1. Moscow Says No Nuclear Weapons in Belarus to Counter U.S. Shield
(for personal use only)
Russia may review military cooperation with Belarus in response to U.S. missile defense plans in Central Europe, but will not return nuclear weapons to the country, the Russian ambassador to Minsk said Wednesday.
The U.S. plans to deploy 10 interceptor missiles in northern Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic as part of a missile shield for Europe and North America against possible attacks from "rogue states," including Iran.
"When Poland signs a treaty with the United States on the deployment of missile defense elements, then we will be in a position to discuss some additional aspects of military cooperation with Belarus," Ambassador Alexander Surikov said.
He added that an array of counter measures would be devised, but there would be "no return of nuclear weapons to Belarus."
The envoy said, however, that Russia could deploy Iskander missile-defense systems and strategic bombers in Belarus.
Moscow strongly opposes the possible deployment of the U.S. missile shield, viewing it as a threat to its national security. Russia's Foreign Ministry has said that if U.S. strategic missile defense elements are deployed near Russia's borders, Moscow would be forced to respond with a "military-technical approach" rather than a diplomatic one.
1. Iran Offers Response to Nuclear Incentives Package
(for personal use only)
Iran responded to incentives aimed at defusing a dispute over the country's nuclear program on Tuesday, the State Department and an EU diplomat said, adding that the response will now be studied by the six nations that devised the package.
In Washington, the State Department said it had received a copy of the Iranian response by e-mail from the office of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and would study it ahead of a conference call Wednesday.
"We're going to take a look at it," spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters, adding that the United States and its partners would move to impose new sanctions unless Iran's response was an unambiguous acceptance of the offer.
The United States and its European allies fear Iran intends to use the technology to develop material for nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear power program. Iran denies the accusation.
The U.N. Security Council has already adopted three sets of sanctions against Iran. The United States, the European Union, as well as individual E.U. members have imposed their own financial measures against Iranian entities and individuals.
"We are looking for a clear, positive response from Iran and in the absence of that we're going to have no choice but to pursue further measures against them," Gallegos said.
Gallegos declined to characterize the contents of the Iranian document.
An EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the response has not yet been read analyzed, said Solana had spoken by telephone with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.
On July 19, the six nations ï¿½ Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States ï¿½ set an informal two-week deadline for Iran to either accept or reject a package of economic incentives in return for curbing its uranium enrichment.
On Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said diplomacy was the only way out of the standoff and insisted he was serious about negotiations. Those comments came a day after he asserted his country would not give up its "nuclear rights," signaling that it would refuse demands to stop enriching uranium or at least not to expand its enrichment work.
Also Saturday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would have no choice "but to begin again to prepare sanctions resolutions for the Security Council" if Iran did not halt the development of its enrichment program.
1. IAEA Clears India Inspection Plan, Boosts U.S.-India Deal
(for personal use only)
Governors of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog approved an inspections plan for India on Friday, an important step towards completing a nuclear trade accord between New Delhi and the United States.
The plan will permit regular International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) surveillance of India's declared civilian nuclear energy plants -- 14 of 22 existing or planned reactors.
The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors passed the plan by consensus despite qualms about ambiguous language some feel could allow India to cancel inspections unilaterally, or which fails to ensure civilian nuclear materials cannot be diverted into the country's off-limits bomb program.
The decision clears a hurdle to an accord that would allow exports of nuclear fuel and technology for civilian use to India after a 34-year ban imposed because India tested atomic bombs and has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Washington and New Delhi must now persuade the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to grant India an unprecedented waiver allowing trade with a non-NPT state and win ratification by the U.S. Congress before the deal can go into force.
India's foreign secretary said the NSG would discuss the issue on August 21-22, and that India expected an "unconditional exemption", a demand some NSG members may resist for fear of undoing respect for the NPT.
The IAEA's director said the inspections scheme met non-proliferation safeguards standards, and that talks had begun on a system of more intrusive, short-notice checks, known as the Additional Protocol, to raise confidence in India's intentions.
IAEA inspections will be phased in from 2009.
"These are not comprehensive or full-scope safeguards (unlike with NPT member states)," Mohamed ElBaradei said. "(But the plan) satisfies India's needs while maintaining all the agency's legal requirements.
"I believe the agreement is good for India, good for the world, good for nonproliferation ... I believe we answered every question satisfactorily," he told reporters.
The United States welcomed the IAEA's approval of the inspection plan and said it hoped to move quickly on revising the NSG guidelines before submitting the accord to Congress.
Industrialized powers say the deal ushers India towards the non-proliferation mainstream and will fight global warming by fostering use of low-polluting nuclear energy in developing economies, also cutting high oil and gas costs.
Simon Smith, Britain's IAEA envoy, said the deal would "make a significant contribution to energy and climate security".
"This is an important day for India and for our civil nuclear initiative, for the resumption of India's cooperation with our friends abroad," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said during a visit to Sri Lanka.
But some smaller Western and developing nations and disarmament groups fear the accord could weaken allegiance to the NPT, already challenged by a drive for nuclear power in the Middle East led by Iran's disputed uranium enrichment project.
"An arrow was launched through the heart of the NPT today, with the approval of the India safeguards agreement," said one dismayed diplomat. "As a result of heavy-handed diplomacy, India can benefit from nuclear help from abroad while keeping its weapons program unchecked. Hypocrisy wins."
With time fast running out before the U.S. presidential election in November, Washington and New Delhi have lobbied other countries hard to speed the deal over remaining hurdles. India faces a tough sell at the NSG, formed in response to its 1974 nuclear test to limit trade in "trigger list" nuclear items -- those with civilian or military uses -- to NPT member states with good non-proliferation records.
Nuclear analysts say some hardline NSG members may propose conditions on India's waiver including a more binding commitment against nuclear testing, on which India is observing a voluntary moratorium, and significant progress towards implementing an Additional Protocol.
Twenty-six IAEA board members are also in the NSG.
1. Libya in Talks with Russia for Weapons, Nuclear Deal: Reports
(for personal use only)
Libya is negotiating with Moscow to buy Russian weapons and for the construction of a nuclear power station, the countries' prime ministers said on Thursday.
"The Libyan leadership confirmed its interest in acquiring high-quality products from the Russian defence industry," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was quoted as saying by Interfax and ITAR-TASS after a meeting with Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi.
"We reached agreement on concrete steps that will enable strengthening of the Libyan armed forces thanks to bilateral cooperation," the Libyan prime minister said.
Quoted by RIA Novosti, the Libyan premier also said: "We are working on the project of creating a nuclear power plant, to be used for electricity generation."
A Russian defence ministry source, quoted by Interfax, said Tripoli was interested in buying Russian surface-to-air missiles, tanks, helicopters and fighter jets with a total value over two billion dollars (1.3 billion euros).
In April during a visit to Libya by Putin, Russia's president at the time, Moscow agreed to cancel billions of dollars of Libyan Soviet-era debt in exchange for multi-billion-dollar contracts with Russian companies.
On Thursday the two prime ministers also discussed cooperation in the oil and gas sectors between their petroleum-rich countries.
The Libyan premier said Tripoli had established a "special relationship" with Russian gas giant Gazprom, which has been in talks to develop gas projects in Libya, Interfax reported.
Gazprom has signed a cooperation agreement with Libya's national energy company, while Russia's rail monopoly, Russian Railways, also signed a 2.2 billion euro contract to build a 600-kilometre (370-mile) railway line connecting the Libyan cities of Surt and Benghazi.
At Thursday's meeting, Mahmudi invited Putin to Libya in August for a ceremony marking the start of the railway's construction.
Putin also thanked Mahmudi for Tripoli's decision to release an official of Lukoil, Russia's second-largest oil company, who had been detained in Libya since November 2007.
Lukoil said in a statement Thursday that Alexander Tsygankov, head of its Libya office, had returned to Moscow after being held for eight months without charges.
1. Plutonium Leak Contained at Ageing IAEA Laboratory
(for personal use only)
A small amount of plutonium leaked in an ageing International Atomic Energy Agency laboratory outside Vienna but radioactive contamination was contained to a storage area and no one was injured, the U.N. watchdog said. Last year the IAEA director warned that its main analytical lab built in 1970 was outmoded and no longer met U.N. safety standards, and he called for 27.2 million euros ($42.4 milion) in extra funding from member states to modernise it.
The IAEA said "pressure build-up in a small sealed sample bottle in a storage safe" released a small amount of plutonium at 2:30 a.m. (0030 GMT) on Sunday when no one was in the area. The leak spread to two neighbouring storage rooms. "All indications are that there was no release of radioactivity to the environment. Further monitoring around the laboratory will be undertaken," an IAEA statement said.
The area was sealed pending decontamination.
Austria's environment ministry confirmed its monitoring stations detected no heightened radioactivity.
"The laboratory is equipped with multiple safety systems, including an air-filtering system to prevent the release of radioactivity to the environment," the IAEA statement said.
An investigation of the incident was under way.
Located within the complex of the Austrian Research Centers in Seibersdorf 35 km (20 miles) southeast of Vienna, the lab analyses samples of nuclear material, mainly plutonium or uranium, taken during agency surveillance missions worldwide.
The IAEA annually analyses some 800 environmental samples collected by inspectors in member states, among them 90 percent of all traces of plutonium, a common atomic bomb fuel.
Last year, IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said the agency's ability to provide timely sample analysis, a cornerstone of efforts to stop diversions of nuclear materials into bombmaking, was at risk due to ageing technical infrastructure.
Proliferation issues in North Korea and Iran have saddled the IAEA with major investigative challenges in recent years.
The lab could no longer meet the agency's needs nor its safety requirements, and suffered from a severe lack of space, ElBaradei said in a report to the IAEA's board of governors.
He also said that, if a nuclear accident were to happen "tomorrow", the IAEA would be hard-pressed to carry out core functions. ElBaradei has long complained that budget increases approved by the 35-nation board have been inadequate.
DISCLAIMER: Nuclear News is presented for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to visit the websites from which the source material originates. Views presented in any given article are those of the individual author or source and not of RANSAC. RANSAC takes no responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in any article presented in Nuclear News.