1. U.S. Withdraws Nuclear Weapons from Britain: Report
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The United States has quietly withdrawn its last nuclear weapons from Britain after more than half a century, a watchdog said on Thursday.
Anti-nuclear campaigners welcomed the apparent end of an era, brought about by changes in warfare and world politics rather than their dogged protests over the decades.
The Federation of American Scientists, which studies the U.S. nuclear arsenal, said in a report that Washington had removed its last atomic bombs from the British Royal Air Force base at Lakenheath, where they had been stationed since 1954.
The withdrawal has not been announced officially, but was confirmed by several sources, the report's author, nuclear weapons expert Hans Kristensen, wrote.
Britain's Ministry of Defense declined to comment. A U.S. air force spokeswoman at the base in Britain said Washington's policy was not to comment on the location of nuclear weapons.
If true, the withdrawal means U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe are kept at just six bases -- mainly at Turkey's Incirlik air base and Aviano in Italy, but also in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, Kristensen wrote.
Bombs dropped from planes stationed at air bases play a much smaller role in the U.S. nuclear arsenal than they once did, having mostly been replaced by warheads attached to missiles.
But U.S. nuclear weapons have long made Lakenheath in southeast England a magnet for protests, which peaked in the 1980s when many Europeans feared obliteration in a nuclear war between the West and the Soviet Union.
"The news that these bombs have been withdrawn from Lakenheath is extremely welcome," said Kate Hudson, head of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, or CND.
"We would like official confirmation from the government that this has happened and believe an open admission will be a confidence-boosting measure for future disarmament."
At the height of the Cold War, the United States had more than 7,000 nuclear weapons in Europe. Most were withdrawn in the early 1990s, and today, Kristensen estimates the number at fewer than 240.
But the CND's Hudson said their final removal would not effect the campaign against deploying U.S. missile defense systems in Britain -- which still has its own nuclear arms.
Kristensen he said it was "a puzzle" that the withdrawal had not been announced at a time when the West is arguing with Russia over weapons cuts.
"By keeping the withdrawals secret, NATO and the United States have missed huge opportunities to engage Russia directly and positively about reductions to their nonategic nuclear weapons, and to improve their own nuclear image in the world in general," he wrote.
1. US Braces for Tough Verification of NKorea's Nuclear Dossier
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The United States said Thursday it was bracing for a vigorous exercise to verify North Korea's dossier of nuclear programs, including short notice access to secret atomic sites and materials.
Hours after North Korea's unprecedented declaration of its nuclear programs, Washington called for a full verification regime to address "discrepancies" in the dossier, which had no details of the hardline communist state's nuclear weapons nor its suspected uranium enrichment program and proliferation record.
The 60-page declaration was handed over to China Thursday as part of a six-nation deal to end North Korea's nuclear weapons drive.
"A comprehensive verification regime would include, among other things, short notice access to declared or suspect sites related to the North Korean nuclear program (and) access to nuclear materials," the State Department said in a statement.
It should also include "environmental and bulk sampling of materials and equipment, interviews with personnel in North Korea, as well as access to additional documentation and records for all nuclear-related facilities and operations," the statement said.
Any discrepancies in the 60-page declaration must be addressed by North Korea until it is deemed to be "complete and correct," the State Department asserted.
Details of the declaration were not immediately available but reports have long indicated North Korea would announced a 37-kilogram (81-pound) plutonium stockpile -- less than the 40 to 50 kilos that US intelligence officials believe it has.
The US-based Institute for Science and International Security estimated last year that the country had separated enough plutonium for up to 12 nuclear weapons.
The State Department also said that concerns on uranium enrichment and proliferation could be addressed through a monitoring mechanism to be established under a "denuclearization working group" of the six-nation forum.
A senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity that the envoys from the six countries involved in the talks -- the United States, China, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia -- could meet in Beijing on Monday to discuss arrangements for verification.
A verification regime is to be in place within 45 days, US officials said.
Washington expects North Korea to provide access to its key Yongbyon plutonium reactor and radioactive waste to help complement data gleaned from nearly 19,000 documents received from Pyongyang last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.
"In order to verify the plutonium number that the North Koreans have given, we have been given documents, but we're also expecting access to the reactor core and to the waste pool," Rice told reporters in the Japanese city of Kyoto, where she would attend Group of Eight (G8) talks.
On Friday, North Korea plans to blow up Yongbyon's cooling tower in front of a worldwide TV audience, to symbolize its apparent commitment to denuclearization.
US lawmakers pushed President George W. Bush's administration to determine the full extent of North Korea's past efforts to enrich uranium and nuclear cooperation with Syria and any other countries.
"Without clarity on these issues we cannot proceed with confidence to the next phase of the negotiations -- the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear facilities and the removal of any fissile material from the country," said Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, head of the chamber's foreign relations panel.
Bush's national security advisor Stephen Hadley reassured that Washington wanted "to get to the bottom of that" to make sure "there is no continuing activity going on between North Korea and Syria, or activity with respect to other locations as well."
Bush eased trade sanctions and informed the US Congress Thursday of his intention to remove North Korea from a US terrorism blacklist after it handed over the nuclear dossier.
"You can be sure Congress will also closely monitor North Korea's actions. For now, the ball is squarely in Pyongyang's court," said Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee.
Syria gave U.N. investigators a good look at the site of what Washington says was a secret nuclear reactor before Israel destroyed it, but initial checks were inconclusive and more are needed, they said on Wednesday.
Chief U.N. inspector Olli Heinonen said his team was able to take extensive environmental samples at the remote desert location and the sensitive inquiry was off to "a good start", with Syria's cooperation generally satisfactory at this stage.
Heinonen, speaking to reporters on his return to Vienna after four days in Syria, said it was "too early" to draw conclusions about the nature of the site, bombed by Israel last September, and follow-up sleuthing could take some time.
Syria denies hiding anything from U.N. inspectors, saying Israel destroyed an ordinary military building and accusing the United States of spreading disinformation.
Heinonen said his team gathered environmental samples of "quite a lot of things" in search of traces of material that might point to what Washington said was a nascent, plutonium-making reactor before it was flattened.
"To a great extent, we achieved what we wanted ... and agreed to do ... on this first trip," said Heinonen, the International Atomic Energy Agency's deputy director-general in charge of non-proliferation inspections worldwide.
Pressed on whether his three-man sleuth team was able to see what it wanted to check and speak to relevant Syrian officials despite diplomatic reports its room for inquiry would be severely restricted, he said: "Yes, quite a lot. But there is still work that remains to be done. It will take awhile.
"We took samples that we needed to take and now it's time to analyse them and look over the information we got from Syria. We will continue our discussions with Syrian counterparts. Nothing more, nothing less than that," Heinonen said.
The IAEA dispatched Heinonen's team after receiving U.S. photos of the al-Kibar site that prompted the U.N. watchdog to put Syria on its nuclear proliferation watch list in April.
Heinonen said no follow-up visit was yet slated. But diplomats close to the IAEA had said it would have to do further detective work in Syria to get to the bottom of the mystery.
SOME ANALYSTS SUSPECT SYRIAN COVER-UP
U.S. nuclear analysts say satellite images show the Syrians had removed debris and constructed a new building at the site destroyed by Israel in what they see as a possible cover-up.
The initial scope of the inquiry was limited by what diplomats said was Syria's refusal to let the inspectors search three other sites for any evidence of a source of fuel for the reactor, or relevant processing equipment.
Syria denied access on national security grounds, asserting such sites were conventional military bases only and off-limits.
Asked about other sites of IAEA interest, Heinonen said: "That (issue) will be something to deal with later."
He said he did not know how long it would take to get results from the environmental samples.
But the IAEA's inspectorate is expected to issue a detailed report on findings in Syria to the agency's 35-nation Board of Governors before its next meeting in September.
The IAEA has criticised Washington for waiting until long after the Israeli raid to brief the U.N. nuclear watchdog about its suspicions that Syria, with North Korean help, had almost completed a reactor that could have yielded plutonium for bombs.
IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said ahead of the inspectors' trip that he doubted they would find any useful evidence so long after the site's destruction.
ElBaradei also said there was no evidence that Syria, whose only declared nuclear facility is an ageing research reactor under IAEA monitoring, had the skills or fuel to run a major nuclear complex. Washington disputes this.
But ElBaradei said he took the U.S. accusations very seriously and demanded "absolute transparency" from Damascus.
Damascus has denied concealing anything from the IAEA in possible violation of its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations.
Syrian officials and state-dominated media maintained silence about the IAEA mission throughout.
Syria, an ally of Iran whose secretive nuclear programme has been under IAEA investigation since 2003, has accused the United States of doctoring evidence in collusion with Israel, believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power.
1. Russia Says Nuclear Sector Open to Foreign Investment
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Russia's nuclear industry is open to both domestic and foreign investors, a Russian deputy prime minister told an international nuclear forum on Wednesday.
"In addition to large-scale investment of state funds, we have grounds to count on substantial private investment. The Russian nuclear sector is now open to cooperation. Furthermore, not only with domestic businesses, but also with foreign investors," Sergei Ivanov told an international forum, ATOMCON-2008.
He said construction of nuclear power plants was one of Moscow's priorities for the energy sphere, adding that Russia plans to build 26 new NPPs by 2020.
"The peaceful uses of atomic energy are virtually unlimited, while modern technology guarantees its safety," he said.
The deputy prime minister said that Russia "is ready to expand cooperation with foreign partners in the supply of materials and the provision of services related to the nuclear fuel cycle."
Addressing the forum, Sergei Kiriyenko, director of the Russian Nuclear Power Agency (Rosatom), said Russia is ready to invest in NPP projects abroad.
"We are ready to invest in the construction of nuclear power plants abroad, share risks and sell electricity," he said.
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