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Nuclear News - 4/7/2011
PGS Nuclear News, April 7, 2011
Compiled By: Matthew Kapuscinski

A.  Iran
    1. Turkey Not to Change Policy Regarding Iran's Nuclear Program, Trend (4/6/2011)
    2. Iran Renews Call for Nuke-Free World, PressTV (4/6/2011)
    3. Special Commission Established in Iranian Parliament to Investigate Problems with Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, Trend (4/6/2011)
    4. Iran Steps up Nuclear Surveillance, PressTV (4/5/2011)
    1. South Korea Defense Chief Says 'Can't Rule Out' 3rd Nuclear Test in North, The Mainichi Daily News (4/6/2011)
    2. U.S. Finds No Evidence to Relist North Korea as Terrorism Sponsor, The Korea Herald (4/6/2011)
C.  Nuclear Safety
    1. Nitrogen Injected Into Reactor To Stem Explosion Risk, Nikkei (4/7/2011)
    2. Tepco Stems Leak of Highly Radioactive Water, The Japan Times (4/6/2011)
    3. IAEA Becomes Minor Player in Nuclear Crisis, Asahi (4/6/2011)
    4. Brazil Re-examines Nuclear Plant Safety, UPI (4/5/2011)
    5. Pakistan Orders Safety Review of Nuke Plants, Dawn (4/5/2011)
D.  Nuclear Energy
    1. Japan Set to Integrate Two Nuclear Units Into One Powerful Regulatory Body, The Mainichi Daily News (4/7/2011)
    2. TEPCO Shares Close at New Record Low, AFP (4/6/2011)
    3. German Nuclear Freeze Manageable-Regulator, Reuters (4/6/2011)
    4. Jordan's Nuclear Commission Slams Calls for Halting Country's Nuclear Program, Xinhua News Agency (4/6/2011)
    5. Kazakhstan to Store a Century's Worth of Uranium, Central Asia Newswire (4/5/2011)
E.  Links of Interest
    1. Decommissioning Nuclear Plants Comes at a Price, Andreas Keiser, Swissinfo (4/6/2011)
    2. Inside Chernobyl's Exclusion Zone, Daniel Sandford, BBC News (4/6/2011)

A.  Iran

Iran Renews Call for Nuke-Free World
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Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaei has called on the international community to take serious steps toward a complete nuclear disarmament.

Addressing the UN Disarmament Commission on Wednesday, Khazaei said that indiscriminate implementation of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the only way to free the world from nuclear weapons.

“The only way forward to eliminate threats posed by nuclear weapons is to completely destroy them. Iran believes that the best way for ensuring nuclear non-proliferation is to fully implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty without bias, particularly in the sensitive Middle East region,” IRIB quoted him as saying.

He said nuclear disarmament is among the top priorities of the comity of nations and resolutions approved by the UN General Assembly.

The envoy condemned certain countries for possessing nuclear weapons and “for not upholding their legal commitments for destroying the banned weapons.”

He said establishing sustainable world security will be possible only through logical approaches and avoiding the use of force.

Khazaei also accused Israel of threatening the regional and international peace and security as a recognized wielder of nuclear warheads.

“Due to the Zionist regime of [Israel's] refusal to join the NPT and its formidable sites not being subject to the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), efforts to create a region free of nuclear weapons had not been successful,” Khazaei stated.

"The Middle East is a region where the nuclear program of one regime that is not a member of NPT -- Israel -- seriously threatens regional and international peace and security," he added.

The Iranian official emphasized the Islamic Republic still insists on its proposal that the Middle East should be declared a region free of nuclear weapons.

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Special Commission Established in Iranian Parliament to Investigate Problems with Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant
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A special commission has been established in the Iranian parliament to investigate the cause of suspending the Bushehr nuclear power plant's activity, the Iranian news agency FARS reported.

A special commission will investigate the causes of suspending the Bushehr nuclear power plant's activity, the issues of improving the station, financial problems, the agreement signed with Russia and other problems of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the report said. A special commission will ascertain the reasons of removing the uranium fuel from the reactor of the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

In late February, Iran removed the uranium fuel, placed in the reactor of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in October last year. The Iranian representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said that uranium fuel was removed from the reactor of the Bushehr nuclear power plant at the request of Russia. Russia carries out construction work at the plant.

"Uranium fuel from the Bushehr reactor was removed at the request of the Russian side to carry out certain technical tests, " he said.

Iran and Russia signed an agreement in Tehran to construct the Bushehr plant in 1995. It is worth $1 billion. Its completion, first scheduled for 1999, was postponed several times.

In 1998 the construction management was transferred to AtomStroyExport.

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Turkey Not to Change Policy Regarding Iran's Nuclear Program
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Turkey's confiscation of Iranian weapons and report on it to the UN Security Council does not indicate a change in Ankara's policy toward Tehran, experts say.

"There has been nothing that could change Turkey's policy towards the UN resolutions on Iran," Hilmi Ozev, expert at the Turkish-Asian Studies (TASAM), told Trend by telephone from Istanbul.

The plane was bound for Aleppo, Syria, and was given permission to pass through Turkish airspace provided it made a "technical stop" at Diyarbakir airport on March 21.
Turkey has informed a U.N. Security Council panel that it seized a cache of weapons Iran was attempting to export in breach of a U.N. arms embargo.

The report to the council's Iran sanctions committee, which oversees compliance with the four rounds of punitive steps the 15-nation body has imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, said a March 21 inspection turned up the weapons, which were listed as "auto spare parts" on the plane's documents.

Ozev said this event occurred with the direct impact of the U.S., who acted in conspiracy with NATO.

"We are convinced that the landing of aircraft has been made with the direct impact of U.S. on NATO," said he.

Ozev said that if the military direction of the nuclear program of Iran is confirmed, Turkey may change its position on this issue.

Turkey was one of only two countries that voted against the adoption of UN Security Council resolution in June 2010, which envisages tougher sanctions against Tehran because of its refusal to stop enriching uranium.

Turkey, a neighbor of Iran and one of the leading countries in the region, uniquely protested against tougher sanctions on Iran. In spring 2010, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan clearly expressed their country's position, which is the reluctance of Turkey to take further sanctions.

A U.S. expert Ted Gallen Carpenter also agrees with Ozev saying that the Turkish government is not likely to change its policy towards Iran and embrace rigorous sanctions.
"Ankara's Iran policy is merely one component of a much larger shift in Turkey's overall foreign policy over the past two or three years," Carpenter, Vice President of Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at Cato Institute, wrote in an e-mail to Trend.

He said Turkey's policy is based on greater emphasis on relations with other Muslim states and a distancing of policy from Turkey's traditional NATO allies, including the United States.

In addition, Carpenter believes one other aspect is a determination to show greater independence in foreign policy generally.

"The effort to forge a "third way" with Brazil regarding Iran was a clear example of Turkey's effort to establish itself as a major regional and global power," he said.

In May 2010, foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Brazil signed a draft agreement on exchanging Tehran's low-enriched (up 3.5 percent) uranium to highly-enriched (up to 20 percent) fuel for the Tehran research reactor. However, the exchange was not realized because of UN Security Council members' refusal to accept the terms of this agreement.

Carpenter said there is little in the Iranian arms issue that will alter such a fundamental shift in Ankara's foreign policy.

Iranian expert on international issues Davud Hermides Bavand said despite that Turkey voted against the adoption of UN Security Council resolution against Iran, it has repeatedly stated that it would be committed to implementing the resolution.

"However, Turkey did not take on obligations for the implementation of unilateral sanctions against Iran, the applicable U.S. and European countries," - said to Trend by telephone from Tehran, Doctor of Political Sciences Bavand.

"However, Turkey did not assume obligations for the implementation of unilateral sanctions against Iran, introduced by the U.S. and European countries," Bavand, doctor of political sciences, told Trend by telephone from Tehran.

He believes that the recent incident with the planting of Iranian aircraft proved that Turkey, as a member of NATO, intends to maintain a balance between relations with Western countries, implementing the commitments on implementation of UN resolutions and expanding economic ties with Iran.

"The time will tell how the recent actions by Turkey against Iran will affect the relations between the two countries," said Bavand.

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Iran Steps up Nuclear Surveillance
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Iran has expanded the country's nuclear surveillance and emergency alert systems in order to detect and curb radioactivity in case of nuclear mishaps.

Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) Fereydoun Abbasi unveiled two major projects which also involve an environmental radiation surveillance, IRNA reported on Monday.

Iran has thus added 50 nuclear Emergency Alert System (EAS) stations to the previous 13.

Meanwhile, AEOI Deputy Director Nasser Rastkhah said that the new environmental radiation surveillance stations "detect any change in the environment's gamma [rays profusion], which is the best indicator of the occurrence of nuclear accidents or experiments."

Rastkhah, speaking at a press briefing in Tehran's AEOI headquarters, said that the second phase of the projects has been conducted around the populated regions in 50 cities, whereas earlier stations were established around border regions.

He noted that 200 more gamma detection stations were needed to cover the entire country, adding that Tehran would monitor all data received from these stations.

The Iranian official concluded that the increase in the use of nuclear technologies requires the screening of such activities and that the latest projects are part of Tehran's efforts to secure the safety of citizens, environment and personnel at the country's nuclear installations.

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South Korea Defense Chief Says 'Can't Rule Out' 3rd Nuclear Test in North
The Mainichi Daily News
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South Korea's Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin suggested Tuesday that North Korea may conduct a third nuclear weapons test, saying he "cannot rule out" the possibility.

While there has been no sign that a nuclear test is imminent in the North, Kim's remarks to parliament suggest that South Korea has detected incessant activities in North Korea associated with preparations for a nuclear test.

Commenting on a likely test site for a third nuclear test in North Korea, Kim said it is highly possible that Pyongyang will choose the same test site at Kilchu in northeastern North Korea where it exploded the previous two underground nuclear devices.

Kim said the third test may be conducted at a separate site nearby.

North Korea conducted its first underground nuclear test in October 2006 and the second in May 2009.

Kim also told lawmakers that Pyongyang is apparently holding seaborne infiltration drills and may stage a limited provocation against the South in an unexpected way.

"As the sea ice thaws, North Korea appears to have started seaborne infiltration drills near the East Sea and Yellow Sea borders," Kim was quoted by Yonhap News Agency as saying.

"We are closely monitoring the enemy's movements by mobilizing intelligence assets from our allied forces," he said.

North Korea allegedly sank a South Korean warship with a torpedo attack and launched an artillery attack on a South Korean border island last year in what the South Korean government describes as major provocations from Pyongyang.

Kim renewed his earlier pledge of military retaliation for any further such provocation, telling lawmakers, "We will clearly and sternly deal with a North Korean provocation in line with our right to self-defense."

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U.S. Finds No Evidence to Relist North Korea as Terrorism Sponsor
The Korea Herald
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The Obama administration said Tuesday it has not yet found enough evidence to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“There’s a very specific procedure, though, to designating someone as a state sponsor of terror, with specific criteria that need to be met,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

“There’s a legal process to doing that. And I’m not aware that that’s been undertaken.”

Toner was responding to a bipartisan group of congressmen who last week submitted legislation to re-designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism for a series of provocations, including its torpedoing of a South Korean warship and shelling of a South Korean border island that killed 50 people last year.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and eight other congressmen Friday submitted the bill that calls for the North’s relisting and prohibits Washington from delisting the North unless Pyongyang apologizes for the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong incidents, pledges not to proliferate nuclear weapons and missile technologies and severs ties with the Hamas and Hezbollah militant groups.

Ros-Lehtinen introduced similar legislation in May last year but it didn’t pass.

In November, she urged the Obama administration to relist the North when Pyongyang revealed a uranium enrichment program that could serve as a way of making nuclear weapons aside from its plutonium program.

U.S. officials have dismissed calls by hardliners for relisting North Korea for the Cheonan’s sinking, saying the incident is a violation of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, but does not qualify as terrorism.

The Bush administration removed Pyongyang from the list in October 2008 to facilitate the six-party talks on the North’s nuclear dismantlement.

Shortly after the delisting, the North demolished a cooling tower at its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, north of its capital, Pyongyang, as part of a deal involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

The nuclear talks have been stalled since then as the U.N.-imposed sanctions on the North for its nuclear and missile tests in early 2009 and the Cheonan’s sinking and the attack on Yeonpyeong Island last year.

The U.S. has called on North Korea to mend ties with South Korea before moving on to the denuclearization-for-aid nuclear talks.

Pyongyang in February refused to apologize for last year’s provocations and walked out of a rare inter-Korean dialogue, thwarting hopes for an early resumption of the six-party talks.

In August, the U.S. announced a new list of state sponsors of terrorism that does not include North Korea despite concerns over Pyongyang’s suspected delivery of weapons to militant groups in the Middle East.

Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba are still listed under the annual congressionally mandated Country Reports on Terrorism.

North Korea was first put on the list after the downing of the Korean Air flight over Myanmar in 1987, which killed all 115 people aboard.

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C.  Nuclear Safety

Nitrogen Injected Into Reactor To Stem Explosion Risk
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Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Thursday started injecting nitrogen into one of the reactors at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex to reduce the potential risk of a hydrogen explosion, while it succeeded in stopping highly radioactive water leaking into the Pacific Ocean from the plant the previous day.

Nitrogen, an inert gas, was injected into the No. 1 reactor's containment vessel, a process that could take several days. Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, denied there is an ''immediate danger'' of explosion and described the injection as ''a preventive measure.''

In addition to the task of maintaining the relative stability of all six reactors at the nuclear complex in Fukushima Prefecture, the utility firm known as TEPCO has also been engaged in efforts to stop highly radioactive water from leaking into the sea and cleaning up contaminated water within the plant.

At 5:38 a.m. Wednesday, highly contaminated water, which had been confirmed as leaking into the sea from around a cracked pit located near the No. 2 reactor water intake on Saturday, stopped flowing after TEPCO injected around 6,000 liters of chemical agents including sodium silicate, known as ''water glass.''

Nishiyama told a press conference in the afternoon that so far no further leakage has been detected from the pit. But there is a possibility that the water, which has lost an outlet, could show up from other areas of the plant.

The highly radioactive water is believed to have come from the No. 2 reactor core, where fuel rods have partially melted, and ended up in the pit. The pit is connected to the No. 2 reactor turbine building and an underground trench connected to the building, both of which were found to be filled with highly contaminated water.

To make room to store the highly radioactive water that is hampering the plant's restoration work, TEPCO continued to dump into the sea massive amounts of low-level contaminated water from inside a nuclear waste disposal facility at the site as well as contaminated groundwater found from around the Nos. 5 and 6 unit buildings.

TEPCO is aiming to dispose of a total of about 10,000 tons of low-level contaminated water into the sea by this weekend, a move which has sparked concern among neighboring countries and strong protests from the domestic fishing industry.

After opening up the disposal facility, which can accommodate 30,000 tons of liquid, some repair work is expected to take place for about a week to ensure that the facility can retain highly radioactive water safely without fear of the stored liquid leaking outside.

The plant's power grid and most of the emergency diesel generators were knocked out by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11, resulting in the loss of many of the reactors' key cooling functions, partial melting of reactor cores and hydrogen explosions.

According to estimates by TEPCO announced Wednesday, 25 percent of the nuclear fuel rods have been damaged at the No. 3 reactor. The company earlier said that 70 percent of the No. 1 reactor's fuel rods and 30 percent of the No. 2 reactor's fuel rods have been damaged.

Nishiyama said past hydrogen explosions have likely occurred due to hydrogen accumulation caused by the reaction of melted fuel rods' zirconium with steam from the coolant water. But now there is concern that hydrogen could accumulate in the No. 1 reactor under a different process involving radiation-induced decomposition of water into hydrogen and oxygen.

In announcing TEPCO's decision to inject nitrogen into the reactor's containment vessel, an operation approved by the government, the nuclear agency said that radioactive leaks are ''unlikely to significantly rise'' even if the pressure inside the vessel increases as a result of the injection.

Nishiyama said that he also expects nitrogen to be injected into the Nos. 2 and 3 reactors in the future.

The utility has been pouring massive amounts of water into the reactors and their spent nuclear fuel pools as a stopgap measure to cool them down. But the measure is causing ''side effects,'' such as the detection of contaminated water in various parts of the nuclear complex and some leakage into the sea.

A seawater sample taken near the No. 2 reactor water intake on Saturday showed a radioactive iodine-131 concentration of 7.5 million times the maximum level permitted under law, or about 300,000 becquerels per cubic centimeter.

In the first case of contamination levels in seafood exceeding the maximum legal limit, radioactive cesium in excess of the set limit was detected in young sand lance caught Monday in the sea off the northern part of Ibaraki Prefecture.

The National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives Associations lodged a protest with TEPCO and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Wednesday, saying the dumping of contaminated water into the sea without any prior consultation with fishermen was an ''outrage.''

The group also called for the dumping of contaminated water and the leakage of highly polluted water from the plant to be halted so as to prevent Japan's fishing industry from ''perishing.''

To prevent the already seriously contaminated seawater close to the plant from spreading further, TEPCO is planning to install ''silt fence'' barriers in the sea, such as near the No. 2 reactor water intake.

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IAEA Becomes Minor Player in Nuclear Crisis
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Exasperated by inquiries and lacking authority, the International Atomic Energy Agency has taken a back seat in dealing with the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Although the IAEA has kept a sharp eye on nations developing nuclear weapons, it does not have the authority to become actively involved in accidents at nuclear plants.

But that has not stopped people from seeking the advice of the IAEA concerning the situation in Fukushima Prefecture, nor confusion among residents and Japanese government officials.

On March 30, the IAEA announced that a single soil sample taken from Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, about 40 kilometers from the stricken nuclear plant, had radiation levels double the IAEA standard for evacuation.

The announcement caused concerns among Iitate residents who were outside the Japanese government's evacuation order region.

Officials of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency were also perplexed by the IAEA's announcement. One NISA official said, "We do not know what the IAEA's computation standards are."

Asked by reporters Friday on whether Iitate residents should leave, a clearly rankled Denis Flory, a deputy director-general who heads the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, said only the Japanese government could decide whether Iitate residents had to evacuate.

IAEA officials said the announcement was only based on a temporary computation and called on Japan to conduct further studies.

"The data on which we based our announcement was accumulated by Japan and is not the result of measurements taken independently by the IAEA," an IAEA source said.

On April 1, IAEA officials announced that based on a recomputation done on additional data provided by Japan from 15 soil samples in Iitate, the average figure was below the evacuation standard set by the IAEA.

Even if the results of the IAEA's initial tests for Iitate stood, the agency does not have the authority to issue binding recommendations and instructions to nations about nuclear accidents.

Although the IAEA can conduct inspections to prevent the transfer of nuclear energy technology for military purposes, it can provide information or dispatch specialists to a nation affected by a nuclear accident only if the nation gives its approval.

"A major precondition for the safety of nuclear plants is that each nation should bear responsibility over their plants," Yukiya Amano, IAEA director-general, said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun. "The IAEA is not 'the guardian of the safety of nuclear power plants.'"

Amid such developments in Japan, a review meeting of contracting parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) convened Monday in Vienna.

The Japanese government and the IAEA co-hosted a seminar to explain what was happening at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

In a speech at the review meeting, Amano said: "The situation at Fukushima ... remains very serious. The immediate priority is to overcome the crisis and stabilize the reactors. But we must also begin the process of reflection and evaluation."

The CNS was created after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the former Soviet Union in 1986 and went into force in 1996.

The convention created a legal framework for the operating and management of nuclear power plants and asked contracting nations to attain international safety standards. The convention calls on nations to close nuclear plants immediately if they are unable to reach those standards.

However, only 72 nations have ratified the CNS, less than half of the 150 nations that are IAEA members.

No penalties are imposed against nations that fail to attain the international standards. Nor is there a system in place for safety inspections to appraise whether the CNS is being followed.

Contracting nations only have to report on current conditions of their nuclear power plants at the review meetings held once every three years.

But the situation in Fukushima Prefecture has prompted major nations to review the safety standards for nuclear power plants.

On a visit to Tokyo last Thursday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy indicated that efforts would be made to establish international safety standards for nuclear power plants by the end of the year after discussions are held at the Group of Eight summit scheduled for May as well as at Group of 20 sessions.

The IAEA has also decided to hold a ministerial-level meeting in Vienna on June 20-24 to discuss international safety measures for nuclear power plants. Among the topics likely to be discussed are anti-quake standards for nuclear plants as well as stricter rules to guard against tsunami.

But any decision made at the IAEA meeting will likely only provide guidelines with no binding power over signatory nations.

Newly emerging economies planning to construct nuclear power plants are expected to oppose changes in safety standards because such a move could increase costs.

A diplomatic source said, "It will be difficult to agree to an early strengthening of standards because of haggling among various nations."

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Tepco Stems Leak of Highly Radioactive Water
The Japan Times
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Tokyo Electric Power Co. succeeded in stopping highly radioactive water from leaking into the Pacific Ocean from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant early Wednesday morning after injecting a chemical agent, it said.

In a bid to stem the leak, Tepco injected about 6,000 liters of "water glass," or sodium silicate, and another agent around a seaside pit located near the plant's No. 2 reactor water intake, through which the highly radioactive water had been leaking heavily.

The leak has apparently seriously contaminated the marine environment, as a seawater sample taken near the water intake Saturday showed a radioactive iodine-131 concentration of 7.5 million times the maximum level permitted under law.

As the first case of contamination levels in seafood have exceeded the limit, radioactive cesium over the limit was detected in young launce in the sea near the northern part of Ibaraki Prefecture.

The highly radioactive water has been filling up the basement of the No. 2 reactor turbine building and the trench connected to it. The water, believed to have come from the No. 2 reactor core, where fuel rods have partially melted, ended up in the pit.

In order to make room for the storage of the highly contaminated water, Tepco also continued to dump low-level contaminated water into the sea.

The nuclear plant has been severely damaged by the March 11 mega earthquake and ensuing tsunami.

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Brazil Re-examines Nuclear Plant Safety
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Brazil says it is tightening safety procedures at its two nuclear power plants even though it is not prone to earthquakes or tsunamis like those that hit Japan.

The country does experience frequent rains and landslides that could jeopardize evacuation plans from around the plants in the event of a radiation leak, Inter Press Service reported Wednesday.

The government re-examined disaster readiness policies in January, when torrential rains caused landslides and flash floods that blocked roads and caused widespread destruction in the hilly regions in the southeast of the country.

Landslides are common on the roads leading to Angra dos Reis, where two nuclear reactors, located just 100 miles south of Rio de Janeiro, produce 2.5 percent of Brazil's electricity.

In Angra dos Reis about 20,000 people would be at risk in the event of a nuclear accident, officials said.

Former Green Party lawmaker Fernando Gabeira cited at least 120 points at risk of landslides on the narrow highway from Angra dos Reis to Rio de Janeiro.

The accident response procedures "were never a good plan," Gabeira told IPS.

"I took part in a simulated evacuation, and the alarm siren didn't work," he said. "A police officer who was going to help us get organized died in an accident. And the highway is very dangerous."

Eletronuclear, the state-controlled company operating the nuclear plants, said in late March it would re-evaluate the safety of the access routes to Angra dos Reis and would hire an independent firm to make the assessment.

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Pakistan Orders Safety Review of Nuke Plants
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Pakistan’s nuclear regulator on Tuesday ordered a safety review of the country’s two atomic power plants in the wake of Japan’s nuclear disaster, warning that further steps could be required.

The Pakistan Nuclear Regulator Authority (PNRA) said it asked the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) “to revisit the safety aspects of the nuclear power plants at Karachi and Chashma”.

Pakistan suffered a major 7.6 magnitude earthquake in October 2005 that killed 73,000 people and made more than three million others homeless in Kashmir and northwest, but its nuclear plants remained safe.

“PNRA will continue to study the accident at Fukushima and the response of Japanese and other regulatory authorities and may ask PAEC to take additional measures,” it said.

The authority said the nuclear power plants in Pakistan “do not pose any unwarranted radiation hazard” and operate on par with international standards.

China built a 300-megawatt nuclear power reactor at Chashma in Punjab province that went operational in 2000 and another of the same capacity is under construction. A plant in Karachi produces 50 megawatts.

China has also been contracted to build two more reactors at Chashma, officials have said.

Pakistan joined the club of nuclear-armed states in 1998. It scrambled to secure the technology after India’s first nuclear test in 1974, and is now believed to have up to 100 nuclear weapons.

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D.  Nuclear Energy

Japan Set to Integrate Two Nuclear Units Into One Powerful Regulatory Body
The Mainichi Daily News
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The Japanese government has started considering merging its two nuclear units to form a more powerful body resembling the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to regulate the nation's nuclear power plants in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

The envisaged new regulatory body, consisting of nuclear experts, will be completely independent from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes the nation's energy policy based on nuclear power generation.

Under the plan, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, formed in 2001, will be separated from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and integrated into the Cabinet Office's Nuclear Safety Commission, which was launched in 1978.

Under the current system, the Nuclear Safety Commission examines the safety of nuclear reactors and advises the government in times of nuclear accidents, while the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency deploys nuclear inspectors to nuclear power plants and oversees the operations of nuclear facilities.

But in regards to the crisis at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, critics say the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency "could not properly supervise the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s handling of the accident" and the Nuclear Safety Commission "could not fully perform its functions to advise the government."

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency is an external bureau of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and personnel exchanges take place regularly between them, and therefore it has been under fire for "not being able to properly supervise because the promoting side and the regulating side are not clearly separated."

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has about 790 staff members including local inspectors and clerical workers, but the experience of nuclear experts at the agency is not as deep as that of power companies, which have a number of employees who have studied nuclear engineering at graduate schools.

"There are inspectors who learn expertise from power companies. That is something like students supervising teachers," said a senior official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The status of the Nuclear Safety Commission is equal to a government council formed under Article 8 of National Government Organization Law. It has five commissioners who have a thorough knowledge of nuclear power generation and about 100 staff members.

In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was created in 1974 to regulate commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of nuclear materials. It has about 4,000 staff members and its independency from the government is guaranteed by law. Following the NRC model, the government is expected to consider forming a powerful regulatory body resembling the Fair Trade Commission under Article 3 of National Government Organization Law.

Regarding regulations on the safety of nuclear reactors, Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, urged Prime Minister Naoto Kan on March 30 to separate the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Kan replied, "It will be discussed in the future."

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German Nuclear Freeze Manageable-Regulator
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Electricity imports from neighbours and a seasonal dip in demand will cushion Germany from power price spikes while its old reactors are shut, its energy regulator said on Wednesday.

Berlin's temporary nuclear freeze has made Europe's biggest economy a more attractive market for nuclear power producers such as France's EDF and Czech CEZ.

Mathias Kurth of the Bundesnetzagentur agency said that its efforts to introduce new cross-border connections and boost exisiting ones within Europe were a success in the crisis.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government on March 15 ordered nuclear capacity of over 7,000 megawatt (MW) shut until at least June after a tsunami crippled a Japanese plant.

That pushed up German wholesale prices for delivery in 2012 by 13.2 percent from 53 euros to 60 euros a megawatt hour.

"One good sign is that power prices reacted relatively calmly," Kurth said in a statement.

"If we consider that they peaked at 90 MWh in June 2008, there is no cause for drama." The power prices peak three years ago in the summer came in connection with record oil prices.

Over the past three weeks, Germany has turned from net exporter to net importer of electricity, receiving on average 2,500 MW a day, said Kurth.

A market coupling scheme last November created links spanning the Nordic countries through to Germany, the Benelux countries and France.

Kurth said that German grid operators were analysing how to deal with grid stability in the coming months when the seven plants remain switched off.

Weather patterns will curb wind power supply in the spring when also many thermal power plants close for maintenance.

He said that weaker demand would be a helpful factor, as would seasonally higher solar power production.

Germany's temporary nuclear reactor closures may be the precursor for a faster-than-planned exit from nuclear altogether as voter majorities are gas shifting against it.

Kurth also said his agency had approved billions of euros worth of projects for expanding transmission grids and linking up offshore wind parks but they needed to be speeded up.

Projects typically take 15 years to materialise but this should be cut to five if more green power is conected more quickly, he said.

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Jordan's Nuclear Commission Slams Calls for Halting Country's Nuclear Program
Xinhua News Agency
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Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) on Tuesday expressed astonishment at media reports and statements exaggerating potential dangers posed by Jordan's nuclear program.

The JAEC slammed the reports calling for canceling Jordan's nuclear program in view of the incident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami knocked out power, disabling its cooling systems and allowing radiation to spill from the overheating reactors since March 11.

"It is unfortunate to see some who insist to continue their campaign to exaggerate and warn of alleged disastrous dangers of the Jordanian nuclear program," the JAEC said in a statement.

"Some also took advantage of the fear after the incident in Japan and started attacking the Jordanian nuclear program by publishing wrong and unscientific information by spreading dangerous rumors among people. It is time to stop this systematic intimidation," JAEC added.

The JAEC also slammed recent positions and statements by Jordan 's Environmental Work Coordinating Committee, which is an umbrella for environmental organizations working in the country. In its statements, the committee repeatedly called for stopping the implementation of the nuclear program because "it does not meet the conditions of the environmental assessment study."

Stressing that the project is vital and strategic to the country, the JAEC said the program was implemented in line with Jordanian laws and legislation and receives full support of the government.

The nuclear program, it added, seeks to reduce water deficit in Jordan that stands at about 500 million cubic meters per year and address the energy needs of Jordan, which imports about 95 percent of its energy needs.

Jordan's first nuclear reactor is scheduled to be created within the next ten years. The first plant is expected to initially generate 750 to 1,100 megawatts of electricity.

The Arab kingdom has signed nuclear cooperation agreements with several countries such as France, Turkey, South Korea, Canada, Russia, the UK, Spain, Argentina, Japan, Romania and Italy.

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TEPCO Shares Close at New Record Low
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Shares in the power company at the centre of Japan's worst ever nuclear accident continued to tumble on Wednesday despite signs of progress in stabilising its stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. closed down 6.9 percent at 337 yen, a new record low close after a volatile session of swings in and out of positive territory amid a crisis at the atomic complex.

The fresh slide came after the utility's shares on Tuesday plunged to their lowest close since listing in 1951 amid expectations it faces a mounting compensation bill estimated by some analysts at 10 trillion yen ($118 billion).

Prime Minister Naoto Kan last week moved to dismiss speculation the government is planning to nationalise the company as it faces mounting compensation obligations. TEPCO has said it may need state help to meet them.

TEPCO shares have lost around 85 percent of their pre-quake March 10 value.

Wednesday's selling was in defiance of news TEPCO had stopped the accidental leakage of highly radioactive water into the ocean from a cracked pit at the number two reactor of Fukushima Daiichi.

But in an illustration of how fragile progress is at the plant, TEPCO said it was concerned a build-up of hydrogen gas at a different reactor could cause another explosion at the site.

More than three weeks on from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi remains unresolved after reactor cooling systems were knocked out, triggering explosions and fires, and releasing radiation.

The plant northeast of Tokyo has emitted radioactive materials into the air, contaminating farm produce and drinking water.

Radioactive water has seeped into the Pacific Ocean but officials stress there is no imminent health threat.

The company continued a separate operation to release lower-level radioactive water into the sea to free up urgently needed storage space for water so toxic that it is hampering crucial repair work.

Japan has battled to prevent full reactor meltdowns at the tsunami-hit plant and poured thousands of tons of water onto overheating fuel rods, a stop-gap measure that has created highly radioactive run-off.

Officials have insisted the release of the water into the sea -- at 11,500 tons it is the equivalent of more than four Olympic sized swimming pools -- would not harm marine life or seafood safety.

But amid growing unease about water contamination, Japan has imposed a legal limit for radioactive iodine in fish and may widen tests to cover a larger area, after elevated levels were discovered in a fish caught off Ibaraki prefecture, south of the crippled plant.

"There is still plenty of work to do," a senior strategist at a Japanese brokerage told Dow Jones Newswires. "The dumping of radioactive water into the ocean (since Monday night) has also had deep repercussions, intensifying selling interest among overseas investors," he added.

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Kazakhstan to Store a Century's Worth of Uranium
Central Asia Newswire
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Kazakhstan plans to put in reserve enough uranium to last the country into the next century, the chief of the state-owned nuclear holding company said in an interview published by Reuters on Tuesday.

Kazatomprom plans to boost its reserves of uranium to as much as 2.8 million tons from the current level of 1.9 million tons, he said.

"This means our reserves will be enough for more than 100 years, even given the higher output scenario," Kazatomprom head Vladimir Shkolnik told Reuters in an interview published Tuesday.

The world’s largest uranium producer aims to lift output of the metal to 21,605 tons in 2011 from 19,624 tons last year.

"We are now approaching the output plateau,” he said, referring to annual uranium production. “It will be in the neighborhood of 20,000 tonnes (22,046 tons), maybe 25,000 tonnes (27,558 tons)."

"Under any scenario, the world's demand for uranium is set to rise," he said.

The nuclear crisis in Japan caused by the March 11 earthquake has not impacted on Kazakhstan’s uranium output plans.

Shkolnik noted that although Kazakhstan halted supplies to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the Japanese company is currently operating other nuclear reactors, so impact will be minimal.

He added that "countries which have nuclear reactors, or those planning to build them ... have not announced that they will stop their nuclear programs.”

Furthermore, booming China plans will have 150 nuclear reactors in operation by 2030 needing 33,000 tons of uranium per year, Shkolnik said.

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E.  Links of Interest

Decommissioning Nuclear Plants Comes at a Price
Andreas Keiser
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Inside Chernobyl's Exclusion Zone
Daniel Sandford
BBC News
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DISCLAIMER: Nuclear News is presented for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to visit the websites from which the source material originates. Views presented in any given article are those of the individual author or source and not of Partnership for Global Security. Partnership for Global Security takes no responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in any article presented in Nuclear News.

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