Iran and the EU could be moving closer to an eventual deal to end the international deadlock over Tehran's nuclear programme, negotiators said after talks today.
Ali Larijani, Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, said the two sides were nearing a "united view" in some areas of discussions about its continued uranium enrichment in defiance of a UN security council resolution.
Speaking after the talks in Turkey, he said "the best approach" was "to settle all the issues through negotiations based on law and international rules and regulations".
Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said the talks were useful and had been conducted in a good atmosphere, although no huge breakthrough was immediately apparent.
"We have tried to understand each other better and that, without any doubt, is a very fundamental part of the resolution of the problem," Mr Solana added. "We have not made miracles, but have tried to move the dossier forward a little bit."
Officials said the talks would resume in two weeks.
The security council has imposed two sets of limited sanctions against Iran over its refusal to end uranium enrichment.
Tehran says it wants to eventually operate 50,000 centrifuges at its facility at Natanz, arguing that it has the right to enrich uranium for a civil nuclear power programme and that the UN sanctions against it are illegal.
It rejects the suspicions of the US and others that the work is a cover for the construction of nuclear weapons.
One official at the talks said Mr Solana and Mr Larijani had discussed a number of ways forward, including the possibility of a simultaneous freeze on enrichment activities in exchange for a commitment that there would be no new UN sanctions.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has backed the initiative.
The official said the "key issue" remained reaching a definition of an enrichment freeze that both sides could agree on.
Other officials said the six powers negotiating with Iran - Britain, France, Germany, the US, China and Russia - could eventually allow it to keep some of its programme intact in order to reach a deal.
Mr Solana is expected to brief the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, on the talks at a summit in Washington next week.
1. N. Korea May Be Ready for IAEA Inspectors ï¿½ Agency
(for personal use only)
Increased activity at North Korea's nuclear reactor suggests Pyongyang is preparing for a visit by U.N. atomic inspectors to the site under a deal that calls for its closure, a South Korean committee said on Thursday.
North Korea missed an April 14 deadline to start closing its Yongbyon reactor and source of plutonium for bombs as required by a six-way disarmament deal, under which it also agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections.
"These activities are possibly to prepare the area and the facilities needed for the visit and stay of IAEA inspectors," South Korean parliament's intelligence committee said in a statement citing a spy agency briefing.
"The 5-megawatt reactor is currently in normal operations, but there are certain peculiar activities at the nuclear facilities," it said.
Workers have erected a structure at the back of the reactor and refurbished the road leading into the compound, it said.
In December 2002 North Korea said it planned to restart its Yongbyon reactor, which had been frozen in a deal reached with the Clinton administration, and expel IAEA inspectors.
Last week, a South Korean intelligence official said there had been stepped up activity at the Yongbyon nuclear plant, located about 100 km (60 miles) north of Pyongyang.
Committee members would not say if there had been any additional activity since then but its statement offered more details as to what North Korea had been doing in the area around its Soviet-era reactor.
North Korea has said it wants the release of $25 million of funds frozen at a Macau bank for suspected links to illicit activities by Pyongyang before it would begin shutting its nuclear facilities.
South Korea has said a few technical issues remain concerning the withdrawal and wiring of those funds, but they can be resolved in a matter of days.
"It is our assessment that efforts to resolve the problem are at the last stages," South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon told reporters on Wednesday.
The United States has said the banking problem has been solved and the money is waiting to be picked up.
North Korea has said it could invite IAEA inspectors back within a day of receiving assurances the money in the Macau bank has been unblocked. The inspectors would help draw up the plan to shutter Yongbyon and likely oversee its implementation.
1. United States and Japan Sign Joint Nuclear Energy Action Plan to Promote Nuclear Energy Cooperation
Department of Energy
(for personal use only)
United States Department of Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman and Japanï¿½s Ministers Akira Amari, Bunmei Ibuki, and Taro Aso, this week presented to U.S. President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the United States-Japan Joint Nuclear Energy Action Plan. The Action Plan - a product of extensive negotiations between the U.S. and Japan - provides a framework for increased collaboration in nuclear energy. It builds upon the significant, longstanding civilian nuclear cooperation between the two nations and will contribute to increasing energy security and managing nuclear waste, addressing nuclear nonproliferation and climate change, and advancing goals put forth in President Bushï¿½s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) initiative.
ï¿½By strengthening our joint cooperation in civil nuclear energy, the United States and Japan will also strengthen our strategic interests,ï¿½ Secretary Bodman said. ï¿½This Action Plan is an historic agreement and provides the additional foundation for our two nations to align efforts to support the global expansion of nuclear energy, and ultimately a nuclear renaissance. Not only can nuclear energy serve as a cornerstone of sustainable economic development, but as a reliable, viable and emissions-free source of power, it offers enormous potential to help meet the worldï¿½s increasing demand for energy in a safe and proliferation-resistant manner.ï¿½
Completed and signed by all parties by April 18, 2007, the Action Plan fulfills the commitment made by Secretary Bodman and Minister Amari during their meeting in Washington, DC, on January 9, 2007, to develop an action plan for nuclear energy cooperation. This Action Plan establishes the necessary framework to coordinate activities designed to promote the expansion of safe and secure nuclear power, in our respective countries, and globally. It also formalizes an agreement between our two nations ï¿½ leading nuclear technology countries ï¿½ to collaborate in four main areas, and provides the additional foundation for the U.S. and Japan to align efforts in support of global expansion of nuclear energy.
Four main areas outlined in the Action Plan are:
1. Cooperation of nuclear energy research and development under GNEP; 2. Collaboration on policies and programs that support the construction of new nuclear power plants; 3. Establishment of a nuclear fuel supply assurance mechanism; and 4. Joint collaboration to support the safe and secure expansion of nuclear energy in interested countries while promoting non-proliferation, consistent with GNEP.
Implementation of the Action Plan will begin immediately. Its execution will be overseen by a Steering Committee, co-chaired by the U.S. and Japan. Both nations will establish six GNEP research and development working groups in the following areas, to benefit from each otherï¿½s expertise and implement areas of cooperation identified in the
ï¿½ Fast Reactor Technology; ï¿½ Fuel Cycle Technology; Simulation and Modeling; ï¿½ Small and Medium Reactors; ï¿½ Safeguards and Physical Protection and; ï¿½ Waste Management.
The U.S. and Japan share the objectives for establishing a global framework to expand nuclear energy use and minimize proliferation risks while enabling the benefits from the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Both nations support the development of a global nuclear energy infrastructure as envisioned in GNEP to develop innovative nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technologies. GNEP seeks to bring about a significant, wide-scale use of nuclear energy worldwide, and to take actions that will allow that vision to be achieved, while decreasing the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and effectively addressing the challenge of nuclear waste disposal.
1. U.S. Takes Steps to Address Airliner Attacks on Reactors
Matthew L. Wald
New York Times
(for personal use only)
New nuclear reactors need not be designed to withstand suicide attacks by big airplanes, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided Tuesday.
Instead, the commission proposed that designers be required to analyze how their reactors can be built to mitigate the effects of such an attack, ï¿½to the extent practicable.ï¿½
The commissionï¿½s staff characterized the vote, which was 4 to 1, as an additional step to improve plant security in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The chairman, Dale Klein, said in a statement, ï¿½This proposal gives us the chance to assess and make practicable changes to new reactor designs early in the design process.ï¿½
In fact, however, the commission has already approved two designs, one by General Electric and one by Westinghouse, for which no such analysis was required.
No new reactors have been ordered in the United States since the 1970s, although the commission expects several orders soon, brought on in part by the rising price of competing fuels. One design now pending before the commission, a French-German model called the EPR, was devised to meet a European requirement that reactors be built to withstand airplane crashes. And General Electric said in a statement Tuesday that it had assessed the capabilities of its two new reactor designs, including the one already approved, and that both ï¿½have the capability to withstand the effects of an aircraft crash.ï¿½
Most of several new designs incorporate features that could be helpful in case of a plane crash, like locating emergency water supplies inside the containment building, at an elevation above the reactor vessel, instead of in a tank outside the building.
But the dissenting commissioner in Tuesdayï¿½s vote, Gregory B. Jaczko, said the tighter standard would have been ï¿½a reasonable and prudent measure for the agency to take.ï¿½
Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who is a frequent critic of the way nuclear power is regulated, said the commission had abdicated its responsibility by turning its back on ï¿½a common-sense regulatory measure.ï¿½
On the other hand, one commissioner in the majority, Edward McGaffigan Jr., said the agencyï¿½s rules were routinely based on weighing cost against benefit. That, Mr. McGaffigan said, requires knowing the probability of an earthquake, a tornado or another threat to a plant.
ï¿½Itï¿½s very hard to do cost-benefit analysis, which you can do with severe accidents, when you have no basis other than speculation for probabilities of an airplane attack,ï¿½ he said. By the time new plants are actually built, he added, the aircraft industry may have solved the problem by installing equipment to control planes remotely in case of hijacking.
For 20 years, Mr. McGaffigan said, the commission has taken a consistent approach: some accidents are considered inside the ï¿½design basis,ï¿½ and plants have to be built to survive them; others are ï¿½beyond design basis,ï¿½ and while designers must analyze how to mitigate the effect, the plants need not be built to withstand them. Aircraft attacks are in the latter category, he said.
1. U.S. Nuclear Arms Policy for Future is Ill-Defined, Panel Says
Los Angeles Times
(for personal use only)
The United States lacks a clear policy on the future of its nuclear weapons forces, complicating an effort to develop a new generation of bombs, a group of highly influential scientists said Tuesday.
At the same time, they said, bottlenecks have developed in the weapons production system, particularly at a Texas assembly plant, that could undermine efforts to produce large numbers of new bombs or even maintain the existing stockpile.
The Energy Department is designing the first new hydrogen bomb in two decades, known as the reliable replacement warhead. But continuing the effort "would present significant challenges," according to the report, which was sponsored by the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science.
The carefully worded report provides a less than rousing endorsement for building the new bomb, said Philip Coyle, a panel member who is senior advisor to the Center for Defense Information and a former deputy director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
C. Bruce Tarter, chairman of the panel and former director of Livermore, said a "lot of work needs to be done before we can introduce something new" to the nuclear stockpile. The panel includes some of the nation's top nuclear weapons and national security experts.
The report warns that weapons labs need more intensive technical reviews of the bomb's predicted reliability, though on balance it said the bomb could be produced and certified without an actual test. Another significant warning in the report involves the decayed condition of the Energy Department's nuclear weapons production plants, particularly the Pantex plant in Texas.
"The biggest problem for the program as it exists today is Pantex," Tarter said. The sprawling plant near Amarillo dismantles retired weapons, services existing weapons and conducts testing to ensure the bombs are reliable. Guards at the high-security facility are currently on strike.
The Energy Department has a plan, called "Complex 2030," to modernize the entire nuclear weapons infrastructure, allowing the production of 125 new bombs per year.
"They don't have anything like a good estimate on the cost of '2030,' " Tarter said. "It is bound to cost a bunch of money."
Until the national security establishment can provide a sound rationale for the new bomb, credible estimates of the cost and the strong backing of the military, the program could end up lacking the political support it will need, the report suggests.
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.