1. ElBaradei to Defend Iran Plan At IAEA Governors Meet
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The chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog will tell skeptical nations on its governing board this week Iran's pledge of atomic transparency should be given a chance to work, not dismissed as a time-buying ruse.
An ambiguously-worded deal Iran agreed with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to explain the murky scope of its nuclear program faces scrutiny at a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board starting on Monday.
The plan has vexed Western powers by allowing Iran to answer questions one by one according to a vague timeline while leaving untouched its expanding uranium-enrichment program, a possible route to atom bombs, despite U.N. resolutions demanding a halt.
It has also wrong-footed a U.S.-led push to rein in Iran by eroding European support for, and stiffening Russian resistance to, tougher U.N. sanctions. Iran won the reprieve by threatening to cut off the IAEA if pressure intensifies, diplomats said.
After sparring with Washington over the plan and receiving a demarche from its closest EU allies, IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said he would underline to the board that the deal marks an important step forward, not a damaging setback.
Western delegates said they were looking for ElBaradei to correct impressions left by the plan's text that the IAEA could make no more inquiries once historical questions were solved even if fresh suspicions arose, and excused Iran from U.N. demands to grant wider inspections or suspend enrichment.
ElBaradei said those perceptions were indeed incorrect. "There has been quite a lot of misunderstanding," he said.
The plan is a "working document" to be built on, not a final treaty that precludes any measures not spelled out, he told reporters invited to a rare briefing on Friday.
He said he would also make clear the IAEA would insist on documentation and access to hitherto off-limits areas to check Iranian answers, a key measure missing from the plan.
"Whether Iran will walk out of this understanding, I don't know now. All we know is that Iran has committed to cooperating and clearing their name. We have to give them that chance."
Iran says its nuclear energy quest is solely for electricity generation, not a front for bombmaking as the West suspects, and it is serious about going the extra mile to overcome mistrust
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would not bow to Western pressure and halt its atomic work and suggested there was growing acceptance for Tehran's position in the nuclear row.
He said Asian and non-aligned countries had already accepted that Iran's nuclear activities were peaceful: "There are only one or two countries who do not understand the reality and they imagine that they can make the Iranian nation retreat."
Gregory Schulte, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA who at first suggested IAEA negotiators had been outfoxed by Iran, said on Friday the plan had potential merit if Tehran departed from a record of evasion and actually carried it out.
Western diplomats said ElBaradei had privately assured them he would judge by November, when the board holds its year-end meeting, whether Iran was serious. If not, that would help create a basis for a third, stronger sanctions resolution.
ElBaradei said he predicted broad support for the plan at the board gathering once he clarified its dimensions.
But diplomats said the board would only "take note" of, not endorse the plan since it failed to mandate extra inspections of sites not declared to be nuclear, crucial to verifying Iran has no hidden bomb program, or mention an enrichment suspension.
"We're prepared to see this plan proceed as a litmus test of Iranian intentions. But we're skeptical of their motives. They have plenty of opportunities to drag this thing out," a senior Western diplomat said.
US technical experts arrived in South Korea on Monday, en route to North Korea to discuss disabling a nuclear programme which has already produced at least one atomic bomb.
The US team led by Sung Kim, State Department director for Korean affairs, will join Russian and Chinese delegates in Pyongyang Tuesday to begin a five-day survey of key nuclear facilities.
The visit is seen as a hopeful sign that the communist state, which tested its first atomic bomb last October, is serious about permanently shutting down its nuclear plants. Kim, who is also deputy US nuclear negotiator at the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament, held talks over dinner with his South Korean counterpart Lim Sung-Nam.
Kim will be accompanied on his trip by six US nuclear experts and one expert each from Russia and China, Lim told reporters.
South Korea and the United States agreed that steps to disable the facilities "must be taken in an efficient and very swift manner," he added.
The team will cross the heavily fortified North-South border at Panmunjom Tuesday.
Hill announced the September 11-15 trip last Friday, describing it as "an ambitious phase" in the six-party negotiations. He is pushing for a permanent nuclear shutdown in North Korea by the end of this year.
The United States, China and Russia are the three nuclear powers negotiating with North Korea in talks which also include South Korea and Japan. The experts will report back to the next session of six-party talks, expected this month.
In a landmark agreement on February 13, North Korea agreed to declare and disable all its nuclear programmes in return for aid, security guarantees and major diplomatic benefits.
In July it shut down its only operating reactor at the Yongbyon complex in return for 50,000 tons of fuel oil.
The International Atomic Energy Agency in August confirmed the shutdown, along with the closure of a nuclear fuel fabrication plant, a reprocessing plant and a separate 50 megawatt reactor, only partly built, at Yongbyon.
In addition, a 200 megawatt reactor under construction at Taechon was shut.
The next step under the February accord is to permanently disable them by encasing them in concrete or some other method -- something the experts will advise on.
If the North declares and disables all its plants it will receive another 950,000 tons of fuel oil or equivalent energy aid. The accord also envisages the normalisation of relations with the United States and Japan, an end to US trade sanctions and a formal peace treaty on the Korean peninsula.
It does not specifically mention any existing nuclear weapons or plutonium stockpiles. The North has enough plutonium to build about five to 12 nuclear weapons, according to various estimates.
It was no ordinary armchair analyst who questioned the repeated forecasts being made by nuclear scientists that India will attain a target of producing 20,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020. The person who has raised serious doubts about the validity of these projections was none other than former BARC chief, A N Prasad, who has earned the title of "Plutonium man of India".
Speaking on Friday evening at a gathering organised by the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, a body devoted to national causes, and other groups, on the Indo-US nuclear deal, he declared: "No way can this happen." Last week, none other than PM Manmohan Singh, while dedicating the 540 MW pressurised heavy water reactors at Tarapur to the nation, said that the country can generate 20,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020.
Explaining his scepticism, Prasad said that currently 15 reactors were totally generating 3,300 MW of power. "Reactors which will generate a total of 1,400 MW of power were now under construction. In addition, two light water reactors were being built at Kudunkulam in Tamil Nadu which will together generate 2,000 MW, and also under construction was a 500 MW fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam near Chennai," he said. All of them together will produce about 7,000 MW of electricity.
He said that to fulfil the target of 20,000 MW by 2020, an additional 13,000 MW was needed. "This is expected to come through four more fast breeder reactors, eight 700 MW reactors, and 6,000 mw will be sourced from imported reactors," he said. "In 12 years, we will never be able to commission four fast breeder reactors and eight 700 MW reactors. Just imagine the infrastructure that will be needed for such a huge project," he said.
With regards to the 6,000 MW which is expected to be obtained from different types of imported reactors, he asked whether India was ready to operate these units. "These will be new type of reactors and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has to become familiar with them. With our limited resources we have to study the new type of reactors which may be difficult," he said.
"Twenty thousand MW by 2020 to me sounds more like a slogan similar to garibi hatao. Nuclear scientists should not get into sloganeering. Pragmatism is lacking. We should redouble our efforts and start using thorium which will really provide us energy independence," he said.
Nuclear Power Corporation officials, declining to be identified, however did not share the view of Prasad and maintained that the target of generating 20,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020 will be fulfiled.
According to Prasad, fast breeder reactors are important in this context. "We will become world leaders in this area, but the Indo-US nuke deal will put a break on this programme," he warned.
1. US-Russian Agreement Repatriates Highly Enriched Uranium From Poland
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Poland has relinquished 8.8 kilograms of Soviet-era highly enriched uranium fuel that was transported back to Russia under heavy guard as part of a joint US-Russia initiative known as the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, US and Russian authorities said Thursday. Most estimates put the amount of highly enriched uranium ´┐Ż or U-235 ´┐Ż needed to make a nuclear bomb at about seven kilograms.
The focus of the US-Russian driven initiative is the result of long-unheeded warnings from scientists that supplies of Russian´┐Żorigin highly enriched uranium at research and university reactors around the world are particularly vulnerable to theft by terrorists. The programme will retrieve highly enriched uranium sent by Moscow to 20 reactors in 17 countries and ship it back to Russia for storage and down-blending.
Nuclear experts believe successful implementation of the US-Russian initiative programme will require a US Congressional infusion of $80m.
The 8.8 kilograms of highly enriched uranium airlifted to Russia under heady guard by IAEA officials last week will eventually go to the Luch facility at Podolsk, which has down-blended some 8 tonnes of fresh Russian origin highly enriched uranium. First it will be stored at the Dmitrovgrad All-Russia Institute for Atomic reactors, known as NIIAR in its Russian acronym, to the east of Moscow.
The joint US- Russian initiative has so far transported some 500 kilograms of fresh highly enriched uranium fuel back to Russia from former Soviet satellite and Bloc states under a tri-lateral deal inked in 2004 between the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), Russia´┐Żs atomic energy agency Rosatom and the UN´┐Żs International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The other countries covered by the fuel-return programme are Belarus, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, North Korea, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan Latvia, Libya, Vietnam and Yugoslavia.
Yet even officials with Rosatom have said that ´┐Ż despite huge investments from the United States in the Podolsk and Dmitrovgrad facilities ´┐Ż have said security should be improved.
´┐ŻOur protection system against terrorist attacks must be modernized. We know this. We pay great attention to it," said one official who requested his name not be used.
Edwin Lyman, senior scientist in the Global Security Programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington said there are ´┐Żmany bombs worth´┐Ż of highly enriched uranium in the former Soviet republic of Belarus, and raised concerns about security at the research reactors themselves.
´┐ŻAcademic and research reactors at universities are simply not capable of providing a defence against a terrorist assault,´┐Ż said Lyman. ´┐ŻThe great concern is a paramilitary-type assault on one of these facilities and the material is forcibly removed.´┐Ż
Lyman was also concerned with security of the repatriated fuel in Russia, and noted Russia's poor record for storing and safeguarding the atomic material it already has.
"Bringing all this back to Russia, yes, it's a little paradoxical, given all the warnings about proliferation in Russia," said Lyman.
Over the years, the United States and Russia have exported several thousand tons of uranium´┐Żto such an extent that Alexei Yablokov, one of Russia's leading environmentalists and the president of the Moscow-based Centre for Ecological Policy of Russia, believes it can never be entirely accounted for.
"In principle, it is a very good idea to collect all used nuclear fuel which has been spread all over the world, but it is also an impossible task," he in a telephone interview with Bellona Web.
"A huge amount of it will remain in reactors in different parts of the world, nuclear power plants in different countries will continue to be a powerful source of weapons-grade nuclear material."
For this reason, said Yablokov, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative is more a political than a practical step.
The Global Threat Reduction Initiative takes into account those Russian-built research reactors that are considered most vulnerable to theft. In some cases, the fuel was shipped from Russia as early as the 1950s ´┐Ż making the material indeed hard to track down in all cases.
The repatriation of the Polish fuel to Russia from the Maria Research Reactor in Otwock represents the 13th such heavily guarded shipment of fuel since 2004.
The NNSA contributed $490,000 to IAEA to pay for last week´┐Żs transfer, which represents the second time material has been brought to Russia from Otwock. In the first shipment, in 2006, IAEA officials moved some 40 kilograms ´┐Ż or about six-bombs´┐Ż worth ´┐Ż of highly enriched uranium from the Polish research reactor.
The original timetable for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative was to repatriate all fresh fuel by the end of 2005 and all spent Russia fuel by 2010.
The programme has fallen somewhat behind schedule, though, due largely to the daunting amount of paperwork required authorize each of the shipments, Matthew Bunn of Harvard University´┐Żs Managing the Atom project told the Global Security Network newswire.
Bunn estimated that all fresh highly enriched uranium fuel for which repatriation agreements have been arranged would be sent back to Russia within the next three years.
´┐ŻWe have a strong partnership with Russia and we will continue working with Rosatom and other Russian agencies to counter the global threats of terrorisms and nuclear proliferation,´┐Ż said NNSA head of nonproliferation programmes William Tobey in a statement.
The Polish reactor continues to burn Russian-origin highly enriched uranium. But the reactor was given several security upgrades in 2004 by the NNSA. Officials there say they are also assisting efforts to convert the Maria Research Reactor into one that can burn low enriched uranium by 2009.
Nuclear power may be close to a revival after two decades in the shadow of the Chernobyl reactor accident as governments search for clean sources of power to beat climate change.
But ask the industry who is going to foot the potentially massive bill and it becomes coy and mutters about governments, public/private partnerships and equity financing.
"There is a lot of talk about the nuclear renaissance, but in reality only China is really building," says Steve Kidd, director of strategy at the World Nuclear Association (WNA). "No one wants to go first."
According to the WNA -- the nuclear power industry's umbrella organisation -- there are 439 reactors operating globally, generating 371,000 megawatts of electricity or about 16 percent of total demand.
A further 34 are under construction, with 81 planned and 223 proposed -- 88 of which are in China.
The WNA estimates nuclear power could double over the next 30 years but, given the forecast surge in population and demand, it will still only account for about the same percentage.
Cost estimates vary depending on location and number of plants -- with economies of scale -- but the ballpark figure is around $2 billion (1 billion pounds) for a standard 1 gigawatt nuclear plant.
"The first one will cost more than that. But get an order for three or four and the price drops sharply," said Kidd. "The best is 10 or more."
"The fact is that once it is running, a nuclear power plant is like a cash machine. Yes, six to eight years of pain because of the high initial capital costs, but then 60 years of almost pure profit because of the low running costs," he said.
So why, ask the doubters, is no frantic nuclear construction activity already underway, given it is a low-carbon emitting technology and seems to fit the global warming bill perfectly?
"We are on the cusp of action. Everybody has been waiting for someone to lead," Thomas Meston of reactor builder Westinghouse, which has just sold four of its AP-1000 plants to China, told Reuters at the WNA's annual meeting in London.
Britain is contemplating a new generation of nuclear power plants to replace its existing fleet, all but one of which will be closed due to old age within two decades.
As nuclear provides 18 percent of the country's electricity, the issue is urgent.
The government has repeatedly said nuclear power should be part of the energy mix but that it will not give public money.
It is conducting a public consultation on the issue that is largely a public relations exercise as there is no legal block other than cumbersome planning regulations -- which are being cut -- to utility firms going ahead with a new plant.
The utilities say they are interested as long as certain regulatory issues -- like who pays for decommissioning and storage of toxic waste -- are sorted out.
But potential financiers decline to discuss the matter, saying on one hand that they won't talk about hypotheticals and on the other that they can't betray client confidentiality.
It is a game of brinksmanship, with the utilities holding out for the best deal they can get from government -- particularly any price guarantees they may be able to extract.
The problem centres on public acceptability.
China and Russia may now be building nuclear plants, but neither has a strong record on safety -- which is why what happens in Britain, which does, could be a global catalyst.
France, which now gets 80 percent of its electricity from atomic power, is already firmly set on a nuclear path.
"Britain is seen as a springboard for nuclear expansion," said Kidd. "The utilities will finance it. The challenge is to make sure all the risks are allocated to the people who can best bear them.
"I am optimistic that is will happen, but maybe not in the 10-year timeframe some people are talking about," he added.
Scientists predict that global average temperatures will rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius this century due to carbon gases, bringing climatic and humanitarian catastrophe.
Nuclear proponents say atomic power is the answer, but environmentalists say that not only have the nuclear waste, proliferation and security issues not been resolved, but nuclear power will not significantly cut carbon emissions anyway.
Electricity generation accounts for some 20 percent of global carbon emissions.
Given that even under the WNA's most optimistic outlooks nuclear will only account for 18 percent of electricity demand, the amount of carbon foregone comes in at just four percent.
And that, says the environmental lobby, is simply not worth the risk entailed in the mooted new nuclear age.
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