1. India Says No Nuclear Cargo on North Korean Ship
(for personal use only)
Indian authorities have found no nuclear cargo aboard a North Korean ship held in the Bay of Bengal, but will proceed with investigations to ensure crew statements contain no discrepancies, officials said on Friday.
The MV Mu San dropped anchor off Hut Bay island in the Andaman islands last week without permission and was detained by the coastguard after a more than six-hour chase.
Officials said they were trying to determine whether the vessel had been anywhere near Myanmar, suspected to be seeking help from North Korea to build a nuclear reactor.
Crew members have provided no explanation why the ship had anchored near Hut Bay, a populated island.
"We have not found any nuclear material on board the ship," Ashok Chand, a senior police officer, told Reuters from Port Blair, capital of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
"But we are continuing our investigation to check any discrepancies in statements by crew members."
Indian officials said they were taking no chances in view of North Korean sales of missiles and other weapons materials to tense regions of the world. A Korean interpreter was helping with interrogations of the 39-member crew.
"Once we are fully convinced, then only we will decide what will be the next step," Chand said.
The ship could now be escorted to Andhra Pradesh state, where its consignment of sugar could be checked further, a police officer unauthorised to speak to the media said.
India has also tightened security in the Andamans and were looking for foreign ships which had strayed into Indian waters.
U.N. member states are authorised to inspect North Korean sea, air and land cargo, and seize and destroy goods transported in violation of a Security Council resolution in June following the North's nuclear tests.
North Korea has walked out of six-party talks aimed at reining in its nuclear weapons programme. It fired short-range missiles in launch tests in May and exploded a nuclear device on May 25, prompting tougher U.N. sanctions that it has ignored.
Available at: http://in.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idINSP41911820090814?rpc=401&&pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0
2. NKorea Official, in Rare Interview, Defends Nuclear Weapons
(for personal use only)
A North Korean official Wednesday insisted that his country's communist regime needed to develop nuclear weapons to defend itself against a US nuclear threat, Japan's Kyodo News reported.
Ro Jong Su, a director-level researcher at the North Korean foreign ministry, gave a rare interview in Pyongyang to the Japanese news agency in which he reiterated the Stalinist nation's policies.
"Nobody will believe the claim that Japan and South Korea are exposed to a 'nuclear threat' because they are under the 'nuclear umbrella' of the United States, which has the biggest number of nuclear weapons in the world," Ro said, according to Kyodo.
"So we have no choice but to possess nuclear (weapons) to fill the nuclear vacuum in the region," he said.
North Korea staged its second nuclear test in May, in addition to a series of missile tests, prompting international condemnation. The UN Security Council then passed a resolution imposing sanctions against the North.
In response to the sanctions, Pyongyang has vowed to build more nuclear bombs and to start a new weapons programme based on uranium enrichment.
Ro rapped Japan for taking a hardline approach towards the North, which kidnapped Japanese nationals to train its spies during the Cold War. Tokyo believes Pyongyang is still keeping kidnapped victims.
"Japan may believe it can draw some concession from us by imposing pressure. But that is wrong," Ro told Kyodo.
He also dismissed the view that North Korea's nuclear weapons could lead to an arms race in East Asia, saying that "Japan and South Korea are effectively the same as nuclear powers" because of the US nuclear umbrella.
Some Japanese politicians and political pundits have suggested building up their nation's military to counter North Korea's nuclear weapons.
Such talk, Ro said, is "not intended to protect the country, but to arm the country with nuclear weapons by using us as an excuse."
Ro repeated Pyongyang's stance that it would never return to the six-party talks on denuclearising North Korea, but suggested the country will seek bilateral talks with the United States, Kyodo said.
Available at: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/NKorea_official_in_rare_interview_defends_nuclear_weapons_999.html
3. U.S. to Handle N. Korea Bilaterally Within 6-Party Framework: Rice
Yonhap News Agency
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The United States said Wednesday it is willing to deal with North Korea bilaterally within the six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear ambitions.
"We're committed to the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told MSNBC. "We're prepared to work towards that end in the six-party talks and bilaterally, but only if the North Koreans get serious and begin to implement the commitments they've already made."
The six-party deal, signed in September 2005 by the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, calls for the North to abandon its nuclear weapons programs in return for massive economic aid, diplomatic recognition by the U.S. and Japan and establishment of a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
Pyongyang recently said it will boycott the multilateral talks for good due to U.N. Security Council sanctions for its recent nuclear and missile tests, calling for direct talks with the U.S.
"What North Korea needs to recognize, not withstanding the Clinton visit and the relief we all feel for the release of those two women journalists, is that they have international obligations," Rice said. "They have violated those obligations. They need to adhere to them."
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton made a surprise visit to Pyongyang last week to win the release of two American journalists held for illegally entering the North, and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for more than three hours.
U.S. officials have dismissed the Clinton trip as a "private mission," warning the U.S. will continue to sanction the North unless Pyongyang returns to the six-party talks.
In this context, the Treasury Department Tuesday added the Korea Kwangson Banking Corp. to its list of North Korean firms sanctioned for their involvement in the North's weapons of mass destruction programs, which are banned by U.N. resolutions adopted after Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests.
Rice welcomed the seizure of a North Korean ship last week by India and the role of Myanmar in turning away a North Korean ship that apparently attempted to dock at one of their ports recently.
"First of all, the sanctions that you referred to really are being well and fully implemented by all the countries across the world," she said. "We saw a ship that was heading to Burma turn back. We've seen the Indians step up their efforts and a number of other instances. So these sanctions are tight. They're being enforced. And we think they'll have an impact."
Talk, however, still abounds on the possibility of Clinton's trip leading to a breakthrough in the bilateral ties and the stalled nuclear negotiations.
Allegations are that Kim Jong-il proposed a "grand deal" for a breakthrough in the stalled nuclear negotiations and improved ties between the sides, and that the U.S. and other parties to the multilateral talks are discussing a "comprehensive package," a possible breakaway from a six-party deal that calls for action for action in the North's nuclear dismantlement.
National Security Adviser James Jones said last week, "North Koreans have indicated they would like a new relationship, a better relationship with the United States ... We certainly hope it could lead to other good things, but we won't know that for a while."
In a related move, Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs, urged North Korea to "act more constructively" and "take affirmative steps towards denuclearization."
In a daily news briefing, Crowley would not respond to a question if Washington discussed with Beijing a contingency plan for North Korea in the event of a leadership vacuum.
Reports said that China had rejected Washington's proposal for such talks, apparently to avoid provoking the North, China's closest communist ally.
"They have a leadership in place," he said. "I'm not aware that there's any risk at the present of having some sort of major dislocation. But obviously, the United States, other countries in the region, have abiding interest in stability in the region, and that would include stability in North Korea."
Based on his debriefing of Clinton on his rare lengthy meeting with Kim Jong-il, Jones also said last week that the reclusive leader is "in full control" despite rumors of his failing health after he apparently suffered a stroke last summer.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2009/08/13/39/0301000000AEN20090813000300315F.HTML
1. Israel Believes Military Strike Can Disrupt Iran’s Nuclear Work
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A major Israeli newspaper ran a front-page story on Wednesday quoting an unidentified “senior defense official” as saying Israel believed a military strike could disrupt what it says is an Iranian nuclear arms program. Under a photo of Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu sitting in the cockpit of an F-15I long-range fighter-bomber a day earlier, mass-selling Maariv quo ted the official as saying Israel could carry out such a strike wi thout US approval but time was running out for it to be effective.
Neither the official nor the paper made any comment on the likelihood of Netanyahu ordering such an operation, speculation over which remains a major risk factor in investors’ assessments of the Middle East region and in energy markets globally.
Israel rejects Tehran’s assurances it is developing only civilian nuclear facilities and refuses to rule out armed force to stop its Islamist enemy acquiring atomic weaponry that the Jewish state says would threaten its very existence.
Israeli air strikes could “significantly delay” such an arms program, Maariv quoted the official as saying. Israel has backed efforts by US President Barack Obama to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear program.
Maariv said the official added there was “no point” in a strike in the near term, before such discussions had fully begun and before the Americans “despair of the effectiveness of the talks.”
“The Iranians are creating fortifications and camouflage to defend against a strike from the air,” the official said, adding: “The military option is real and at the disposal of Israel’s leaders, but time is working against them.”
Available at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=2&article_id=105227
Iran wants a 150-nation conference to ban military strikes on nuclear facilities. Iran proposed the initiative Wednesday and wants it put to the International Atomic Energy Agency's general conference next month.
The diplomats said Wednesday the move is geared toward increasing pressure on Israel, which has not ruled out air attacks to cripple Iran's nuclear program. But Soltanieh said Iran is not afraid of Israel and simply seeks support for a resolution prohibiting all armed attacks against nuclear installations anywhere.
Available at: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3761248,00.html
1. African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Enters into Force
James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
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Thirteen years after its official opening for signature, the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (Treaty of Pelindaba) has entered into force. On July 15, 2009, Burundi deposited its instrument of ratification, the 28th and final instrument required for the Treaty's entry into force.
In the aftermath of French testing in Algeria, the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 1961 a resolution calling for a zone free of nuclear weapons in Africa. Three decades later, after South Africa's accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Organization of African Unity established a Joint Group of Experts to draft the treaty text. Following the completion of the text in Johannesburg and Pelindaba in June 1995, the Treaty opened for signature in Cairo on April 11, 1996.
The Pelindaba Treaty covers the entire African continent, as well as the surrounding islands, and establishes a legally binding obligation to not only refrain from developing, producing, or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons, but also to not test, allow, assist, or encourage testing, dump radioactive waste, or station nuclear weapons on the territory of any of the member states of the treaty. In addition, the Treaty commits its parties to apply the highest standard of security and physical protection of nuclear material, facilities, and equipment to prevent theft and unauthorized use, as well as prohibits armed attacks against nuclear installations within the zone. Over the last 13 years, all 52 African nations have signed the Pelindaba Treaty, while 28 African nations ratified. With similar treaties already in force in South America (Treaty of Tlatelolco), the South Pacific (Treaty of Rarotonga), Southeast Asia (Treaty of Bangkok), and Antarctica (Antarctic Treaty), the entire Southern hemisphere is now a zone free of nuclear weapons – an immense success and a great opportunity for further positive steps for Africa in particular, and the international community at large.
CNS & Pelindaba
In 2007, with the generous support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CNS, in cooperation with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, South Africa, launched a project to promote actively the entry-into-force of the Pelindaba Treaty and elaborate strategies to ensure its effective implementation. Over the years, CNS experts have provided advice and support for the Treaty's ratification for African government officials and NGO experts in Monterey, New York, Geneva, Vienna, and at numerous meetings on the African continent. Through the initiative of CNS, two workshops were held in Pretoria in conjunction with the ISS in 2007 and 2008. The May 2008 workshop examined what can be done to encourage and assist states in southern Africa to ratify the Treaty, how the Treaty's entry into force would strengthen Africa's role in the nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament regime, and what benefits were to be expected from regional institutions that would be established after the Treaty's entry-into-force.
Jean du Preez, then-Director of the CNS Nuclear Nonproliferation Project, co-authored a Ratification Guide published by ISS in Pretoria. The Guide was made available by CNS to African missions at the United Nations in New York. The International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program at CNS created a Pelindaba resource webpage, and CNS staff played important roles in framing the academic discussion around the Treaty. Following a meeting on the margins of the 2008 NPT Preparatory Committee in Geneva, facilitated by Mr. Du Preez and hosted by the South African Ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna, the Friends of the Pelindaba Working Group was established. In addition to CNS and ISS, the World Council of Churches, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND) also participate in the group.
Future Challenges & Opportunities
The Pelindaba Treaty's entry into force requires that a Conference of all Parties be convened as soon as possible by the African Union to establish the way forward. Steps including the establishment of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE), the ratification of the Treaty's protocols, and the wider ratification process in the remaining 24 countries represent both challenges and opportunities for Africa's policy makers.
The Pelindaba Treaty is unique in that it requires the establishment of a regional organization – the AFCONE – that will be tasked not only to oversee the full implementation of the Treaty, but also to promote the peaceful application of nuclear technology and science among the member states. African governments now face the considerable challenge of establishing the guidelines for this organization. Potentially, AFCONE could act as a catalyst for cooperation among African nations in the various applications of nuclear energy and technology, environmental protection, and international nuclear trade, therefore becoming a clearing-house for African nuclear expertise and a regional partner for the IAEA. CNS and ISS are planning a series of events during 2009 and 2010 designed specifically to promote awareness of the importance of AFCONE, while at the same time promoting practical ways forward for the implementation of the Treaty.
Similar to other Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones, the Pelindaba Treaty contains protocols open for ratification by specific states outside the zone. China, France, and the United Kingdom ratified the first protocol calling on NPT nuclear-weapon states not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against Treaty members, as well as the second protocol calling on nuclear-weapon states not to test, assist, or encourage testing of nuclear weapons within the zone. Concerned about Libya's WMD program, the U.S. government refused to tie its hands further after signing the two protocols in 1996 and to date has refrained from ratifying either. Russia has also not ratified the first two protocols because of the status of Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean under the control of the United Kingdom, which serves as a military base for the United States. The third protocol calls on France and Spain to apply the provisions of the treaty in territories within the zone for which they have de jure or de facto international responsibility; France has ratified the protocol, while Spain refuses to commit for reasons independent of its nuclear obligations.
Due to both political opposition and lack of governance, some of the remaining 24 ratifications are likely to be difficult to acquire in the short term. For example, Cairo's primary concerns are Israel's nuclear status and Iran's nuclear intentions. Egypt has gradually conditioned its willingness to take any additional arms control steps on Israel's NPT accession. Consequently, Egypt is not a party to either the chemical or the biological weapons conventions, does not adhere to the IAEA's Additional Protocol, and has not ratified the Pelindaba Treaty.
Finally, the Pelindaba Treaty remains unique by linking regional and international organizations to ensure complete regional nuclear disarmament; the treaty requires the dismantlement and destruction of any nuclear explosive device or nuclear weapons production facility under IAEA and AFCONE verification prior to the Treaty's entry into force. South Africa's renunciation and complete dismantlement of its nuclear arsenal at the beginning of the 1990s and Libya's 2006 renouncement of all weapons of mass destruction were vital steps in this process of entry into force. The Pelindaba Treaty thus serves as an important example of the promise of NWFZs as an approach for promoting both nonproliferation and disarmament.
Available at: http://cns.miis.edu/stories/090812_africa_nwfz.htm
When U.S. President Barack Obama presides over a meeting of world leaders in the Security Council on Sep. 24, he will provide a high profile political platform for two of the most sensitive issues at the United Nations: nuclear non- proliferation and nuclear disarmament.
"This is the time for the Security Council to plan together a route to international security in a nuclear weapons-free world," Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, told IPS.
"We cannot threaten each other with annihilation on Monday and work together sufficiently to meet our shared threats on Tuesday, not knowing whether we will be friends or foes on Wednesday," he added.
Frida Berrigan, senior associate of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, says President Obama, in his historic Apr. 2009 speech in Prague, acknowledged the need for U.S. leadership and initiative on nuclear disarmament.
As the only nation to use nuclear weapons, the U.S. has a moral responsibility to act, Obama said, in the Czech capital.
"We cannot succeed in this endeavour alone, but we can lead it, we can start it," Berrigan added.
Obama’s decision to chair a special meeting of the Security Council "is part of that commitment to lead efforts towards nuclear disarmament," Berrigan told IPS.
Obama is expected to make his maiden appearance at the U.N. when he addresses the global summit on climate change on Sep. 22.
The next day he will address the opening of the high level segment of the 64th sessions of the General Assembly, in the company of Brazilian President Lula da Silva, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Libyan leader Muammar el Qaddafi (who will also be visiting the U.N. for the first time).
The special session of the Security Council, which is to be chaired by Obama on Sep. 24, will also be attended by political leaders from the 14 other members states - including the other four permanent members of the Council, namely China, Britain, France and Russia.
The 10 non-permanent members in the Security Council, whose heads of state have been invited to participate, include Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Libya, Vietnam, Austria, Mexico, Japan, Turkey and Uganda.
A similar session of the Security Council - on the maintenance of international peace and security - was held in Jan. 1992 presided over by then British Prime Minister John Major.
But that meeting "came out with a self-serving statement making proliferation of nuclear weapons a breach of international peace and security and therefore justifying Security Council action, thus absolving the five permanent members - all nuclear weapon states - of any blame for nuclear weapon possession," Jayantha Dhanapala, a former U.N. Under-Secretary- General for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission chaired by Hans Blix - on a suggestion by Dhanapala - had proposed a Global Summit on proliferation, disarmament and possible terrorist uses of WMD.
Dhanapala, one of the world’s foremost authorities on nuclear disarmament and currently president of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, said the Security Council - as presently constituted - has a serious legitimacy deficit.
He said a credible Summit could only take place with the involvement of the 192-member General Assembly, and also the participation of those nuclear weapon states outside the Security Council.
"As importantly, the voices of civil society must be heard and so the Security Council must break with past practice and invite Nobel Peace Prize Laureates like Pugwash and others like Dr. Hans Blix to make presentations," he added.
Granoff of the Global Security Institute said the upcoming special session will take place after several days of intense discussion regarding protecting the climate and finding new levels of cooperation to address a shared economic environment.
"In a world where bridges of cooperation must be built to address our shared environmental and economic interdependence, what place do the walls of fear and threat of nuclear weapons play?" he asked.
He said any progress on climate, sustainable development, and economic well being will come undone by the use of nuclear weapons.
"The threat of use will always be there as long as the weapons exist," said Granoff, who is also co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Nuclear Non- Proliferation.
Steps need to be taken to lessen the threat on the road to elimination, he said.
These include entry into force of the test ban, strengthening verification of cuts and making them irreversible, and quickly coming down to sufficiently low numbers - to affirm that their only value is to prevent them from being used.
"We must build a security system based on the principle of zero nuclear weapons," Granoff stressed.
That means promptly affirming that the first use of a nuclear weapon is crime against humanity and that even any retaliatory use would have to be aimed in such a manner as to not violate international humanitarian law - thus never be aimed at a city.
This small window of qualified legitimacy to make sure they are not used cannot be leveraged into a doctrine that justifies keeping the weapons, but must be a mere step toward achieving the goal of elimination, said Granoff.
Berrigan of the New America Foundation said she expects President Obama to champion the modest cuts that the U.S. and Russia have agreed upon so far; call for greater cooperation from other Security Council members; reach out in qualified ways to Iran and North Korea; and elaborate on how the work towards nuclear disarmament is not just sensible and overdue, but also contributes to U.S. national security.
"All of this work is worthy of the spotlight, but will need a lot of follow-up in order to be meaningful in its own right," Berrigan said.
Everything cannot be achieved in a single meeting, but even in the realm of symbolism, this is an important shift towards engagement and away from the former Bush Administration’s disdainful treatment of the U.N., said Berrigan, who is also a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus.
Peter Weiss, president of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP), told IPS: "Here’s what I think Obama will do: announce the U.S. support of the renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START); ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); and negotiation of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT)."
"And here’s what I think he should do, in addition: Announce that, at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May next year, the U.S. will propose an international conference for the purpose of beginning serious work on a convention outlawing the possession of nuclear weapons and criminalising their use."
Without this second step, Weiss said, the first series of steps will not bring about the nuclear weapons free world which Obama spoke about in Prague.
Granoff said that at the closing session of the 1992 Security Council meeting then U.K. Prime Minister Major included in his statement elements pertinent today: "The members of the Council underline the need for all Member States to fulfil their obligations in relation to arms control and disarmament."
Since then, he said, the obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament pursuant to Article VI of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the mandate of the unanimous decision of the International Court of Justice remain substantially unfulfilled.
"It is time that the legal mechanisms of the U.N. Charter be followed in this regard," Granoff stressed.
Amongst them, he pointed out, is Article 26 which would task the U.N. Military Staff Committee to submit plans for nuclear disarmament to the Members States. That Section - which requires "maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments - must now be invoked and include nuclear disarmament in its mandate.
This Military Staff Committee is described in Article 47 as including Chiefs of Staff of the five permanent members of the Security Council.
"It is high time that these military leaders be charged with fulfilling their disarmament duties," he added.
Available at: http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=48056
1. 15 Fold Expansion on Indian Civilian Nuclear Power Prog: IAEA
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India is planning a 15-fold increase in its civilian nuclear power programme in the next two decades, the UN's nuclear watchdog said on Thursday.
In its latest report titled 'Year in Review 2008', the International Atomic Energy Agency said while no new reactors came online anywhere last year, construction started on 10 new sites. Six of the 10 construction sites were in China.
This is the largest number in any one year since 1985, bringing the total number being built to 44. At the end of last year, 438 nuclear power reactors were supplying roughly 14 per cent of the world's electricity.
Expansion prospects continue to be centred in Asia, with over half of the reactors under construction in the region, especially in China and India, Vienna-based IAEA said.
"India's planned 15-fold expansion of its civilian nuclear power programme over the next two decades is expected to be facilitated by the removal by suppliers in 2008 of restrictions on the supply of nuclear technology that were previously imposed on it," the report said.
The report will be discussed by member states at the IAEA's annual General Conference this September.
"While every country has the right to use nuclear power as an energy source, it also has the responsibility to ensure that this energy source is employed in a safe and secure manner," it said, adding that it received a large number of requests last year from countries considering the nuclear energy option for assistance in analysing energy options.
Available at: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News/PoliticsNation/15-fold-expansion-on-Indian-civilian-nuclear-power-prog-IAEA/articleshow/4891616.cms
Overlooking the shimmering waters of Chesapeake Bay, the massive twin concrete domes of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power station’s two reactors could soon see a third sister rising alongside them.
If construction begins in Lusby, Md., perhaps by 2012, Calvert Cliffs III will be part of the larger promise of a “nuclear renaissance” of reactor construction sweeping the globe, proponents say.
By providing safe, domestic, moderately priced, and greenhouse-gas-free energy, nuclear power will be “a critical component of America’s future,” says George Vanderheyden, president of UniStar Nuclear Energy LLC, developer of Calvert Cliffs III.
Yet a new wave of concern is rising – not over traditional anxieties such as radioactive waste or weapons proliferation – but about the mammoth financial cost of nuclear power and who will bear it.
The big hurdle for Calvert Cliffs III and at least 21 other nuclear power reactors now in the US development pipeline is all about money – finding the billions in loans to build them. And the key to getting those loans is winning federal guarantees to back them.
Today, the US has 104 nuclear reactors, providing about 20 percent of the nation’s power. No new nuclear plants have been ordered in the US since 1978. This is not because of protestors, but because of a lack of investor funding and Wall Street remembering the ghosts of nuclear power’s past – massive construction cost overruns, utility defaults, and bankruptcies. Yet these no longer seem to haunt the nuclear industry or its supporters.
A new nuclear enthusiasm has now emerged quite powerfully in Congress.
House Republicans in June unveiled a plan for 100 new US nuclear reactors. A Senate proposal calls for a 20-year construction schedule, costing $700 billion. Industry will pay the full freight, according to the Senate plan. While there must be federal loan guarantees in order to convince Wall Street to fund the projects, in the end, the system will cost taxpayers “zero dollars,” it says.
Echoing that push, the Democrat-controlled Senate in May put its stamp on energy-climate legislation that has buried in it the potential for hundreds of billions of dollars in loan guarantees for “clean energy” – the lion’s share destined for nuclear power, critics say.
“The Senate energy committee has passed legislation that could provide unlimited loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors ,” says Michele Boyd, head of the safe-energy program for Physicians for Social Responsibility.
No nuclear plants in the US are under construction yet because they haven’t secured federal licenses or loan guarantees, many observers say. Such guarantees would become a huge stimulus for the nuclear power industry, enabling utilities to borrow billions from Wall Street or the federal finance bank.
“Despite industry efforts to frame nuclear energy as the cheapest option, the reality is that nuclear power’s very survival has required large and continuous government support,” writes Doug Koplow, president of the Boston energy consulting company Earth Track, in a recent analysis of public subsidies for nuclear power. Mr. Koplow tracks $178 billion in public subsidies for nuclear energy for the period from 1947 to 1999. Others have reached similar figures.
Altogether, nuclear-industry bailouts in the 1970s and ’80s cost taxpayers and ratepayers in excess of $300 billion in 2006 dollars, according to three independent studies cited in a new nuclear-cost study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
New guarantees in coming years could also leave US taxpayers picking up the tab if nuclear utilities defaulted on their loans. In 2008, the Government Accountability Office said the average risk of default on Department of Energy guarantees was about 50 percent. The Congressional Budget Office projected that default rates would be very high – well above 50 percent.”
On that basis, the potential risk exposure to US taxpayers from federally guaranteed nuclear loans would be $360 billion to $1.6 trillion, depending on the number of power reactors built, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ study found.
“You want to talk about bailouts – the next generation of new nuclear power would be Fannie Mae in spades,” says Mark Cooper, senior fellow at Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. Dr. Cooper is among several economic analysts who contend that – waste and safety issues aside – nuclear energy is too costly.
“Funding nuclear power on anything like the scale of 100 plants over the next 20 years would involve an intolerable level of risk for taxpayers because that level of new nuclear reactors would require just massive federal loan guarantees,” says Peter Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and former chairman of the New York State Public Service Commission.
Even if no loans were defaulted on, nuclear would be too expensive, Cooper says. The multitrillion-dollar cost eclipses most energy sources, such as wind power, which also has a sizable up-front capital cost. But wind’s lifetime cost is roughly one-third less than current estimates for nuclear, Cooper’s and others studies show. So who would want to invest in such costly electricity? Not Wall Street – at least not without loan guarantees.
Even during the heady days of 2007, Wall Street’s seven biggest banks were wary. In a letter to the Department of Energy, they advised the federal government that they would require 100 percent federal loan guarantees to help finance nuclear power.
In June, using unusually strong language, a Moody’s Investor Service report called new nuclear power plants a “bet the farm” credit risk for the 14 utilities pursuing them.
“The nuclear power industry may be correct about wanting those guarantees, but at what risk to US taxpayers?” asks Ellen Vancko, Nuclear Energy and Climate Change Project coordinator at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The industry assures everyone there is no risk – and some believe them.”
But industry representatives say the loan-guarantee issue is being hyped by critics and that the industry’s own funds – paid out to compensate the government – will cover any defaults.
The government’s two predictions of a 50-percent default rate are “hypothetical” and “an unsupported assertion,” according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry trade association.
“There’s a misperception about the costs [of nuclear power] going up,” says Leslie Kass, director of business policy and programs for the Nuclear Energy Institute. “Yes, we did have rising capital costs – along with every other form of [energy] generation. Those costs are starting to tip back down.”
While the mantra of nuclear power was once “power too cheap to meter,” Ms. Kass admits the next generation of nuclear costs will be considerable. Even so, she contends that large nuclear plant costs compare favorably to a giant $10 billion Texas wind project pursued by T. Boone Pickens, which was recently scaled back.
Only nuclear power, Kass says, can provide the sheer volume of reliable “base load” power the nation will need going forward – and meet the challenge of climate change at the same time by not emitting carbon.
The reason federal loan guaranties are needed, she says, is because Wall Street is still averse to large capital projects of all kinds. “Our challenge, like everyone [else’s] is access to capital during a recession.” she says.
Whether a nuclear project defaults depends on many factors, but often most heavily on where costs of nuclear construction are headed. Cost estimates to build a new nuclear power plant have more than tripled in the past five years, according to industry-funded reports, industry statements, and detailed studies of new nuclear power generation by a half-dozen independent researchers.
Construction delays are a huge cost. In Finland and France, nuclear-power projects are way behind schedule and over budget, suggesting potential delays and other problems for new US plant construction, says Ms. Vancko with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Calvert Cliffs III is being built by UniStar, a joint venture of Constellation Energy Group and Électricité de France, which is 85 percent owned by the French government. With cost estimates approaching $10 billion dollars, Calvert Cliffs III is too big for its backers to fund on their own – although a spokesman says French financing could cover 15 to 20 percent of the cost, lowering the amount of federal loan guarantees that would be required.
In 2008, Moody’s put the cost to build new nuclear reactors at about $7,000 per kilowatt of capacity. That estimate would put the 1,600-megawatt Calvert Cliffs III at around $11.2 billion.
While authorized to grant just $18.5 billion in guarantees for nuclear power, the US Department of Energy last fall had applications for $122 billion in loan guarantees to build 21 proposed reactors.
Most new nuclear projects will live or die based on whether they get those loan guarantees. “We’re poised to commence early site preparation this year for the first new nuclear plant in the US in 30 years, but to be clear, we cannot move forward without federal loan guarantees,” Michael Wallace, vice chairman of Constellation Energy, said last year.
He’s still waiting. However, the goal seems nearer. Last month, the company’s Calvert Cliffs III project was selected by the Department of Energy as one of four projects entering a final phase of due diligence for a share of the federal loan guarantees.
Others have been less fortunate. Exelon last month dropped its application to build two reactors at Victoria County Station, Texas. Company chairman John Rowe cited a weak economy and “limited availability of federal loan guarantees.” Deep in the massive energy-climate bill now being debated in the Senate is a plan that could vastly expand loan guarantees for nuclear power.
At the National Press Club last month, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee unveiled his $700 billion plan to almost double the number of reactors nationwide.
“Let’s take another long, hard look at nuclear power,” Senator Alexander says. “It is already far and away our best defense against global warming. So why not build 100 new nuclear power plants in 20 years?”
Plans are moving forward to create a new federal “clean energy bank” – a semiautonomous agency that could ladle out funding and guarantees for new nuclear power and other technologies. Such a bank would not be a bad idea, if done properly, many say. Nuclear, “clean coal,” wind, and solar energy would all benefit from federal backing. To ensure all technologies get a fair shot at loan guarantees, the House version of the bill has a 30-percent cap on the amount that any one technology could receive.
But the Senate “Clean Energy Development Administration” (CEDA) proposal does not have such a cap – which worries Sen. Bernie Sanders, (Ind.) of Vermont. His proposed 20-percent cap on the Senate version of CEDA was swatted down in an 18-5 vote by members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Nuclear-industry backers are behind CEDA, but not the House version. “We’re not in favor of a cap because our projects tend to be larger,” says Ms. Kass, who says a cap would unduly limit nuclear expansion and tilt the playing field.
Others insist a cap is vital.
“If we want to ensure that no one technology receives the bulk of the available funding and financing, a cap on how much investment can be made in any one technology ensures a more level playing field for competing technologies,” says Senator Sanders. “It would not be good policy to allow any one energy technology to get the lion’s share of government support.”
What worries some even more than lack of a cap is how the Senate’s CEDA plan would operate with little oversight – due to a proposed exemption from the Fair Credit Reporting Act that would otherwise subject such loan guarantees to the congressional appropriations process, says Autumn Hanna, senior program director for Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Under Senate provisions, the CEDA will be overseen by a nine-person board that could potentially hand out unlimited billions in federal loan guarantees for nuclear or any other eligible technology, Ms. Hanna says.
“The big story here is that nine unelected people [could get] unlimited authority to hand out these loan guarantees,” Mr. Boyd says. “That’s the big issue here.”
Available at: http://features.csmonitor.com/innovation/2009/08/13/nuclear-power’s-new-debate-cost/
3. Push For Atomic Energy Causes Nuclear Weapons Concerns
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The demand for atomic energy is making it increasingly difficult to control the spread of nuclear weapons, a senior U.S. official acknowledged on Wednesday.
"Some people are calling this a nuclear renaissance, it's very much in vogue," said Susan Burk, the US president's special representative for nuclear non-proliferation.
It is clear why there is such a surge of interest in nuclear energy. With issues of energy security, climate change and volatile energy pricing, the nuclear option looks pretty good.
The use of atomic energy in a peaceful way is one of the three pillars of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which lets countries make peaceful use of nuclear power if they agree to disarm or give up their weapons ambitions.
"Strengthening this pillar of the treaty is more important than ever, especially when one considers the renewed interest in nuclear power as a response to climate change, energy security and the promotion of sustainable development," Burk said.
However, there is the incredible challenge of making sure that the world would not be "creating proliferation when we turn the lights on."
According to Burk, President Barack Obama is going over new steps, such as an international fuel bank that could give countries access to civilian nuclear power without developing their own complex fuel production capability.
Iran has been accused by several Western nations of attempting to develop an atomic arsenal under the auspices of its power program, which involves the domestic production of enriched nuclear fuel.
However, Iran is insisting that its program is peaceful and seeks to merely satisfy the country's growing energy needs.
Burk called for steps to confront "abuse" of the NPT and for such measures to be strongly supported, considering the international community's has a “poor” record in responding effectively to breaches.
"The costs of violating this treaty must outweigh the benefits. Non-compliance must be met with real consequences," she said at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
Burk also suggested that the U.S. had not exhausted all its resources in dealing with the long term nuclear impasse with Iran and North Korea through the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi pointed out "the possibility of establishing a multilateral nuclear fuel supply mechanism."
Western countries have a history of being skeptical of such ideas, which was intensified by Russia.
Available at: http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1737019/push_for_atomic_energy_causes_nuclear_weapons_concerns/
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