1. Iran Atom Talks Off to "Good Start" Despite Tensions
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Talks between Iran and world powers on a deal to allay concerns about Tehran's nuclear drive started well on Monday, the U.N. atomic agency chief said, despite Iran's reported refusal to negotiate with France.
The meeting hosted by the IAEA offered the first chance to build on proposals raised at Geneva talks on Oct. 1 to defuse a standoff over suspicions Iran's uranium enrichment programme is covertly intended to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran agreed then to U.N. inspections at a hitherto hidden nuclear site, and in principle to sending low-enriched uranium abroad for processing into fuel for a Tehran reactor producing medical isotopes.
The West hopes the step will minimise the risk of Iran refining the material to high purity suitable for bombs.
"We're off to a good start. We have had a constructive meeting. Most technical issues have been discussed. We will continue the meeting at 10 a.m. tomorrow," Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters in Vienna.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, endorsed ElBaradei's remarks, saying he was speaking on Tehran's behalf.
The meeting of Iranian, Russian, French and U.S. officials started in Vienna shortly after state-run Iranian television said Tehran would not deal directly with France since it had failed to deliver nuclear materials in the past.
A senior Western diplomat said there were no grounds "to put out a gloom and doom message" about the gathering.
"Everyone at the table was making their points and listening to one another. It's too early to tell the outcome. But there is nothing to prevent the talks ultimately moving forward."
But Iran, which says it is enriching uranium only for electricity uses, struck a defiant tone before the meeting.
Nuclear energy agency spokesman Ali Shirzadian said it was not "economically feasible" for Iran to purify further low enriched uranium (LEU) itself to yield the 150-300 kg of material that it needs for the reactor but it would do so if the Vienna talks "do not bring about Iran's desired result".
The Islamic Republic won a reprieve from harsher U.N. sanctions with its gestures of cooperation in Geneva.
But Iran sent only a lower-level technical delegation to the Vienna talks headed by its IAEA ambassador, not its nuclear energy agency chief, indicating Tehran may not be ready for a final agreement this week as the six powers want.
Tehran has also denied Western accounts that it had tentatively agreed to any aspects of the proposal in Geneva.
Western diplomats said Iran had signalled in Geneva that it was ready to ship about three-quarters of its known stockpile of 5-percent-enriched uranium to Russia for refinement to 19.7 percent purity, then to France for fabrication into fuel rods.
The material would be resistant to higher enrichment. Low enriched uranium is used to run civilian nuclear power stations.
The Western power negotiators want Iran to send out 1.2 tonnes of its LEU in one consignment by the end of this year.
The arrangement would buy time for diplomats to negotiate farther-reaching measures, such as a freeze on Iranian enrichment growth and unfettered IAEA inspections in exchange for trade incentives on offer to Iran since 2006.
"It was a good beginning but I think we still need to ...sit down and work out a lot of the details on how we'll actually implement this agreement," U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington.
Asked about the Iranians' attitude toward the talks, Kelly said "I think it's a good sign that they've agreed to meet again tomorrow."
The Western diplomat said there was concern Tehran could "reopen a lot of what we hoped was already agreed in principle."
Iran's LEU reserve has no apparent civilian use since Iran has no operating nuclear power plants, but is now enough to fuel one atomic bomb, if Tehran chose to enrich it to weapons-grade.
Shirzadian told the official IRNA news agency that providing fuel for the Tehran reactor was "a good test to see whether the West is honest with Iran". He said Iran's programme to produce 5-percent LEU would continue, whatever the outcome.
"We will never abandon our right (to enrich)," he said.
Diplomats say Tehran must ultimately curb the enrichment programme to dispel fears of a constantly growing LEU stockpile being enriched to 90 percent purity for atomic bomb fuel.
Iran is under IAEA and world power pressure for nuclear restraint and transparency because of its past record of cover-ups and continued restrictions on U.N. inspector access.
Available at: http://in.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idINIndia-43273420091020
2. Iran Says Nuclear Technology Program to Go Ahead
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Iran will never abandon its "legal and obvious" right to nuclear technology, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Tuesday, adding that Tehran had no plan to halt its disputed uranium enrichment work.
"The meetings with world powers and their behavior shows that Iran's right to have peaceful nuclear technology has been accepted by them ... Iran will never abandon its legal and obvious right," Mottaki told a news conference.
Talks between Iran and world powers on a deal to allay concerns about Tehran's nuclear program started on Monday in Vienna. They were due to resume at 0800 GMT on Tuesday, but the start was delayed as U.S., French and Iranian diplomats conferred in corridors outside the meeting hall.
The reason for the delay was not clear.
The meeting hosted by the United Nations nuclear watchdog offered the first chance to build on proposals raised at Geneva talks on October 1 to defuse a standoff over suspicions that Iran's uranium enrichment program is covertly intended to develop nuclear weapons.
Mottaki praised the talks. Iran agreed in Geneva in principle to sending low-enriched uranium abroad for processing into fuel for a Tehran reactor producing medical isotopes.
"We see serious development in the talks ... the continuation of talks can lead to a deal over supplying Iran with the 20 percent enriched uranium," Mottaki said.
"What we want is our right based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It says the member countries should be supplied with nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes by those members that have the fuel." The West hopes the step will minimize the risk of Iran refining the material to high purity suitable for bombs.
Western diplomats say Tehran must ultimately curb the program to dispel fears of a growing Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) stockpile being further enriched to produce nuclear weapons.
LEU is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, while a nuclear bomb requires highly enriched uranium.
The West fears Iran's nuclear program is a front to build bombs. Iran denies this.
State-run Iranian television said on Monday Tehran would not deal directly with France since it had failed to deliver nuclear materials in the past. Mottaki said Iran did not need France for the fuel supply.
"There are Russia, America ... I believe these countries are enough. Not too many countries are needed to provide Iran with the fuel," Mottaki said.
He said Iran had no intention to give up its disputed uranium enrichment activities, as demanded by the United Nations Security Council.
"Iran will continue its uranium enrichment. It is not linked to buying fuel from abroad," Mottaki said.
Iran has been hit by three rounds of U.N. sanctions for refusing to halt its enrichment work. It said on Monday it would not hesitate to produce higher enriched uranium on its territory if nuclear talks failed in Vienna.
Iran won a reprieve from harsher U.N. sanctions by agreeing on October 1 to inspections of a hidden nuclear site and to send low-enriched uranium abroad for further processing.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE59J1BO20091020
3. China Could Bend on Iran Nuclear Sanctions, Say Experts
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China has repeatedly said it opposes sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, but Beijing could make concessions to protect its wider interests, especially in terms of Sino-US ties, experts say.
Of the six major world powers working to defuse the standoff with Tehran, Beijing and Moscow have so far formed a united front, rejecting sanctions and pushing for further negotiations despite intensifying pressure from Washington.
Their commercial interests could be a factor in their decision-making, experts say -- China and Russia are the two countries with the biggest stakes in Iran's natural gas sector.
Iran also is the number three source of crude oil for energy-hungry China, and trade between the two countries has exploded in recent years, amounting to 28 billion dollars in 2008, according to official figures.
While US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unsuccessfully tried to persuade Russia to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic during a visit to Moscow last week, one of her deputies was here trying to win Beijing's support.
"If we are to make real progress on sending a consolidated message to Iran, we are going to need the support of China," US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters.
Xu Tiebing, a professor of international relations at Communication University of China, said Beijing would not support new sanctions "as long as there is not sufficient evidence showing that Iran is using its technology to develop weapons."
But, despite its protestations, China has supported three previous UN Security Council resolutions on Iran's contested atomic programme.
And experts say it could further soften its position, even though nearly 14 percent of China's oil imports come from Iran and several Chinese firms are in line to secure lucrative gas contracts there, notably in the South Pars field.
Iran's vice oil minister Hossein Noqrehkar-Shirazi has said Chinese firms are ready to invest 48-50 billion dollars in oil and gas ventures, but Beijing has not signed any major contracts yet.
"The Chinese do not understand what the Iranians want to do," said Michal Meidan, a researcher at the Paris-based Asia Centre.
"They are not going to pour money into the country before seeing what happens with the sanctions," she said, adding that Beijing would be hard-pressed to vote against UN sanctions and calling a veto "unthinkable."
China's burgeoning ties with Iran, compared with its political and economic links to Washington, still carry very little weight, Meidan said.
A vote by Beijing in Tehran's favour within the UN "would run counter to many of its interests with the United States and Europe, and Iran in the end is not really one of its major partners," she said.
"In the worst case scenario, the Chinese would abstain... but I think what they will try to do is modify the text of an eventual resolution and make the most of the negotiations before any discussions (on a resolution)."
"Of course, this will all depend on what the Russians do," Meidan added.
The five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany are currently in talks with Iran in a bid to end the standoff.
Samuel Ciszuk, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, agreed that China was unlikely to use its veto but would instead try to "water down" any UN text targeting Tehran.
"Looking over the last few years, China has not stuck up for Iran," Ciszuk said.
"China needs energy but they also need the market for their products in the West," he added. "There is a lot of interest in keeping relations with the developed economies on a good footing."
He said Chinese firms such as state-owned energy giants CNPC, CNOOC and Sinopec were the "only players in the starting blocks" in Iran and had been "clever in moving in where Western companies previously had a stake."
"It is not just South Pars -- it is South Azadegan, it is North Pars," Ciszuk said, while noting the companies "haven't really started investing money... they are almost as careful as Western companies."
As for the possibility raised in Washington of sanctions on fuel deliveries to Iran, experts say the impact of such a move would be minimal for China, as the transactions were mainly spot contracts.
Meidan said the 30,000-40,000 barrels a day at stake, according to a Financial Times report, "would only mildly affect Chinese traders."
Available at: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/1012251/1/.html
4. Experts Doubt Effectiveness of US Sanctions on Iran
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A flurry of congressional measures aimed at toughening US sanctions on Iran to pressure the Islamic republic to abandon its suspect nuclear program will likely have little to no impact, experts say.
Congress sent President Barack Obama legislation on Thursday that bars foreign firms that sell petroleum products to Iran from winning US government deals.
Lawmakers are also studying a number of other measures to punish Iran, which Western powers and Israel claim is seeking to develop an atomic bomb. Tehran has denied the allegations and insists it has only a civilian nuclear energy program for peaceful purposes.
The draft bills aim to provide Obama with the means to sanction Tehran, should his diplomatic outreach fail.
"I think what Congress is doing is all too predictable given the political utility of passing these kinds of measures in this environment. But I don't think it is a particular asset to American diplomacy," Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, told AFP.
"We have at this stage at least a reasonable beginning to a diplomatic process with Iran. These measures I think only create the prospect for the administration to be working against itself."
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed legislation allowing state and local governments and pension funds to end investments in firms that have 20 million dollars or more invested in Iran's petroleum or natural gas operations.
The divestment measure does not directly impose sanctions on Iran but shields states and local governments from lawsuits if they pull their money out of such businesses.
The increased congressional activity comes in the wake of revelations that Iran had kept secret for years an underground nuclear fuel facility near the holy Shiite city of Qom.
But Maloney said there was "very little prospect" that the legislation pending in Congress, dominated by Obama's Democratic Party, would have the intended impact of changing Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"In general, we have seen that sanctions against Iran have not been effective. What they do is they drive up the cost of Iranians doing business," said Indiana University professor Jamsheed Choksy.
"The current sanctions that have just been passed by Congress and the future ones that they are also contemplating are also likewise not to be effective."
The United States has imposed sanctions on Iran for the past three decades since the two countries severed ties in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the US-backed shah.
Maloney pointed instead to multilateral sanctions, noting that only "broad-based and widely enforced" measures are truly effective and cautioning that US congressional action "could only alienate some of the most important allies of Iran."
Key players Russia and China -- both veto-wielding United Nations Security Council members -- have long opposed tougher sanctions on Iran.
Despite being a major oil producer, Iran lacks domestic refining capabilities and relies on imports to meet 40 percent of its gasoline needs.
With US lawmakers eager to force Iran to bow to global demands to freeze its nuclear drive, the House Foreign Affairs Committee said it would take up on October 28 the punishing sanctions bill.
The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act is directed at firms heavily invested in Iran's energy sector or that provide help to boost the Islamic republic's domestic production.
The measure would also hit companies that provide Iran with gasoline or help its imports, notably by providing ships or shipping services, as well as insuring or financing such activity.
But Georgetown University professor Daniel Brumberg said he was "dubious that even enhanced sanctions, including sanctions on refined petroleum, would compel Iran to bend to Western demands."
Tehran would consider such a measure "as a hostile act designed to undermine the regime and would become even more defiant," he said.
Demonstrating readiness to implement tougher sanctions could prove useful, "but only so long as the administration is ready to accompany that with carrots and incentives," added Brumberg.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gWxBFGE_H7zi7iXgAJ1wSokuMxHg
France has been removed from the list of potential suppliers of highly enriched uranium for Iran, as talks are underway in Vienna between Tehran and three world powers.
Press TV had been earlier informed by sources close to the meeting that Iran might remove France from the list of bidders as Paris has failed 'to deliver its nuclear materials in the past'.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei opened the meeting earlier on Monday in which delegations from Moscow, Paris, Tehran and Washington and the IAEA experts are present to discuss a deal to supply highly-enriched uranium for an Iranian research reactor.
Iran's IAEA envoy Ali-Asghar Soltaniyeh will head the Tehran delegation in the talks, which are expected to run into Tuesday.
Western countries have proposed that Tehran exchange its low-level uranium with higher level.
However, Iran wants to directly buy highly-enriched uranium without sending its own low-level uranium out of the country.
The Vienna meeting follows agreements between Iran and the world's six major powers on October 1, when Iran agreed to discuss the purchase of highly-enriched uranium.
Iran, however, has warned that should the Vienna talks fail, it will opt to enrich uranium to the 20 percent it needs for the research reactor in Tehran.
Available at: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=109070
6. Iran Starts Uranium Talks With Powers After Warning
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Iran said it would not hesitate to enrich uranium to a higher degree itself without a deal at talks with big powers that began on Monday with the West hoping to reduce the risk of Tehran developing nuclear arms capability.
The meeting of Iranian, Russian, French and U.S. officials started in Vienna shortly after state-run Iranian television said Tehran would not deal directly with France since it had failed to deliver "nuclear materials" in the past.
It was not immediately clear what effect this would have on the talks. They aimed to flesh out a deal for Iran to ship enriched uranium to Russia and France for further processing and return to Tehran to fuel a reactor that makes medical isotopes.
Other official Iranian media said another reason for Iran being unwilling to talk directly to France was alleged French interference with efforts of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and Iran to improve cooperation.
The Vienna meeting hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) offered the first opportunity to build on proposals for defusing a protracted standoff over Iran's nuclear activity raised at a high-level meeting in Geneva on Oct. 1.
But Iran struck a defiant tone hours ahead of the meeting.
Nuclear energy agency spokesman Ali Shirzadian said it was not "economically feasible" for Iran to further purify low enriched uranium (LEU) itself to yield the 150-300 kg of material that it needs for the reactor, but that it would do so if the Vienna talks "do not bring about Iran's desired result".
Iran won a reprieve from harsher U.N. sanctions by agreeing in Geneva to IAEA inspections of a hidden nuclear site and, in principle, to send LEU to Russia and France for processing to replenish the dwindling fuel reserves of the Tehran reactor.
But it sent only a lower-level technical delegation to the Vienna talks headed by its IAEA ambassador, not its nuclear energy agency chief, indicating it may not be ready for a final agreement this week.
Western officials said Iran tentatively agreed to major aspects of the proposal in Geneva. Tehran has denied this.
"The talks this week are supposed to seal the deal," said a senior Western diplomat, speaking on ground rules of anonymity.
"But, since we have had no negotiations thus far with the Iranians, the next couple of days could reopen a lot of what we hoped was already agreed in principle."
The talks on IAEA premises, which began with a closed-door address by agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, could run anywhere from a few hours to three days, diplomats said.
ALLEGATIONS OVER BOMBING
The meeting could be clouded by Iranian allegations that the United States and Britain backed militants who killed 42 people including six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders in a suicide bombing on Sunday.
Shirzadian told the official IRNA news agency that providing fuel for the Tehran reactor was "a good test to see whether the West is honest with Iran". He said Iran's programme to produce 5-percent LEU would continue, whatever the outcome.
"We will never abandon our right (to enrich)," he said.
Western diplomats say Tehran must ultimately scale down the programme to dispel fears of a growing LEU stockpile being enriched to 90 percent purity for atomic bomb fuel. LEU is used to run civilian nuclear power stations.
The West fears Iran's nuclear programme is a front to obtain a bomb. Iran says it needs nuclear technology to generate power.
Western diplomats said Iran had signalled in Geneva that it was ready to ship about three-quarters of its declared stockpile of 5-percent-enriched uranium to Russia for refinement to 19.7 percent purity, then to France for fabrication into fuel rods.
The material would be resistant to higher enrichment.
That would buy time for big power diplomats to negotiate farther-reaching Iranian measures, such as a freeze on enrichment growth and unfettered IAEA inspections, to remove suspicions of a clandestine agenda to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran's LEU stockpile has no apparent civilian use since Iran has no operating nuclear power plants, but is now enough to fuel one atomic bomb, if Tehran chose to enrich it to weapons-grade.
Available at: http://in.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idINIndia-43257020091019
Mohamed ElBaradei, outgoing chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, maintains that the danger posed by Iran's nuclear program is being exaggerated, and that the only way to resolve issues with Teheran is through talks. Negotiations should also eventually lead to the Middle East being a nuclear-free zone, he believes, thus ending the "imbalance" resulting from the fact that Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"The threat in Iran's nuclear programis exaggerated. I do not think that we will wake up tomorrow and discover that Iran has a nuclear weapon," he said in an interview with the Austrian Die Presse published on Sunday.
"[US] President Barack Obama has understood that negotiation is the only possible solution with Iran... Iran wants to discuss not only the nuclear issue, but also the entire palette of problems with the US. Iran can play an important, central role in the Near East; in Afghanistan or also in Iraq," the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize laureate continued.
The greatest danger in the region, according to ElBaradei, comes from the possibility of an Israeli air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
"Bombing Iran is not the solution. An Israeli attack would turn the entire region into a fireball," he said.
"We should ask ourselves why countries develop nuclear weapons. They promise power and prestige. Israel says it cannot tolerate an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons. But when you talk now with Arab leaders, they say they cannot tolerate a nuclear Israel.
"The solution: We need to ensure a lasting peace in the region, and the entire Middle East must become a nuclear-free zone. That, however, takes time. But we must also remember the imbalance in the fact that a country, namely Israel, remains out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, while other countries are bound by the contract."
Available at: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1255694830457&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull
A team of Iranian experts heads for the Austrian capital to discuss the terms of a deal to buy highly-enriched uranium without exchanging any of Tehran's low-enriched uranium, Press TV has learned.
Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ali-Asghar Soltaniyeh will head the delegation, which will begin three-day talks on Monday with experts from France, Russia, the United States and the UN nuclear watchdog.
The Iranian delegation also includes Hamid-Reza Asgari, a senior advisor in Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mehdi Khaniki, the chief executive of the organization as well as three other legal and technical experts.
Asgari has replaced Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization, who had earlier been scheduled to travel to Vienna, where talks will focus on Tehran's purchase of uranium enriched to 20 percent for producing radiomedicine.
Western countries have proposed that Tehran exchange its low-level uranium with higher level.
However, Iran has opposed delivering any low-enriched uranium for conversion into reactor fuel. Tehran instead wants to directly buy highly-enriched uranium from either France, Russia or the United States, sources close to the talks told Press TV.
The talks will be hosted by the deputy head of the IAEA Secretariat of the Policy-Making Organs (SEC-PMO).
The US delegation in the talks will be headed by Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel B. Poneman and includes White House and State Department officials.
Nikolay Spassky, deputy head of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency will represent Russia in the talks while the French ambassador to the IAEA Florence Mangin will head the Paris delegation.
In line with Tehran's transparent policy regarding its nuclear program, Iran agreed during the October 1 talks with the six world powers to discuss the purchase of highly-enriched uranium.
Iran, however, has warned that should the Vienna talks fail it will opt to enrich uranium to the 20 percent it needs for the reactor.
Available at: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=108998
The United States is considering ways to officially announce that it has agreed to Iran's demand to locally enrich uranium, sources say.
The US has held private meetings with its European allies in order to inform them about the decision, the sources close to the upcoming meeting between Iran and Western powers in Vienna told Press TV on Sunday.
According to reports, the US decision has been criticized by Europeans who called it another blow to the United States following its agreement to hold talks with the Islamic Republic without preconditions that included suspension of enrichment activities.
Experts from Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United States, Russia and France are scheduled to attend a meeting scheduled to be held in Vienna on Monday (October 19) to discuss Iran's latest package of proposals.
The proposal was first introduced on October 1, when Iranian representatives and diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - plus Germany (P5+1) held high-level negotiations in Geneva.
Iran says it needs nuclear energy as solely aimed at producing electricity, and rejects Western allegations that the country is after atomic weapons.
The IAEA has so far made "25 unannounced inspections" of the country's nuclear facilities and has published over 20 reports -- all of which confirm the non-diversion of Iran's uranium enrichment so far.
Available at: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=109024§ionid=351020104
1. North Korean Diplomat Arrives in Beijing en Route to U.S.
Yonhap News Agency
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A North Korean diplomat arrived here Tuesday on his way to the U.S. for a bilateral meeting next week apparently aimed at laying the groundwork for higher-level nuclear talks.
Ri Gun, director general of the North American affairs bureau at North Korea's foreign ministry, is reportedly scheduled to meet Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy on the six-way nuclear talks, in San Diego on the sidelines of an academic seminar slated for Oct. 26-27.
"I will go soon (to the U.S.)," Ri told reporters when asked about the timing of his rare trip there. He was then rushed away in a North Korean embassy sedan.
Diplomatic sources said Ri is likely to stay in Beijing for a few days for consultations with Chinese officials.
The U.S. earlier issued a visa for Ri to travel to San Diego and New York. South Korean nuclear negotiators said they "won't be surprised" if Ri meets Sung Kim during his trip to the U.S.
Their meeting is widely seen as a prelude to higher-level contact between the two sides. The North has invited Stephen Bosworth, special U.S. representative for North Korea policy, to visit Pyongyang.
The U.S. has said it is open to such high-level bilateral contact if it guarantees the resumption of the long-stalled six-party talks also involving South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan.
Kim and Ri are expected to discuss the conditions for full-scale bilateral talks, including Bosworth's counterpart, Japan's Kyodo News said.
It added the U.S. wants the North to be represented by Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju, who is known to oversee Pyongyang's nuclear and U.S. policies, not Kim Kye-gwan, its top delegate to the six-party forum.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2009/10/20/37/0401000000AEN20091020004900315F.HTML
2. Any North Korea Meeting Must Lead to Six-Way Talk: U.S.
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The United States wants any bilateral contacts with North Korea to result in the resumption of stalled six-country nuclear negotiations, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia said on Monday.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said "patience and caution are the order of the day" in taking up Pyongyang's call for talks with Washington, voiced by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to a visiting Chinese leader this month.
"We would be prepared for, in the right circumstances at some point, some initial interaction that would lead rapidly to a six-party framework," he told a think tank forum in Washington.
The six-party talks involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States but have been stalled since North Korea said six months ago it was quitting them. Pyongyang added to tension by conducting its second nuclear test in May.
Campbell, who was briefed by the Chinese in Beijing last week on Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to North Korea, said the Obama administration has not decided on bilateral talks.
He said he told the Chinese that in addition to North Korea needing to show commitment to the six-party framework, "We really must insist that they abide by the commitments that they signed in 2005 and 2007."
Pyongyang signed agreements under which it pledged to give up its nuclear weapons programs in exchange for economic aid and an end to diplomatic isolation.
The State Department last week said it had decided to grant a visa to Ri Gun, North Korea's No. 2 official at six-party talks, to attend meetings in New York and San Diego with private scholars and experts who study North Korea.
Analysts said Ri's unofficial meetings could set the stage for a resumption of formal nuclear talks
On Monday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said a U.S. official would attend the Northeast Asia Cooperative Dialoguein San Diego next week, but there would be no proper negotiations between the two countries.
"There are no sit-downs with the North Koreans that are planned," said Kelly, who added that such a meeting could not be ruled out.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE59I5T820091019
3. Denuclearization Top Emphasis of South Korea's DPRK policy: FM
Xinhua News Agency
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South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said on Monday it would be "difficult" for his country to cooperate and coexist with a nuclear-equipped Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), noting that denuclearization is the top emphasis of South Korea's DPRK policy.
Yu made the remark at a seminar with foreign reporters here.
The DPRK's sincere intention to achieve advances in inter-Korean relations can be demonstrated by its sincere response to the dialogue on its denuclearization, Yu said.
Seoul is prepared to respond it actively in the event Pyongyang shows its determination to abandon nuclear ambitions, Yu said.
The South Korean government has proposed a "grand bargain" calls on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program and complete irreversible denuclearization in exchange for a security guarantee and economic aid granted by the international community, and currently is discussing with other related nations on the issue, Yu added.
Yu also called on Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks and "take a strategic decision for denuclearization."
On DPRK's recent conciliatory gestures, including the hosting of reunions event for separated families and an official apology for an unannounced dam discharge, the foreign minister said it is too early to view the DPRK's softening gestures as signs of a fundamental change in its position.
Yu said his country will continue to seek both sanctions and dialogue to deal with the DPRK issue, noting that the purpose of sanctions is not sanctions, but is to try to bring the DPRK back to the dialogue.
On the bilateral U.S.-DPRK talks, the foreign minister said the five nations involved in the six-party international nuclear disarmament negotiations agreed that the six-party forum remains the best means to seek DPRK's denuclearization, and Washington also insisted that any substantial consultation related to the nuclear issue must take place within the six-nation framework.
Available at: http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90777/90851/6787309.html
4. Seoul: North Korea Uranium Programme 'Very Worrying'
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South Korea Monday described North Korea's admission of an enriched uranium nuclear weapons programme as a "very worrying" development and questioned whether the country is committed to disarming.
"North Korea indicated in a letter to the UN Security Council chairman that it had attempted to enrich uranium and succeeded to a degree," Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan told reporters.
"Since this is a very worrying development, this issue is expected to be discussed separately by the United Nations."
Visiting US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and his Korean counterpart will assess the North's nuclear and missile threat at a meeting Thursday.
North Korea said last month it had reached the final stage of enriching uranium, a second way of making nuclear bombs on top of its plutonium-based programme, in a defiant response to United Nations sanctions.
The sanctions were tightened after the North in May conducted its second plutonium-based nuclear test.
Experts believe the North has enough plutonium for possibly six to eight bombs. A full-scale enriched uranium programme is seen as a distant prospect, but troubling because it could be easily hidden from spy satellites.
Early this month, the North expressed willingness to return to the six-party nuclear disarmament talks which it quit in April, on condition it first makes progress in a bilateral meeting with the United States.
The State Department said Friday it had issued a visa for senior North Korean diplomat Ri Gun to attend conferences in the United States, in what is seen as a potential opportunity to set up bilateral talks.
But minister Yu said he was still sceptical about its commitment to nuclear disarmament.
"There is no evidence on which we can rely to believe that North Korean conciliatory gestures result from a fundamental change to its attitude towards the nuclear issue," Yu said.
He repeated that South Korea and other six-party talks partners would continue a "two-track" approach of sanctions and dialogue. The talks group the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the United States.
After months of sabre-rattling, the North since August has made peace overtures to Seoul and Washington. But last week it also test-fired short-range missiles and warned South Korea of a potential naval clash on their disputed border.
Gates will hold talks with Defence Minister Kim Tae-Young during his visit.
They "will be sure to warn North Korea against further escalating military tensions" in their Security Consultative Meeting Thursday, a senior defence official told Yonhap news agency on condition of anonymity.
"Having such meetings at this time will amount to a grave warning to North Korea," Brigadier General Jung Yeon-Bong, another senior official, told reporters.
The US stations some 28,500 troops to bolster South Korea's 655,000ong armed forces against the North's 1.2 million-member military.
The security meeting will also cover the issue of strengthening South Korea's military power, said Brigadier General Wee Seung-Ho, a senior policymaker at the Joint Chiefs of Command.
But the two sides will not discuss the South's desire to develop longer-range missiles, he said.
Under an agreement with the United States, Seoul currently limits its ballistic missiles to a maximum range of 300 km (187 miles)
Available at: http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20091019/wl_asia_afp/nkoreanuclearweaponsskoreausgates
1. Areva Reactor Well Suited For India’s Nuclear Program
(for personal use only)
French energy major Areva’s European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) would be an ideal choice for India’s nuclear power programme as it is large, safe and economical to run, according to a senior French official.
“Our offer is competitive and the EPR is large (1,650 MW), safe and very economical to run,’’ Mr Mario Pain, Senior Nuclear Advisor, Ministry of Environment, Energy and Development, France, told PTI on the sidelines of the two-day Indo-French nuclear business meeting which took place in Mumbai.
“Although it is expensive to build but very efficient to operate and even cheaper in terms of megawatt cost,’’ Mr Pain said According to a PTI report, replying to query on the competitiveness of EPR with other reactors from Russia and US which are in the process of negotiation wit h Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.
Mr Pain said: “India has an ambitious nuclear power programme and therefore will need several international co-operations but our technology is considered as best and it is up to India to choose the best in service of its people.’’
India plans to have six EPRs at Jaitapur nuclear park in Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra and in the first phase two reactors will be built once the regulatory and statutory process are completed.
Available at: http://nuclearstreet.com/blogs/nuclear_power_news/archive/2009/10/19/areva-reactor-well-suited-for-india-s-nuclear-program-10163.aspx
The United States and Russia agree they must consider further steps against Iran if they are unable to reach a diplomatic solution to its nuclear programme, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a newspaper.
Clinton failed to win specific pledges from Moscow for tougher sanctions against Iran during a visit to Russia last week, but she said in the interview that there was broad agreement with the Kremlin on how to proceed.
"We have agreed to make diplomacy the priority with Iran. But if we are not successful, we will consider other steps," Clinton said in the interview, which was conducted by Newsweek's Russian edition and appeared in German daily Die Welt.
She described her talks with Russian leaders as "very constructive" and said the two countries were in "full agreement" on the way forward.
Clinton also said it was positive that Russia had not followed through on plans to deliver high-grade S300 air defence missiles to Iran.
"Until now they have not delivered any rocket systems to Iran. We see this as a good sign," she was quoted as saying.
Her comments were translated from the German by Reuters because Die Welt was not immediately able to provide an English transcript.
Clinton also reiterated that Washington was ready to cooperate with Moscow on missile defence after U.S. President Barack Obama scrapped his predecessor George W. Bush's plan to put parts of an anti-missile system in eastern Europe.
"On the question of the missile shield, we are very open to cooperation with the Russians. We have made this clear to them. We believe that a joint missile defence would make sense," Clinton said.
Available at: http://in.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idINIndia-43259120091019
2. Nonproliferation Panel Gives Up Nuke Cut Target to Below 1,000 by 2025
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An international nuclear nonproliferation panel currently meeting in Hiroshima gave up Monday on making recommendations to reduce the number of nuclear warheads in the world from more than 20,000 at present to less than 1,000 by 2025, sources close to the panel said.
The sources did not elaborate on the concrete figure to be stated but said the targeted figure appeared to have been raised from the previous one because of opposition from some nuclear armed states.
The International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament is expected to make final adjustments to reduction target figures for each nuclear power in Tuesday's session.
An earlier draft report aimed to urge a target of reducing the number of nuclear warheads in the world from more than 20,000 at present to 1,000 or fewer by 2025 and making every nuclear state commit to a no- first-use doctrine by that year.
The panel met for a second day Monday in Hiroshima, the first city to suffer atomic bombing, to discuss its recommendations to world leaders.
The outcome of the conference including the intended nuclear reduction target figure will be made public Tuesday after the conclusion of the three-day conference.
Previously, the panel's target for adoption of the no-first-use doctrine, which refers to a pledge by a nuclear power not to use nuclear weapons unless it or its allies come under nuclear attack, was 2010.
The sources also said the target year for adoption of the doctrine appeared to have been agreed on by the panel members.
Former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, co-chair of the panel, said after Monday's session, "We had heated discussions over such topics as nuclear doctrines since the morning."
The commission envisions releasing its final report early next year to offer a roadmap for the ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons as proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama in April.
In its short-term action agenda in the draft targeting 2012, the commission is set to call for bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force, to conclude negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut- off Treaty and to reach an agreement on equitably sharing the cost burden of disarmament and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.
The CTBT bans all nuclear tests and the FMCT, if concluded, would prohibit the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
Available at: http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9BE82G81&show_article=1
Russia and the United States on Monday resumed talks on renewing a key agreement on limiting their nuclear arsenals, their envoys in Geneva told AFP.
"The session is resuming," said a spokesman for the US mission, adding that the talks on the renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which expires on December 5, will be hosted in turn by the United States and Russia.
A Russian diplomat added that the first day of the latest round of negotiations is taking place at the US mission, and that the talks should last two weeks in all.
Washington and Moscow agreed earlier this year to reach a new nuclear deal to succeed START, marking the first tangible step in the thaw in US-Russian relations heralded by President Barack Obama's administration.
START, signed in 1991 just before the break-up of the Soviet Union, bound both sides to deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals.
Negotiations have been dogged by bargaining over the deployment of the US missile defence shield in ex-Soviet states in eastern Europe, a project that has angered Russia.
But Obama announced in September that he would shelve plans to site parts of a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, and instead deploy more mobile equipment targeting Iran's short and medium-range missiles.
Last Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated that START negotiations were heading in a positive direction.
"We have made substantial movement forward," Lavrov said at a joint press conference in Moscow with visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
On October 9, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also assessed that the chances of Moscow and Washington reaching a deal on a new nuclear disarmament treaty by a December deadline are "not bad."
At a Moscow summit in July, Medvedev and Obama agreed to reduce the number of nuclear warheads in Russian and US strategic arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years.
They also agreed to cut the number of ballistic missile carriers to between 500 and 1,100.
Available at: http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20091019/pl_afp/usrussianucleardisarmamenttalksstart_20091019174214;_ylt=Asl8clOrlI3ignAH7lmhIxSsOrgF;_ylu=X3oDMTNjOW1idWFuBGFzc2V0A2FmcC8yMDA5MTAxOS91c3J1c3NpYW51Y2xlYXJkaXNhcm1hbWVudHRhbGtzc3RhcnQEcG9zAzI1BHNlYwN5bl9wYWdpbmF
1. Considering an Alternative Fuel for Nuclear Energy
The New York Times
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For decades, scientists have dreamed about turning thorium — an element that is less radioactive and produces less nuclear waste than uranium — into an alternative fuel for nuclear energy. Recent technological developments may be bringing the dream closer to reality.
As a naturally occurring metal that is substantially more abundant than uranium, its most common isotopic form, thorium-232, can be converted by irradiation to uranium-233, which is suitable for use in nuclear fuels.
The United States is estimated to have 400,000 tons of thorium, Turkey 344,000 tons and India 319,000 tons, according to a 2008 joint report by the Nuclear Energy Agency, a body linked to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
There are no commercial thorium reactors in operation. Instead, nuclear reactors use uranium-235 which must be enriched before it can be used as fuel. Uranium-235 accounts for 0.7 percent of the uranium now being mined.
Rajendran Raja, a physicist at Fermilab — the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois — said by telephone that the benefit of adding thorium to the fuel mix would be to create much more fuel using existing abundant resources and to reduce waste.
This could be done by building a high-intensity proton accelerator with the capacity to produce fast neutrons that could convert nuclear waste, thorium-232 and uranium-238 into fuel, he said. But to accomplish this, a proton accelerator would need to be 10 times more power-intense than anything that has been produced to date.
The concept of an accelerator-driven subcritical system, known as ADS, has been around since the 1990s. It differs from conventional reactors which operate at criticality, which is the point at which a nuclear reaction can be self-sustaining. But if a chain reaction gets out of control, accidents like those at Chernobyl or Three Mile Island could occur, and high levels of radioactive material could be released into the atmosphere.
Subcritical reactors, however, would use neutrons provided by the accelerator to continue the fission. This means that criticality could be avoided by switching off the accelerator, which in turn would switch off the neutrons. This type of reactor has not been built because an accelerator with sufficient power does not exist, Dr. Raja said.
But experts in the United States and elsewhere are taking steps in that direction.
In September, a U.S. Department of Energy facility successfully completed a test of the first U.S.-built superconducting radio frequency niobium cavity intended to become part of the prototype accelerator at Fermilab. The niobium cavity, which is more efficient than the more common copper cavities, can be used to build a particle accelerator producing 10 megawatts of beam power, which in turn could convert thorium into nuclear fuel.
“This is a safer form of nuclear energy which produces more fuel and less waste,” Dr. Raja said.
India has been making advances in the field of thorium-based fuels, working to design and develop a prototype for an atomic reactor using thorium and low-enriched uranium.
The country has a long-term objective goal of becoming energy-independent based on its vast thorium resources, Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, said in a speech in Vienna in September.
Dr. Raja said that India’s new thorium reactor does not use an accelerator. Instead, it is a fast-breeder reactor and neutrons are produced by a plutonium core rather than an accelerator.
“The advantage of using an accelerator is that if something goes wrong, we can switch it off,” Dr. Raja said. Accelerator-based systems operate at subcriticality, which means they can produce fission without achieving a self-sustaining nuclear reaction.
As of late last year, Australia had identified an estimated 489,000 tons of thorium resources, recoverable at less than $176 a pound, according to Geoscience Australia, a government agency.
But the Australian government is opposed to the development of a nuclear power industry, even with thorium-based systems.
John Boldeman, a specialist in nuclear science and engineering, and his colleagues at the University of Sydney have been interested in accelerator-driven systems for more than 15 years.
He acknowledged that creating any thorium systems would be a long process that could take decades before finding success. “Our programs in Australia are at this stage very limited,” Mr. Boldeman said in an e-mail message, “although we continue to apply for funding.”
The U.S. energy secretary, Steven Chu, announced $1.2 billion in new science financing in March, including research efforts and support for fields like superconductivity.
Dr. Raja estimated that a high-intensity proton accelerator prototype would cost roughly $1 billion, including research, development and overhead. After that, each mass-produced machine could be built for approximately $300 million.
The World Nuclear Association, an international organization in London that promotes nuclear energy, believes that uranium is a safer bet. “The uranium fuel cycle is 50 years old, world proven, thoroughly mature and the costs are well known,” said Ian Hore-Lacy, a spokesman for the group.
“People are naturally inclined to stick with what they know,” he added. Thorium as an alternative source of energy might be commercially viable one day, he said, “but I’m not holding my breath.”
Environmental advocates, including Greenpeace International, also dismiss thorium-based systems as a distant dream — and a distraction from the fast implementation of renewable energy and efficiency technologies.
“While thorium partially addresses some of the downsides of current commercial reactors based on uranium fuel,” Jan Beranek, nuclear energy project leader of Greenpeace International, said in an e-mail message from Amsterdam, “from what we know it still has significant issues related to fuel mining and fabrication, reactor safety, production of dangerous waste, and hazards of proliferation.”
Mr. Beranek said that there might also be other problems, as yet undetected, given the still undeveloped and highly experimental state of the technology.
The need to reduce carbon emissions was urgent, he said. “We need to act now, and not wait several decades to see whether thorium power can deliver or not,” he said.
Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/business/global/20renthorium.html
The victory of Chancellor Angela Merkel's new alliance in elections last month promises to extend the country's use of nuclear power -- and reignite protests among those who have fought to phase it out.
Both Ms. Merkel's Christian Democrats and their new governing partners, the business-friendly Free Democrats, want to scrap a law that says all 17 of the country's nuclear plants must be shut down by 2022. In alliance negotiations this week, the parties struck a preliminary agreement to allow the reactors to run longer, at least until renewable-energy sources can fill the gap.
Germany's opposition parties have promised to fight any policy change. Hundreds of antinuclear activists have been protesting outside the Berlin offices where conservatives and Free Democrats have been negotiating to form a new coalition government.
Demonstrators at a recent rally in Berlin call for the shutdown of Germany's nuclear power plants. "If it comes to that, you can count on it re-energizing the antinuclear movement here," warned Mathias Edler, nuclear-power expert for Greenpeace Germany.
Decades of widespread anti-nuclear sentiment culminated in the 2002 legislation to phase out atomic energy. But the reactors still supply nearly a quarter of the country's electricity. To keep the power on without them, Germany might have to burn more coal and miss its goals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions -- or become more reliant on its largest natural-gas supplier, Russia.
So far, though, the trickiest disputes have surfaced within the pro-nuclear power camp. One thorny issue is who would profit. Because the plants are relatively old and their costs have largely depreciated, they are a cost-efficient way to produce energy. Extending their lives could add more than €1 million ($1.5 million) a day in profits per plant, German think tank DIW estimates.
Germany's four major utilities -- E.On AG, RWE AG, Energie Baden-Württemberg AG and Vattenfall Europe AG -- stand to reap tens of billions of euros in unanticipated profit if they gain up to 10 more years to run the plants.
Leery of being seen as changing policy in order to abet a corporate windfall, both parties say they would redirect much of these profits to a renewable-energy development fund. Negotiators hammering out the details of the policy proposal also say it isn't clear how many of the 17 reactors will be able to stay in operation longer since they will have to meet new and potentially costly safety conditions to keep them running.
RWE, which has one reactor expected to expire next year and another by 2013, has said it is willing to negotiate to enable an extension. In a television interview with German national broadcaster ARD after the elections, its chief executive, Jürgen Grossmann, said the utility would contribute "a big double-digit percentage" of extra profits to a fund.
But E.On, which stands to lose far less of its nuclear capacity over the next four years and increasingly generates more of its profits outside Germany, has refrained from saying where it stands on the idea. EnBW and Vattenfall also declined to comment.
Germany has long been the heart of the antinuclear movement in Europe. The 2002 legislation to shutter the country's plants culminated decades of widespread antinuclear sentiment. This year, the issue was one of the few fiery points of debate in an otherwise tepid national elections, after a short-circuit in a transformer caused a Vattenfall-operated reactor to shut down in July. In an April poll by the Forsa Institute, conducted on behalf of the outgoing government's environment ministry, 66% of those surveyed wanted to continue with the planned phase-out or accelerate it.
Yet rising electricity prices and growing concern about climate change have tempered the opposition, particularly among younger Germans: In the Forsa poll, less than 50% of those under 30 years old said they were concerned about the safety of nuclear energy.
The country also increasingly stands alone on the antinuclear front in Europe. Sweden, the first European country to say no to nuclear power in 1980 and a leader in alternative-energy development, halted its nuclear phase-out plans this year for fear it would have to turn to energy sources that produce large quantities of greenhouse gases.
Extending the life of Germany's nuclear plants would buy the country only a decade or so before it would have to fill the gap with other sources, as plants become too old to operate. Skeptics argue an extension would take pressure off the big utilities, which have just begun investing big sums into alternative energy.
Lutz Mez, an energy-policy expert at Berlin's Free University, says keeping nuclear power would perpetuate barriers of entry for would-be competitors. "Those who want more competition and lower prices in electricity should think about that," he said.
How many of the reactors will continue operating, and for how much longer, won't be clear until later negotiations with the utilities over the details, a Christian Democrat spokesman said.
That is likely to suit Ms. Merkel, who has been pushing to put off any detailed nuclear policy shift that could rattle some voters until after regional elections in May in North Rhine-Westphalia. Her conservative coalition would lose its majority in the upper house of parliament if it doesn't retain power in the state.
Available at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125574177193591541.html#mod=todays_europe_economy_and_politics
From the time the world’s first commercial nuclear power plants were switched on in the late 1950s, installed generating capacity rose rapidly over two decades. It leveled off in the 1980s as new building programs were scrapped in the wake of the accident at Three Mile Island, among other factors.
A large part of the world’s installed nuclear power capacity is now coming to the end of that designed life span.
Caught between approaching retirement deadlines and public opposition to new plants, industry operators are pushing to extend the life of their plants to 60 or even 80 years — and this despite problems of premature aging of major components that have already obliged many to replace their plants’ steam generators at heavy capital expense.
Running plants longer is one way to recoup the extra cost and raise returns on investment over the full life of the plant. But it has safety implications.
The 40-year life span was a design specification, said Guillaume Wack, director for nuclear plants at the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, or A.S.N., the French nuclear regulator.
“It’s like a car,” Mr. Wack said in an interview. “The manufacturer says it will run for 100,000 kilometers” — 60,000 miles — “and last two years. That’s the theoretical life. After that, it depends on how you run it. If you drive carefully with regular checkups, it could last much longer. If you drive recklessly and don’t maintain it, it will wear out more quickly.”
Extending plant life rests on the premise that operators run their plants abstemiously. But utilities, under pressure to maximize short-term profit, are constantly tempted to operate at high output, raising the burn-up of nuclear fuel.
Since the 1970s, regulators and operators have identified premature aging problems including vibrations in pipes, with consequent cracking, leaks and ruptures that in turn cause severe corrosion, leading to worse leaks and ruptures. Some of these result from high fuel burn rates, Mr. Wack said.
Stopgap measures like plugging some of the thousands of tubes in the steam generator are allowed by regulatory bodies. But no more than 20 percent can be plugged without impeding the circulation of the steam — and less in some cases — before the generator has to be changed.
The problem is further complicated by the fact that each reactor heats three or four generators. Anything done to one must also be reproduced on the others in order to avoid pressure imbalances: If one generator has to be changed, all the others must be swapped out, Mr. Wack said.
Most plants worldwide have, in fact, already replaced their generators, at a cost of around $50 million for each new generator, after operating for 20 years or less, according to Steve Kerkedes, press officer for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobby group.
While extending the operating life beyond 40 years may help to amortize that cost, it intensifies another problem — finding replacements for other components. Manufacturers are few, and the backlog for many parts is long. The French company Areva, the world’s largest supplier of nuclear products and services, has, for example, traditionally supplied Électricité de France, the state-run utility that operates the world’s largest nuclear park. But because of rising demand, E.D.F. is now going farther afield, ordering equipment from Mitsubishi of Japan.
Gérard Petit, a senior safety adviser at E.D.F., says this is more a business cost issue than a safety one: The reactor vessel in which the nuclear reaction takes place, like the containment building in which it is housed, is built to last, he says. “The problem is to keep everything else at the same level.”
Still, there is no proof that the reactor vessel or the containment building is sufficiently robust to last beyond 40 years. Cracks in vessel heads, the lids that cover reactor vessels, were discovered in various reactors around the world as long ago as 1991, French and U.S. regulatory documents show.
That led E.D.F. to decide to change the heads on most of its reactor vessels — a replacement program that is ending just this year, Mr. Petit said. Each new head cost E.D.F. $5 million, Mr. Kerkedes said.
U.S. operators, on the other hand, did not systematically make the change. As a result, corrosion of a cracked lid at the Davis-Besse plant, in Ohio, came within a centimeter, or less than half an inch, of causing a serious coolant leakage accident in 2002, according to an N.R.C. report.
In addition, N.R.C. documents show, design flaws identified in 1991 raise the specter of possible long-term fatigue degradation in the reactor vessels themselves due to the heat and high radiation to which they are subjected. A leak in the reactor vessel would result in a core meltdown — the most serious accident possible — with an inevitable release of radioactive materials, Mr. Wack said.
This year, some plants in the United States will hit the 40-year mark but will continue to operate under licenses that have already been renewed.
An elaborate and complex U.S. license renewal program introduced by the N.R.C. in 1991 was scathingly criticized in 2007 by the commission’s in-house safety auditor, the Office of the Inspector General, for lacking proper documentation and failing to independently verify operator-supplied data. In response, the review process was revised and expanded. But the license renewals of 52 plants — half the U.S. nuclear park — that were already processed before the revision will not be re-examined, said Travis Tate, a senior official in the commission’s license renewal division. Reconsideration was not needed, Mr. Tate said, because the revisions merely “clarify the scope of the inspections and reviews necessary,” without calling into question the adequacy of the previous process.
Also, Mr. Tate said, failure to implement an appropriate age management program would not be a ground for denying a new license. It would simply become a future operating issue, along with other commitments required by the N.R.C for license renewal.
As long as relicensed plants operate without accidents, the regulatory commission will have met its obligation to ensure that operators run their plants safely, he said.
This position has prompted some concern, not least because relicensing approvals have been granted in several cases as much as 20 years before the original licenses expired.
Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, in opposing the 2001 renewal of two licenses for the Catawba, South Carolina, nuclear plant, due to expire in 2024 and 2026, asked how the regulators could be certain that the plant would meet requirements that far ahead. In fact, the N.R.C. relies for its decisions on operator-supplied computer models and projections.
The problem with those, said Mr. Petit, the E.D.F. safety adviser, was that they might “look good on paper, but you never really know until you actually try it.”
In France, which has 58 reactors, plants are submitted to relicensing inspections every 10 years. The first of the 30-year inspections began this year. The inspections, by the A.S.N., take two to three months compared with a typical one-month renewal inspection by the U.S. regulatory agency.
But even that does not necessarily mean that French plants operate more safely. Efforts by E.D.F. to cut costs by centralizing procurement have led to a years-long dearth of spare parts on the ground, said Pierre Wiroth, who until he retired in July was for seven years E.D.F.’s inspector general, or top safety official. E.D.F. reports around 750 minor “events” every year, classifying them according to an established grid, and a third are subsequently upgraded to a more serious level because they are recurrent, Mr. Wiroth said.
In addition to the slow replacement of worn and aging parts, obsolescence is a growing problem. Many control room commands — a nuclear plant’s nerve center — rely, said Scott Burnell, press officer for the U.S. regulator, “on technology that society has moved beyond.” The technology is typically analog rather than digital because “with analog, we have a lot of experience” and know how it functions, he said. But the downside of that is that graduates coming out of engineering schools are no longer familiar with analog technology.
Areva and other suppliers are pushing to replace analog with digital systems, perhaps partly because they can charge more for new technology, Mr. Wack said. But that also raises an issue of reliability, said Mr. Burnell. “With the digital system, instead of having dedicated wires going to a particular place, you can have a small-scale version of Internet where you can have a single set of wires going all around the plant.” That could raise the risk of bugs in the system and complicate problem-solving, he said.
Meanwhile, as more and more nuclear engineers reach retirement age, finding replacements to run the plants is problematic. “When you’ve been trained on the latest technology, the idea of working on outdated equipment or retraining is unappealing,” Mr. Wack said.
Retiring engineers are increasingly being replaced by outsourcing deals with subcontractors, whose qualifications and competence are less rigorously controlled, said Elizabeth Pozzi, an operating technician at the Dampierre nuclear plant, near Orléans, and a local union official. “In the field, it seems that keeping the plant on line is more important than safety,” Ms. Pozzi said. A report by Mr. Wiroth last year warned E.D.F. that it should better plan, carry out and supervise subcontracted work.
E.D.F., said Ms. Pozzi, is “not doing anything illegal, but they’re using every loophole to push the maintenance boundaries as far as possible. If that’s already the case at 30 years, what will it be like at 60?”
In 2006, the attorney general of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, requested that the N.R.C. not renew the license for the Indian Point nuclear power plant, located 34 miles north of New York City, when it expired in 2013.
“At Indian Point nuclear power plant, operators have compiled an unacceptable record of abject, repeated, multiyear failure to effectively address vital safety and security issues,” he said in testimony to Congress, a view shared by the regulator’s own safety auditor in a 2000 report. Mr. Blumenthal also cited growth in the region’s population since the plant opened as a reason to shut it.
Two months ago, the N.R.C. issued a safety evaluation report for the plant as part of the renewal process. Of the 87 parts of the reactor vessel and related elements examined, all but three showed aging damage, as did 39 out of 44 steam generator components and 57 of 59 structural elements. Still, the report concluded that Indian Point met regulatory standards for license renewal.
Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/business/global/20renuke.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1256047531-pjAHW0g2AImZNeHk4QGSWQ
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Saturday Iran is helping his country explore for uranium, but stressed his government would only use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Venezuela says it is working with Russia to develop nuclear energy for peaceful uses, and the country's mining minister said last month Iranian officials were helping to look for uranium, with preliminary tests indicating big deposits.
"We're working with several countries, with Iran, with Russia. We're responsible for what we're doing, we're in control," Chavez told reporters in the central Bolivian region of Cochabamba during a gathering of leftist Latin American presidents.
U.S. President Barack Obama and other western leaders have accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Chavez said Venezuela would only use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, adding that neither Venezuela nor Iran was planning to build a nuclear bomb.
"What we propose is for nuclear bombs to be eliminated. Venezuela will never build a nuclear bomb," he said.
Chavez, a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy, has forged close ties with Iran and Russia in recent years.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE59G1WQ20091017
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