1. China Again Urges Concerned Parties to Maintain Six-Party Talks
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China on Thursday once again urged all six parties of the Korean peninsula nuclear talks to safeguard the negotiating mechanism.
"We hope all the parties to proceed from the overall situation, properly resolve relevant issues and make concerted effort to maintain the six-party talks," Foreign Ministry spokeswomen Jiang Yu told a regular press conference.
She reaffirmed that China would continue to play a constructive role in realizing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and ensuring peace and stability of northeast Asia.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) said on Wednesday that it might conduct nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests in self-defense if the UN Security Council did not apologize for "infringing" on the country's sovereignty." The DPRK's Foreign Ministry also said the country planned to build a light water reactor as its first step to build a nuclear power plant.
Available at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-04/30/content_11289235.htm
2. N. Korea Threatens More Nuclear Test Unless the UNSC Immediately Apologizes
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North Korea’s Foreign Ministry threatened April 29 to test a nuclear device and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) unless the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) immediately apologizes for adopting its “President’s Statement” against it and designating three North Korean enterprises, including the Tanchon Commercial Bank, for sanctions, saying the move infringed on its “sovereignty.”
The announcement becomes the first time Pyongyang officially hints of a nuclear test since its first test of a nuclear device in October 9, 2006, and the first time it has openly discussed testing an ICBM. Instead of talking around the matter, like with its recent test of what it described as a “satellite rocket,” it is declaring its intention to test missiles with military use.
By doing so, it plays all the cards it has in its effort to get the United States to the negotiating table at a time when the U.S. has been indifferent about direct, bilateral negotiations. Nuclear tests, ICBMs, and uranium enrichment programs are have something to do with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The Foreign Ministry statement did not specify a timeline for the tests it threatens, and as of yet there have been no signs North Korea is making preparations for either type of test. It does not by itself, then, create a real “situation.” Rather, it is the highest level of language-based pressure Pyongyang can use towards Washington, a way of telling the Obama Administration to chose between confrontation or negotiation. If the U.S. is unable to find a solution to the issue early on in the course of high-level U.S.-North Korean negotiations, and if Pyongyang then tests a nuclear device or performs additional long-range missile launch, the political situation in Northeast Asia might quickly turn into a major standoff.
Firing a long-range rocket like it did on April 5, calling what it launched a “peaceful rocket,” was one thing. Specifically mentioning an ICBM with a range of more than 6,000 kilometers is another matter, since it means it wants to prove it has the ability to strike the U.S. mainland.
No one knows whether North Korea really does have that capability. While it failed to put a satellite into orbit on April 5, experts generally agree that Pyongyang has improve the performance of its long-range rockets since 1998. Some experts see the Foreign Ministry statement as Pyongyang’s way of saying it is going to concentrate efforts on the miniaturization of its nuclear weapons, since it discussed testing a nuclear device and ICBMs, which can carry nuclear devices as payload.
Another serious issue becomes the announcement that it is going to speed up development of its own ability to produce the nuclear fuel needed for a light water reactor, because that can be interpreted as meaning North Korea is going to develop a uranium enrichment program instead of going with its earlier method of plutonium extraction.
“It would take them several years,” said Lee Chun-geun, head of the North Korea desk at the National Science and Technology Council. “But at any rate, they’re openly declaring they are going to go ahead with technology development” on uranium enrichment. A key point of international contention during what is known as the “second North Korean nuclear crisis” was whether or not North Korea has a highly enriched uranium program (HEUP).
North Korea’s motive is clear. While on the surface it is fighting back at the UNSC’s President’s Statement and the recent UNSC sanctions committee action, Pyongyang’s move can also be seen as an attempt to turn around the political situation that has existed for it since the later half of 2008, which, as far as North Korean leaders are concerned, has been at a standstill over the issue of verification regarding its Yongbyon nuclear facility. The North Korean state’s official goal is to “construct a powerful and prosperous nation” (kangsong Taeguk) by 2012, and it is employing the strategy of increasing tensions in order to increase the pace for improving relations with Washington.
“The Obama Administration is consistently using a policy of ignoring (Pyongyang), having not even mentioned it in its list of foreign policy priorities,” said a South Korean foreign policy expert. North Korea is “reacting to the recent slow pace of discussion about bilateral U.S.-North Korean dialogue.”
Available at: http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_northkorea/352579.html
3. US Says Nuclear Threat Deepens NKorea’s Isolation
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The United States told North Korea it is only deepening its isolation with vows to conduct a second nuclear test, as analysts said Pyongyang is playing all its cards to force Washington into negotiations.
The communist state late Wednesday sharply raised the stakes in the dispute over its weapons programmes—vowing nuclear and missile tests unless the United Nations apologises for condemning its recent rocket launch.
The US State Department ruled out any such UN response.
“I don’t think you’ll see an apology from the Security Council,” said spokesman Robert Wood. “Let me just say very clearly that these threats only further isolate the North.”
“The North needs to come back to the (negotiating) table.”
South Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman Moon Tae-Young said Thursday members of six-party nuclear disarmament talks “are discussing how to react to the North’s recent behaviour.”
On Wednesday his ministry expressed “grave concern” at the North’s statement, calling it an “outright challenge” to the international community’s unified decision.
South Korean officials and media reports said the US special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, is considering a Northeast Asian tour next week to discuss ways to persuade the North to rejoin the talks.
Pyongyang’s announcement further raised regional tensions after the April 5 rocket launch. The North said it put a peaceful satellite into orbit while other nations saw a disguised missile test.
Condemning the launch, the UN Security Council ordered tougher enforcement of sanctions imposed in 2006 after the North’s missile launch and first nuclear test earlier that year.
That test was seen as only partially successful.
The North reacted angrily to the Council statement, announcing it was quitting a six-nation nuclear disarmament pact and restarting the plants at Yongbyon that produced weapons-grade plutonium.
“The North knows very well it is demanding the impossible (from the UN). It’s only building up justifications for nuclear and ballistic missile tests,” Professor Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies told AFP.
Given that supplies of reprocessed fissile material are already available, it may be only months away from a second nuclear test, Yang said.
It may take a few months to assemble another long-range rocket, he said.
“However, the timing for all these will depend on how the US will react,” he said. “Depending on what will come of negotiations, it may even return to disarmament talks.”
Analysts have said the North wants direct negotiations with the United States rather than the six-nation process, which also involves South Korea, Russia, China and Japan.
Paik Hak-Soon of the Sejong Institute think-tank said that as time goes by, the chances of disarming the North through talks are getting slimmer.
“The big problem is that amid the lack of a diplomatic control mechanism, the North will continue expanding its nuclear arsenal, making denuclearisation harder and pushing the region toward a new arms race,” he told AFP.
Paik said the North is demanding a new and higher plane for negotiations with Washington to replace the six-party talks, which have been “mired in technicalities” concerning verification since last year.
“The North is pushing for a new package deal to resolve all the issues at the same time,” he said.
Kim Yong-Hyun, a North Korea studies professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said Wednesday the North could conduct a second nuclear test if it chooses.
“However, I still believe North Korea will try to use this as a bargaining chip,” he said.
Available at: http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticle.asp?xfile=data/international/2009/April/international_April2403.xml§ion=international&col
North Korea will make good on its pledge to quit the multilateral disarmament talks and bolster its nuclear deterrence despite sanctions from the United Nations, the country's leading newspaper said Wednesday.
"We state again that our country will no longer enter into the six-way talks and will strengthen nuclear deterrence power in every way," the Rodong Sinmun, published by the North's powerful Workers' Party, said in a commentary carried by the country's official news agency. ""Under current situations, we are not interested in the six-way talks any more."
The commentary said that the international community's punishment of North Korea's rocket launch reminded it of the importance of beefing up its self-defense measures.
It said the six-way talks lost all reason to exist after the U.N. Security Council issued a presidential statement condemning the April 5 rocket launch. It called the U.N. move a violation of the spirit of a historic aid-for-denuclearization deal signed on Sept. 19 2005 that calls for respecting the sovereignty of each nation. Under the six-way agreement, North Korea promised to abandon its nuclear program in return for economic and political incentives.
"In the unjust and unstable world today, whose international law, relations, and order are swayed by power, we can defend our sovereignty and show dignity and prowess only through defensive nuclear deterrence capability," it added, accusing the U.S., Japan, and other nations of attempting to draw concessions from Pyongyang through increased pressure and sanctions.
Last week, a U.N. Security Council committee blacklisted three North Korean firms suspected of being involved in Pyongyang's development and trade of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
It was the first concrete follow-up measure to the council's decision to reactivate the 2006 resolution against the North's missile and nuclear tests.
North Korea, infuriated by the document, announced that it will never return to the six-way talks also involving the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan. It also said that it has resumed reprocessing plutonium at its main nuclear facilities in Yongbyon.
South Korean officials acknowledge difficulties in finding a breakthrough in the stalemate but pin their hopes on the role of the U.S. and China.
They said Stephen Bosworth, Washington's point man on Pyongyang, is expected to make a tour of Northeast Asia next month to discuss ways to revive the denuclearization process.
"We have information that he is pushing for a trip to the region in May, but detailed schedules have yet to be decided," a South Korean foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
He refused to predict whether Bosworth will visit Pyongyang. North Korea rejected Bosworth's informal proposal to travel there during his Asia swing in March. He was carrying a letter from President Barack Obama to the North's leader Kim Jong-il at that time but did not get a chance to deliver it.
Citing unidentified sources in Washington, the Hankook Ilbo, a South Korean daily, reported Wednesday the U.S. may send former President Jimmy Carter or New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to North Korea in an effort to win the release of two American journalists detained there for more than a month.
Pyongyang said last week that the female journalists caught during a news reporting trip along the border between North Korea and China will be put to trial, accusing them of illegally trespassing across the border and engaging in "hostile acts."
"I think it is still early to talk about a U.S. envoy because the U.S. is likely to wait for the results of the trial," the ministry official said.
In 1996, Richardson, then a congressman, flew to Pyongyang and successfully negotiated the release of an American citizen, Evan Hunziker, who had been held for three months on suspicion of spying after swimming across the Yalu River that runs along the North Korea and China border.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2009/04/29/41/0401000000AEN20090429005700315F.HTML
1. Iran Says Could Cope With US Fuel Trade Sanctions
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Iran would find gasoline supplies even if the United States imposes sanctions targeting companies that ship fuel to the Islamic Republic, a senior Iranian oil official said on Thursday.
Twenty-five U.S. senators from both parties on Tuesday proposed giving President Barack Obama new leverage in the dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions: the authority to sanction companies supplying gasoline to Iran.
There was "no doubt" that Iran could cope with any such U.S. measure, said Ali Asghar Arshi, executive director for international affairs at National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC).
"We can manage ... we have alternatives and we can do something about consumption and also production," Arshi told Reuters. "The market is very big. It is not a market handled by a few companies."
Iran is the world's fourth-largest oil exporter but lacks the refining capacity to meet domestic demand so relies heavily on international imports to guarantee fuel at the pumps.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week threatened "crippling" sanctions against Iran if it did not end its nuclear program.
The United States and its Western allies suspect Iran is aiming to develop nuclear bombs, but Iran rejects that allegation and says it will not bow to pressure.
The legislation introduced by one-fourth of the U.S. Senate is similar to a bill introduced last week in the House of Representatives.
The bill introduced to the House of Representatives identified six companies that Iran bought most of its gasoline from in the past year. The companies named were oil major BP (BP.L), Swiss traders Glencore and Vitol, India's Reliance Industries (RELI.BO), French energy group Total (TOTF.PA) and trading firm Trafigura.
The U.S. lawmakers say they are trying to provide the new administration with a tool Obama can choose to use to pressure Iran if efforts to engage Tehran diplomatically stall.
If faced with a choice between doing business with the United States or Iran, House and Senate legislators are betting that most companies will side with the United States, and cripple Iran's energy sector.
If there was money to be made, suppliers with less exposure to the world's top consumer would likely step up if others stopped supplies, said Raja Kiwan of consultancy PFC Energy.
"History has shown that despite U.S. pressure, Iran has always found willing suppliers," Kiwan said.
"Perhaps formalizing this pressure by extending sanctions to include gasoline exports might lead some of the suppliers to rethink their trade relationship with Iran. However, that void could very well be filled by other smaller trading houses or firms with immaterial exposure to the United States."
During last year's presidential campaign Obama expressed interest in using Iran's dependence on imports of refined petroleum products as leverage in the nuclear standoff. But U.S. lawmakers say that under current law his powers to do that are limited.
Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/UK_SMALLCAPSRPT/idUKDAH02468120090430?sp=true
2. Israel's Peres Sees Containment for a Nuclear Iran
United Press International
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A nuclear-armed Iran could be contained through threats of retaliation, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Wednesday.
Breaking with Israeli leaders who have refused to countenance the idea of Iran getting the bomb and hinted at preemptive strikes to prevent that happening, the elder statesman played down the feasibility of the military option.
"Simply attacking the nuclear facilities is not the be-all and end-all," Peres told Israel's Channel Ten television.
"There are other options for the West, or the coalition that arises. The first thing is to tell the Iranians ... 'If you use a nuclear weapon -- no matter against whom -- you'll get a nuclear response.'"
Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons but has shrugged off US-led diplomatic pressure aimed at curbing its uranium enrichment, a process with bomb-making potential.
Iran's expanding ballistic missile program has also stirred concern in the West. Peres said this arsenal could be monitored as a safeguard against nuclear aggression.
"De Gaulle, for example, wrote, or said, that it's easier to track the launch systems than the warheads. If they (Iran) don't want a nuclear weapon, why do they need missiles?
"You can destroy the (uranium enrichment) centrifuges but you cannot destroy the knowledge about building centrifuges," he said.
Israel is believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear weapons but many independent analysts believe its conventional forces are too limited to take on Iran alone.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE53S78020090429?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated on Tuesday that there are two shortcomings in the recent statement of the 5+1 group.
“There are two negative points in their statement. The first point is that the (proposed) negotiations are to have two tracks; that is, with both threats and negotiations. The second point is that Iran’s nuclear issue should be investigated at the United Nations,” he said in a meeting with nurses from all over the nation.
In an official statement released earlier this month, Iran announced it welcomes “constructive and fair” talks on its nuclear program with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, which are collectively known as the 5+1 group in these negotiations.
Ahmadinejad pointed out that Iran has repeatedly stated that it welcomes negotiations and that its peaceful nuclear program is a technical issue which should be resolved at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The recent 5+1 group statement shows that the Westerners’ approach has not changed and that their language is still aggressive, he added.
The president also made a reference to U.S. President Barack Obama’s change motto, saying, “We advise you to demonstrate this change in practice.
Available at: http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=193355
1. CPI(M) for Reworking Indo-US Nuclear Deal: Karat
Press Trust of India
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CPI(M), which led the Left parties in withdraw support to the UPA government on the Indo-US nuclear deal, now says it has "some ideas" on reworking the accord and may not be keen on scrapping it.
"I cannot say exactly how we will move but we are committed to reworking the 123 Agreement," party General Secretary Prakash Karat told PTI in an interview, but declined to elaborate what his ideas are.
Asked about the view that the Indo-US nuclear deal cannot be scrapped, he said all the parties that have come together under the non-Congress, non-BJP umbrella have said they were against the deal as it has been signed.
"All of them agree with us that it should be reviewed and reworked. I am talking about the individual stand of all these parties. When we collectively decide we will see how to proceed. We have some ideas but I don't want to talk about it till we discuss with all these parties.
"If there is a possibility of a new government, a Common Minimum Programme, we will discuss and then decide," he said.
Asked specifically if his party was not inclined to scrap the deal, Karat said "except for noting that all the nine parties, which met on March 15, plus the BSP have said that this is not an agreement in our country's interest, I want to say that I want to discuss with all other parties. We will have to formulate a common approach."
Available at: http://www.ptinews.com/pti/ptisite.nsf/0/B02F06D44FE26522652575A7003AAA90?OpenDocument
2. Kazakhstan, China Sign Major Nuclear Power Deal
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Kazakhstan on Wednesday signed a deal that would see it build nuclear power plants for China, as well as provide its energy-hungry neighbour with more than 24,000 tonnes of uranium.
The deal between state nuclear agency Kazatomprom and the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPG) calls for the creation of a joint venture to build power plants for energy-hungry China, the Kazakh firm said in a statement.
"National atomic energy agency Kazatomprom and CGNPC signed a memorandum regarding the creation of a joint enterprise to build atomic energy stations in China," Kazatomprom said.
Zhou Zhenxing, general manager of the uranium subsidiary of CGNPC, said that under the terms of the deal the Chinese company would receive the uranium shipments over the next decade, the Interfax news agency reported.
"A long-term contract has been signed on uranium sales from 2008 to 2020 for a total volume of 24.2 thousand tonnes," Zhenxing was quoted as saying, during his visit to Kazakhstan's financial centre Almaty for the signing.
The two companies have been working together on nuclear energy issues since signing an initial cooperation deal in 2006, but Wednesday's agreement appears to be their first direct transaction for nuclear fuel.
Neither side gave the total value of the sale.
Kazakhstan holds almost 20 percent of the world's uranium reserves and aims to be the world's number one producer by 2010, overtaking Australia and Canada.
Last year Kazakhstan extracted around 8,500 tonnes of uranium and in 2009 it plans to extract 11,900 tonnes, according to Kazatomprom.
China, driven by its booming economy over the last decade, has been actively building up its atomic energy generation capacity as a means of meeting growing domestic consumption.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jyy-__2vNMcW35Zldk1GGFn_s78A
President Barack Obama is expected to soon certify a nuclear energy agreement with the United Arab Emirates, setting the stage for action in Congress on a pact that could be worth billions of dollars to U.S. companies, a U.S. business official said on Wednesday.
Danny Sebright, president of the U.S.-UAE Business Council, told Reuters he expected Obama to issue a presidential determination that the agreement, signed in the last days of the administration of former President George W. Bush, is in the best interests of the United States.
That would set the stage for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to formally notify Congress of the United States' intention to enter into the nuclear energy cooperation deal with one of Iran's neighbors, giving lawmakers 90 days to vote down the pact if they choose, he said.
"No vote of approval is required. It's just required to sit there 90 days," Sebright said.
The UAE is best known in the United States for the furor that erupted in Congress several years ago when state-owned Dubai Ports World acquired several U.S. port assets as part of its purchase of British company P&O. DPW ultimately agreed to sell the assets when many Republicans and Democrats objected to an Arab-owned company operating U.S. port facilities.
The incident derailed efforts between the United States and the UAE to negotiated a free trade agreement.
Even so, the UAE last year surpassed Israel as the United States' largest export market in the Middle East.
TIES WITH IRAN
UAE's trade ties with Iran and a gruesome video that appears to show a member of the Gulf Arab state's ruling family torturing an Afghan grains trader could color the debate in Congress over the nuclear deal.
The video, aired last week by U.S. network ABC, shows the Afghan being abused with an electric cattle prod, beaten with whips and a plank of wood with a nail in it, and driven over by a car in a desert location in 2004.
The Abu Dhabi Justice Department said on Wednesday it had launched an investigation and "unequivocally condemns the actions depicted on the video."
The UAE was the world's third largest oil exporter in 2007, and Iran the fifth, according to U.S. government figures.
Sebright said the UAE wants U.S. assistance in building a number of nuclear reactors to meet an expected need for an additional 40,000 megawatts of electricity by 2017.
U.S. nuclear reactor builders, GE (GE.N) and Westinghouse Electric Co, a subsidiary of Toshiba Corp (6502.T), stand to get a big share of the expected $40 billion market if Congress does not block the deal.
Representative Howard Berman, chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said in January Congress would carefully examine the agreement to make sure it would not help Iran develop a nuclear bomb.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, also is expected to raise concerns about past problems with illegal transshipment from UAE to Iran.
Sebright said he believed those concerns could be addressed because the UAE, by renouncing uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuels, has made clear "they have no intention of ever wanting a nuclear weapon."
When the UAE embarked on plans to develop a nuclear energy program, they set out "to create a clear alternative to the path Iran is taking in the region" and a number of safeguards to prevent spent nuclear fuel from being used to build weapons are part of the pact with the United States, he said.
Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/governmentFilingsNews/idUKN2954369720090429?sp=true
U.S. President Barack Obama said Wednesday he is confident Pakistan can secure its nuclear arsenal from militants but is concerned about the situation.
"I'm confident that we can make sure that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure," Obama said at his third prime-time news conference since assuming office 100 days ago. "Primarily, initially, because the Pakistani army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands. We've got strong military-to-military consultation and cooperation."
Obama said he is concerned about the fragility of the civilian government and its ability to provide basic services, which is undermining the loyalty of the people.
"So we need to help Pakistan help Pakistanis. And I think that there's a recognition increasingly on the part of both the civilian government there and the army that that is their biggest weakness," Obama said.
He said the Pakistani military is beginning to realize its obsession with India is misplaced and the bigger threat is internally from militant factions.
"We want to continue to encourage Pakistan to move in that direction (focusing on the militants). And we will provide them all of the cooperation that we can. We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests, huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don't end up having a nuclear-armed militant state," he said.
Available at: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/04/29/Obama-Pakistan-can-secure-nukes/UPI-53641241056546/
1. French and German Groups Win Nuclear Site Auction
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A joint venture between German groups E.ON and RWE's UK units purchased sites at Wylfa in Wales and Oldbury in South Gloucestershire, with the UK division of France's EDF Energy buying the third site at Bradwell in Essex.
If this new capacity is built it could meet a quarter of the UK's near 50 gigawatt electricity demand, according to the Department of Energy & Climate Change. The sites, which are adjacent to existing nuclear plants, were sold in a closed auction which lasted almost a month for a total of £387m.
The money will be used by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to develop nuclear clean-up and waste management solutions.
The deal means that the total declared plans for new nuclear plants now exceed current capacity, which the Government believes will help the UK meet emissions standards confirmed in last week's "green budget".
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said: "Nuclear power is low-carbon, secure, affordable and will remain an important part of the UK's electricity mix."
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/5245893/French-and-German-groups-win-nuclear-site-auction.html
Funding for Bulgaria's planned nuclear power plant at Belene must be secured soon, or the multi-billion euro project will be delayed, a consultant to the scheme said on Wednesday.
The Socialist-led government and German utility RWE (RWEG.DE) have signed a deal to build Bulgaria's second nuclear power plant by 2014-2015 as part of Sofia's efforts to recover its position as a major power exporter in the Balkans.
State power utility NEK, which has 51 percent stake in Belene, has contracted Russia's Atomstroiexport to build the two 1,000 megawatt reactors in a 4.0 billion euro ($5.28 billion) deal, but has yet to ensure the funding for the plant.
"The government should close a financial deal as soon as possible," said Djurica Tankosic of WorleyParsons, an architect engineer with the Belene project.
"We can be on track until the end of the year. After that, without funding, there will be a delay," he told reporters.
NEK has picked French bank BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA) to help it arrange the financing but a source familiar with the process said banks had not shown interest so far due to the global crisis and, in some cases, doubts about the project's viability.
With private sector funding sources for very large projects drying up, Belene's financing options lie with state-backed export credits, industry officials say.
On Tuesday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reiterated that Moscow would consider granting a 3.8 billion euro ($5 billion) loan to Bulgaria for the plant. Details are yet to be negotiated, but Bulgarian officials say it would require state guarantees.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev has suggested that the loan should be linked with the signing an agreement with Russia for the South Stream gas pipeline, expected within weeks.
On Wednesday, Stanishev told reporters that Bulgaria was ready to look into the Russian offer and hold talks on the loan's conditions together with RWE.
A source close to the project said that Siemens (SIEGn.DE) and Areva (CEPFi.PA), both subcontractors of Atomstroiexport for Belene, could also provide export credits.
Bulgaria's right wing opposition has urged a freeze of Belene, saying the financing would be too costly in times of tight liquidity and that it would increase dependence on Russia.
Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idUKLT90700120090429?sp=true
1. Experts Laugh at Uganda’s Nuclear Energy Ambitions
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Experts have advised Uganda to go slow on a plan to generate electricity using uranium because it is a very costly venture.
But the government says future economic development will depend on ability to attract business and industrialisation, which can only be possible with adequate supply of competitively priced electricity.
Government also says that the available hydropower potential cannot guarantee enough electricity even if all feasible sites were to be developed.
A Canadian firm, IBI Corporation, was hired to give Uganda technical guidance on how to generate nuclear energy as an alternative.
The IBI President met President Museveni in January with a proposal that they can turn the recently discovered uranium into nuclear energy and generate electricity. In March, a team of experts, businessmen and government officials coordinated by IBI, formed an advisory board that seeks to develop the Nuclear Energy Programme for Uganda (NEPU) in about six months.
“We will come forward with all the steps required to get (nuclear energy). Let’s just say hypothetically it’s probably a ten-to-fifteen-year project…very, very large undertaking,” said IBI President and CEO, Gary Fitchett.
Although the idea sounds exciting, experts have warned that Uganda has no financial capacity to tap nuclear energy.
Bangladesh, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Namibia and oil-rich Nigeria are said to be some of the countries that toyed with the same idea only to chicken out because of the cost.
“It is a very long process and in any case having uranium is just a very small first step,” said Trevor Findly, an international affairs scholar at Canada’s Carleton University.
“It is [also] hugely expensive--$10 billion at least, for a French ARIVA reactor and I am sure that when the Uganda Government sees the bill for any reactor, it will pass-out,” he said.
In addition, Uganda would have to set up a completely new power grid to carry the nuclear electricity generated.
Building a nuclear power plant takes more than 10 years and there is no guarantee that it will actually work, says Findly, a nuclear proliferation expert said.
The IBI President, however, dismisses skeptics, arguing that the most important components to the whole project are: “solid base for uranium” and the “need”, which he says are both available. Though he agrees that the cost is high, he maintains that the “investment is worthwhile” because it has World Bank backing – which can bring in the money.
“The world community appreciates what President Museveni is doing to enhance the economy and the way of life for the people of Uganda and therefore (external) support may be forthcoming to help,” he said.
Experts further say that the quality of the uranium also matters. The $47million joint World Bank and AfDB study did not establish the quantities and grade-levels in Uganda.
Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, Namibia, South Africa and Niger are some of the largest exporters of uranium and they are prospecting for new mines – meaning they are here to stay. Spot uranium prices also continue to drop—from about $150 per pound in 2007 to as low as $58 last year.
“There are already lots of huge competitors,” said Findly. “Uganda is coming very late into the market. I am not sure Uganda is in the position to compete (although) I don’t know the size and quality of the discoveries”.
Uganda has friendly ties with Iran, which continues to deny allegations that it is enriching uranium in a bid to make nuclear weapons. Former Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, visited Uganda in 2005. President Museveni has also maintained engagement with the reclusive regime in North Korea – also in the spotlight over its nuclear bomb plans.
It is feared in Western capitals that Uganda too could seek nuclear weapons, changing the balance of power in the already volatile Great Lakes Region. Also, Iran is under UN nuclear sanctions and Uganda would be violating this embargo if it chose to export uranium to Tehran. Besides, Uganda is party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty policed by the very rigorous International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
Nevertheless, a nuclear reactor consumes tones of uranium – which essentially removes the notion that Uganda’s find could be sold on the black market.
Uranium also has to be refined and enriched to be of any use – processes that take years and big investments.
Prof. David Mutimer of the York University Centre for International and Security Studies, says there is a huge difference between enriched uranium for energy and that for a bomb.
“To have electricity, enrichment goes to about 10%, whereas for a nuclear bomb, it has to be enriched to more than 90%,” he explained.
Another shortcoming is that Uganda does not have the skilled manpower needed to carry out such a programme. Some experts estimate that it can take at least 15 years for nuclear scientists to study, plan, site, build, manage and finally run a power plant. Jim Wurst, a nuclear proliferation expert with the New York-based Global Security Institute, says there are indications that the uranium in Uganda may be mined in Lake Albert.
“I have never heard of anybody mine for uranium under water. One thing you might want to look into is the pollution aspect,” he said in a phone interview.
Available at: http://www.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3127:experts-laugh-at-ugandas-nuclear-energy-ambitions&catid=38:business&Itemid=68
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