1. Australian PM Announces New Global Nuclear Disarmament Body
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Australia has set up a new body for nuclear disarmament, hoping to recruit "like-minded countries" to strengthen the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, the prime minister said Monday.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the Nuclear Non-proliferations and Disarmament Commission during a visit to Japan, after laying a wreath in Hiroshima, site of the world's first nuclear bombing.
"Hiroshima should cause the world community to resolve afresh that all humankind must exert their every effort for peace in this 21st century," Rudd said.
The 190-nation Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty was established in 1980 to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and technology and to further the goal of nuclear disarmament. Review conferences are held every five years to assess implementation of the treaty.
"The objective is to take the work already done ... and to seek to shape a global consensus in the lead-up to the NPT review process in 2010," Rudd told reporters in Kyoto after he announced the commission.
Rudd said the Australia-led commission - which he hoped other countries would join - would present recommendations to an international conference of experts at the end of 2009.
1. Reports: Russia Says Preparations for Iran Nuclear Reactor Startup Set for Autumn
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Russian news agencies say preparations for the startup of a nuclear power plant in Iran will begin this autumn.
The agencies quoted Russian nuclear agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko as saying builders are in the final stages of work on the plant near the city of Bushehr.
His remarks Saturday were in line with a statement by the head of the Russian company building the plant that it would not be started up before late 2008. But Iran has said the reactor would begin operating at half its capacity this summer.
Russia has been building Iran's first nuclear power plant for more than a decade. Delays have prompted speculation that Moscow has used the project to pressure Iran to halt nuclear activities.
1. N.K. Vows Not to Denuclearize Unless U.S. Drops Hostility
Yonhap News Agency
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North Korea warned Monday that it will be forced to bolster its nuclear arsenal and other "war deterrents" if the United States and South Korea continue to threaten it militarily.
In a statement issued by its military mission to the border village of Panmunjom, the North also warned that a recent series of anti-North Korean moves by Seoul and Washington would undermine six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
"The Korean People's Army (KPA) will never allow the U.S. to exploit the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as a pretext for intensifying the moves for aggression against the DPRK and a fig-leaf for covering up them," the statement said, using the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"Should the U.S. and the South Korean warlike forces persist in their moves for a war against the DPRK as now, the KPA will be left with no option but to further bolster all its war deterrents," said the statement, signed by an unidentified spokesman for the Panmunjeom mission.
The statement was carried by the country's Korean Central News Agency.
The statement cited, among other things, a recent agreement between Seoul and Washington to freeze the U.S. troop strength in South Korea at the current level of 28,500.
The agreement was first reached at a summit between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President George W. Bush at Camp David in April. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was in Seoul last week, confirmed that agreement in a meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Sang-hee.
"This, in fact, amounted to confirming and announcing to the world once again the U.S. undisguised attempt to perpetuate its presence in South Korea and Korea's division," the North's statement said.
"Under this situation the KPA cannot remain a passive onlooker to the above-said disturbing development, while abandoning its nuclear deterrence," it added.
The statement comes amid heightened hopes for a breakthrough in the six-nation talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
A group of U.S. officials, led by the director of Korea desk at the U.S. State Department, Sung Kim, was set to travel to North Korea Tuesday for discussions on the ongoing disabling of the North's nuclear reactor and other plutonium-producing facilities.
The nuclear disarmament talks, which involve the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia, were earlier expected to resume early next month after a near eight-month hiatus.
"The U.S. conservative hardliners and the present South Korean rulers had better behave themselves, thinking twice about to what extent the daily aggravating military confrontation with the DPRK will drive the six-party talks, the DPRK-U.S. relations and the inter-Korean relations," the North Korean statement said.
Threats to attack nuclear plants on suspicion they would one day make bombs could undermine the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said.
"Unilateral military action undermines the international treaty framework. We're standing at an historic turning point," Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told Der Spiegel magazine.
A senior Israeli official said on Friday an attack on Iran looked "unavoidable" because U.N. sanctions seemed unable to prevent Tehran developing nuclear technology with bomb-making potential.
ElBaradei said a growing threat to peace was coming from proliferation and an increasing readiness to consider military action against nuclear targets regarded as suspicious.
Israel and the United States have not ruled out a last resort attack on Iran to smash its atomic programme, something critics including ElBaradei say could ignite the Middle East. The Israeli official's warning was the most explicit yet.
Iran has said it is enriching uranium only for electricity, not weapons, and that the programme will remain under U.N. monitoring. Iran has hindered U.N. investigations and curbs the scope of inspections.
"The willingness to cooperate on the Iranian side leaves something to be desired. We have pressing questions," ElBaradei said, alluding to intelligence reports that Iran has secretly researched ways of designing a nuclear weapon.
He said the Islamic Republic, which is deeply hostile to Israel, was "sending a message to the whole world: we could build the bomb relatively soon."
ElBaradei did not elaborate on this point in excerpts of his remarks released by Der Spiegel on Saturday ahead of Monday's publication.
A May 26 inspectors' report said Iran not only appeared to be withholding information needed to clarify the intelligence allegations but indicated Tehran was making significant progress developing and running centrifuges, which refine uranium.
The IAEA added Syria to its proliferation concerns in April after receiving U.S. intelligence material including photographs suggesting Damascus had almost built a nuclear reactor in secret before Israel destroyed it in an air strike last year.
ElBaradei told a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors on Monday that Syria had agreed to a June 22-24 inspector visit to examine the allegations, denied by Damascus.
Diplomats said Syria had refused IAEA requests to examine three sites other than the bombed one.
ElBaradei was quoted by Der Spiegel as saying the IAEA would push for access to "other places beyond the complex that was destroyed" and he expected "absolute transparency" from Syria.
1. Slovenia under Fire for Misreporting Nuclear Plant Shutdown
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Slovenia was caught in a nuclear controversy Thursday after admitting that it wrongly told other countries that a water leak that forced it to shut down a nuclear reactor was only an exercise.
The shutdown on Wednesday led to the EU raising a Europe-wide radiation alert for the first time since the system was put in place in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster 22 years ago.
After detecting a loss in the reactor's cooling system mid-afternoon Wednesday, Slovenian authorities decided to manually shut the plant down, and correctly alerted the European Commission -- but erroneously told neighbouring countries the incident was an exercise.
The Slovenian government apologised Thursday but insisted there was no safety threat from the water coolant problem, and that the reactor at Krsko, 120 miles (75 kilometres) east of the capital, Ljubljana, would be fixed within days.
Slovenian Environment Minister Janez Podobnik told other EU environment ministers he was sorry for the mistaken alert at a meeting in Luxembourg.
Neighbouring Italy said the incident was now "closed" but Austria, which also has a border with Slovenia, was furious at the mix-up, which Slovenian authorities blamed on using the wrong paperwork.
Austrian Environment Minister Josef Proell, whose country is deeply opposed to nuclear power, said: "It's not okay to set off an alarm in Europe and inform Austria, Italy and Hungary that it's only an exercise," he said.
"There is no absolute security when it comes to nuclear power," he added.
Podobnik said Slovenia's nuclear agency had "used the wrong form. It used a form that had 'exercise' on it. It was a mistake that was a genuine human error."
He said the error was spotted "in a few minutes" and corrected.
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he would demand answers of Slovenia, but added: "I prefer to have an unnecessary alert, than to have too few alerts."
On Thursday the European Commission rejected accusations it had been "sowing the seeds of panic" by issuing its unprecedented radiation alert.
"I don't think we gave you any information that would cause people to panic. We just gave you the facts," Ferran Tarradellas, spokesman for EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, told journalists in Brussels.
Slovenian Interior Minister Dragutin Mate said there was no environmental fall-out from the incident.
"The environment is not polluted, everything is OK. It's a stable situation," he said.
Italy and Austria both said radiation levels tested at their borders were normal.
The European Union issued a special radiation alert -- the European Community Urgent Radiological Information Exchange (ECURIE) system -- late Wednesday for the first time since its alarm system was set up after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The Krsko plant was still cooling down Thursday and plant director Stane Ruzman said repairs would start Friday. The reactor was expected to be operating again by Tuesday or Wednesday.
Krsko, east of Ljubljana, was reopened last November after being shut down for a month for maintenance work.
In the town itself, local residents were phlegmatic about the potential risks from the nuclear power plant.
"We are too close to the plant to worry about it. The whole of Slovenia is too close and we could not help ourselves even if something would happen," said Andreja, the owner of a local tourist agency, who did not want to give her surname.
"I was not scared by yesterday's incident, but I do not like to live near a plant," added 17-year Uros, again without giving his full name.
Krsko's plant is jointly owned by Slovenia and Croatia. It produces 20 percent of all electricity used in Slovenia and 15 percent of Croatia's power needs.
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