Council members -- the United States, France, Russia, China and Britain -- plus Germany, said in London on Monday they were also committed to a negotiated resolution to the standoff.
But Washington, which says "all options" are on the table while insisting it wants a peaceful solution, has ratcheted up pressure by sending a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf.
Along with Russia, China has been among the powers most reluctant to contemplate sanctions or coercion beyond a ban on nuclear technology or know-how imposed on Tehran in December, saying that would only corner Iran and provoke conflict.
A senior Iranian diplomat was due to hold talks with Chinese officials in Beijing that would cover the nuclear dispute as China repeated its plea for a negotiated settlement.
"The international community should exercise calm and restraint and continue applying diplomatic efforts, including outside the Security Council, to promote the revival of negotiations as early as possible," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told a news conference in Beijing that France was trying to find common ground between the various Security Council members.
An aide to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana told a European Parliament committee EU nations were reluctant to cancel non-nuclear contracts as Washington wanted.
"That would imply very negative consequences for our economies as well," said Annalisa Giannella, Solana's envoy on non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction.
1. U.S. Concedes Uncertainty on North Korean Uranium Effort
David E. Sanger & William J. Broad
New York Times
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Last October, the North Koreans tested their first nuclear device, the fruition of decades of work to make a weapon out of plutonium.
For nearly five years, though, the Bush administration, based on intelligence estimates, has accused North Korea of also pursuing a secret, parallel path to a bomb, using enriched uranium. That accusation, first leveled in the fall of 2002, resulted in the rupture of an already tense relationship: The United States cut off oil supplies, and the North Koreans responded by throwing out international inspectors, building up their plutonium arsenal and, ultimately, producing that first plutonium bomb.
But now, American intelligence officials are publicly softening their position, admitting to doubts about how much progress the uranium enrichment program has actually made. The result has been new questions about the Bush administrationï¿½s decision to confront North Korea in 2002.
ï¿½The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizable arsenal if this had been handled differently,ï¿½ a senior administration official said this week.
The disclosure underscores broader questions about the ability of intelligence agencies to discern the precise status of foreign weapons programs. The original assessment about North Korea came during the same period that the administration was building its case about Iraqï¿½s unconventional weapons programs, which turned out to be based on flawed intelligence. And the new North Korea assessment comes amid debate over intelligence about Iranï¿½s weapons.
The public revelation of the intelligence agenciesï¿½ doubts, which have been brewing for some time, came almost by happenstance. In a little-noticed exchange on Tuesday at a hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Joseph DeTrani, a longtime intelligence official, told Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island that ï¿½we still have confidence that the program is in existence ï¿½ at the mid-confidence level.ï¿½ Under the intelligence agenciesï¿½ own definitions, that level ï¿½means the information is interpreted in various ways, we have alternative viewsï¿½ or it is not fully corroborated.
ï¿½The administration appears to have made a very costly decision that has resulted in a fourfold increase in the nuclear weapons of North Korea,ï¿½ Senator Reed said in an interview on Wednesday. ï¿½If that was based in part on mixing up North Koreaï¿½s ambitions with their accomplishments, itï¿½s important.ï¿½
Two administration officials, who declined to be identified, suggested that if the administration harbored the same doubts in 2002 that it harbored now, the negotiating strategy for dealing with North Korea might have been different ï¿½ and the tit-for-tat actions that led to Octoberï¿½s nuclear test could, conceivably, have been avoided.
The strongest evidence for the original assessment was Pakistanï¿½s sale to North Korea of upwards of 20 centrifuges, machines that spin fast to convert uranium gas into highly enriched uranium, a main fuel for atom bombs. Officials feared that the North Koreans would use those centrifuges as models to build a vast enrichment complex. But in interviews this week, experts inside and outside the government said that since then, little or no evidence of Korean procurements had emerged to back up those fears.
The continuing doubts prompted the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Wednesday to declassify a portion of the most recent, one-page update circulated to top national security officials about the status of North Koreaï¿½s uranium program. The assessment, read by two senior intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity in a joint interview, said the intelligence community still had ï¿½high confidence that North Korea has pursued a uranium enrichment capability, which we assess is for a weapon.ï¿½
It added, they said, that all the governmentï¿½s intelligence agencies ï¿½judge ï¿½ most with moderate confidence ï¿½ that this effort continues. The degree of progress towards producing enriched uranium remains unknown, however.ï¿½
In other words, while the agencies were certain of the initial purchases, confidence in the programï¿½s overall existence appears to have dropped over the years ï¿½ apparently from high to moderate.
It is unclear why the new assessment is being disclosed now. But some officials suggested that the timing could be linked to North Koreaï¿½s recent agreement to reopen its doors to international arms inspectors. As a result, these officials have said, the intelligence agencies are facing the possibility that their assessments will once again be compared to what is actually found on the ground. ï¿½This may be preventative,ï¿½ one American diplomat said.
American intelligence agencies had long known of North Koreaï¿½s nuclear program employing plutonium, which can make compact weapons but requires large, easily detected reactors. By contrast, uranium warheads tend to be larger, but the technology for enriching uranium is much smaller and easier to hide.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, declined to discuss the decisions to confront North Korea in 2002 or the quality of the intelligence behind that decision, though both have noted previously that North Korea purchased equipment from Pakistan that could only have been intended for use in producing weapons fuel. One former official said that it was Ms. Rice, in a meeting at the C.I.A. in 2004, who encouraged intelligence officials to soften their assessments of how quickly the North Koreans could produce weapons-usable uranium.
ï¿½She asked, how did we know about the timing, and they didnï¿½t have answers,ï¿½ said the former official. ï¿½Did they have Russians and Chinese helping them? No one was sure. It was really a guesstimate about timing.ï¿½
Different players in the 2002 debate have different memories. John R. Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, who headed the State Departmentï¿½s proliferation office at the time of the 2002 declaration, said in an interview on Wednesday evening that ï¿½there was no dissent at the time, because in the face of the evidence the disputes evaporated.ï¿½ Mr. Bolton, one of the most hawkish voices in the administration and a vocal critic of its recent deal with North Korea, recalled that even the State Departmentï¿½s own intelligence arm, which was the most skeptical of the Iraq evidence, ï¿½agreed with the consensus opinion.ï¿½
But David A. Kay, a nuclear expert and former official who in 2003 and 2004 led the American hunt for unconventional arms in Iraq, said he had found the administrationï¿½s claims about the North Korean uranium program unpersuasive. ï¿½They were driving it way further than the evidence indicated it should go,ï¿½ he said in an interview. The leap of logic, Dr. Kay added, turned evidence of equipment purchases into ï¿½a significant production capability.ï¿½
But the doubts were on full display on Wednesday, when Christopher R. Hill, the chief American negotiator with North Korea, testified on Capitol Hill. ï¿½If we determine that there is a program, itï¿½s got to go,ï¿½ Mr. Hill said, words that were far more tentative than American policy makers have used about the program in the past. Expressing his resolve to get to the bottom of the mystery, he added: ï¿½We cannot have a situation where we ï¿½ you know, they pretend to disarm and we pretend to believe them. We need to run this into the ground.ï¿½ He said that while there was no doubt that North Korea had bought centrifuges from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the rogue Pakistani engineer, there was doubt about ï¿½how far theyï¿½ve gotten.ï¿½
John E. McLaughlin, a former director of central intelligence and the deputy C.I.A. director in 2002, defended the initial North Korean findings as accurate. ï¿½At the time we reported this, we had confidence that they were acquiring materials that could give them the capability to do this down the road,ï¿½ he said in an interview. But no one, he added, ï¿½said they had anything up and running. We also made clear that we did not have a confident understanding of how far along they were.ï¿½
That confidence has dropped further because inspectors have been banned from North Korea for four years, nearly as long as they were out of Iraq before their readmittance just before the 2003 invasion. In Iraqï¿½s case, intelligence analysts extrapolated from the last information they had to assess what kind of weapons Iraq might be producing.
Outside experts, including David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that tracks nuclear arms, have suggested in recent days that something similar happened in North Koreaï¿½s case. ï¿½The evidence doesnï¿½t support the extrapolationï¿½ to the judgment that North Korea was making crucial strides in its uranium program, Mr. Albright said in an interview. ï¿½The extrapolation went too far.ï¿½
He said administration analysts were right in thinking that Dr. Khan had sold North Korea about 20 centrifuges. Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, confirmed that in a memoir published last year. But, Mr. Albright said, intelligence agencies overstated whether North Korea had used those few machines as models to construct row upon row of carbon copies.
His report zeroed in on thousands of aluminum tubes that the North Koreans bought and tried to buy in the early 2000s. The C.I.A. and the Bush administration, the report said, pointed to these tubes as the ï¿½smoking gunï¿½ for construction of a large-scale North Korean plant for the enriching of uranium. It was assessments about the purpose of aluminum tubes that were at the center of the flawed Iraq intelligence.
In the North Korea case, intelligence analysts saw the tubes as ideal for centrifuges. But Mr. Albright said the relatively weak aluminum tubes were suitable only for stationary outer casings ï¿½ not central rotors, which have to be very strong to keep from flying apart while spinning at tremendous speeds.
Moreover, he added, the aluminum tubes were ï¿½very easy to get and not controlledï¿½ by global export authorities because of their potentially harmless nature. So that purchase, by itself, Mr. Albright added, was ï¿½not an indicatorï¿½ of clandestine use for nuclear arms.
1. Westinghouse to Build Four Nuclear Reactors in China
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Westinghouse Electric Co. sealed a deal on Thursday to provide China's State Nuclear Power Technology Co. with the technology to build four civilian nuclear reactors, state media said.
Westinghouse will provide two third-generation water pressurized water reactors in eastern China's Zhejiang province and two similar reactors in Shandong province, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a framework contract signed in Beijing on Thursday.
A technology transfer agreement between China and the United States signed in December paved the way for the deal. Under terms announced then, two of the reactors were to be in Guangdong instead of Shandong.
DowJones Newswires reported on Thursday that industry officials said in February the location of those reactors was changed to give a contract in Guangdong province to Westinghouse's French rival Areva SA.
Stephen Tritch, president and chief executive of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based company, said in December the contract represented a multibillion dollar deal and that the company wanted the plants up and running by 2013.
China plans to build as many as 32 nuclear reactors by 2020, in addition to the 10 in use or under construction. Westinghouse hopes to land more of those future contracts, though the Chinese have been building plants using their own technology.
1. Russian Generals to Discuss USAï¿½s Missile Defense Plans
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A delegation of Russian military officials led by head of the Defense Ministry's main department for international military cooperation Anatoly Mazurkevich will hold consultations in Washington on March 9 over problems of regional and global stability.
The Russian military will confer with U.S. army brass lead by Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman, an official from the Russian Defense Ministry told Itar-Tass on Wednesday.
"The main theme of the consultations is the U.S. decision to field global missile defense system facilities in Europe, and the necessity for Russia - caused by this decision - to examine the possibility of unilateral withdrawal from the treaty on liquidating medium- and shorter-range missiles, in order to ensure its security" the official said.
"Russian generals are expected to draw the U.S. partners' attention to the fact that the deployment of a launch area on the European continent implies that advance U.S. army groups in Europe acquire strategic components, which they hitherto did not have," he went on to say.
"Russia will also state that the missile defense facilities deployed near the Russian borders is viewed by Moscow as a strategic system, which, if boosted, will be able to exert considerable influence on the Russian deterrence potential," the official noted.
The Russian delegation will note the fact that under the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty /INF/, just two countries - Russia and the Untied States - have no opportunities to have this class of missiles.
"But whereas the United States, protected from countries with unstable regimes by two oceans, is no great need for such weapons, the situation with Russia is quite different. Our country has a long land border it must protect, but it has no medium range missiles, which a number of neighboring states possess. It's complete absurdity, which cannot last forever," he said.
The Defense Ministry official reminded that the consultations in Washington will be held within the framework of the Mazurkevich-Edelman high-level group, set up by the previous Russian and U.S. defense chiefs Sergei Ivanov and Donald Rumsfeld.
"Given the importance of the present consultations, their results will be immediately reported to Russia's military-political leadership," according to the official.
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