1. IAEA Approves Atom Bomb Shutdown Mission to N.Korea
Mark Heinrich and Karin Strohecker
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The U.N. nuclear watchdog's governing body agreed on Monday to send monitors to North Korea to verify a shutdown of its atomic bomb program, launching what is likely to be a long and arduous disarmament process.
It would be the first International Atomic Energy Agency mission in the reclusive Stalinist state since it expelled IAEA inspectors in 2002 after Washington accused it of a clandestine effort to refine nuclear fuel.
Clearance for IAEA monitors to fly into North Korea was expected once Pyongyang receives a first batch of fuel later this week, pledged as part of its February disarmament accord with the United States and four other powers.
South Korea said a ship carrying the fuel would leave on Thursday on a voyage likely to take two days.
In a special session, the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors approved by consensus the return of nuclear monitors to North Korea 10 days after senior IAEA and North Korean officials agreed ground rules for verifying the atomic halt.
Diplomats said nine monitors would install security cameras and place seals on infrastructure in Yongbyon, including its 5 megawatt reactor where North Korea has produced plutonium, leading to its first test nuclear explosion last October.
IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said the IAEA expected to get monitors into North Korea "within the next week or two".
"Shutting down the facilities according to our experts will not take much time -- probably a few days," he told reporters.
"But then we have to have other equipment in place to ensure we are able to monitor the (shutdown), so these activities are going to happen in the next couple of weeks."
IAEA diplomats said at least two monitors would remain on site indefinitely while North Korea and five powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea -- negotiate further steps towards denuclearization.
But getting Pyongyang to go beyond a freeze to an elimination of its nuclear capability and its plutonium stockpile is seen as a much tougher challenge as it is the North's sole clout in a world it sees as widely hostile.
"This is the beginning of (what is) going to be a long and complex process," ElBaradei cautioned.
After throwing out U.N. inspectors in 2002, North Korea quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which the IAEA enforces. In 2005, Pyongyang declared it had nuclear arms, and unnerved the world with a test-detonation a year later.
The IAEA verification task is only an "ad hoc arrangement", not a normal, full-fledged inspections regime. That would have to be negotiated later as part of a new Safeguards Agreement to bring North Korea back into the NPT.
North Korea agreed on February 13 to close Yongbyon and take steps to disable all its nuclear facilities in exchange for 950,000 more tonnes of fuel oil or aid of equivalent value.
Elbaradei put the cost of the IAEA monitoring mission at 1.7 million euros ($2.3 million) for 2007 and 2.2 million euros in 2008 and said the IAEA was assured of getting extra-budgetary funds for the task from various donors.
Diplomats said U.S. and European Union envoys pledged at least some of the money at the board meeting with Japan, Russia, China and South Korea likely to chip in the rest if needed.
Earlier on Monday, the board approved an IAEA budget of 295 million euros ($402 million) for 2008 after agency planners cut a requested rise from 2 percent to 1.4 percent above inflation.
ElBaradei said the deal was "far from adequate" at a time of rising nuclear proliferation challenges like Iran.
The deputy head of the International Atomic Energy Agency will meet Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani on Wednesday, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA told the semi-official Fars news agency on Tuesday.
"Olli Heinonen, IAEA's deputy director general for safeguards, meets Ali Larijani on Wednesday afternoon and will later hold talks with deputies and relevant officials," Ali Asghar Soltanieh said.
The UN atomic watchdog delegation will arrive in Tehran on Wednesday morning.
Heinonen is making the two-day visit to draw up a plan to resolve "outstanding issues" in Iran's nuclear programme as the West increases pressure on Tehran to suspend its nuclear drive or face more sanctions.
Larijani invited the atomic experts after talks with IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei and EU foreign policy supremo Javier Solana last month over the standoff.
ElBaradei has said that "drawing up a plan of action" should take 60 days.
Implementation would then begin on resolving questions about Iranian nuclear activities that could have military applications.
Iran is under UN sanctions for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, the process which makes nuclear fuel as well as the fissile core of an atom bomb.
Iran denies allegations that it is seeking nuclear weapons, insisting its nuclear activities are aimed at civilian purposes and that it has the right to pursue them.
The Union Cabinet on Thursday formally approved Indiaï¿½s participation in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, which aims at demonstrating the scientific and technical feasibility of producing energy by nuclear fusion. India is among the few countries participating in the futuristic project.
The other partners are the U.S., the European Union, Japan, Russia, China, and South Korea. The reactor is to be constructed at Cadarache in southern France.
Studies have so far been confined mainly to the laboratory scale as there were several technical problems and costs were highly prohibitive.
The ITER project is estimated to cost $5 to $10 billion. While the EU would bear 40 per cent of the expense, the other six partners, including India, would contribute 10 per cent each.
The Cabinet meeting also cleared the expenditure for the project at a base cost of Rs. 2,500 crore, of which the foreign exchange component will be Rs.1,129 crore.
The Cabinet also cleared the setting up a pan-African e-network covering 53 countries of the African Union at a cost of Rs. 542 crore in keeping with a proposal mooted by President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, for such a project during his visit to Johannesburg in September 2004.
1. Baltic, Polish Firms to Negotiate Nuclear Plant
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The Baltic states and Poland failed on Friday to sign a formal agreement to proceed with a joint $9 billion nuclear power plant in Lithuania and instead charged their energy companies to negotiate a shareholder deal.
The plant will replace Lithuania's ageing Ignalina facility, which has to be shut for safety reasons under a deal with the European Union, and is seen as a key instrument in helping the participating countries reduce their reliance on Russian gas.
A meeting of prime ministers in Vilnius had been expected to rubber stamp a deal, but Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski failed to attend. Organisers said this was for domestic political reasons.
Poland, with Latvia and Estonia, has disagreed with a law passed by Lithuania's parliament, under which Vilnius is to have 34 percent of the project and other partners 22 percent each.
"We agreed to start negotiations between our energy companies to prepare a shareholder agreement," Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip told a news conference in Vilnius. "Poland confirmed it will take part in the project," his Lithuanian counterpart Gediminas Kirkilas added.
The talks will focus on how the plant is run, shareholdings and on the size of the reactor, prime ministers said.
AB Lietuvos energija, Latvia's AS Latvenergo, Estonian Eesti Energia and Poland's Polskie Sieci Elektroenergetyczne SA will be the participants in the talks.
"We have decided that all the details need to be worked out at the level of the companies," a Lithuanian official said.
Ignalina currently operates the same kind of reactor as caused the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Environmentalists said they were glad a final deal to build a new nuclear plant had not been signed and they criticised the governments for failing to consider renewable energy sources.
"The new Baltic nuclear power plant has no economic or environmental justification," the Green movements of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia said in a joint statement.
The new nuclear plant is expected to be built by 2015 and generate around 3,200 megawatts of power, decreasing dependency on power from fossil fuel and on energy from Russia.
NOT A RUSSIAN REACTOR
"We prefer European, North American or Japanese, but not a Russian producer to supply the reactors," Estonia's Ansip told Reuters. A decision on the type of reactor to be used will have to be taken by consensus, he added.
Firms including French state-owned nuclear group Areva and U.S. General Electric have stated their interest in supplying the reactors for the new plant.
A Lithuanian government source said the proposed shareholdings in the project could change in the process of negotiations, although the Lithuanian share would not.
Ansip and Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said they were now more concerned with how much power they would get from the project than with the shareholdings.
Ansip said Estonia wanted to cover 25-30 percent of its energy needs and reduce the need to buy carbon dioxide emissions allowances in future.
Kirkilas said the new nuclear power plant should provide a better energy price for consumers in all countries involved.
"It is a question of energy independence. Nobody knows what the price of electricity will be if we will have to use more gas," he added. All three Baltic states rely on gas from Russia.
General Electric Co. and Hitachi Ltd. on Monday launched a joint nuclear business to capitalize on rising demand for electricity and increasing concerns about carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.
John Krenicki, president and chief executive of GE Energy, said that nuclear plants produced virtually no carbon gases and that reactors could take the place of aging power plants that rely on fossil fuels.
"We believe nuclear is going to step in, and we're getting ready to execute that plan," he said.
Customers seeking to avoid relying on oil and coal are helping rebuild a market for nuclear energy that faltered beginning in the 1970s as safety worries mounted. Nuclear energy could become more attractive if Congress and state legislatures eventually imposed a carbon tax to discourage carbon-producing industries, Krenicki said.
The GE-Hitachi alliance plans to spend $350 million to $400 million for nuclear plant designs and certification. The designs, which have been in the works for about 11 years, are expected to be completed by 2010, said Andy White, chief executive of GE Energy Nuclear.
"We are coming together at the right time, at the right place and in the right circumstances," said Masaharu Hanyu, president of Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy.
The two companies have worked together since the 1980s to develop reactors in Asia. GE brings to the partnership its expertise in designing boiling water reactor plants, and Hitachi's strengths are in manufacturing reactor components and construction methods, White said.
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