Iran is not making fast progress towards acquiring a nuclear weapon, a US expert said Friday, adding he believed Tehran would still need another two years to achieve that goal.
"Iran is not moving as fast as it could. They've been at it since 25 years since they started the Iranian enrichment program in about 1985," said Mark Fitzpatrick, from the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
He said Iran would still need "a little over two years to have a bomb."
Fitzpatrick also compared Tehran's slow progress to the 11 years it took Pakistan to acquire a nuclear capacity, as he presented an IISS report entitled "Iran's nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities: a net assessment."
But Fitzpatrick, a former State Department employee, added Iran had still not yet completely decided whether to press ahead with making a nuclear bomb.
"As long they haven't made that decision I think there is still a time for diplomacy," he said.
At the end of December, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Yaalon said several recent setbacks had delayed Tehran's acquisition of a nuclear capability.
One of them was the Internet virus, the Stuxnet worm, which some suspect was developed by Israel and the United States and which affected the Iranian centrifuges producing enriched uranium -- a vital component of a nuclear bomb.
The New York Times reported in January that US and Israeli intelligence services collaborated to develop the computer worm.
"Stuxnet has had an impact on putting some centrifugues out of operation. But it was not a complete success because they were able to operate," Fitzpatrick said.
UN sanctions against the Islamic Republic have also impacted the alleged Iranian nuclear program, Washington has said.
The Sajil 2 missile -- which would be used to carry a nuclear warhead -- was also "still two years away from being operational," Fitzpatrick said.
But the IISS report said Iran's nuclear program has been making inexorable progress in the past 25 years, and argued that the Iranian regime's insistence that it was for peaceful civilian purposes only were simply not credible.
Iran has been slapped with four sets of UN sanctions for refusing to rein in its suspect nuclear program and for failing to halt uranium enrichment, amid accusations from the United States and other western nations that it is seeking to develop an atomic bomb.
Tehran has steadfastly denied the allegations.
An influential US senator said last week after a closed-door, classified intelligence briefing on Iran that Tehran is working "seriously" to develop nuclear weapons.
"I can't say much in detail, but it's pretty clear that they're continuing to work seriously on a nuclear weapons program," Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security committee, told AFP.
The lawmaker, who also sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke after a briefing from a senior US intelligence official on weapons of mass destruction on the latest US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran.
A previous NIE on Iran, partly declassified in December 2007, stated with "high confidence" that Tehran had "halted its nuclear weapons program" in late 2003. The document is the consensus view of all 16 US spy agencies.
In February, a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity that US intelligence agencies believe Iran's leaders are locked in debate about whether to build nuclear weapons and that sanctions have aggravated those divisions.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hhmyHz-bwkGs1E4Yazntxw9SiLHQ?docId=CNG.0060a68c41930b55312be19a18024e6d.b91
2. Libya Conflict May Strengthen Iran Nuclear Defiance
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Western air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's forces could stiffen Iran's resolve to resist U.S.-led demands over its nuclear programme, though Tehran's final analysis may depend on when and how the Libyan war ends.
Seeking to mend ties with the West, Gaddafi agreed in 2003 to abandon efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons -- a move that brought him in from the cold and helped end decades as an international pariah.
In contrast, Iran has repeatedly ruled out halting sensitive nuclear activities it says are aimed at generating electricity but which the United States and its allies suspect are geared towards developing a nuclear weapons capability.
Analysts say events in Libya, where Western warplanes hit Libyan tanks on a fifth night of air strikes on Thursday, are likely to provide new arguments for those in Iran who believe it would be a mistake to back down over its nuclear programme.
Iran's arch foes -- Israel and the United States -- have refused to exclude possible military action against the Islamic Republic if diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute fail.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Reuters on Thursday that Iran and Syria posed a greater security threat than Libya, urging the West to treat those countries in the same way as it has Gaddafi's government.
"I suspect that this is playing into the hands of those who say that Iran has to have a nuclear deterrent because look at what happened to Gaddafi," Shannon Kile, at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said.
Iran is pushing ahead with its uranium enrichment work despite toughening sanctions by the United Nations, United States and Europe on the major oil producer and technical and others woes slowing its nuclear progress.
WEST NOT TRUSTED
Iran says it is refining uranium only to provide fuel for a planned network of nuclear power stations so that it can export more of its oil and gas. But the same material can be used to make bombs if refined much more.
"Even without the operations in Libya the attitude in Iran has hardened over the last 2-3 years," said David Hartwell, IHS Jane's North Africa and Middle East analyst.
He said hardliners were likely to use the air campaign in Libya as a further justification for their position that "we simply can't trust the West".
Iran's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, this week said Gaddafi's concessions over its nuclear programme showed Tehran was right to continue to reject any curb to its atomic energy development.
Khamenei said that while Libya had given up its nuclear capacities in exchange for incentives he compared to giving candy to a child, Iran "not only did not retreat but ... officials tried to increase nuclear facilities year after year".
While voicing support for demonstrators in the region and condemning government repression, Iran has crushed protests at home and jailed scores of demonstrators since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed presidential election in June 2009.
"Surely the attack on Gaddafi's forces will reinforce the Iranian distrust of the United States," proliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, said.
"Ayatollah Khamenei already has long believed that if you give an inch to the United States, they will take a mile, that any concession on the nuclear front will only lead to demands on human rights and Israel and other issues."
The U.N. Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Tehran since 2006 for refusing to freeze its enrichment programme, which can have both civilian and military purposes.
Major powers have offered Iran trade and other economic and political incentives it halts its atomic activities.
But two rounds of talks in December and January between Iran and the six powers seeking to resolve the dispute diplomatically -- the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Britain and China -- failed to make any headway.
Underlining the deadlock, no new meetings have been scheduled, even though both sides insist the door remains open.
Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the world must make clear Iran would face "credible military action" if sanctions do not shut down its nuclear programme.
Iran's reading of the Libyan situation may be that Western powers would not have thought about intervening there if Gaddafi had held on to his weapons programmes, said Oliver Thraenert, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
"You might argue that possessing a nuclear option means that you will not be confronted with an international intervention, whatever you might do in the future with any opposition within Iran," he said.
But there could also be those in Iran who make the opposite case, that the action in Libya shows that the United States and its allies could do the same in Iran before it "gets its hand on a nuclear option. It is also possible," Thraenert said.
Baqer Moin, an Iran expert in London, said the implications for Iran and its rival factions would hinge on whether the Western campaign in Libya was successful or became a quagmire.
"If it is an easy victory it would enhance the position of those who want to negotiate with the West," Moin said.
Available at: http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2011/3/25/worldupdates/2011-03-24T220431Z_01_NOOTR_RTRMDNC_0_-558557-2&sec=Worldupdates
1. Jimmy Carter Plans New North Korea Trip: Officials
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Former US president Jimmy Carter plans to visit North Korea on a private mission apparently intended to ease acute tensions, South Korean and US officials said Thursday.
South Korea is "paying attention to Carter's plan to visit North Korea," foreign ministry spokesman Cho Byung-Jae told reporters, calling it "a personal trip."
"All the communications currently under way for the visit are purely private talks... and the US government also said his trip would be a personal visit," he said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that Carter would not carry any message from President Barack Obama's administration.
"We have not had any contact with him other than being informed about the trip," Toner told reporters. "He's traveling in a private capacity."
A spokesman for the Carter Center, the former president's peace-building institute in Atlanta, declined comment.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Carter may bring other elder statesmen with him to Pyongyang including former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, ex-Irish president Mary Robinson and former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland.
Carter has been in talks with the North's UN mission in New York to arrange his trip to Pyongyang, Yonhap said.
"He will likely visit the North about a month later," a diplomatic source was quoted as saying.
The 2002 Nobel Peace Prize laureate made a landmark visit to Pyongyang in 1994 when the US came close to war with North Korea over its nuclear programme, helping defuse the crisis through talks with then-leader Kim Il-Sung.
He also visited the isolated communist state in August last year to secure the release of an American held there for illegal entry.
Carter has broken ranks with Obama, a fellow member of the Democratic Party, by urging a new diplomatic drive to engage North Korea and work toward a permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.
The Obama administration has refused to resume talks with the North until it clearly abides by previous agreements not to pursue nuclear weapons and makes amends with democratic South Korea.
Tension is high on the peninsula marking the first anniversary of the North's alleged sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors.
South Korea launched a major live-fire drill Thursday near the tense land border with the North. It is also holding a week-long sea exercise that began on Monday to mark the anniversary.
Tensions have also risen after North Korea in November shelled a border island, the first attack on civilians since the 1950-53 Korean War, and disclosed an apparently functional uranium enrichment plant to US experts.
Pyongyang said the plant was a peaceful energy project, but experts warned it could be reconfigured to make weapons-grade uranium, giving the North a second way to produce bombs on top of its plutonium-based weapons.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hw0V6AwXET5URZrWDXULUJU4TeDA?docId=CNG.a2e7d43557882e0efe638a466cc3c275.8b1
2. North Korea Suggests Libya Should Have Kept Nuclear Program
Mark McDonald, Knight Ridder Newspapers
The New York Times
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A North Korean statement that Libya’s dismantling of its nuclear weapons program had made it vulnerable to military intervention by the West is being seen by analysts as an ominous reinforcement of the North’s refusal to end its own nuclear program.
North Korea’s official news agency carried comments this week from a Foreign Ministry official criticizing the air assault on Libyan government forces and suggesting that Libya had been duped in 2003 when it abandoned its nuclear program in exchange for promises of aid and improved relations with the West.
Calling the West’s bargain with Libya “an invasion tactic to disarm the country,” the official said it amounted to a bait and switch approach. “The Libyan crisis is teaching the international community a grave lesson,” the official was quoted as saying Tuesday, proclaiming that North Korea’s “songun” ideology of a powerful military was “proper in a thousand ways” and the only guarantor of peace on the Korean Peninsula.
As they have watched the attacks in Libya this week, senior North Korean leaders “must feel alarmed, but also deeply satisfied with themselves,” said Rüdiger Frank, an adjunct professor at Korea University and the University of North Korean Studies, writing on the Web site 38 North. North Korea is believed to have 8 to 12 nuclear weapons and last year disclosed a new uranium-enrichment plant.
Mr. Frank said that the Libyan situation was “at least the third instance in two decades that would seem to offer proof that they did something right while others failed and ultimately paid the price.” He said North Korea would probably see object lessons in the Soviet Union’s decision to end the arms race and to “abandon the political option to use their weapons of mass destruction,” and in Iraq’s agreement to accept United Nations nuclear inspectors and monitors. And now, Libya.
“To put it bluntly,” Mr. Frank said, “in the eyes of the North Korean leadership all three countries took the economic bait, foolishly disarmed themselves, and once they were defenseless, were mercilessly punished by the West.”
“It requires little imaginative power to see what conclusions will be drawn in Pyongyang,” he said, adding that anyone in the senior leadership who favored denuclearization “will now be silent.”
The United States said there was no link between Libya’s abandonment of efforts to develop nuclear arms and other weapons and the current military campaign by Western nations.
“Where they’re at today has absolutely no connection with them renouncing their nuclear program or nuclear weapons,” said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman.
The comments by the anonymous North Korean official appeared to dim the chances for a renewal of the so-called six-party talks on the dismantling of North Korea’s atomic program. The talks ended in 2009 when North Korea withdrew, angry over international sanctions that followed a long-range missile test. The two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan are the participants in the six-party process, which began in 2003. China, North Korea’s only major ally, has served as the host country.
Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/world/asia/25korea.html
1. Radioactive Water at Fukushima Nuclear Plant Can't be Drained as Condensers Full
The Mainichi Daily News
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Radioactive water found in the turbine buildings of two of the reactors at the quake- and tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant cannot be drained off because their condensers are already filled with water, it has emerged.
Water containing high levels of radiation has been found in the turbine buildings of the plant's No. 1 to 3 reactors.
The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), had intended to drain the radioactive water into their condensers. However, the condensers of the No. 2 and 3 reactors are almost filled to capacity with water, company sources said.
Therefore, TEPCO is considering moving the water in the condensers to other locations to make room for the radioactive water.
To that end, however, temporary pumps need to be installed on the condensers, causing further delay in the ongoing work to restore power sources to cool down the reactors.
Condensers use seawater to cool down the steam used to drive the turbines. The condenser of the No. 1 reactor can contain 1,600 tons of water while those of the No. 2 and 3 reactors can hold 3,000 tons each.
Since there was enough room in the No. 1 reactor's condenser, TEPCO began on March 25 to drain radioactive water into it using its sole pump. The company installed two additional pumps to the condenser on March 27 in a bid to speed up the process.
As for the reasons why the condensers of the No. 2 and 3 reactors are filled with water, TEPCO explains that power supply was cut off to the pump used to drain water from the condensers after the reactors came to a sudden halt.
TEPCO officials are now considering draining the radioactive water into the reactors' condensation tanks, each with a capacity of over 2,000 tons, which are separate from the condensers.
In a related development, the spent nuclear fuel pools of two of the reactors appear to have been filled with water, TEPCO officials said.
The company confirmed that the levels of the additional tanks attached to the pools of No. 2 and 4 reactors rose on March 25 and 27, respectively, to full capacity.
Additional tanks are attached to the spent fuel pools to hold any spilled water. Since batteries in the central control room of the plant were restored, the company can now measure the amounts of water in the tanks. TEPCO had been injecting water into the pools of the No. 2 and 4 reactors.
All fuel including spent fuel is in the pool of the No. 4 reactor and no fuel is in the reactor's main unit since it was undergoing a regular checkup at the time of the temblor.
"If the additional tank of the No. 4 reactor is confirmed to be full, the reactor will be safe for now," a TEPCO official said.
Available at: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20110328p2a00m0na016000c.html
2. Edano Says Japan Nuclear Policy Must Be Reviewed After Crisis
Takashi Hirokawa and Go Onomitsu
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Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the government will review its nuclear power policy once the situation at the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi atomic plant is under control.
“Once this is resolved, we need to carry out a thorough review and examination of this major policy decision,” Edano told reporters today in Tokyo.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s government in June released a “Strategic Energy Plan” that called for building nine new nuclear power plants by 2020 and more than 14 by 2030. Under the proposal, Tokyo Electric Power Co. would build two more reactors at the Dai-Ichi plant damaged by the record March 11 earthquake and tsunami that has killed more than 10,000 people.
Rising radiation emissions may be the result of a partial meltdown of nuclear fuel at reactor No. 2’s containment vessel, Edano said earlier today. The radiation and water leaking from the reactor are hampering efforts to cool the plant, site of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years ago.
Asked about plans to construct reactors No. 7 and No. 8 at the plant, Edano said “nuclear policy as a whole” must be reviewed.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-28/edano-says-japan-nuclear-policy-must-be-reviewed-after-crisis.html
3. Radiation Leak Found Outside Japan Nuclear Reactor
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Highly radioactive water has been found for the first time outside one of the reactor buildings at Japan's quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, officials say.
The leak in a tunnel linked to the No 2 reactor has raised fears of radioactive liquid seeping into the environment.
Plutonium has also been found in soil at the plant, but not at levels that threaten human health, officials say.
Earlier, Japan's government strongly criticised the plant's operator, Tepco, over mistaken radiation readings.
Tepco announced on Sunday that a highly radioactive pool of water in the No 2 reactor was 100 times more radioactive than it actually was.
Officials said the radiation scare was caused by a partial meltdown of fuel rods.
The discovery of highly radioactive water outside a reactor building is a worrying development, says the BBC's Mark Worthington in Tokyo.
Up until now, pools of water with extremely high levels of radiation have only been detected within the reactor buildings themselves.
The water was found in an underground maintenance tunnel, with one end located about 55m (180ft) from the shore.
Radiation levels were measured at 1,000 millisieverts an hour, a dose that can cause temporary radiation sickness. This is the same as the levels found on Sunday.
However, Tepco said there was no evidence that the contaminated water had reached the sea.
Tepco later said that plutonium had also been detected in soil at five locations at the plant but not at levels that represented a risk to human health.
It said the results came from samples taken a week ago and would not stop work at the plant.
Plutonium was used in the fuel mix for only one of the six reactors, number three.
The twin discoveries came hours after the government criticised Tepco for issuing incorrect readings from the plant.
On Sunday Tepco said radiation levels at reactor No 2 were 10 million times higher than normal before correcting that figure to 100,000.
"Considering the fact that the monitoring of radioactivity is a major condition to ensure safety, this kind of mistake is absolutely unacceptable," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.
Tepco has apologised but the mistaken reading at the Fukushima Daiichi plant has called into question the operating company's handling of the current crisis, our correspondent says.
Tepco has been criticised for a lack of transparency and failing to provide information more promptly and for making a number of mistakes, including worker clothing.
Two workers were taken to hospital last week after wading though contaminated water with inadequate protection. They were expected to be released on Monday.
Workers are battling to restore power and restart the cooling systems at the stricken nuclear plant, which was hit by a quake and tsunami over two weeks ago.
A 9.0-magnitude earthquake on 11 March and the powerful tsunami it triggered is now known to have killed 10,901 people, with more than 17,000 people still missing.
More than 190,000 people are living in temporary shelters.
The BBC's Roland Buerk in Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefecture, says prefabricated houses are being wired for electricity, but there is initially room for only 150 of the 1,000 survivors there.
In Miyagi prefecture - another of the worst-hit areas - the authorities estimate it will be three years before all of the rubble and debris has been cleared.
Some 20,000 US troops are bolstering Japan's Self-Defence Forces, delivering aid in what is said to be the biggest bilateral humanitarian mission the US has conducted in Japan.
As well as shortages of food, water and fuel, survivors are also having to endure frequent aftershocks.
Japan lifted a tsunami warning earlier on Monday that was issued after a 6.5-magnitude quake struck off the northern coast.
It is not reported to have caused any injuries or damage.
For the first time since the disaster, the government has permitted a foreign medical team to enter the country to treat victims, the Japan Times reports.
The health ministry has lifted a ban on holders of foreign medical licences from practising in Japan, allowing a team of 53 medical aid workers from Israel, including 14 doctors and seven nurses, to work.
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12881015
1. Siemens May Abandon Planned Rosatom Nuclear Venture
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Siemens AG (SIE) is exploring all options including an exit from its planned nuclear-plant joint venture with Russia’s Rosatom Corp. after the nuclear crisis in Japan, WirtschaftsWoche reported, citing an unidentified manager at the company.
Siemens would forfeit “sizeable revenue” if it fully abandons cooperation with Rosatom, the magazine said on its website today.
No decision has been taken on whether the German company will fully exit the venture or take a role as a preferred technological partner, the magazine said.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-26/siemens-may-abandon-planned-rosatom-nuclear-venture-wiwo-says.html
2. Rosatom Signs $2.8 Billion Contract to Enrich Uranium for U.S.
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Rosatom Corp., Russia’s government- owned nuclear holding company, agreed a contract valued at about $2.8 billion to supply enriched uranium to the U.S., Russian state-run newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta said, citing the company.
The accord includes an option to double supplies, possibly boosting the value of the deal to $6 billion, Kommersant said in a separate report, citing Rosatom Chief Executive Officer Sergei Kirienko. Sergei Novikov, a spokesman in Moscow for the company, wasn’t immediately available to comment.
Rosatom’s Techsnabexport unit, known as Tenex, agreed a 10- year deal to supply low-enriched uranium to Bethesda, Maryland- based USEC Inc. (USU) from 2013, the U.S. company said on March 23.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-25/rosatom-signs-2-8-billion-contract-to-enrich-uranium-for-u-s-.html
Russia is interested in utilizing spent nuclear fuel dry storage technology developed by the United States.
Head of the Russian Federation's Rosatom Nuclear Energy State Agency Sergei Kiriyenko met with U.S. nuclear industry representatives Wednesday at the Russian Embassy in Washington.
He said: "Among the technologies that are well-developed in the U.S., I think in the nearest future we will be interested in the SNF dry storage in containers. I think, following the tests that we are carrying out today under existing projects, one of the conclusions will be to replace SNF wet storage facilities by dry ones."
Kiriyenko added that Rosatom was cooperating with U.S. companies in using such containers, including "by way of setting up a joint venture," Interfax-Agentstvo Veonnykh Novostei news agency reported Friday.
Rosatom controls the Russian Federation's nuclear power conglomerate Atomenergoprom.
Unlike in the United States where there is a clear delineation between civilian nuclear power companies, in Russia Rosatom is also responsible for nuclear weapons companies, research institutes, governmental nuclear and radiation safety agencies and also represents Russia worldwide in the field of civilian use of nuclear energy and international nonproliferation efforts.
Many of the Russian Federation's nuclear power reactors are of the RBMK 1000 design, similar to the one that had a disastrous fire in April 1986 at Chernobyl in Ukraine.
In the aftermath of the accident, rather than shutter the facilities, while some of the RBMK reactors were to be shut down, they instead had their operational periods extended after additional safety systems were integrated into their designs.
In the aftermath of the accident at the Japanese nuclear plant Fukushima-1, Rosatom and the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Supervision or Rostekhnadzor, have begun security checks at Russia's 10 nuclear power plants housing 31 reactor units, along with 109 research reactors.
Russia currently meets 16 percent of its electrical needs using nuclear power.
Russian civilian nuclear energy technology is also a valuable export concern. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently confirmed plans for Rosatom building Turkey's first nuclear power plant at Akkuyu near Mersin on the Mediterranean coast.
An agreement concerned that plant was signed in May 2010 but the project has been an object of contention for years for Turkish environmentalists because of the site's proximity to a seismic fault.
The European Community has criticized Russia's decision to grant energy-poor Belarus a credit of more than $9 billion to build a nuclear power plant near Ostrovets, 35 miles from Vilnius, alarming Lithuania, which closed its own RBMK-1500 nuclear power station at Ignalina in December 2004. Besides Belarus, Rosatom is building or planning nuclear power plants in 13 countries, including India, Bulgaria, and Iran, while Russia has 24 new nuclear power stations planned.
Available at: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2011/03/25/Russian-wants-US-nuclear-technology/UPI-92451301080476/
Shares of Tokyo Electric Power Co. hit a 34-year low Monday as speculation grew about a possible government takeover of the company, which faces multibillion-dollar losses from its nuclear disaster.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Naoto Kan said nationalization isn't on the agenda, but Japan was abuzz with talk about how the company, known as Tepco, could handle its liabilities.
"There is a strong possibility the current legal framework may not be adequate to solve the situation. The solution then will be temporary nationalization of the company," said Yoshimi Watanabe, leader of the opposition Your Party, at a news conference Friday.
Tepco and the government haven't given an official liability estimate, but the company has said it wants to raise two trillion yen, or about $25 billion. Major banks have expressed willingness to provide loans. The company just finished raising 450 billion yen through an equity offering last October.
A key question is whether the troubles at Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant qualify under a 1961 Japanese law as a "grave natural disaster of an exceptional character." If so, under the law the government would likely be responsible for much of the damages.
Tepco shares fell by the maximum daily limit Monday, dipping nearly 18% to 696 yen from 846 yen at Friday's close on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Before the March 11 quake, the shares were trading above 2,100 yen, meaning they have lost more than two-thirds of their value.
Billions of dollars are likely to be sought by people in the 20-kilometer (12-mile) evacuation zone around the nuclear plant, as well as farmers beyond the zone who had to destroy crops because of radiation exposure and other victims.
A Tepco spokesman said Monday that the company is focusing on the Fukushima Daiichi problems and hasn't given thought to how the company's structure might change after the problems are resolved. The spokesman said Tepco will take direction from the government in determining how damages should be paid.
Stumbles by Tepco since the quake have created public-image problems and have made it harder for the government to do anything that might be perceived as a bailout of Tepco in its current structure. Over the weekend, the company reported that radiation at the plant's No. 2 reactor was 10 million times the normal level, only to revise the estimate later in the day to 100,000 times. The company apologized for the error.
Mr. Edano said Monday that the erroneous readings are "not acceptable."
In another embarrassment, Tepco said its president, Masataka Shimizu, spent several days away from crisis headquarters starting March 16 because of illness. The company said that during his time away, Mr. Shimizu continued to monitor the situation from another part of Tepco's home office. He hasn't been seen in public since March 13.
The cost of protection against a default on Tepco bonds has risen about 10-fold since before the quake. Both Moody's and Standard & Poor's have cut the company's credit rating by one notch.
"There are growing concerns that the nuclear issue may drag on for a protracted period," said Masayoshi Yano, a market analyst at Meiwa Securities.
Tepco has said its plant wasn't built to withstand a tsunami estimated at 14 meters and a 9-magnitude quake, the strongest in Japan's recorded history. The government approved the plant as built, so Tepco could argue that any accident caused by such a calamity counts as a "grave natural disaster."
However, the government's chief spokesman, Yukio Edano, said Friday that he believed an exemption from liability was "impossible" under the "social circumstances."
Tokyo-based equity strategist Nicholas Smith said Tepco has a large amount of debt compared with its net worth. "It had very strong free cash flow, which was what made that debt acceptable, but they are going to have to spend a lot of money now," he said. "The future of the company is very uncertain."
A spokesman for Japan's cabinet said the government is occupied with fixing the problems at Fukushima Daiichi. "We do not see any need to change this structure and nationalize Tepco," said spokesman Noriyuki Shikata.
Tepco retains support as a pillar of Japan's business community. Lorne Steinberg, who runs a Canada-based fund with a quarter of its assets in Japan, said the company's shareholders include powerful institutions that would be loath to see their shares wiped out. Foreign investors, including major names such as Vanguard, owned slightly under 18% of Tepco shares as of March 2010.
"Virtually everybody has a strong stake in seeing it successful," Mr. Steinberg said.
Available at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703739204576228321201861298.html
2. Germany Should Speed Up Nuclear Exit, Minister Says
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Germany should shut its nuclear power plants faster than planned, Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said on Monday after the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered an election defeat.
A close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Roettgen said the loss of the conservative stronghold Baden-Wuerttemberg on Sunday -- in a vote where Japan's nuclear disaster played a major role -- showed the public wanted a quicker exit.
"We have to now show that we can get away from nuclear energy faster and that the switch to renewable energy is possible," Roettgen told journalists before a meeting of CDU party leaders to analyse Sunday's defeat.
Merkel's centre-right federal government last year scrapped a 2000 law to shut down nuclear power by 2022 written by the former centre-left government of Social Democrats and Greens -- even though polls showed most were opposed to scrapping it.
Her government passed legislation to extend the lifespan of the 17 nuclear plants by an average of 12 years beyond 2022.
But after the Japanese nuclear disaster, Merkel retreated and declared a three-month moratorium on the extensions.
She also temporarily shut seven nuclear plants built before 1980. That upset her party's business wing and failed to impress voters in Baden-Wuerttemberg, some of whom saw it as an election ploy.
Roettgen said 80 percent of the public favoured switching off nuclear power, which accounts for about 23 percent of Germany's energy, and replacing it within a decade or so with renewable sources, which now account for 17 percent of its electricity.
The anti-nuclear Greens party were the shock winners of the election in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany's richest state which was ruled by the CDU for 58 years. Outgoing CDU state premier Stefan Mappus was a leading advocate of nuclear power.
The Greens, once a small fringe party, will now lead the government in one of Germany's 16 federal states for the first time, in coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).
The leader of the SPD, Sigmar Gabriel, urged Merkel to draft a new law to end nuclear power in Germany by 2020.
Bavaria state premier Horst Seehofer, head of Merkel's sister party, the Christian Social Union, said he also wanted the conservatives to get away from the nuclear extension.
"This was an election on nuclear power," Seehofer said. "We've got to change direction on energy now, within the next few days," he said, referring to the extension beyond 2022.
Hermann Groehe, CDU general secretary, told Germany's ARD TV network he thought it was unlikely that most of those seven shut plants would ever be brought back on line.
"I've got my doubts," Groehe said. "I think it's highly unlikely that the majority of the reactors will come back on."
Even nuclear power advocates in the CDU, such as Hesse state premier Volker Bouffier, agreed on Monday that the government would have to re-examine its nuclear plans after the defeat.
"We're going to first examine the situation and then make decisions," Bouffier said. "There's no reason to be hectic. We need to be prudent."
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/28/germany-election-nuclear-idUSLDE72R0JT20110328
3. South Korea to Rank 1st in Nuclear Plant Density by 2024
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As the large-scale construction of nuclear power plants gets under way with the Lee Myung-back administration’s “nuclear renaissance” policy, observers predict that South Korea will have the world’s highest density of plants by the 2020s. A corresponding increase in risk is also expected, with an estimated 3.7 million residents to face direct damage in the event of a large-scale leak of radioactive material.
An analysis of World Nuclear Association (WNA) and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) data by the Hankyoreh on Sunday showed that in 2024, the final year of the fifth basic plan for electric power supply, South Korea’s per-kilometer nuclear power plant system capacity is expected rise to 365 kilowatts, some 3.5 times that of “nuclear superpower” France (103 kW) and twice that of Japan (177 kW). The figure is also far ahead of Belgium, which possessed the world’s highest power density in 2010 with 195kW per kilometer and is significantly smaller in area than South Korea.
This development is the result of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s designation of nuclear power as an alternative energy source in response to climate change, and an abrupt shift in policy toward increased power plant construction. The number of plants in South Korea is to increase from its current twenty-one to thirty-four by 2024. The system capacity of the thirteen newly built plants is to be 17,200 megawatts, nearly equivalent to the 18,716 MW total for all currently operating plants put together, meaning that in thirteen years there will be as many new power plants as the combined scale of all those currently existing.
Meanwhile, Belgium passed a federal law in 2003 for the stepwise phaseout of power plants according to social consensus, while Taiwan, which is completing two 1,300 MW power plants by 2012, has no plans to built any more due to opposition party objections. Japan has two plants under construction and another twelve in the planning stages, but the plans are facing a major snag following the Fukushima Dai-chi Nuclear Power Plant disaster, and France, which is currently building two, has no plans for additional construction.
“Having a high nuclear power plant system capacity per unit area suggests that the possibility of an accident and the scale of the potential damages may increase accordingly,” said Energy Justice Actions head Lee Heon-seok. “In particular, unlike other countries where they are built in isolated locations, Korea has its power plants densely packed near large cities, and a larger population is exposed to direct risk.”
Indeed, an analysis by the group using Statistics Korea census data from 2005 revealed that about 3.72 million people live within a thirty-kilometer radius of one of the country’s four nuclear power plant complexes. The number increases to 6.08 million if the calculation includes the Hanaro, a research reactor at Daejeon’s Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute where a “white warning” was issued in February due to a radiation leakage.
A total of 3.22 million people live near the Gori complex in Gijang County, Busan, some 1.09 million near the Wolseong complex in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, around 140 thousand near the Yeonggwang complex in Yeonggwang, South Jeolla Province, and about 60 thousand near the Uljin complex in Uljin, North Gyeongsang Province.
In particular, the data showed that some 820 thousand residents of Ulsan’s Jung, Nam, and Dong Districts will be living in the midst of the 18 plants of the Gori and Wolseong complexes by 2024. And with the operation of the eighth “New Gori” reactor by 2024, the Gori complex will have the world’s highest density of power plants, with a total of twelve. In the event of a series of reactor accidents such as that seen with the Fukushima plant, residents of Busan and Ulsan may suffer major damages due to the large-scale leakage of radioactive material.
However, a prompt evacuation in the case of a large-scale accident such as those at Fukushima or Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union would be impossible. In addition to the high population density of the surrounding region, it also lacks evacuation facilities, an adequate transportation system, and radiation protection equipment. The government has designated the region eight to ten kilometers around the plant as an emergency radiation planning zone and established protection facilities and evacuation training drills, but it has not established a radiation prevention system for the area outside of that region. Presently, the area within a thirty-kilometer radius of the Chernobyl plant is an evacuation zone in which access by the general public is forbidden, while resident evacuations and orders to stay inside were implemented for the area within a twenty to thirty-kilometer radius of the Fukushima plant.
“The extreme policy of doubling our nuclear power plants is being pursued without the agreement of South Korean citizens,” said Lee Heon-seok.
“Given that the rest of the world is reexamining plans to build plants, our government should also seek a social consensus on nuclear power policy.”
Available at: http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_business/470238.html
4. Bulgaria, Russia Strike Moratorium Deal on on Belene Nuclear Project
Sofia News Agency
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Bulgaria and Russia have reached an agreement to sign next week a 3-month moratorium on the project to build a second Nuclear Power Plant in Bulgaria's Danube town of Belene.
The moratorium will be in place until the exact price of the NPP is calculated, a full assessment of seismology risks is prepared, and all other debatable issues are cleared, Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, announced.
Bulgaria's Minister of Economy and Energy, Traicho Traikov, informed earlier that the technical committee on Belene had asked Russia 30 new questions after the incident at the Fukushima NPP in Japan, damaged by the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Traikov also said Bulgaria is going to request from the contractor additional safety guarantees, which must be confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Commission.
Until the end of 2011, the Energy Ministry would examine and assess in collaboration with IAEA the safety of Belene to include risks from fires, floods, earthquakes, and technology-related dangers.
In November 2010, shortly after a visit to Sofia by Russian PM Putin, Bulgaria's National Electric Company NEK and Russian state company Rosatom signed a memorandum providing for a final fixed price for the two reactors of EUR 6.298 B.
This sum is still not final since the document is not binding; a final binding agreement for the establishing of a joint company for Belene was expected to emerge in 4-5 months, according to Rosatom head Sergey Kirienko, who was in Sofia to sign the document.
In early March 2011, as the negotiations continued to drag on, Rosatom's Komarev and spokesperson Sergey Novikov warned that the talks must be completed by March 31, 2011.
The other non-binding documents on Belene signed in November 2010 provided for participation in the project of Finnish company Fortum with a share of 1%, and of French company Altran Technologies with a share of 1%-25%. NEK is to keep a majority share of 51%, while Rosatom is also expected to have a share of 25%.
Serbia has expressed interest in acquiring a share of 5%-10% but the talks for that have not been finalized yet. It is unclear what share Areva might go for if it ultimately decides to seek participation in Belene.
After it was first started in the 1980s, the construction of Bulgaria's second nuclear power plant at Belene on the Danube was stopped in the early 1990s over lack of money and environmental protests.
After selecting the Russian company Atomstroyexport, a subsidiary of Rosatom, to build a two 1000-MW reactors at Belene and signing a deal for the construction, allegedly for the price of EUR 3.997 B, with the Russians during Putin's visit to Sofia in January 2008, in September 2008, former Prime Minister Stanishev gave a formal restart of the building of Belene. At the end of 2008, German energy giant RWE was selected as a strategic foreign investor for the plant.
The Belene NPP was de facto frozen in the fall of 2009 when the previously selected strategic investor, the German company RWE, which was supposed to provide EUR 2 B in exchange for a 49% stake, pulled out.
Subsequently, in the last months of the Stanishev government in early 2009, Putin offered Bulgaria a Russian state loan of EUR 4 B, which ex PM Stanishev refused.
In late 2009, after the Borisov government took over, Rosatom offered Bulgaria a loan of EUR 2 B so that the construction can continue, in exchange for a stake in the future plant that the Bulgarian government could then buy out by returning the money. The offer was refused by the Borisov Cabinet which also made it clear it would construct the Belene plant only if an European (apparently meaning EU or Western European) strategic investor can be found.
Under Bulgaria's preliminary contract with Atomstroyexport signed in 2008, the construction of the Belene plant with two 1000-MW VVER nuclear reactors is supposed to cost EUR 3.997 B.
As the contract expired on September 30, 2010, Bulgaria and Russia decided to extend it by 6 months until they reach a final agreement on how much the construction of the Belene NPP will cost.
In mid November, the Bulgarian Energy Holding, NEK's parent company, picked HSBC, one of UK's biggest banks, for a consultant to help it decide how to proceed and attract new investors for the planned Belene nuclear power plant.
In February 2011, Bulgarian PM Borisov held talks with the French holding Areva over Belene.
The Areva Holding together with Siemens is actually already involved in the construction of Belene as a subcontractor to Russian state company Atomstroyexport.
In mid-March 2011, apparently acting on concerns caused by the situation in Japan's Fukushima NPP after the recent devastating earthquake there, the European Commission confirmed that it wants to reexamine the Belene NPP project - once Bulgaria finds an investor for it - even though it already approved it back in 2007.
Available at: http://www.novinite.com/view_news.php?id=126677
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