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Nuclear News - 4/17/2007
RANSAC Nuclear News, April 17, 2007
Compiled By: Kevin Giles

A.  Russia
    1. Russia Says U.S. Defense Secretary to Visit, Reuters (4/17/2007)
B.  Iran
    1. Iran Soon to Accept Bids for Two More Nuclear Power Plants, RIA Novosti (4/15/2007)
    1. North Korea Could Close Nuclear Reactor � U.S., South Korea, RIA Novosti (4/17/2007)
D.  Nuclear Energy
    1. With Eye on Iran, Rivals Also Want Nuclear Power, WILLIAM J. BROAD and DAVID E. SANGER, New York Times (4/15/2007)
E.  Nuclear Proliferation
    1. United States and Mexico to Partner in Fight Against Nuclear Smuggling, U.S. Department of Energy (4/16/2007)

A.  Russia

Russia Says U.S. Defense Secretary to Visit
(for personal use only)

Ivanov said Gates would arrive in Moscow on April 23. Rice's visit will "most likely be in May," he said.

Russia says U.S. plans to base elements of a planned missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic are a threat to its security. Washington has promised Moscow "detailed discussions" about the plan to ease its concerns.

"We hope that our forthcoming consultations ... will allow us to hear the substance of the plans being drawn up and implemented in Washington for a global anti-missile defense system," Ivanov told reporters.

"We, in our turn, will set out our vision and our assessment of these plans from the point of view of Russian security interests and international and regional security."

Moscow has also spoken out about a U.S. State Department report that was critical of Russia's human rights record. Officials accused the United States of meddling in Russia's internal affairs.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is to visit Russia next week and Moscow hopes to discuss Pentagon plans for a missile defense shield on Russia's borders, a Kremlin official said on Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might visit Russia in May, Secretary of Russia's Security Council Igor Ivanov told a news conference.

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B.  Iran

Iran Soon to Accept Bids for Two More Nuclear Power Plants
RIA Novosti
(for personal use only)

Iran will soon announce a tender for the construction of two more nuclear power plants in the south of the Islamic Republic, an official of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said Sunday.

Ahmad Fayazbakhsh said the power plants will each have a capacity of 1,000 to 1,600 megawatts and will be built at Bushehr where Russia is completing the construction of Iran's first nuclear power plant.

Iran has been at the center of international concerns since January 2006 over its nuclear program, which some countries, particularly the United States, suspect is geared toward nuclear weapons development. Tehran has consistently denied the claims, saying it needs nuclear power for civilian purposes.

Fayazbakhsh said some major European and Asian contractors have already displayed interest in the construction of NPPs.

Fayazbakhsh also said the two nuclear power plants will cost about $1.4-1.8 billion and their construction will last about 9-11 years.

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North Korea Could Close Nuclear Reactor � U.S., South Korea
RIA Novosti
(for personal use only)

U.S. satellites have spotted unusual activity near North Korea's nuclear reactor Monday which, Washington believes, may be evidence that North Korea is closing down the reactor, South Korea's Dong-a Ilbo said Tuesday citing diplomatic sources.

Satellite photos taken by the United States reflect "unusual activity", with more transportation and people going to and from the reactor than usual. After seeing the shots South Korea shared U.S. conclusions that this could be evidence of North Korea's intention to close down the reactor.

The RENHAP agency reported that in a telephone conversation Tuesday Song Min-soon, South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agreed to give North Korea a few days to stop the reactor.

Under an agreement reached at six-nation talks on denuclearizing North Korea in February, Pyongyang was to stop and seal its nuclear reactor, produce a list of other nuclear facilities and swap access to IAEA inspectors for energy supplies and other assistance within 60 days, a deadline which expired Saturday.

However, North Korea refused to honor its commitments until its accounts with Banco Delta Asia in Macao were unfrozen. Although information emerged last week that access to the accounts was provided, Pyongyang said it would make sure before stopping the reactor.

In September 2005 the U.S. froze 52 North Korean accounts in the Macau bank as part of unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang. The United States has so far not produced evidence of North Korean violations and agreed to unfreeze $25 million last week.

Latest reports said Banco Delta Asia (BDA) has filed a petition with the U.S. Treasury Department to have the decision to "blacklist" BDA overturned, the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong quoted BDA's lawyer in the U.S. Joseph McLaughlin Tuesday.

"We are confident that the US legal system, in the end, will not sacrifice legal rights for political ends," he said.

BDA said in an official statement that the decision was politically motivated since it was based on disputes between the United States and North Korea.

U.S. Treasury officials have already expressed confidence that they will win the case.

The decision to put BDA on a "black list" of banks barring it from doing business with U.S. banks was made in early March 2007 and will come into effect Wednesday.

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D.  Nuclear Energy

With Eye on Iran, Rivals Also Want Nuclear Power
New York Times
(for personal use only)

Two years ago, the leaders of Saudi Arabia told international atomic regulators that they could foresee no need for the kingdom to develop nuclear power. Today, they are scrambling to hire atomic contractors, buy nuclear hardware and build support for a regional system of reactors.

So, too, Turkey is preparing for its first atomic plant. And Egypt has announced plans to build one on its Mediterranean coast. In all, roughly a dozen states in the region have recently turned to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna for help in starting their own nuclear programs. While interest in nuclear energy is rising globally, it is unusually strong in the Middle East.

�The rules have changed,� King Abdullah II of Jordan recently told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. �Everybody�s going for nuclear programs.�

The Middle East states say they only want atomic power. Some probably do. But United States government and private analysts say they believe that the rush of activity is also intended to counter the threat of a nuclear Iran.

By nature, the underlying technologies of nuclear power can make electricity or, with more effort, warheads, as nations have demonstrated over the decades by turning ostensibly civilian programs into sources of bomb fuel. Iran�s uneasy neighbors, analysts say, may be positioning themselves to do the same.

�One danger of Iran going nuclear has always been that it might provoke others,� said Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, an arms analysis group in London. �So when you see the development of nuclear power elsewhere in the region, it�s a cause for some concern.�

Some analysts ask why Arab states in the Persian Gulf, which hold nearly half the world�s oil reserves, would want to shoulder the high costs and obligations of a temperamental form of energy. They reply that they must invest in the future, for the day when the flow of oil dries up.

But with Shiite Iran increasingly ascendant in the region, Sunni countries have alluded to other motives. Officials from 21 governments in and around the Middle East warned at an Arab summit meeting in March that Iran�s drive for atomic technology could result in the beginning of �a grave and destructive nuclear arms race in the region.�

In Washington, officials are seizing on such developments to build their case for stepping up pressure on Iran. President Bush has talked privately to experts on the Middle East about his fears of a �Sunni bomb,� and his concerns that countries in the Middle East may turn to the only nuclear-armed Sunni state, Pakistan, for help.

�It�s a constant source of discussion,� a senior administration official said recently. �But it�s not something the president thinks he can discuss publicly� after the imbroglio over faulty weapons intelligence on Iraq.

The Middle East has seen hints of a regional nuclear-arms race before. After Israel obtained its first weapon four decades ago, several countries took steps down the nuclear road. But many analysts say it is Iran�s atomic intransigence that has now prodded the Sunni powers into getting serious about hedging their bets and, like Iran, financing them with $65-a-barrel oil.

�Now�s the time to worry,� said Geoffrey Kemp, a Middle East expert at the Nixon Center, a Washington policy institute. �The Iranians have to worry, too. The idea that they�ll emerge as the regional hegemon is silly. There will be a very serious counterreaction, certainly in conventional military buildups but also in examining the nuclear option.�

No Arab country now has a power reactor, whose spent fuel can be mined for plutonium, one of the two favored materials � along with uranium � for making the cores of atom bombs. Some Arab states do, however, engage in civilian atomic research.

Analysts caution that a chain reaction of nuclear emulation is not foreordained. States in the Middle East appear to be waiting to see which way Tehran�s nuclear standoff with the United Nations Security Council goes before committing themselves wholeheartedly to costly programs of atomic development. And even if Middle Eastern nations do obtain nuclear power, political alliances and arms-control agreements could still make individual states hesitate before crossing the line to obtain warheads. Many may eventually decide that the costs and risks outweigh the benefits � as South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa and Libya did after investing heavily in arms programs.

But many diplomats and analysts say that the Sunni Arab governments are so anxious about Iran�s nuclear progress that they would even, grudgingly, support a United States military strike against Iran.

�If push comes to shove, if the choice is between an Iranian nuclear bomb and a U.S. military strike, then the Arab gulf states have no choice but to quietly support the U.S.,� said Christian Koch, director of international studies at the Gulf Research Center, a private group in Dubai.

Decades ago, it was Israel�s drive for nuclear arms that brought about the region�s first atomic jitters. Even some Israeli leaders found themselves �preaching caution because of the reaction,� said Avner Cohen, a senior fellow at the University of Maryland and the author of �Israel and the Bomb.�

Egypt responded first. In 1960, after the disclosure of Israel�s work on a nuclear reactor, Cairo threatened to acquire atomic arms and sought its own reactor. Years of technical and political hurdles ultimately ended that plan.

Iraq came next. But in June 1981, Israeli fighter jets bombed its reactor just days before engineers planned to install the radioactive core. The bombing ignited a global debate over how close Iraq had come to nuclear arms. It also prompted Iran, then fighting a war with Iraq, to embark on a covert response.

Alireza Assar, a nuclear adviser to Iran�s Ministry of Defense who later defected, said he attended a secret meeting in 1987 at which the commander in chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said Iran had to do whatever was necessary to achieve victory. �We need to have all the technical requirements in our possession,� Dr. Assar recalled the commander as saying, even the means to �build a nuclear bomb.�

In all, Iran toiled in secret for 18 years before its nuclear efforts were disclosed in 2003. Intelligence agencies and nuclear experts now estimate that Tehran is 2 to 10 years away from having the means to make a uranium-based bomb. It says its uranium enrichment work is entirely peaceful and meant only to fuel reactors.

The International Atomic Energy Agency�s concerns peaked when inspectors found evidence of still-unexplained ties between Iran�s ostensibly peaceful program and its military, including work on high explosives, missiles and warheads. That combination, the inspectors said in early 2006, suggested a �military nuclear dimension.�

Before such disclosures, few if any states in the Middle East attended the atomic agency�s meetings on nuclear power development. Now, roughly a dozen are doing so and drawing up atomic plans.

The newly interested states include Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen and the seven sheikdoms of the United Arab Emirates � Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Al Fujayrah, Ras al Khaymah, Sharjah, and Umm al Qaywayn.

�They generally ask what they need to do for the introduction of power,� said R. Ian Facer, a nuclear power engineer who works for the I.A.E.A. at its Vienna headquarters. The agency teaches the basics of nuclear energy. In exchange, states must undergo periodic inspections to make sure their civilian programs have no military spinoffs.

Saudi Arabia, since reversing itself on reactors, has become a whirlwind of atomic interest. It recently invited President Vladimir V. Putin to become the first Russian head of state to visit the desert kingdom. He did so in February, offering a range of nuclear aid.

Diplomats and analysts say Saudi Arabia leads the drive for nuclear power within the Gulf Cooperation Council, based in Riyadh. In addition to the Saudis, the council includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates � Washington�s closest Arab allies. Its member states hug the western shores of the Persian Gulf and control about 45 percent of the world�s oil reserves.

Late last year, the council announced that it would embark on a nuclear energy program. Its officials have said they want to get it under way by 2009.

�We will develop it openly,� Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said of the council�s effort. �We want no bombs. All we want is a whole Middle East that is free from weapons of mass destruction,� an Arab reference to both Israel�s and Iran�s nuclear programs.

In February, the council and the I.A.E.A. struck a deal to work together on a nuclear power plan for the Arab gulf states. Abdul Rahman ibn Hamad al-Attiya, the council�s secretary general, told reporters in March that the agency would provide technical expertise and that the council would hire a consulting firm to speed its nuclear deliberations.

Already, Saudi officials are traveling regularly to Vienna, and I.A.E.A. officials to Riyadh, the Saudi capital. �It�s a natural right,� Mohamed ElBaradei, the atomic agency�s director general, said recently of the council�s energy plan, estimating that carrying it out might take up to 15 years.

In all, 85 percent of the gulf states � all but Iraq � have declared their interest in nuclear power. By comparison, 15 percent of South American nations and 20 percent of African ones have done so.

One factor in that exceptional level of interest is that the Persian Gulf states have the means. Typically, a large commercial reactor costs up to $4 billion. The six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council are estimated to be investing in non-nuclear projects valued at more than $1 trillion.

Another factor is Iran. Its shores at some points are visible across the waters of the gulf � the Arabian Gulf to Arabs, the Persian Gulf to Iranians.

The council wants �its own regional initiative to counter the possible threat from an aggressive neighbor armed with nuclear weapons,� said Nicole Stracke, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center. Its members, she added, �felt they could no longer lag behind Iran.�

A similar technology push is under way in Turkey, where long-simmering plans for nuclear power have caught fire. Last year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for three plants. �We want to benefit from nuclear energy as soon as possible,� he said. Turkey plans to put its first reactor near the Black Sea port of Sinop, and to start construction this year.

Egypt, too, is moving forward. Last year, it announced plans for a reactor at El-Dabaa, about 60 miles west of Alexandria. �We do not start from a vacuum,� President Hosni Mubarak told the governing National Democracy Party�s annual conference. His remark was understated given Cairo�s decades of atomic research.

Robert Joseph, a former under secretary of state for arms control and international security who is now Mr. Bush�s envoy on nuclear nonproliferation, visited Egypt earlier this year. According to officials briefed on the conversations, officials from the Ministry of Electricity indicated that if Egypt was confident that it could have a reliable supply of reactor fuel, it would have little desire to invest in the costly process of manufacturing its own nuclear fuel � the enterprise that experts fear could let Iran build a bomb.

Other officials, especially those responsible for Egypt�s security, focused more on the possibility of further proliferation in the region if Iran succeeded in its effort to achieve a nuclear weapons capability.

�I don�t know how much of it is real,� Mr. Joseph said of a potential arms race. �But it is becoming urgent for us to shape the future expansion of nuclear energy in a way that reduces the risks of proliferation, while meeting our energy and environmental goals.�

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E.  Nuclear Proliferation

United States and Mexico to Partner in Fight Against Nuclear Smuggling
U.S. Department of Energy
(for personal use only)

U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman and Mexican Minister of Finance and Public Credit Agustin Carstens today signed an agreement to help detect and prevent the smuggling of nuclear and other radioactive material. Under the Megaports agreement, the Department of Energy�s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will collaborate with Mexican Customs to install radiation detection equipment at four Mexican seaports that account for nearly 90 percent of container traffic in Mexico. The agreement is part of the 2005 Security and Prosperity Partnership.

�The Megaports Agreement signed today solidifies the United States and Mexico's joint commitment to the safety, security and prosperity of our nations,� Secretary Bodman said. �This initiative builds on our ongoing cooperation to advance nonproliferation by deploying advanced technologies to reduce the threat of illegal shipments of nuclear and other radioactive materials into our countries.�

Secretary Carstens stated that �with this agreement, Mexico Customs will not only increase its security and efficiency levels, which are among its main responsibilities, but also, and undoubtedly, Mexico will enhance its competitiveness level.� He added that �this agreement shows the strong spirit of cooperation between Mexico and the United States, and it underscores the importance assigned to the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership initiatives.�

Signature of today�s agreement will advance cooperative efforts under 2005 Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, a trilateral initiative between the United States, Canada, and Mexico that focuses on collaboration in trade, import and export controls, immigration and security. Under the partnership, the U.S. committed to providing Mexico with radiation detection equipment to prevent illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials.

The United States and Mexico have a strong cooperation in nuclear nonproliferation work, including their joint work to prepare for a large, international emergency response exercise to be held in Mexico in 2008. In addition, NNSA works closely with Mexico to increase security at the Mexican TRIGA research reactor and to convert the reactor so that it does not run on weapons-usable highly enriched uranium.

NNSA�s Megaports program works around the world with foreign governments to install specialized radiation detection equipment international seaports. The program�s mission is to enhance a country�s capabilities to deter, detect and interdict illicit shipments of nuclear and other radioactive materials. The initiative is currently operational in eight countries, with operational testing underway in three additional countries, and at various stages of implementation and negotiations with approximately 13 other countries.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.

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DISCLAIMER: Nuclear News is presented for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to visit the websites from which the source material originates. Views presented in any given article are those of the individual author or source and not of RANSAC. RANSAC takes no responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in any article presented in Nuclear News.

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