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Nuclear News - 3/15/2011
PGS Nuclear News, March 15, 2011
Compiled By: Matthew Kapuscinski

A.  Iran
    1. Iran Calls for Binding Nuclear Fuel Guarantees, PressTV (3/14/2011)
    2. Iran to Export Nuclear Goods, Services, PressTV (3/13/2011)
    3. U.S. Believes More Sanctions Needed Against Iran, Arshad Mohammed, Reuters (3/10/2011)
    4. Iran Continues Enrichment Under IAEA, Xinhua News Agency (3/10/2011)
    1. Russia Prods North Korea on Nuclear Talks, UPI (3/14/2011)
    2. North Korea May Have Developed Nukes for Missile Payloads: Intel Chief, Hwang Doo-hyong, Yonhap News Agency (3/11/2011)
C.  Nuclear Safety
    1. Meltdown Threat Rises at Japanese Nuclear Plant, Associated Press (3/14/2011)
    2. Indian PM Orders Safety Checks on Nuclear Plants, Pratap Chakravarty, AFP, AFP (3/14/2011)
    3. Swiss Put Nuclear Projects on Hold, Order Safety Inspections, Paul Verschuur, Bloomberg (3/14/2011)
D.  Nuclear Energy
    1. Turkish Energy Ministry-Determined to Build Nuclear Plants, Reuters (3/14/2011)
    2. Germany Temporarily Halts Nuclear Extension Plan, Xinhua News Agency (3/14/2011)
    3. Italy Government Sticks to Nuclear Energy Plan, Francesco Guarascio and Svetlana Kovalyova, Reuters (3/14/2011)
    4. Areva Signs Up Rolls-Royce for EPR, Nuclear Engineering International (3/11/2011)
    5. China to Build 60 Nuclear Reactors Over Next Decade, Asahi Shimbun (3/11/2011)
E.  Links of Interest
    1. New Blast at Fukushima Nuclear Plant, BBC News (3/14/2011)
    2. What is Happening Inside Japan's Nuclear Reactors?, Reuters (3/14/2011)
    3. Understanding Risk of Radiation Poisoning in Japan: Questions and Answers, Simeon Bennett, Bloomberg (3/14/2011)
    4. Negotiations for Nuclear Trade Suspended with Jordan: State Department, Platts (3/10/2011)

A.  Iran

Iran Calls for Binding Nuclear Fuel Guarantees
(for personal use only)

Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency calls on the IAEA fuel guarantee committee to draw up a legally binding document which would ensure fuel supplies for all member states without discrimination.

In an interview with ISNA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh dismissed Britain's proposal on supplying nuclear fuel through the IAEA as illegal and politically motivated.

“This proposal seeks to set conditions such as 'the nations whose nuclear issues are being discussed at the [IAEA] Board of Governors cannot be supplied with fuel,'” said Soltanieh.

“Western countries are trying to put forward proposals to offer limited guarantees for supplying fuel in order to temporarily resolve the lack of legally binding guarantees,” Iran's IAEA ambassador underlined.

Soltanieh also said the West is trying to set the stage to keep developing countries from acquiring uranium enrichment technology.

He underlined proposals such as the setting up of a fuel bank at the IAEA would “not resolve any problems” when it comes to guaranteeing fuel supplies as they could result in the conclusion of agreements that are not binding in law.

He said while Britain's proposal had been initially given to the IAEA Board of Governors in 2006, and was pursued by both London and Washington over the past few months it “was not approved with consensus at the Board of Governors,” which shows Britain's diplomacy at the IAEA has been a failure.

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Iran to Export Nuclear Goods, Services
(for personal use only)

Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Fereydoun Abbasi says the Islamic Republic is prepared to export its nuclear products and services.

“We intend to export nuclear material and services to other countries of the world in order to establish our standing in the global market,” Abbasi said at a news briefing in Tehran on Saturday.

He also stressed the need for the participation of other countries in Iran's nuclear activities, saying participation can be used as a “deterrent factor” as far as passive defense is concerned.

Abbasi went on to say that, through standardization of its products, Iran intends to become a scientific, industrial and managerial hub in the Middle East region.

On March 7, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano confirmed that Iran is not after a nuclear arms program.

Iran has vehemently refuted allegations leveled by the US and its allies against the country, arguing that as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Tehran has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful applications.

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Iran Continues Enrichment Under IAEA
Xinhua News Agency
(for personal use only)

Iran has repeated its determination to continue its nuclear enrichment program despite growing international suspicion and condemnation. Describing a halt to the process as 'impossible,' Tehran's nuclear chief said work was taking place under full IAEA supervision.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iranian Envoy to IAEA, said, "Our message is very clear, we will continue our cooperation with the IAEA in accordance with comprehensive safeguards and we will continue our enrichment activities under the IAEA without any interruption, neither the sanctions nor resolutions, nor the threat of attack, nothing could stop this enrichment, which are exclusively for peaceful purposes."

The envoy also said the Russian-built Bushehr power plant would be completed. The US and other countries believe the plant is part of a civil energy program that Iran is using as a cover for a covert program to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the accusation.

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U.S. Believes More Sanctions Needed Against Iran
Arshad Mohammed
(for personal use only)

The United States believes new sanctions should be put on Iran and existing ones more tightly enforced after talks on reining in Tehran's nuclear program failed in January, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

Robert Einhorn, the State Department's senior adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, said the United States was not seeking new U.N. Security Council sanctions but rather focusing on steps taken on its own and in concert with allies.

He made the comments as he gave the most detailed U.S. public briefing on January talks among six major powers and Iran in Istanbul that failed to break an impasse over the Iranian nuclear program.

The United States, and some of its allies, believe Iran is pursuing atomic weapons under the cover of its civil nuclear program. Iran denies this, saying its program aims to generate electricity so it can export more oil and gas.

The six major powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- have pursued a two-track approach toward Iran, seeking to negotiate a resolution to the disagreement while also pursuing sanctions to pressure Iran.

"We have determined that, in the wake of Istanbul, we have no choice but to increase the cost to Iran of refusing to engage seriously," Einhorn said in a speech to the Arms Control Association think tank in Washington.

"This will mean tightening existing sanctions and developing new ones. It will mean unilateral steps as well as steps agreed with or coordinated with other countries," he said, declining to detail any possible new sanctions.

There have been four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions to punish Iran for failing to halt its uranium enrichment and address questions about its activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

In response to a question on Iran's intentions, Einhorn said he could only speculate about them, but the United States believes Tehran intends to get to the brink of nuclear arms capability so it can produce them if it wished.


However, he said he does not believe Iran soon plans to attempt a nuclear "breakout" -- abandoning its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and moving full-speed to toward atomic weapons.

"We believe that at a minimum Iran is moving to the threshold of a nuclear weapons capability," Einhorn said, making clear he was talking about Iran's intentions rather than its current capabilities.

Given the current inefficiency of its uranium enrichment technology -- a process that can produce fissile material for power plants or, if refined much further, for bombs -- he said it would make little sense for Iran to make such a choice now.

"That's provided some confidence that they are not going to break out soon because it would make no sense for them to break out with a machine that produces material so inefficiently," he said. "We don't see breakout as imminent at this stage."

Einhorn said Iran had been slow to improve its enrichment technology, giving the major powers known as the P5+1 more time to try to pursue a diplomatic solution.

In Istanbul, the P5+1 told Iran there was too much mistrust to immediately discuss a "long-term, final" pact and instead outlined a "phased" approach to build confidence, he said.

The key elements of a first phase would be resuscitating a proposal under which Iran would turn over some of its enriched uranium and would, in return, receive fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes.

Iran would also be asked to give IAEA inspectors greater understanding of its nuclear program.

Iran, in effect, rejected this, saying the major powers must first meet two conditions: affirming that Iran has the right to enrich uranium and removing all sanctions against it.

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Russia Prods North Korea on Nuclear Talks
(for personal use only)

Russia urged North Korea Monday to return to nuclear talks and allow international inspections of its installations.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the isolated Communist state should give the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its facilities, RIA Novosti reported.

IAEA Secretary-General Yukiya Amano said in mid-December it would send inspectors once Pyongyang agrees.

In November, North Korea announced it had added thousands of centrifuges for uranium enrichment at the Yongbyon plant.

Russia's statement said North Korea should "announce its readiness to return to the six-party talks" with China, Russia, South Korea, the United States and Japan without conditions and "impose a moratorium on production and testing of nuclear weapons, and on launches of rockets with ballistic technologies."

The talks have been on hold since April 2009 when the United Nations Security Council condemned the North for its missile tests.

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North Korea May Have Developed Nukes for Missile Payloads: Intel Chief
Hwang Doo-hyong
Yonhap News Agency
(for personal use only)

North Korea may have already developed nuclear warheads that are small enough to be mounted on missiles and aircraft, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Thursday.

"The North may now have several plutonium-based nuclear warheads that it can deliver by ballistic missiles and aircraft as well as by conventional means," Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "We expect the North will continue to test-launch missiles, including the TD-2 ICBM/SLV to refine their performance. With further TD-2 tests, North Korea may develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland."

North Korea detonated nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, and conducted long-range missile tests three times -- in 1998, 2006 and 2009 -- which were seen as a partial success.

Reports said that North Korea is digging a new tunnel to prepare for a third nuclear test and has completed construction of a sophisticated launch site on its western coast to test-fire a ballistic missile that can reach the mainland U.S.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in January that North Korea's missiles and nuclear weapons will pose a threat to the U.S. within five years, with some experts saying Pyongyang may have already developed nuclear warheads small enough for missile payloads.

Burgess said North Korea will not easily abandon its nuclear arsenal despite international efforts to denuclearize the impoverished, but nuclear-armed communist state.

"While North Korea may be willing to abandon portions of its nuclear program in exchange for improved relations with the United States, Pyongyang is unlikely to eliminate its nuclear weapons," he said. "The DPRK will try to keep its nuclear weapons and gain international recognition as a nuclear state together with security guarantees from Washington and expanded economic assistance."

The six-party talks on the North's nuclear dismantlement have been deadlocked over U.N. sanctions for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests in early 2009, and most recently the North's torpedoing of a South Korean warship and shelling of a South Korean border island last year.

North Korea last year attacked the warship Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island, killing 50 people, chilling inter-Korean ties to the lowest level since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea refused to apologize for the provocations and walked out of a rare inter-Korean dialogue last month, thwarting hopes for the resumption of the six-party talks.

Washington has called on Pyongyang to address Seoul's grievances over the deadly attacks before moving on to a new round of the multilateral denuclearization-for-aid talks.

James Clapper, national intelligence director, buttressed Burgess.

"Iran and North Korea are of great concern," Clapper said. "In time they pose a direct mortal threat to the continental United States."

Clapper said North Korea sees its nuclear arsenal as its only leverage.

"Obviously they continue to play their nuclear card," he said. "That is their single, I think, leverage point, or leverage device they can use to attract attention and seek recognition for them as a nuclear power."

The U.S. spy chief also warned of further provocations from the North.

"It is also our assessment at this time that there is a low probability of a conventional attack by the North upon the South," Clapper told the hearing, but added, "North Korea has shown a proclivity for doing sometimes the unexpected and it is the unintended consequences of those events that may precipitate something else."

Burgess said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's plans to transfer power to his youngest son, Jong-un, explain recent provocations.

"Of significant concern is decision making relative to the apparent leadership succession under way and its implications for additional deliberate provocations against the South," Burgess said. "The North Korean artillery attack against Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, 2010, and torpedo attack on the naval corvette Cheonan on March 26, 2010, show Pyongyang's willingness to use military force to advance his external and internal goals. Miscalculation could lead to escalation."

The recent provocations are seen as part of the 28-year-old heir's effort to rally support from the military, just like his ailing father is suspected of masterminding the downing of a Korean Air plane in 1987 that killed all 115 passengers aboard.

Kim Jong-il was being groomed at the time to succeed his father and North Korea's founder, Kim Il-sung, who died of a heart attack in 1994.

Unlike Kim Il-sung, who was a guerrilla leader against Japanese colonialists, neither Kim Jong-il nor Jong-un has a proper background in the military, which serves as a linchpin for the impoverished communist state.

North Korea, meanwhile, disclosed in November a uranium enrichment plant that could be used to make nuclear weapons apart from its plutonium program. The North claims its intention is to generate electricity.

South Korea and the U.S. have said they will seek a U.N. Security Council presidential statement to condemn the uranium program before moving on to the nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

China, North Korea's staunchest communist ally, wants the uranium issue to be dealt with at the six-party talks and opposes Security Council involvement, citing a possible adverse impact on an early resumption of the nuclear talks.

North Korea, suffering severe food shortages from a bad harvest, floods and cold weather last year, recently asked for massive food aid from the international community. Washington is assessing that request.

Reports have said talks toward another inter-Korean summit have been deadlocked over Pyongyang's demand for hundreds of tons of food aid as a precondition without any commitment to address South Korea's grievances over last year's provocations.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, opposed any food aid to North Korea unless the U.S. secures transparency in the distribution of food aid.

"Pyongyang has requested further U.S. food aid as reports indicate renewed food shortages in North Korea," Ros-Lehtinen said. "There is the question of the American food aid remaining in North Korean warehouses when Pyongyang expelled American humanitarian NGOs in the spring of 2009. Pyongyang distributed this food, without monitoring."

U.S. food aid to the North was suspended in early 2009 amid heightened tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests and controversy over the transparency of food distribution.

North Korea at the time refused to issue visas to Korean-speaking monitors, whose mission was to assure that the food was not funneled to the military and government elite.

A joint team from the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization is currently in North Korea to assess the country's food situation.

"There must be a full accounting of these 20,000 tons of food aid requested," she said. "Lest we forget, in December 2008, U.S. shipments of food aid to North Korea via the World Food Program were suspended due to growing concerns about diversion to the North Korean military and regime elite and WFP's lack of effective monitoring and safeguards. Fast approaching is the 100th anniversary next year of the birth of Kim Jong-il's father, and there is the danger that aid provided would be diverted for this spectacle."

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C.  Nuclear Safety

Indian PM Orders Safety Checks on Nuclear Plants
Pratap Chakravarty, AFP
(for personal use only)

India's Prime Minister ordered safety checks on nuclear power plants on Monday, seeking to reassure the public as the country embarks on a massive atomic power drive.

In the wake of Japan's problems, Manmohan Singh told parliament that the department of atomic energy had been "instructed to undertake an immediate technical review of all safety systems of our nuclear power plants."

The inspection was aimed to "ensure that they would be able to withstand large natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes," said Singh, who has advocated nuclear power to meet soaring electricity demand in India.

"I would like to assure members that the government attaches the highest importance to nuclear safety."

Energy-hungry India is one of the world's biggest markets for nuclear technology, with plans to reach a nuclear power capacity of 63,000 megawatts by 2032, from the current level of just 4,780 megawatts.

In 2008, following approval by the US Congress, then president George W. Bush signed into law a nuclear deal with New Delhi that ended a three-decade ban on US nuclear trade with India.

Since then, France, Russia and private US and Japanese firms have been locked in fierce competition to sell new reactors to India, with some estimates suggesting the market could be worth up to 150 billion dollars.

In anticipation of pressure from the opposition and public opinion over a nuclear drive he is seen as pushing, Singh also said work was under way to "further strengthen India's National Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority."

The state-owned National Nuclear Power Corp of India (NPCIL) operates all 20 nuclear reactors dotted around India, while another seven new reactors are set to go on stream.

It reminded readers on its website that nuclear plants in India had withstood a major earthquake -- a 7.9 quake in Gujarat in 2001 -- and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that struck the country's southeast.

Both times, nearby nuclear plants were safely shut down and then restarted, it said.

"The event of Japan will be reviewed in detail," it said. "Resulting out of such a review, any reinforcement as needed in the Indian reactors will be implemented."

Singh's announcement came as MPs in parliament raised questions on India's nuclear safety and offered condolences for the death and destruction in Japan.

Elsewhere on Monday, Switzerland said it had suspended plans to replace its ageing nuclear plants, while Austria's environment minister called on the European Union to run tests on the continent's power stations.

The unfolding nuclear problems in Japan has also led some lawmakers in the United States to call for putting the "brakes" on US nuclear development.

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Meltdown Threat Rises at Japanese Nuclear Plant
Associated Press
(for personal use only)

Water levels dropped precipitously Monday inside a stricken Japanese nuclear reactor, twice leaving the uranium fuel rods completely exposed and raising the threat of a meltdown, hours after a hydrogen explosion tore through the building housing a different reactor.

Water levels were restored after the first decrease but the rods remained exposed late Monday night after the second episode, increasing the risk of the spread of radiation and the potential for an eventual meltdown.

The cascading troubles in the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant compounded the immense challenges faced by the Tokyo government, already struggling to send relief to hundreds of thousands of people along the country's quake- and tsunami-ravaged coast where at least 10,000 people are believed to have died.

Later, a top Japanese official said the fuel rods in all three of the most troubled nuclear reactors appeared to be melting.

Of all these troubles, the drop in water levels at Unit 2 had officials the most worried.

"Units 1 and 3 are at least somewhat stabilized for the time being," said Nuclear and Industrial Agency official Ryohei Shiomi "Unit 2 now requires all our effort and attention."

In some ways, the explosion at Unit 3 was not as dire as it might seem.

The blast actually lessened pressure building inside the troubled reactor, and officials said the all-important containment shell — thick concrete armor around the reactor — had not been damaged. In addition, officials said radiation levels remained within legal limits, though anyone left within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the scene was ordered to remain indoors.

"We have no evidence of harmful radiation exposure," deputy Cabinet secretary Noriyuki Shikata told reporters.

On Saturday, a similar hydrogen blast destroyed the housing around the complex's Unit 1 reactor, leaving the shell intact but resulting in the mass evacuation of more than 185,000 people from the area.

So the worst case scenario still hung over the complex, and officials were clearly struggling to keep ahead of the crisis.

Late Monday, the chief government spokesman said there were signs that the fuel rods were melting in all three reactors, all of which had lost their cooling systems in the wake of Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami

"Although we cannot directly check it, it's highly likely happening," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

Some experts would consider that a partial meltdown. Others, though, reserve that term for times when nuclear fuel melts through a reactor's innermost chamber but not through the outer containment shell.

Officials held out the possibility that, too, may be happening.

"It's impossible to say whether there has or has not been damage" to the vessels, nuclear agency official Naoki Kumagai said.

If a complete reactor meltdown — where the uranium core melts through the outer containment shell — were to occur, a wave of radiation would be released, resulting in major, widespread health problems.

The Monday morning explosion at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant's Unit 3 injured 11 workers and came as authorities were trying to use sea water to cool the complex's three reactors.

While four Japanese nuclear complexes were damaged in the wake of Friday's twin disasters, the Dai-ichi complex, which sits just off the Pacific coast and was badly hammered by the tsunami, has been the focus of most of the worries over Japan's deepening nuclear crisis. All three of the operational reactors at the complex now have faced severe troubles.

Operators knew the sea water flooding would cause a pressure buildup in the reactor containment vessels — and potentially lead to an explosion — but felt they had no choice if they wanted to avoid complete meltdowns. Eventually, hydrogen in the released steam mixed with oxygen in the atmosphere and set off the two blasts.

Japan's meteorological agency did report one good sign. It said the prevailing wind in the area of the stricken plant was heading east into the Pacific, which experts said would help carry away any radiation.

Across the region, though, many residents expressed fear over the situation.

People in the port town of Soma had rushed to higher ground after a tsunami warning Monday — a warning that turned out to be false alarm — and then felt the earth shake from the explosion at the Fukushima reactor 25 miles (40 kilometers) away. Authorities there ordered everyone to go indoors to guard against possible radiation contamination.

"It's like a horror movie," said 49-year-old Kyoko Nambu as she stood on a hillside overlooking her ruined hometown. "Our house is gone and now they are telling us to stay indoors.

"We can see the damage to our houses, but radiation? ... We have no idea what is happening. I am so scared."

Meanwhile, 17 U.S. military personnel involved in helicopter relief missions were found to have been exposed to low levels of radiation after the flew back from the devastated coast to the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier about 100 miles (160 kilometers) offshore.

U.S. officials said the exposure level was roughly equal to one month's normal exposure to natural background radiation, and the 17 were declared contamination-free after scrubbing with soap and water.

As a precaution, the U.S. said the carrier and other 7th Fleet ships involved in relief efforts had shifted to another area.

While Japan has aggressively prepared for years for major earthquakes, reinforcing buildings and running drills, the impact of the tsunami — which came so quickly that not many people managed to flee to higher ground — was immense.

By Monday, officials were overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, with millions of people facing a fourth night without electricity, water, food or heat in near-freezing temperatures.

International scientists say there are serious dangers but little risk of a catastrophe like the 1986 blast in Chernobyl, where there was no containment shells.

And, some analysts noted, the length of time since the nuclear crisis began indicates that the chemical reactions inside the reactor were not moving quickly toward a complete meltdown.

"We're now into the fourth day. Whatever is happening in that core is taking a long time to unfold," said Mark Hibbs, a senior associate at the nuclear policy program for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They've succeeded in prolonging the timeline of the accident sequence."

He noted, though, that Japanese officials appeared unable to figure out what was going on deep inside the reactor. In part, that was probably because of the damage done to the facility by the tsunami.

"The real question mark is what's going on inside the core," he said.

Overall, more than 1,500 people had been scanned for radiation exposure in the area, officials said.

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Swiss Put Nuclear Projects on Hold, Order Safety Inspections
Paul Verschuur
(for personal use only)

The Swiss government put projects to renew three of the country’s five nuclear power stations on hold as engineers struggled to prevent meltdowns at earthquake- stricken plants in Japan.

Legal procedures to prepare for construction of the new plants at Beznau, Goesgen and Muehleberg were suspended, the Environment Ministry said today in an e-mailed statement. Safety inspections at existing facilities were brought forward.

“Safety and the population’s wellbeing have top priority,” Environment Minister Doris Leuthard, whose department is also responsible for energy policy, traffic and communication, was quoted as saying in the release. Nuclear operator BKW FMB Energie AG (BKWN), which is majority-owned by the canton of Bern, slumped the most in two years.

Two nuclear plants at Beznau and one at Leibstadt are located near the Rhine valley, which has had minor earthquakes. Leuthard ordered an analysis of the causes of the Japanese nuclear emergency and what lessons can be drawn, especially regarding earthquake safety and the reliability of cooling systems, the ministry said in its statement.

Last month, Bern canton voters approved the replacement of the Muehleberg power station east of the Swiss capital. Plans for a new reactor at the BKW FMB plant, in operation since 1972, were backed by 51 percent of voters.

Public Opinion

The non-binding vote was seen as a test of public opinion ahead of a nationwide referendum on atomic power likely to be held in late 2013.

BKW FMB dropped as much as 7.1 percent, the most since March 2009, and was down 5.45 Swiss francs at 72.55 francs by 1:35 p.m. That gave the utility a market value of 3.83 billion francs ($4.16 billion).

Of the two other Swiss nuclear operators, Alpiq Holding AG (ALPH) fell 0.7 percent to 369.5 francs, while Axpo Holding AG is privately held.

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D.  Nuclear Energy

Germany Temporarily Halts Nuclear Extension Plan
Xinhua News Agency
(for personal use only)

Germany would suspend the plan of extending the lifespan of its 17 nuclear power plants for three months, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Monday, amid fears of meltdowns at several nuclear plants in quake-hit Japan.

Merkel told a press conference that her government will run security tests on the country's nuclear power stations before making any further decision in autumn.

"Everything will be reviewed," Merkel said. "If a highly developed country like Japan, with high safety standards and norms, cannot prevent such consequences for nuclear power after an earthquake and a tsunami, then this has consequences for the whole world."

"This changes the situation, including in Germany. We have a new situation, and this situation must be thoroughly analysed," she said.

The chancellor announced that Germany is to close its two oldest nuclear plants this year, known as Neckarwestheim 1 and Biblis A, which has been run since 1976 and 1975 separately.

However, Merkel stressed that these moves do not mean that Germany will give up the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Merkel's government decided last year to extend the lifespan of its nuclear power station -- those built before 1980 in Germany can be run eight extra years, and those born after 1980 can extend their running time to 14 years.

The controversial decision toppled the old legislation supported by the previous government -- a coalition of the center- left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens, which decided to shut down all 17 nuclear power stations by 2022. Polls showed that the majority of Germans opposed such extension.

Since Friday, several Japanese nuclear power reactors have witnessed terrible explosions and possible meltdowns after a 9- magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami struck the eastern coast of Japan. The disaster in Japan has immediately triggered a new round of disputes over Germany's nuclear extension move.

On Saturday, some 40,000 people formed a 45-kilometer human chain from Germany's southern Neckarwestheim nuclear plant to Stuttgart, asking for an immediate stop on nuclear energy.

Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), its sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) and coalition party Free Democrats (FDP) are facing important regional elections in the coming month, including the one in Baden-Wuerttemberg on March 27. Observers believed that the nuclear plants disputes may add new pressures on Merkel and her coalition.

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Italy Government Sticks to Nuclear Energy Plan
Francesco Guarascio and Svetlana Kovalyova
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Italy's government is sticking to its nuclear energy programme despite an accident in Japan after an earthquake but a referendum on nuclear plant building later this year may derail the plans.

Italy, which is prone to earthquakes, is the only Group of Eight industrialized nation that does not produce nuclear power, but Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wants atomic plants to generate a quarter of the country's electricity in the future.

The Japanese accident has reignited concerns about nuclear safety in Italy, where there is traditionally strong anti-atomic sentiment, ahead of a national vote on the construction of new nuclear plants, due to be held by mid-June.

"Italy's stance on the nuclear programme hasn't changed," Stefania Prestigiacomo told a news conference in Brussels.

She said Italy was concerned about the developments in Japan, but she thought it was unsuitable to use the crisis to influence domestic nuclear debate.

Italy's biggest utility, Enel, has plans to start building nuclear power stations in the country together with French power giant EDF in 2013.

Prestigiacomo's comments come as Switzerland suspended approvals of three new nuclear power stations and Germany said it could suspend extension of the life of nuclear power plants after the blast in Japan.

In 1987, nuclear energy was rejected by a public vote in Italy after the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, and green groups and several opposition politicians are calling on the public to do the same again which would likely derail the planned revival.

"Nuclear revival plans are likely to be mothballed," Luigi De Paoli, energy economy professor at the Bocconi University in Milan, told Reuters.

"We can expect a strengthening of the anti-nuclear opinion in the country which is likely to lead to a "No" outcome at the referendum."

Even though referendum results can be circumvented in theory, no politician would run a risk of a headlong clash with a clearly expressed anti-nuclear public opinion, De Paoli said.


A snapshot public opinion poll conducted by Italy's SkyTg24 TV news among its viewers showed that 63 percent were against nuclear power in Italy after the accident in Japan.

Japan scrambled to avert a meltdown at a stricken nuclear plant on Monday after a hydrogen explosion at one reactor and exposure of fuel rods at another, just days after an earthquake and tsunami which killed at least 10,000 people.

Italian environmental activists from Greenpeace, Legambiente and WWF called on members of Italy's recently created nuclear safety agency to resign after "they have played down the gravity of the accident in Japan," Legambiente said in a statement.

The country's earthquake risk is fresh in the minds of Italians, after its worst earthquake since 1980 struck central Italy around the city of L'Aquila in April 2009, killing more than 300 people and flattening whole towns.

If Italy scraps nuclear plans, the country would remain heavily dependent on costly imports of oil, gas and other energy resources, Davide Tabarelli, head of Nomisma Energia think tank told Reuters.

Italy aims to reduce its dependence on energy imports, which supply about 80 percent of its needs. Its suppliers include crisis-hit countries such as Libya, from which it imports about 25 percent of its oil and about 12 percent of its gas.

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Turkish Energy Ministry-Determined to Build Nuclear Plants
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The earthquake in Japan and consequent damage to its nuclear plants will not affect Turkey's determination to build nuclear power plants, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told broadcaster CNBC-e.

Turkey is criss-crossed by geological fault lines and often suffers earthquakes. The country has said it would like to build 20 nuclear reactors by 2030, and wants nuclear energy to account for most of its power production.

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Areva Signs Up Rolls-Royce for EPR
Nuclear Engineering International
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French nuclear vendor Areva has signed an industrial cooperation agreement with Rolls-Royce plc covering the manufacture of components for new nuclear power plants and other nuclear projects in the United Kingdom and beyond.

After the signing ceremony, Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon said: “We look forward to sharing processes, knowledge and skills to ensure that UK industry can perform a key role in manufacturing the new plants to be built in Britain and abroad. We want solid relationships with a series of international companies that can work with us globally. We are looking for strong ties and this new agreement is a major step in the direction.”

Sir John Rose, Rolls-Royce Chief Executive said: “We have an excellent relationship with Areva, which is reflected in this important agreement. With 50 years’ nuclear experience and an extensive nuclear supply chain we can bring our significant expertise to bear for the benefit of the nuclear new build programme. This will deliver benefits to the UK and will further enhance the export potential in this fast growing sector.”

Rolls-Royce was previously involved in the UK EPR project as an independent safety assessor. It also participated in a design safety review committee.

Minister for Trade and Investment, Lord Green, said that the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Manufacturing Advisory Service will be working to identify and develop the potential of UK manufacturing companies in the civil nuclear supply chain to ensure they are able to win and hold orders.

Areva has been chosen to build the nuclear steam generating systems for the first four EPR reactors which are planned for construction in the UK by EDF and is competing for a further four reactors for Horizon Nuclear Power. The group is also in discussions with NuGen for the construction of two EPR reactors.

Within the scope of these projects, an estimated 70 to 80 per cent of the total auxiliary equipment manufacturing could be available to UK companies and a similar percentage for civil construction, it said. It is also estimated that the manufacture and construction of each twin set of EPR reactors in the country will support over 20,000 jobs at its peak.

Areva also announced that it has reached an agreement with the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre to act as its manufacturing sourcing and competence hub to identify and assist other British manufacturing companies that want to enter the civil nuclear market for the first time. Furthermore, the group and its EPR Delivery Team partners is also drawing up plans for training in the skills required for the nuclear new build programme with relevant bodies and colleges.

In January, UK nuclear new-build rival Westinghouse announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Doosan Power Systems. Although it did not reveal contractual details, their scope includes manufacturing and components, supply chain and logistics, and engineering support.

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China to Build 60 Nuclear Reactors Over Next Decade
Asahi Shimbun
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China plans to build six nuclear power plants a year over the next decade, increasing its nuclear power capacity to more than 70 gigawatts by 2020, according to a top official of a nuclear power company.

Liu Wei, vice president of China Nuclear Power Engineering Corp., which comes under China's nuclear authority, the China National Nuclear Corp., said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun that China should have about 70 reactors online by 2020, more than now operating in Japan. Japan has 54 reactors.

Currently, China has 13 reactors with a total output capacity of 11 gigawatts. Twenty-five new nuclear power plants are already under construction, nearly half of all new facilities being built worldwide.

Recently the United States approved the export of nuclear facilities to China, and Westinghouse Electric Co., owned by Toshiba Corp., is building one of the new reactors.

Japanese companies are also exporting related facilities.

While China's nuclear drive is aimed at domestic demand, Liu did not rule out the possibility that Beijing could also export nuclear facilities and technology, which Tokyo eyes as a key economic growth area.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Question: The schedule seems a little rushed.

Answer: Our initial plan was to achieve an output of 40 gigawatts by 2020, but we expect to achieve that goal five years ahead of time, or earlier.

While a final decision has yet to be made, we plan to set the target at more than 70 gigawatts.

The standard output capacity of a reactor is 1 gigawatt. By 2020 we hope to have more than 70 reactors operating, more than Japan has.

With an eye on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, China plans to boost its reliance on non-fossil fuel energy sources to 15 percent of total supply. Currently nuclear power generation accounts for about 1 percent of overall electricity supply, so there is plenty of room for growth in this field.

Q: The construction period seems short.

A: With two years of preparation we can construct the facilities so that they can be commercially operable within five years. Unlike in Japan, we do not encounter opposition from local communities.

With thermal power generation that uses coal still the main source of power in the country, nuclear energy tends to be seen as a clean form of energy.

A set of four generators costs about 50 billion yuan (about 600 billion yen or $7.25 billion) to build, meaning that local communities will benefit from new jobs and the tax income that is generated.

Q: Do you have plans to export reactors?

A: Currently, our priority lies with domestic needs, but we are thinking about it.

China has been building nuclear power plants for the last two decades and will continue to build a large number of facilities.

Compared with many industrialized countries which have largely stopped construction of new facilities, China is developing new technologies every year. Drawing on experience and cutting-edge technologies from other countries, China has designed, built and operated its own nuclear reactors at a lower cost than developed countries. There lies our strength.

Q: There are safety concerns among Japanese about such a large amount of construction being undertaken so rapidly.

A: We have a track record of safely operating nuclear facilities for 20 years now. We hope to reassure people about that. China, Japan and South Korea will form a region where more than 100 reactors are concentrated. There are many areas where we can cooperate to ensure the safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Last year I had the opportunity to visit the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture, and learn about nuclear facilities and earthquakes. It was good experience.

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E.  Links of Interest

New Blast at Fukushima Nuclear Plant
BBC News
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Understanding Risk of Radiation Poisoning in Japan: Questions and Answers
Simeon Bennett
(for personal use only)

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What is Happening Inside Japan's Nuclear Reactors?
(for personal use only)

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Negotiations for Nuclear Trade Suspended with Jordan: State Department
(for personal use only)

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