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Nuclear News - 8/19/2009
PGS Nuclear News, August 19, 2009
Compiled By: Luke Wagoner

A.  Iran
    1. UN Watchdog Hiding Evidence on Iran Nuclear Program, Barak Ravid, Haaretz (8/19/2009)
    2. Iran Official Denies He Made Nuclear Talks Statement, Reuters (8/19/2009)
    3. Iran Ready to Hold Nuclear Talks With Western States 'without Preconditions', Turkish Weekly (8/18/2009)
    4. Israeli Envoy Says No Plans to Strike Iran Nuclear Sites, CNN (8/17/2009)
    1. U.S. Delegation Heads for Asia to Coordinate Implementation of UN Resolution on DPRK, Xinhua News Agency (8/18/2009)
    2. US Welcomes NKorea Steps but Wants More, AFP (8/17/2009)
C.  Nuclear Terrorism
    1. India PM: Pakistan Militants 'Plotting Fresh Attacks', AFP (8/17/2009)
D.  Nuclear Energy
    1. Storing Nuclear Waste a $24-Billion Problem, Brian Kemp, CBC News (8/18/2009)
    2. Italy to Sign Nuclear Protocol with U.S., Reuters (8/18/2009)
    3. Russia and Belarus Plan NPP Together, Nuclear Engineering International (8/18/2009)
E.  Links of Interest
    1. Israel, U.S. Lost Faith in IAEA Long Ago, Yossi Melman, Haaretz (8/18/2009)
    2. Iran’s Nuclear and Ballistic Missile Programs Remain Shrouded in Secrecy, The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation (8/17/2009)
    3. Weighing the Nuclear Option, Sentako Magazine (8/16/2009)
    4. Strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime: A Blueprint for Progress, Susan Burk’s comments at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, Department of State (8/14/2009)

A.  Iran

Iran Official Denies He Made Nuclear Talks Statement
(for personal use only)

A senior Iranian official has denied he had made any statement saying Tehran was ready for talks with the West on its disputed nuclear program, state television reported.

The same television network earlier said the official -- Iran's envoy to the UN nuclear watchdog, Ali Asghar Soltanieh -- "announced Iran's readiness to take part in any negotiations with the West based on mutual respect."

But it later quoted Soltanieh, Iran's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) representative, as saying he had not given any interviews or made any comments on the issue, without elaborating where the initial report came from.

"Iran's main policies are not changed and that is to pursue its peaceful nuclear activities within the framework of the IAEA," Soltanieh said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has given Iran until September to take up a six-power offer of talks on trade benefits if it shelves sensitive nuclear enrichment, or face harsher sanctions.

Iranian officials have made statements in the past about possible discussions on Tehran's nuclear activities based on mutual respect and without preconditions, while vowing not to back down in the row with the West.

But political turmoil in the Islamic state following its June election clouded prospects for dialogue.

'National Interests'

The West suspects Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, says its program is aimed at peaceful power generation and has ruled out suspending or freezing its activities.

The poll and its turbulent aftermath have plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, exposing deepening divisions within its ruling elite and also further straining relations with the West.

Obama's offer of engagement with Iran if it "unclenched its fist" ran into trouble after Iran accused the United States and other Western nations of inciting protests after the election, and Washington strongly condemned the government's crackdown.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has signaled a tougher approach toward the West, declaring last month that his next government "would bring down the global arrogance," a term used to refer to the United States and its allies.

Ahmadinejad's reformist opponents say the June vote was rigged to secure his reelection. He denies it.

The last time Iran held talks with major powers on its nuclear program was in July 2008 in Geneva. The six powers involved in the issue are: United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain.

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UN Watchdog Hiding Evidence on Iran Nuclear Program
Barak Ravid
(for personal use only)

The world's nuclear weapons watchdog is hiding data on Iran's drive to obtain nuclear arms, senior Western diplomats and Israeli officials told Haaretz.

The officials and diplomats said that the International Atomic Energy Agency under Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was refraining from publishing evidence obtained by its inspectors over the past few months that indicate Iran was pursuing information about weaponization efforts and a military nuclear program.

ElBaradei, who will soon vacate his post, has said that the agency does not have any evidence that suggests Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.

But the sources told Haaretz that the new evidence was submitted to the IAEA in a classified annex written by its inspectors in the Islamic Republic. The report was said to have been signed by the head of the IAEA team in Iran.

The classified report, according to the sources, was not incorporated into the agency's published reports. The details, they said, were censored by senior officials of the IAEA in the organization's Vienna headquarters.

American, French, British and German senior officials have recently pressured ElBaradei to publish the information next month in a report due to be released at the organization's general conference.

"We expect the details to appear in the new report and to be made public," a senior Western diplomat told Haaretz.

The efforts to release the allegedly censored report is being handled in Israel by Dr. Shaul Horev, director general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, and the Foreign Ministry. Asked about this sensitive subject, several Israeli diplomats declined to comment. The Prime Minister's Bureau also declined to comment, but the report was not denied.

Israel has been striving to pressure the IAEA through friendly nations and have it release the censored annex. It hopes to prove that the Iranian effort to develop nuclear weapons is continuing, contrary to claims that Tehran stopped its nuclear program in 2003. A confirmation of these suspicion would oblige the international community to enact "paralyzing sanctions" on Iran.

Throughout his term, Israel has accused ElBaradei of not tackling the Iranian nuclear issue with sufficient determination. As the end of his term in December nears, Israeli diplomats are concerned that he will become less responsive and continue to hide the classified report.

Jerusalem is hoping, however, that his successor, Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano, will take up a tougher line on the Iranian nuclear program.

In its recent references to Iran, the IAEA criticized Iran for barring inspectors from its nuclear facilities, but did not accuse Tehran of developing nuclear weapons. Most of the reports were concerned with efforts to enrich uranium or to produce heavy water, without making conclusions as to where these resources might be applied.

The international community is expected to examine the issue of nuclear proliferation during three major international conferences over the next six months.

On September 14, the IAEA general convention will commence in Vienna, where the next report on the Iranian nuclear program will be officially presented.

On September 24, the UN Security Council will meet for a special discussion of weapon control and nuclear weapons proliferation, at the initiative of U.S. President Barack Obama. Obama is also calling an international conference on the security of nuclear installations in Washington on March 9, 2010.

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Iran Ready to Hold Nuclear Talks With Western States 'without Preconditions'
Turkish Weekly
(for personal use only)

The Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran while under construction (file)A top Iranian nuclear official says Tehran is ready to hold talks with Western nations on its disputed nuclear program "without preconditions."

Iranian state media quoted Iran's envoy to the UN nuclear agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, as saying "negotiations without preconditions is Iran's main stance on the nuclear issue."

Iranian officials have made similar statements in the past about possible talks on Tehran's nuclear activities, while vowing not to back down in its dispute with the West.

The United States and other Western nations have accused Iran of working to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran says the purpose of its atomic program is to produce electricity.

Washington has given Iran until the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in September to take up an offer from six Western nations to discuss trade benefits if it freezes uranium enrichment. Enriched uranium is needed to make nuclear weapons.

The U.S. says Iran could face harsher international sanctions if it refuses to hold talks.

Iran said earlier this month that it asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to propose a ban on armed attacks against nuclear facilities.

It says the issue of protecting nuclear installations is of urgent concern for all countries.

Israel, which sees Iran's atomic program as a growing threat, has not ruled out military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities.

The IAEA passed a resolution in 1990 banning strikes on nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful purposes, but Iran says it is important to have a fresh proposal on the issue.

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Israeli Envoy Says No Plans to Strike Iran Nuclear Sites
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Israel’s ambassador to the United States said on Sunday that his country was not planning an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In an interview with CNN, Michael Oren also said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government supported US President Barack Obama’s outreach toward the Islamic Republic.

Asked about suggestions that Israel was likely to attack Iran before the end of this year, Oren said: “I don’t think it’s true. I think that we are far from even contemplating such things right now.”

“The government of Israel has supported President Obama in his approach to Iran – the engagement, the outreach to Iran,” he added.

Israel, the United States and its European allies suspect Iran is using the guise of a civilian nuclear program to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, a charge Tehran denies.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomatic measures fail to resolve the ongoing nuclear dispute.

Oren also dismissed remarks that Israel was uncomfortable and nervous about Washington’s engagement with Tehran.

“We were, but we were greatly comforted during the prime minister’s [Netanyahu] visit here [Washington] in May, when the president told him, assured him, that there would be a serious reassessment of the policy before the end of the year,” he told CNN.

He said that Israel was “further reassured” since the Obama administration said that it was giving Iran until late September to respond to an offer of talks on its nuclear program, or face action, including tougher sanctions.

Iran is already under three sets of United Nations Security Council sanctions for defying international calls to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

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U.S. Delegation Heads for Asia to Coordinate Implementation of UN Resolution on DPRK
Xinhua News Agency
(for personal use only)

A U.S. interagency delegation on Tuesday left for Asia to coordinate implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1874 on Pyongyang's nuclear and missile and proliferation activities.

The delegation, led by U.S. coordinator for implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1874 Philip Goldberg, will visit Singapore on Wednesday, then will travel to Thailand, South Korea and Japan.

"In all of these countries, we'll share thoughts, ideas, and our impressions on inspections of air, sea and land cargo. We'll review the financial provisions of the resolutions (Resolution 1718 and Resolution 1874), and we'll share information when possible on specific cases," Goldberg told reporters at a press briefing last week.

The Obama administration has voiced to enforce sanctions set in the UN Security Council Resolution 1874, which condemns the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) for its May 25 underground nuclear test that has obviously threatened the Asian-Pacific region's security and stability.

The resolution banned all weapons exports from the DPRK and most arms imports into the country, authorized UN member states to inspect the DPRK's sea, air and land cargo and required them to seize and destroy any goods transported in violation of the sanctions.

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US Welcomes NKorea Steps but Wants More
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The United States on Monday welcomed North Korea's rare conciliatory gestures to South Korea but said that the communist regime needed to do more by moving ahead with denuclearization.

North Korea said it would restart family reunions and a stalled tourism program for South Koreans -- while adding it was ready for a "merciless and prompt annihilating strike" if a US-South Korean exercise infringes on its sovereignty.

"Clearly these are welcome steps, in and of themselves," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters, hoping that the gestures "might open the door for renewed dialogue" between North and South.

"That said, these marginal steps in and of themselves are not enough. We continue to reiterate what North Korea has to do," he said.

"We want to see them take definitive steps, irreversible steps, towards denuclearization."

North Korea in recent months has tested a nuclear bomb and a series of missiles and bolted out of a six-nation agreement under which it was to give up its nuclear weapons in return for aid and security guarantees.

The United States has said it is open to talks with North Korea but has also pushed to punish the regime over its recent actions.

Crowley said he was not sure what triggered the North Korean gestures to the South, saying that he had no "crystal ball" into the mindset of the reclusive regime.

But he added: "One might infer that North Korea is feeling some pressure, whether it's political pressure, economic pressure or a combination of the two."

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C.  Nuclear Terrorism

India PM: Pakistan Militants 'Plotting Fresh Attacks'
(for personal use only)

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday that militants in Pakistan were plotting new attacks on India as he urged security forces to stay on high alert.

"There is credible information of ongoing plans of terrorist groups in Pakistan to carry out fresh attacks," Singh told a summit on internal security attended by the chief ministers from India's states.

"After the Mumbai attacks, we have put in place additional measures. There is need for continued utmost vigilance," added Singh, who also pointed to the threat posed by left-wing militants in the east of the country.

India has boosted its security to prevent assaults after the attacks in the country's financial capital Mumbai in November, in which gunmen killed 166 people.

"All states need to actively share intelligence information to avert any terror attack," he said.

India's intelligence-gathering techniques were severely criticised after their collective failure to thwart the bloody Mumbai attacks.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training cross-border militants in Muslim-majority Kashmir -- a charge Islamabad vehemently denies.

Singh said cross-border terrorism remained a "most pervasive" threat.

The two nuclear-armed countries have fought three wars since independence in 1947 and came dangerously close to a fourth following an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 by militants New Delhi said came from Pakistan.

Singh said militants were operating far beyond the confines of the insurgency-hit northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

"There has been a surge in infiltration this year, which is disturbing," he said.

On Saturday's 62nd anniversary of India's independence from British rule, the prime minister had stated in his speech that the government was working to eradicate violent extremism from the country's soil.

India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told the summit that the country has faced no terror strike after the Mumbai attacks but "it does not mean that the threat of terror has vanished or receded."

The prime minister also said India faced another serious challenge from left-wing extremism, namely Maoists who have inflicted heavy casualties on security forces.

India's Maoists, also known as the Naxals, say they are fighting for the rights of neglected tribal people and landless farmers.

They are now active in more than half of the country's 29 states -- particularly in the east, the poorest part of India.

Estimates of their numbers nationwide range between 10,000 and 20,000, but little is known about their shadowy leadership.

To deal with the Maoist crisis, Chidambaram announced a multi-pronged strategy at the summit.

"We will talk, we will act, we will restore order and we will undertake developmental activities in Naxal-hit areas," he said.

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D.  Nuclear Energy

Italy to Sign Nuclear Protocol with U.S.
(for personal use only)

Italy will sign a nuclear protocol with the United States next month which will give American companies the chance to compete to build nuclear power stations in Italy, the country's industry minister told a newspaper. Claudio Scajola told La Stampa newspaper in an interview the protocol would cover research and development and "give American companies the chance to compete to build one or more of the 8-10 power stations which the government plans in the next 20 years."

He said he would travel to Washington at the end of September to sign the protocol.

Italy decided on a return to nuclear power last month after quitting two decades ago and the government is currently drawing up rules for reviving the sector.

Italy is the only Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nation without nuclear power and relies on oil and gas imports for about 80 percent of its energy needs.

Scajola said that the four countries involved in construction of the ITGI pipeline, which will bring Azeri gas to Italy via Turkey and Greece, will meet in Istanbul in October to finalise discussions.

"It's a project we have been working on for four years and it is much further advanced than South Stream or Nabucco," Scajola told La Stampa.

The South Stream pipeline will bring Russian gas under the Black Sea to south-eastern Europe and is a venture between Italian oil group Eni (ENI.MI: Quote, Profile, Research) and Russia's Gazprom.

Nabucco is backed by the European Union and will transport Caspian gas to central Europe.

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Russia and Belarus Plan NPP Together
Nuclear Engineering International
(for personal use only)

Russia has cooperated with Belarus for the initial text of the intergovernmental agreement on constructing the Belarusian nuclear power plant, Interfax reported. The document will be presented to Russian and Belarusian ministries. The two countries have also signed an action plan for 2009. A feasibility study of prospective investments in the Belarusian nuclear plant will be discussed soon at Atomenergoproyekt, the general designer of the project.

It is planned to construct two power units, each with the capacity of 1,200 megawatts, in the Grodno region

Russia and Belarus are still required to coordinate on financial terms of the project. Interfax reported. In June 2009, Belarus asked Russia to consider a possible loan of $9 billion for the nuclear power project and related infrastructure. No decision has yet been made.

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Storing Nuclear Waste a $24-Billion Problem
Brian Kemp
CBC News
(for personal use only)

There are two million high-level radioactive fuel bundles sitting at temporary storage sites in Canada, as the Nuclear Waste Management Organization wrestles with the mandate of finding a community to host a central storage facility for the waste for perhaps tens of thousands of years.

Throw in the fact that the cost of storing this nuclear waste could be up to $24 billion — a figure that will likely rise — and environmental groups are dead set against a central facility, and it shapes up to be a challenge of colossal proportions.

The process of finding a site to bury the high-level spent fuel has dragged on for decades as reactors keep churning out more spent bundles.

In 1998, after almost 10 years of study, a federal environmental assessment rejected the storage option. People involved at the time with the Seaborn Panel, as it was called, were convinced that the science was good but the central storage option did not have public support, as people feared accidents and contamination.

The 1998 decision will end up costing Canadians billions more as the cost of a storage facilty rises, pushed by inflation and unfavourable economic conditions.

The waste storage issue languished and lacked direction until the Nuclear Waste Management Organization was mandated by the federal government in 2002 to find a site and build a permanent, underground storage facility for the waste.

The NWMO, made up of utilities that create and store nuclear spent fuel waste (each bundle is about the size of a fire log, weighs 24 kilograms, and is radioactive and dangerous to people), has been touring the country recently to gauge the response to a central facility in communities where waste is temporarily stored near reactors.

The group is moving ahead again with a target of 2035 for a central site.

In June 2009, the NWMO travelled to New Brunswick, site of the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station, which has been operating a Candu reactor since 1983. Like the nuclear sites in Ontario, Quebec and AECL's nuclear research facility in Manitoba, New Brunswick is storing spent waste (121,000 bundles) in temporary quarters at its site near the Bay of Fundy until a central site is built.

There have been detractors, but people in the province have generally accepted nuclear power and the presence of the plant in Point Lepreau, and there has been serious consideration given to adding an additional reactor.

In what could turn out to be one of the biggest construction projects in Canadian history, the NWMO said the host community for the central storage site will have hundreds of skilled workers on site during the construction phase, and that "wealth creation" in the form of personal income and business profits during the construction phase will be in the billions of dollars.

As well, during the first 30 years of operation, when the spent fuel is being transported for storage, NWMO estimates spending will be in the range of $200 million each year - again benefiting the host community.

But despite those big economic numbers consider the New Brunswick government's reaction when it was suggested by NWMO that any of the four Canadian provinces involved in the nuclear industry could be home to the central storage facility. (The group has yet to even approve the process by which a site is selected for "deep geological repository," as it is called).

"I don't care. I mean I don't care. Have they done research on New Brunswick for nuclear waste? I would suggest they haven't," said the province's Energy Minister Jack Keir.

NWMO clearly has work to do in certain areas.

The money trail

The NWMO estimates it will cost somewhere in the range of $16 billion to $24 billion to site, build and maintain a central storage facility big enough and safe enough to handle the bundles. Some of the money will be used to store bundles at reactor sites before they are moved.

Ontario Power Generation, NB Power Nuclear, Atomic Energy Canada Limited, and Hydro-Quebec have been paying into a trust fund since 2002, building up a nest of $1.5 billion by 2009.

The four nuclear partners are kicking in money to the trust fund each year and will be contributing $163 million in total by 2011. The overall fund is expected to grow to more than $2 billion by 2011, and increase to cover the construction costs of the facility. Given the recession and the financial crisis that began in the fall of 2008, the rate of return on the trust fund will likely have to be adjusted, as many funds lost money or saw a much lower rate of return.

"It's a leap of faith that the [trust] money will be enough," said Julie Michaud, with the New Brunswick Conservation Council.

Mike Buckthought of the Sierra Club Canada said he has no faith in the cost estimates.

"Look at [the nuclear industry's] track record. Whenever we see an estimate for the cost of a plant, the cost is higher. It's the same for this," said Buckthought.

Michael Krizanc, communications manager at NWMO, said the nuclear partners are mandated to cover the construction costs and operation of a central storage facility. He is confident the trust fund will cover costs, and said the federal government will not be on the hook for future money.

What is not known is what the effect on everyday ratepayers would be if the price balloons and the utilities must cover those costs somehow.

Krizanc admitted that his group does not have access to money (and guaranteed money) that was set aside by reactor operators before 2002 for decommissioning and temporary waste management, a figure that reaches into the billions of dollars. Much of the money set aside at that time will likely go to decommissioning plants, a process that is a huge drain on finances.

The nuclear plants operated for decades without paying into a long-term fund.

A spokesman for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said his organization did not require the plants to contribute money to a long-term storage plan but did require money for the temporary sites.

The NWMO essentially started fresh in 2002 with regard to finances, despite the fact reactors were creating spent bundles for more than 20 years previously.

A new estimate of the storage costs is expected in the next year, and nobody knows at this point what the tally will be, but given the economic conditions it will be no surprise if it goes beyond $24 billion, a figure that has more than doubled since the early 1990s.

A recap of the Seaborn Panel's report can be found on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's website, along with a reference to what the cost of the central site would have been about 10 years ago.

"The cost of a facility based on the concept, estimated by AECL in 1991 dollars, would range from $8.7 billion for five million fuel bundles to $13.3 billion for 10 million bundles, excluding financing costs, taxes, non-routine activities (such as waste retrieval), transportation and any extended monitoring stages," according to the report.

In the United States, the Yucca Mountain central storage project in Nevada was plagued by huge cost overruns, fought by environmentalists and was not welcomed in the end by many residents in Nevada. It was cancelled in February 2009 by President Barack Obama before any fuel was stored, after $9 billion had been spent.

Environmental concerns, social issues

The bundles will have to be stored for perhaps as long as 10,000 years or more as their radioactive nature decreases. The copper and steel containers will be put underground and built to last as long as 100,000 years and withstand pressure from a two kilometre-thick glacier, if an ice age comes in the meantime.

The storage site, however, will likely include a design so that future generations can access the spent fuel (which still has some juice, so to speak) and use it if they choose, as Canada's easily accessed uranium reserves could diminish within 100 years. The material could be reprocessed, for example, and used in a special reactor.

After use in a nuclear power plant the bundles contain radioactive material which can emit X-rays and gamma rays as well as high energy alpha particles and beta particles, which can damage human tissue and cause cancer.

There are two ways the material can get into the environment and create havoc - through the air or through the water table.

The New Brunswick Conservation Council worries about the transportation of the waste to a central site and the potential that journey offers for an accident which could possibly contaminate water tables for centuries. The group, which is against nuclear power, said the only alternative to a central storage facility is keeping the waste on site at the various reactors, where it is being stored now.

"It's easy to access, easy to manage, rather than trucking it somewhere in the country. That's a terrible idea," said Michaud.

In this day and age, terrorism is also a concern, and the issue is being considered.

According to the NWMO's website, "the used fuel is shipped in heavy, impact-resistant containers, so it is not easily removed, accessed or damaged. A current typical road transport container weighs about 23 metric tonnes."

"Removal of the container lid requires special tools and lifting equipment. The used fuel is also highly radioactive, and if removed from the transport container, it would present considerable personal hazard to a hijacker."

Armed guards will be a consideration, all of which could be daunting for a community considering whether or not to be a host for the facility.

Jeremy Whitlock, who works for AECL and is a past president of the Canadian Nuclear Society, said there are likely communities that are willing to step up. A community has to be engaged, "trust the science" and be convinced that the economic benefits are worthy.

A community can't be forced to take the facility, he said.

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E.  Links of Interest

Israel, U.S. Lost Faith in IAEA Long Ago
Yossi Melman
(for personal use only)

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Iran’s Nuclear and Ballistic Missile Programs Remain Shrouded in Secrecy
The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
(for personal use only)

Return to Menu

Weighing the Nuclear Option
Sentako Magazine
(for personal use only)

Return to Menu

Strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime: A Blueprint for Progress, Susan Burk’s comments at the Geneva Center for Security Policy
Department of State
(for personal use only)

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DISCLAIMER: Nuclear News is presented for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to visit the websites from which the source material originates. Views presented in any given article are those of the individual author or source and not of Partnership for Global Security. Partnership for Global Security takes no responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in any article presented in Nuclear News.

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