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Nuclear News - 11/17/2011
PGS Nuclear News, November 17, 2011
Compiled By: Michael Kennedy

A.  Iran
    1. UN Nuclear Agency IAEA Seeks High-Level Iran Visit, BBC News (11/17/2011)
    2. Deal Near on IAEA Iran Resolution: Diplomats, Agence France-Presse (11/16/2011)
B.  Nuclear Cooperation
    1. Arabs, Israel to Attend Nuclear Talks, Iran Uncertain, Fredrik Dahl, Reuters (11/16/2011)
    2. Turkey: No Plans for Nuclear Cooperation With Iran, Reuters (11/16/2011)
    3. Russian Nuclear Site Fuels Controversy, Julia Slater, Swissinfo (11/16/2011)
    4. Saudi, S. Korea Ink Nuclear Cooperation Deal, Agence France-Presse (11/15/2011)
    5. U.S. Concerned About U.N. Nuclear Work with Syria, Fredrik Dahl, Reuters (11/14/2011)
    6. China Expresses Surprise Over Reports of Nuke Sales to Pakistan, Saibal Dasgupta, The Times of India (11/14/2011)
C.  Nuclear Safety & Security
    1. France Needs to Upgrade All Nuclear Reactors, Muriel Boselli, Reuters (11/17/2011)
    2. Woman Pleads Guilty in US on Pakistan Reactor Deal, Agence France-Presse (11/16/2011)
D.  North Korea
    1. Concern Grows Over New N. Korean Reactor, Kim Young-jin , The Korea Times (11/16/2011)
    2. S. Korean, U.S. Envoys Hold Talks on N. Korea in Vienna, Yonhap News Agency (11/15/2011)
E.  Nuclear Energy
    1. China May Resume Atomic-Power Plant Construction, Nuclear Association Says, Bloomberg (11/17/2011)
    2. Belgium to Double Nuclear Tax, Require Electrabel to Share Capacity, Robin Sayles, Platts (11/15/2011)
    3. Latin America: Untapped Nuclear Promise?, Jason Deign, Nuclear Energy Insider (11/15/2011)
F.  Links of Interest
    1. Stopping an Iranian Bomb, Foreign Policy (11/16/2011)
    2. Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Presents Array of Challenges, The Daily Yomiuri (11/15/2011)

A.  Iran

UN Nuclear Agency IAEA Seeks High-Level Iran Visit
BBC News
(for personal use only)

The head of the UN nuclear agency, the IAEA, has proposed sending a high-level mission to Iran, to address new fears about a possible military dimension to the country's nuclear programme.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said there was credible information Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a bomb.

He said there might be undeclared nuclear material and activities.

Tehran says its programme is for peaceful purposes.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board has been debating the latest report on Iran released last week in the Austrian capital, Vienna, where it is based.

"Our technical experts have spent years painstakingly and objectively analysing a huge quantity of information from a wide variety of independent sources, including from a number of member states, from the agency's own efforts and from information provided by Iran itself. The agency finds the information to be, overall, credible," Mr Amano said in a statement.

"It is consistent in terms of technical content, individuals and organisations involved, and timeframes. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device."

He hoped a date for the visit would be agreed soon, he added.

The United States and its allies want to see stronger sanctions imposed on Iran, but Russia believes the report contains no new evidence - and could hurt the chances for diplomacy, says the BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna.

China says sanctions cannot resolve the issue.

On Wednesday, Iranian General Hassan Firouzabadi said that - contrary to speculation - the US and Israel were not behind a weekend munitions base blast that killed 17 Revolutionary Guards, including a key ballistics missile expert.

"This recent incident and blast has no link to Israel or America, but the outcome of the research, in which the incident happened as a consequence, could be a strong smack to the mouth of Israel and its occupying regime," Gen Firouzabadi was quoted as saying by the student news agency Isna.

Iranian officials had previously said the accident happened while munitions were being moved at the base, without linking it directly to weapons research.

Brigadier General Hassan Moqaddam, who was considered a key figure in Iran's missile programme, was the most senior casualty in the incident.

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Deal Near on IAEA Iran Resolution: Diplomats
Agence France-Presse
(for personal use only)

World powers were close to overcoming their differences late Wednesday on what message the UN atomic watchdog will send to Iran when its board of governors meets Thursday, diplomats said.

Diplomats to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna were "close but not there yet" to agreeing on a resolution amenable to all the main powers including Russia and China, one Western envoy told AFP.

Another said they were "cautiously optimistic," although time differences meant that it would most likely not be until Thursday morning, just before the meeting starts, that a deal is reached.

"This is going to go right down to the wire," the envoy told AFP.

"The resolution will call on Iran to intensify dialogue with the agency and comply fully with its obligations," the first diplomat said on condition of anonymity, calling the discussions "intense."

"It also calls on the director general (of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano) to report in March on the status of the resolution," the envoy added, saying diplomats were "guardedly optimistic" on reaching a deal.

Last week the IAEA came the closest yet to accusing Iran outright of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, in a hard-hitting report immediately rejected by Tehran as "baseless."

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Wednesday Tehran would send "an analytical letter with logical and rational responses" to the agency, which it has accused of being "politicised."

Washington, Paris and London jumped on the IAEA report as justification to tighten the screws further on Iran, already under four rounds of Security Council sanctions and additional US and European Union restrictions.

But Beijing, which relies heavily on Iranian oil imports, and Moscow, which also has close commercial ties, completing Iran's only nuclear power plant, have been far more cautious.

If the two sides fail to see eye to eye, one option could be an IAEA resolution passed without Russian and Chinese support, although diplomats are keen to avoid such a potentially damaging split.

The 35-nation board of the IAEA was due to gather at its Vienna headquarters for a two-day meeting starting on Thursday at 0930 GMT. The talks will also cover Syria and its suspected covert reactor bombed by Israel in 2007.

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B.  Nuclear Cooperation

Arabs, Israel to Attend Nuclear Talks, Iran Uncertain
Fredrik Dahl
(for personal use only)

Arab states and Israel plan to attend a rare round of talks next week on efforts to free the world of nuclear weapons but Iran has yet to say whether it will take part in the meeting in Vienna, diplomats said on Wednesday.

The November 21-22 forum, hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency, is seen as symbolically significant in seeking to bring regional foes together at the same venue and start a dialogue, even though no concrete outcome is expected.

If conducted smoothly with toned-down rhetoric on both sides, it could send a positive signal ahead of a planned international conference next year on ridding the Middle East of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

"It is a good opportunity for everybody to sit and talk but I don't think it is going to achieve a tangible result," a Western diplomat said.

Israel is widely believed to harbour the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, drawing frequent Arab and Iranian condemnation.

Israel and the United States regard Iran as the region's main proliferation threat, accusing Tehran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability in secret. An IAEA report last week added independent weight to those allegations.

Convened by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, next week's discussions will focus on the experiences of regions in the world which have set up Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones (NWFZ), including Africa and Latin America, and their possible relevance for the Middle East.

IAEA member states decided in 2000 that such a meeting should be held but until this year the parties involved were unable to agree on the agenda and other issues.

All 151 IAEA member countries have been invited to the talks, to be chaired by senior Norwegian diplomat Jan Petersen, but participating envoys from the region will be in focus.

"The forum will consider the experience of five NWFZs and two regional verification arrangements and discuss the potential relevance of such experience to the creation of a NWFZ in the Middle East," the IAEA said in a statement this week.

Diplomats said Israel and Arab states had accepted the invitation but that there had as yet been no word from Iran, which in September said it saw no justification for such a meeting now and took a swipe at arch-enemy Israel.

Israel, the only Middle East country outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has never confirmed or denied having nuclear weapons under a policy of ambiguity to deter numerically superior foes.

It says it would only join the NPT if there is a comprehensive Middle East peace with its longtime Arab and Iranian adversaries. If it signed the 1970 treaty, Israel would have to renounce nuclear weaponry.

Arab states, backed by Iran, say Israel's stance poses a threat to regional peace and stability.
Last month, the United Nations said Finland had agreed to host a potentially divisive international meeting in 2012 to discuss the possible creation of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.

The idea for such a conference came from Egypt, which pushed for a meeting with all states in the Middle East to negotiate a treaty that would establish a nuclear arms-free zone.

Washington's commitment will be key to the success or failure of next year's talks, Western diplomats say, as it is the only state that can persuade Israel to attend.

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Russian Nuclear Site Fuels Controversy
Julia Slater
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One of Switzerland’s leading energy utilities, Axpo, has announced that it is suspending uranium imports from the controversial Mayak processing plant in Russia.

The Mayak plant in the Urals – on the border between Europe and Asia – has long been in the sights of environmentalists such as Greenpeace. A devastating explosion in the 1950s was hushed up for decades, but Greenpeace says nuclear contamination continues.

The reprocessed uranium is the fuel used for the Beznau nuclear power plant in northern Switzerland.

Axpo will compensate for the shortfall from Mayak by importing more from Seversk in Siberia.

But Greenpeace has serious reservations about Seversk too.

The future of imports from Mayak had been in the balance since June, when a planned visit by representatives of Axpo was called off at short notice by the Russian side, on the grounds that the plant is located in a closed military area.

Axpo has still been unable to inspect the site, and on Saturday announced that it was to “forgo uranium from Mayak until the necessary transparency is established”.

The uranium does not come directly from the Russian plants to Switzerland.

Axpo has a contract with the French energy group Areva, which in turn gets it from an enriching plant in the town of Elektrostal, which sources it from different Russian plants, as Axpo spokesman Rainer Meier explained to

“We will now establish a deal with Areva that they guarantee that our fuel is compiled without any uranium products from Mayak,” he said.

Meier strenuously rejected the idea that Axpo’s announcement was just a public relations exercise, in reaction to the widespread criticism of the Mayak plant.

He pointed out that Axpo has always taken environmental concerns very seriously.

It was the company’s desire for transparency that offered Greenpeace a way to challenge
some of its other information, which led Axpo to trace back the supply chain of the Russian fuel.

Patricia Marie, head of Areva’s press service, told Axpo is the only client which has decided against using Mayak uranium. Alpiq, the Swiss company which supplies the Gösgen nuclear power plant, is not following suit.

“We’ll see if other clients go the same way. But this is really a decision by Axpo which has set itself very wide-ranging transparency requirements,” Marie said.

Indeed, Florian Kasser, nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace Switzerland, explained to that the Swiss section of the organisation had been able to put pressure on Axpo precisely because the company makes much of its environmental credentials. But he believes it is not the end of the affair.

“Axpo’s decision sends a clear message, and not only within Switzerland. Nuclear power station operators will be much more concerned about the source of their fuel in future,” he said.

Axpo is in dialogue with Greenpeace, and has passed many of the organisation’s questions on to Rosatom, the Russian agency with overall responsibility for atomic power.

It has also had water samples analysed that Greenpeace supplied from the contaminated river Techa near Mayak.

Kasser welcome the suspension of imports from Mayak as “a step in the right direction”.

“But they have said they will increase imports from Seversk and at the moment we really can’t understand that, since the environmental problems around Seversk are comparable to those at Mayak.”

The key concern at Seversk is that radioactive waste is injected directly into the ground – a means of disposal that Kasser described as “absolutely unthinkable” in the west.

There’s a “total discrepancy” between Axpo’s avowed goals of sustainability and the disposal practices at Seversk, Kasser maintained.

Axpo is in dialogue not only with Greenpeace, but also with Rosatom. Meier described the attitude of officials there as “western-style and open”.

While Kasser agreed that Rosatom has got away from Soviet-style secrecy, he is less convinced that it is totally open.

“We see in our discussions with Axpo that Rosatom has tried to provide it with information about its activities – but only a small part of the required information and often on condition that it isn’t made public,” he explained.

But Marie of Areva has quite a different take on what is going on in Mayak. She assured swissinfo that the company had been able to send its own inspectors to those parts of the site that are not closed for military reasons.

“We have a code of standards, and we don’t buy just anywhere without checking. The results of the audits we have carried out there were completely satisfactory so there is no reason not to work with Mayak.”

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Turkey: No Plans for Nuclear Cooperation With Iran
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Turkey has no plans for cooperation with Iran to build nuclear power plants, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Wednesday, a day after a senior Iranian official had floated the possibility.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, a foreign affairs adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said in New York on Tuesday that the Islamic Republic was willing to share its nuclear technology with neighbouring countries, suggesting it could help Turkey build an atomic power plant.

"Iran is an important neighbouring country. We have oil and gas trade, but cooperation in the area of nuclear power stations is not currently on our agenda," Yildiz told reporters.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog reported last week that Iran appeared to have worked covertly on designing atomic bombs and may be continuing research to that end, and Tehran is under U.N. sanctions over its disputed nuclear activity.

Larijani said that Iran was ready to share its nuclear capability with neighbours and friendly countries in the region.

"Turkey is for years trying to have a nuclear power plant but no country in the West is willing to build that for them," Larijani said, adding that Iran did not have a "concrete proposal" for nuclear cooperation with Turkey or another state.

Energy-hungry Turkey has ambitious plans to build up a civil nuclear power capability and has been in talks with Russia and Japan about it. Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is among the firms interested in a Turkish deal.

Last year Turkey awarded Russia's Atomstroyexport a contract to build its first nuclear power plant at Akkuyu on the country's Mediterranean coast.

Larijani described last week's International Atomic Energy |Agency report on Iranian nuclear activity as "a disgrace to the professionalism of this institution". Iran says it wants nuclear energy only for electricity, not for bombs.

In his comments to reporters, Yildiz also said Turkey would sign an oil exploration deal next week and that the country was in talks with Shell Oil Co on the matter.

A story in Turkish newspaper Sabah on Wednesday said Turkish oil company TPAO and Shell had reached an agreement in principle on exploration in an exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean Sea.

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Saudi, S. Korea Ink Nuclear Cooperation Deal
Agence France-Presse
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OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia has signed an agreement with South Korea on developing nuclear power generation to help meet the kingdom’s rising demand, an official statement said on Tuesday.

The announcement came amid mounting concern in the Sunni-ruled kingdom about the nuclear programme of its Shiite rival across the Gulf, Iran, which Riyadh, in common with Western governments, fears may conceal a drive for a nuclear weapons capability.

Saudi Arabia and South Korea “entered into a bilateral agreement designed to enhance cooperation between the two countries in the development and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes,” said the statement from the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE).

The agreement is aimed at establishing a “legal framework that strengthens scientific, technological and economic cooperation between the two nations, while reaffirming their desire to place the highest priority on nuclear safety and environmental protection,” it added.

The statement said the deal was signed in Seoul but did not say when.

Under its terms, the two countries will cooperate in the “design, construction, operation, maintenance and development of nuclear power plants.” the statement added.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, “aims at developing a sustainable energy mix that includes nuclear energy, to cope with the accelerating local energy demand reaching 8% annually,” said the statement.

The kingdom is seeking to diversify its sources of energy for domestic use.

In February, it signed a cooperation agreement with France on peaceful nuclear energy development, having inked a similar deal with the United States in 2008.

The deals were followed by a similar agreement with Argentina, and the kingdom is also in talks with Britain, China, the Czech Republic and Russia, the statement said.

Saudi Arabia plans to build 16 civilian nuclear reactors in the next two decades at a cost of 300 billion riyals ($80 billion), Abdul Ghani Malibari, coordinator at the Saudi civil nuclear agency, said in June.

He said the kingdom would launch an international invitation to tender for the reactors to be used in power generation and desalination in the desert kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has expressed mounting concern about the growing regional influence of Iran.

The United Nations has imposed successive packages of sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Those measures have been backed up by unilateral Western sanctions.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful power generation and medical purposes only.

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China Expresses Surprise Over Reports of Nuke Sales to Pakistan
Saibal Dasgupta
The Times of India
(for personal use only)

The Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday it was unaware of any move by a Chinese company to build nuclear plants in Pakistan. A ministry spokesman said he had no information about China helping Pakistan to build two more nuclear power plants apart from the ones it already has built.

"I haven't heard about that and have no information to provide," the spokesman Liu Weimin said in reply to a question about reports that Pakistan was buying two nuclear power plants with a combined capacity of 2,000 megawatts from China for its Karachi Nuclear Power Plant-2 ( Kanupp-2) and Kanupp-3 from the China National Nuclear Corporation.

"May be you have more information than I have," he said. It was difficult to determine if the foreign ministry's response meant that China was indeed not involved in any sales talks for selling additional sets of nuclear power plants to Pakistan. Chinese officials have denied sales of nuclear plants and material to Pakistan in the past, and later confirmed such reports after a period of time.

Liu said China's past investments in nuclear power in Pakistan have been conducted in the light of international regulations, and with the approval of the International Atomic Research Agency.

Talking about the border situation between India and China, he said "We also believe that the resolution cannot be achieved over night. It takes time". Both countries must maintain tranquillity on the border, and not allow the happenings along the border to affect the quality of overall relationship between the two nations, he said.

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U.S. Concerned About U.N. Nuclear Work with Syria
Fredrik Dahl
(for personal use only)

The United States took renewed aim at Syria during an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting on Monday, expressing "strong reservations" about a technical cooperation project between the U.N. body and Damascus.

Even though the move was not related to the crackdown on dissent in the Arab state, it was another sign that Damascus was facing growing international pressure and scrutiny. On Saturday, the Arab League suspended Syria from the group.

The project singled out by the United States concerned preparatory work for a planned nuclear power plant in Syria.

It is part of IAEA activities to help countries benefit from the peaceful uses of the atom -- in areas ranging from energy to agriculture and health -- but such assistance is at times sensitive as nuclear technology can also have military uses.

The IAEA's 35-nation governing board voted in June to report Syria to the U.N. Security Council for covert atomic work, rebuking it for stonewalling an agency investigation into the Deir al Zor complex bombed by Israel in 2007.

U.S. intelligence reports have said it was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor intended to produce plutonium for atomic weaponry before warplanes reduced it to rubble.

The IAEA gave independent backing to the U.S. allegation in a report in May which said it was "very likely" to have been a reactor. Syria insists it was a non-nuclear military site.

At Monday's annual meeting of the IAEA's Technical Assistance and Cooperation Committee (TACC), a senior U.S. diplomat expressed concern about a technical cooperation project in Syria, approved by the board in 2009.

"The United States has strong reservations over the continuation of Syrian ... project SYR/0/020 conducting a technical feasibility study and site selection for a nuclear power plant given Syria's failure to cooperate with the IAEA," U.S. diplomat Robert Wood told the meeting.

"In principle, it is our view that a state found in non-compliance with their (IAEA) safeguards agreement should have certain TC projects curtailed or suspended," Wood, deputy head of the U.S. mission to the IAEA, said.

He was addressing a closer-door meeting but his remarks were made available to media.
"We strongly urge the (IAEA) Secretariat to monitor the project closely and report to the board as appropriate," Wood said.

Earlier this year, Syria's Atomic Energy Commission said in a document posted on the IAEA's website that it may build its first nuclear plant by 2020 to meet growing energy demand.

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C.  Nuclear Safety & Security

France Needs to Upgrade All Nuclear Reactors
Muriel Boselli
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France needs to upgrade the protection of vital functions in all its nuclear reactors to avoid a disaster in the event of a natural calamity, the head of its nuclear safety agency said, adding there was no need to close any plants.

After Japan's Fukushima disaster in March, France, along with other European countries, decided to carry out safety tests on 58 reactors and its next-generation reactor under construction in northwestern France.

The aim was to test their capacity to resist flooding, earthquakes, power outages, failure of the cooling systems and operational management of accidents.

IRSN, experts on radiation protection and nuclear safety, delivered a 500-page report to nuclear watchdog ASN on Thursday, which will in turn hand over its conclusions, based on the report, to the government at the start of 2012.

Peer reviewers from other European countries will then study the findings until the end of June.

"There is a need to add a layer to protect safety mechanisms in reactors that are vital for the protection of the reactor such as cooling functions and electric powering," Jacques Repussard, head of the IRSN, told Reuters in an interview.

"For example, it is necessary that each reactor has at least one protected independent diesel generator positioned out of the way which does not fail even in case of an extremely violent earthquake," he said.

"All reactors have to survive much more violent events than what they were built to resist," he added, citing as possible examples an earthquake that destroys the southern city of Nice or the collapse of all dams at once, triggering massive floods.

France is in the midst of a heated debate over nuclear energy ahead of the 2012 presidential elections. The ruling UMP party is in favor of maintaining nuclear and the opposition Socialist party is in favor of closing the oldest 24 reactors by 2025.

Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse said this week the closure of 24 reactors would increase consumers' electricity bills by more than 50 percent, as well as costing jobs in an industry she said employs 400,000 people in France.

France's oldest reactors were built in sets of two so that in case of a problem with one, the resources of the second, such as personnel and equipment, could be used.

"It was never envisaged that there could be a simultaneous problem in two reactors," Repussard said.

He said he could not tell how much the upgrades would cost EDF, which operates all of France's reactors, and how long they would take.

"We would like to see a work schedule that stretches no longer than a few years, but it will be necessary to carry out the works very quickly on the EPR (reactor) under construction. It's a large-scale industrial plan, which will have to take into account EDF's maintenance planning," he added.

Asked whether some reactors would not be strong enough to withstand powerful natural events he said: "All the sites can be protected, so it will be about the economics behind the upgrades."
Repussard also said during a news briefing presenting the report that improvements could be made to better protect some reactors from earthquakes at Bugey (southeast), Fessenheim (east) and Civaux (southwest).

Improvements were also necessary to better protect some reactors against flooding at Fessenheim, Chinon (west), Cruas (southeast), Saint-Laurent (central) and Tricastin (southeast).

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Woman Pleads Guilty in US on Pakistan Reactor Deal
Agence France-Presse
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The former boss of a US company's Chinese subsidiary pleaded guilty to illegally supplying material to Pakistan for use in a nuclear reactor and is now cooperating with US investigators.

US prosecutors said that Wang Xun faces up to five years in jail and a fine of $250,000 for conspiring to violate US law by sending the high-quality paint coatings to Pakistan via China after being refused a US export license.

No sentencing date was set.

"At the end of last year, the Chinese subsidiary of a US company pleaded guilty to illegally exporting high-performance coatings for use in a Pakistani nuclear reactor," said US Attorney Ronald Machen in the capital Washington.

"Today we are pleased to see the former managing director of that subsidiary accept responsibility for her role in the crime.

"We also welcome the defendant's decision to cooperate with the government in our ongoing investigation of this blatant violation of US export laws."

Wang, 51, the ex-managing director of PPG Paints Trading (Shanghai) Co. Ltd, pleaded guilty to conspiring to export and ship high-performance epoxy coatings to the Chashma 2 Nuclear Power Plant in Pakistan (Chashma II).

The facility is run by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), the science and technology organization responsible for Pakistan's nuclear program, including the development and operation of atomic power plants.

In November 1998, following Pakistan's first successful detonation of a nuclear device, the US Commerce Department added the PAEC to the list of banned end-users of such goods under American export regulations.

Wang has already paid a separate $200,000 penalty in connection with her case.

According to her plea documents, in January 2006, PPG Industries sought an export license for the shipments of coatings to Chashma II. In June 2006, the US Department of Commerce denied the application.

But Wang and her co-conspirators then agreed upon an illegal scheme to export and ship PPG Industries' high-performance epoxy coatings from the United States to Chashma II, via a third-party distributor in China.

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D.  North Korea

Concern Grows Over New N. Korean Reactor
Kim Young-jin
The Korea Times
(for personal use only)

Concern is growing over North Korea’s construction of a new nuclear reactor after satellite imagery revealed rapid progress on the project that Pyongyang claims will soon be operational.

But an official here said the work underway to build the experimental light water reactor at the North’s main Yongbyon nuclear complex didn’t necessarily mean that Pyongyang had the capability to run it.

Recent commercial satellite photography analyzed by the North Korea-focused website 38 North shows significant progress on the site including the near-completion of a building to house the reactor as well as a system to cool the reactor and other support systems.

The images come amid heightened concern over the North’s uranium-enrichment program (UEP) that it disclosed along with the beginnings of the light water reactor in November last year. Analysts say the UEP provides the North a second route to producing atomic weapons.

The rapid progression has raised eyebrows in Washington.

"Well, certainly we have concerns," Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said. "Any construction of a light water reactor would violate existing U.N. Security Council resolutions."

Toner called on the North to respect deals made under the six-party denuclearization framework under which Pyongyang is supposed to abandon its program in exchange for incentives.

Light water reactors are generally used for civilian purposes. But analysts warn that completion of the project could allow Pyongyang to claim it is operating the UEP to fuel the reactor while secretly producing uranium for nuclear weapons.

Observers said the speed with which the North was working on the project showed its determination to push forward with its nuclear program despite international efforts to get the isolated state to ditch it in exchange for massive aid.

Last week, Pyongyang’s state-run media said “the day is near at hand” when the country will start operating a light-water reactor based on indigenous technology.

But one Seoul official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Pyongyang had not proven it was capable of operating any light water reactor despite the progress.

“Constructing the structure of the light water reactor and (the North’s) capability to make a nuclear reactor are two different matters,” the official said. “While the outside construction has been progressing, the question remains as to whether they have ability to make a nuclear reactor or not.”

Pyongyang has sought light water reactors since the mid 1980s. Under a 1994 deal with the United States, it was to have received two reactors in exchange for dismantling its plutonium-based program. But the deal fell through amid suspicions over the UEP.

The reactor under construction would be significantly smaller _ with an output of 25 to 30 megawatts _ than those planned under the deal with Washington. Analysts said given the complexity of the project, it would still take 2 to 3 years for the North to be able to run it.

The UEP has emerged as a key issue in discussions to resume the long-stalled six-party framework. Seoul and Washington want the North to halt the program and allow international inspectors to verify the move before resumptions of talks. Pyongyang insists they restart without preconditions.

The Stalinist state is believed to have stockpiled enough plutonium from a gas graphite reactor at Yongbyon to build several atomic bombs. That reactor was shut down in 2007 under a six-party agreement.

Analysts remain skeptical over whether the North would ever give up its nuclear program even if negotiations resume, saying it would be difficult for the regime to relinquish the program that has become its greatest bargaining chip and claim to deterrence.

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S. Korean, U.S. Envoys Hold Talks on N. Korea in Vienna
Yonhap News Agency
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South Korea's top nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam held talks in Vienna with the new U.S. envoy on North Korea and discussed efforts to reopen the stalled six-nation talks on the North's nuclear weapons programs, a Seoul official said Tuesday.

Lim met with Glyn Davies on Monday during his two-day trip to Vienna and exchanged views on the outcome of a Pyongyang-Washington meeting held in Geneva last month, the foreign ministry official said.

It was Lim's first meeting with Davies, who is preparing to step down from his current job as Washington's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

North Korea and the U.S. concluded their bilateral meeting in Geneva last month aimed at restarting the stalled six-party talks. Both sides reported some progress after the Geneva meeting, but no agreement was reached to resume the broader negotiations involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

Following the visit to Vienna, Lim will fly to the Indonesian resort island of Bali as South Korea is seeking to hold trilateral talks with the U.S. and Japan to coordinate their joint strategy on the North Korean nuclear standoff on the sidelines of the 18-nation East Asia Summit later this week, the official said.

The trilateral talks will be led by Lim, his Japanese counterpart Shinsuke Sugiyama and Kurt Campbell, assistant U.S. secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, according to Seoul officials.

The six-party talks have been dormant since April 2009, when the North left the negotiating table and then conducted its second nuclear test a month later.

Seoul and Washington said Pyongyang must first take concrete steps to show its sincerity before reconvening the talks, such as a monitored shutdown of its uranium enrichment plant.

Pyongyang insists, however, that the talks should be resumed without any preconditions.

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E.  Nuclear Energy

China May Resume Atomic-Power Plant Construction, Nuclear Association Says
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China may resume some nuclear reactor construction that was stopped earlier this year while continuing a halt on approvals of new projects amid a nationwide safety check following Japan’s Fukushima crisis, said Xu Yuming, vice secretary-general of the China Nuclear Energy Association.

Some construction may restart by the end of the year, Xu said in an interview today at a conference in Beijing. The country won’t be able to maintain its previous pace of nuclear- plant building because of the disruption, Xu said earlier. The association helps implement the nation’s atomic policies, according to its website.

“We were building new reactors more and more quickly from 2008 to 2010, and then suddenly this year there were none,” Xu said. “It’s not quite possible for us to start building at the average of eight reactors a year we saw in the last three years” during China’s 12th five-year development plan, which ends in 2015, he said.

The government of China, the world’s biggest energy user, halted approvals of atomic reactors after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. The resultant radiation leak spurred a global review of nuclear development, including Germany’s decision to shut seven of its oldest facilities.

China has completed safety checks on its plants and submitted the results to the State Council, or the nation’s Cabinet, Xu said at the conference. Inspectors concluded that China’s atomic plants are not exposed to conditions that may lead to accidents similar to Fukushima, he said.

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Belgium to Double Nuclear Tax, Require Electrabel to Share Capacity
Robin Sayles
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Negotiators forming Belgium's coalition government have agreed to double the tax on nuclear generation to Eur550 million ($745 million) and require dominant power firm Electrabel to make available more nuclear power to its competitors, a spokeswoman for the energy ministry said Tuesday, confirming earlier press reports.

The cross-party pact also calls on the energy regulator CREG to put in place a mechanism to block unjustifiable price rises above neighboring countries in the interests of consumers, the RTL news site said.

Political groups are aiming to complete negotiations to form a new coalition government in the coming weeks.

The current annual level of tax is Eur250 million, 87% of which falls on Electrabel, a GDF Suez company. The rest is paid by SPE-Luminus, the EDF-controlled company that has a small share of nuclear production rights.

The requirement that Electrabel shares more of its capacity "is in the agreement, but I cannot give you the amount or when it will be applied," the government spokeswoman said.
In late October, the coalition negotiators agreed to begin a phase-out of nuclear power beginning in 2015. There are seven reactors in Belgium with a total capacity of 5.9 GW.

The phase-out agreement effectively wipes out a deal made in October 2009 between the government and GDF Suez.

In that agreement, Electrabel was allowed to operate the oldest reactors, Doel-1, -2 and Tihange-1, for a further 10 years and in return the company would pay a nuclear tax at around Eur215-245 million/year until 2014.

The previous government commissioned a report by the National Bank of Belgium which calculated annual profits made by the country's nuclear generators at Eur750-900 million.
CREG, the energy regulator, has calculated the profits at around Eur2 billion per year, while Electrabel has said its nuclear margins were more like Eur652 million, which puts total profits for nuclear generators at around Eur750 million.

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Latin America: Untapped Nuclear Promise?
Jason Deign
Nuclear Energy Insider
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Could Chile become a hotspot for nuclear development in Latin America? Events in March this year suggested so.

While almost every other nation in the world was considering a policy reappraisal amidst images of the burning Fukushima Daiichi plant, Chile’s administration stepped closer to adopting nuclear energy with a three-page agreement to get the US to train Chilean atomic engineers.

The move was a contentious one, and not just because of the timing. Chile is prone to earthquakes and there is a significant anti-nuclear lobby in the country, which already has two research reactors and had previously inked similar agreements with Argentina and France.

If the country pushes ahead with plans, however (and the current government admits that it will not be around to make the final call), it will make Chile only the fourth country in Latin America to adopt nuclear power.

Of the current trio of nuclear nations, two—Brazil and Argentina—are pushing ahead with plans for expansion post-Fukushima, while the third, Mexico, has backed off on a very ambitious build out schedule.

Brazil, Latin America’s biggest nuclear power user by volume, gets 3% of its electricity from two reactors: a 626 MWe pressurised water reactor (PWR), Angra 1, that began operation in 1982, and a 1270 MWe PWR, Angra 2, that started up in 2000.

A third PWR, Angra 3, is under construction and due to enter commercial operation in 2016. Areva is supplying the technology for the BRL6.1 billion ($3.5bn) project, according to information from the World Nuclear Association.

And the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy nuclear subsidiary, Eletronuclear, is currently evaluating sites in the northeast and southeast of the country for four more PWR reactors, which are scheduled to come on stream between 2020 and 2028.

Westinghouse’s AP1000 is believed to be leading a shortlist of possible reactor models which also includes Areva-Mitsubishi’s Atmea-1 and Atomstroyexport’s VVER-1000.

Nuclear developments will face competition from hydro power, however, which is about a third cheaper, and already covers 84% of Brazil’s energy needs. Hydro power could be significantly augmented if plans for the world’s third-largest dam, the controversial Belo Monte scheme, go ahead.

Argentina, meanwhile, also has two reactors in operation. Atucha 1, a 335 MWe Siemens pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) in Buenos Aires, began feeding into the grid in 1974, while Embalse, a 600 MWe CANDU-6 model, entered service in Córdoba in 1983.

A second Siemens PHWR, the 692 MWe Atucha 2, is practically finished and due to start feeding into the grid next year, and there are plans to uprate the Embalse reactor by 35 MWe as part of a $1.37bn, five-year refurbishment starting 2013.

At the same time, the Argentine National Atomic Energy Commission is putting the finishing
touches to a PWR design of its own, the Central Argentina de Elementos Modulares, with a 25-27 MWe prototype and 150 MWe commercial model planned for a site in Formosa.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) general conference in September, Argentina furthermore confirmed that it was studying the technology options for a further five or six reactors and had already granted parliamentary approval for the building of Atucha 3.

In contrast to Brazil and Argentina’s pro-nuclear stance, Mexico, Latin America’s third nuclear user, has flip-flopped over its commitment to the sector.

Last year the country’s Federal Electricity Commission published four scenarios for new power generation up to 2028, including one that proposed adding 10 more reactors to the country’s existing two 800 MWe facilities.

However, this month Bloomberg reported Energy Minister Jordy Herrera as saying Mexico was “changing all its directions amid the very abundant existence of natural gas deposits” uncovered over the past year. There are other countries that might take up the nuclear torch, though.

Ecuador, for instance, signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Rosatom in 2009. And Venezuela was also counting on Russian help to build reactors, although plans were called off in March in the wake of Fukushima.

Other potential takers for nuclear look likely to emerge as the need for more energy and lower emissions take a hold across Latin America. “There’s growing interest from there,” says Warwick Pipe of the World Nuclear Association.

Dana Sacchetti, press and public information officer for the IAEA, adds: “Many conditions that existed before the [Fukushima] accident continue to point towards increased interest in nuclear power.

“Energy and electricity demand growth continue to be driven by population growth and economic development; concerns continue to persist about security of energy supply and high and volatile fossil fuel prices.

“And the quest for stable electricity generating costs is still a major incentive for public and private sector interest in nuclear power.”

Geoff Bolton, principal consultant at Geoff B Associates, concludes: “It’s one of the areas
where nuclear companies should be looking.”

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F.  Links of Interest

Stopping an Iranian Bomb
Foreign Policy
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Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Presents Array of Challenges
The Daily Yomiuri
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