Tests on water tables under French nuclear sites, after a major uranium leak in the south earlier this year, showed there were no significant environmental or health dangers, a government committee said on Friday.
Plant operator Areva said in July that 30 cubic meters of liquid containing non-enriched uranium was accidentally poured onto the ground and into a river at the Tricastin nuclear site in southeastern France.
Following the incident, the government set up a special committee, which made 18 recommendations to improve access to information, develop a scale for nuclear pollution incidents and develop expertise through private and university laboratories.
"Some of the recommendations on how to improve transparency, information and expertise are very powerful and I commit myself to put in place the 18 proposals," Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo told a news briefing.
The transparency committee itself said in a press release: "The radioactive state of underground water tables under and around nuclear sites do not globally pose significant problems in the areas of environment and health."
The tests also showed traces of pollution at some old nuclear sites, which remained below the levels recommended by the World Health Organization.
"Those have been (for a long time) under reinforced surveillance and attention," the committee added.
In the wake of the Tricastin incident, which prompted public outrage, authorities banned fishing and swimming in the affected areas as well as the use of contaminated water.
Nuclear safety authority ASN criticized Areva for its handling of the incident, notably in the way in which it communicated with authorities. It also pointed to unsatisfactory security measures and operational procedures.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE4A651T20081107
Twenty people died of gas poisoning and another 22 were injured in an accident on a Russian nuclear submarine in the Sea of Japan that revived memories of the Kursk submarine disaster in 2000.
The submarine's nuclear reactor was not damaged and background radiation levels in the naval testing zone where the accident occurred were "normal," a naval spokesman said.
"During sea trials of a nuclear-powered submarine of the Pacific Fleet the firefighting system went off unsanctioned, killing over 20 people, including servicemen and workers," said Captain Igor Dygalo, the navy's spokesman.
The high-speed attack submarine was being tested after a construction process that began in 1991 and became bogged down after the Soviet collapse.
State media said the vessel had been due to be delivered to India's navy.
Officials said three naval officers and 17 civilians had died in the accident. Dygalo said the victims included servicemen and shipyard workers who had been participating in the trials.
Autopsies showed the victims died from inhaling freon gas released into part of the submarine when its fire extinguishing system activated for reasons that are unclear, news agencies quoted Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the federal investigative committee, as saying.
Although the crew were issued with portable breathing devices, "it's probable the submariners didn't notice the inflow of gas and when they felt it, it was already too late," RIA Novosti quoted an unidentified official at navy headquarters as saying.
The injured were evacuated from the stricken submarine aboard an accompanying ship and were taken to hospital to be treated for poisoning, Pacific Fleet hospital officials said. Their lives were not thought to be in danger.
A Russian expert meanwhile said that according to a Ria Novosti news agency report a lack of gas masks among too many untrained civilians may have elevated the death toll.
Gennady Illaryonov, formerly a high-ranking naval captain and a specialist in maritime technology, said that an over-reliance on automated procedures aboard the Nerpa potentially increased the scale of the tragedy.
"I cannot exclude that among those civilians who found themselves on board, not everyone had the (necessary safety) equipment and that those who did may not have known how to use it," Illaryonov was quoted as saying.
The toll of dead and injured made the accident the worst involving a Russian submarine since the 2000 Kursk disaster, when 118 crewmen died.
The submarine itself returned to the port of Bolshoi Kamen, site of a large refitting shipyard, where the bodies of the dead were offloaded, a spokesman for the shipyard said.
Television pictures showed the hulking vessel, more than a 100-metres (330-feet) in length and with a bulbous tail section housing its sonar array, heading for the port.
The accident occurred Saturday and Dygalo said President Dmitry Medvedev had been briefed by Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and had ordered a "full and meticulous" investigation.
Dygalo did not identify the submarine involved.
However, a source in the Amur shipyard administration named the vessel as the K-152 Nerpa, a submarine of the Project 971 Shchuka-B type, or Akula-class by NATO classification, RIA Novosti news agency reported.
The Nerpa was to be leased to the Indian navy, with New Delhi reportedly paying two billion dollars for the lease of two Akula-class submarines, with the option of eventually buying them.
In October officials from the Amur shipyard reported the launch of sea trials for the 8,140-tonne Nerpa.
The Echo of Moscow radio station reported that the shipyard had been beset by problems including failure to pay workers since the arrest of a shareholder last December. It said this had led to a decline in standards.
Federal investigators opened a criminal probe into the accident, Interfax news agency reported.
Dygalo told AFP that the submarine itself was not damaged and there was no radiation leak.
A total of 208 people were aboard the submarine, of whom 81 were servicemen while the others were naval technicians and specialists.
Following the Kursk disaster in 2000, in which a vast nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea after an explosion on board, the Kremlin was harshly criticised for its sluggish and secretive response.
In addition to the Kursk disaster, Russia has seen a string of mishaps with its naval submarines .
Nine sailors died aboard a K-159 submarine that sank in the Barents Sea in August 2003 while being towed to port for decommissioning.
In 2005, a mini-submarine of the Pacific Fleet got snared underwater in a fishing net, requiring the help of a British rescue team that arrived many hours later as the vessel's oxygen supplies were dwindling.
Available at: http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5jhFBAcvdVt3BMe_kaFFXdYyUN-IA
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana believes that Iran should accept the freeze-for-freeze offer proposed by the major powers, MP Kazem Jalali told reporters on Sunday.
At talks in Geneva, the 5+1 group (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) asked Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment in return for a pledge not to introduce sanctions.
Jalalil, heading a five-member parliamentary delegation, met with a number of European Parliament officials as well as Solana's deputy.
The Iranian MPs attended a session of foreign relations committee of the European Parliament chaired by Solana, Jalili said.
At the committee meeting Solana briefed the Iranian MPs on the negotiations held on Iran's nuclear program and called on Iran to accept the freeze-for-freeze offer, said Jalali, the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee spokesman.
Under the freeze-for-freeze offer, Iran would suspend nuclear enrichment and the West would also stop sanctions.
Iran insists that its nuclear facilities are designed solely to meet its energy needs.
Solana has sent a letter to Iran´┐Żs Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) chief and nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili calling for resuming nuclear talks to clear up the ´┐Żleast remaining´┐Ż questions about Iran´┐Żs nuclear activities.
Solana represents the 5+1 group in nuclear talks with Iran.
In the letter Solana has also stated that Iran´┐Żs ´┐Żquestions´┐Ż about the 5+1 nuclear offer are ´┐Żunderstandable.´┐Ż
Solana visited Tehran on June 14 to deliver a revised offer of economic and political incentives from the 5+1 group in exchange for a suspension of Iran´┐Żs uranium enrichment activities.
In response to the 5+1 proposal, Iran presented its own package of proposals on ways to address international challenges, including the threat of nuclear proliferation.
Available at: http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=182070
1. US, NKorea discussed nuclear disablement, energy aid
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A top US envoy has held talks with North Korean officials in New York about steps to verify their nuclear disarmament and deliveries of energy aid under the disarmament deal, a US official said Friday.
The envoy, Christopher Hill, met for dinner Thursday with the delegates, including Ri Gun, director general for North American Affairs at the North Korean foreign ministry, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.
Ri Gun is heading a North Korean delegation to events in New York organized by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a non-governmental organization (NGO), according to the State Department.
Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and the North Koreans "discussed the verification protocol, energy assistance, and disablement of the North's nuclear facilities," Wood said.
The United States and its partners North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia must formally agree to a disarmament verification protocol now that the United States and North Korea have resolved a months-long dispute.
A date has still to be set for the six parties to meet and agree to the verification protocol, Wood said.
On October 11 the United States struck North Korea from a list of countries which allegedly support terrorism after Pyongyang agreed to steps to verify its nuclear disarmament and pledged to resume disabling its atomic plants.
The move appeared to save the six-party disarmament negotiations from potential collapse.
Wood gave no details on the subject of energy assistance, but Hill told reporters on October 28 that the United States was in touch with other countries to replace Japan in supplying fuel oil to Pyongyang.
US officials said on the condition of anonymity that both Australia and the European Union had been contacted.
Japan has refused to give fuel to North Korea as promised under the disarmament deal until Pyongyang does more to account for Japanese nationals kidnapped by the communist state in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies.
Under a landmark 2007 deal, North Korea was to receive one million tons of fuel oil or equivalent energy aid from the other five countries in return for disabling and dismantling its plutonium-producing plants.
Wood said that Sung Kim, who heads the State Department's Korea office, had three sets of discussions, including a working lunch, with Ri Gun.
"The talks were substantive, serious, and they focused on, of course, how to move the six-party process forward," he said.
Available at: http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iHuJ1SM0Y-J3KJZCbv7S1MnKZ1jQ
1. China mulls raising nuclear power target -official
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China is thinking of raising its already ambitious goal to expand nuclear power in the next decade by aiming for 70 gigawatts of generating capacity by 2020, an energy official told state media.
Beijing in 2006 set a national target of 40 gigawatts (GW) of installed nuclear power generating capacity by 2020, and later lifted that target to 60 GW, a goal experts have said was already a testing challenge.
But Huang Li, head of energy conservation and equipment in the National Energy Administration, said the government is weighing up whether to lift the target to 70 GW, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.
"The global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions had prompted China, which relied heavily on coal, to revise its energy strategy and increase the proportion of clean energy," she told a meeting in southwest China, according to Xinhua.
She did not say when or how a firm decision on the proposal would emerge.
If the raised goal is approved and implemented, it could expand opportunities for international companies in China's nuclear power sector.
China's current nuclear capacity is only 9 GW, under 2 percent of its total installed power generation capacity.
But many local governments are keen to win the right to build a nuclear plant, because of the funds and jobs the projects can bring.
China last year sealed deals with France's Areva (CEPFi.PA: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and U.S.-based, Japanese-owned Westinghouse (6502.T: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) for several third-generation reactors, and the blueprints to allow them to develop domestic versions.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssConsumerGoodsAndRetailNews/idUSPEK33779920081105
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