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Nuclear News - 5/17/2011
PGS Nuclear News, May 17, 2011
Compiled By: Eli Ginsberg

A.  Iran
    1. US Lawmakers Hope To Force Iran's Hand, Associated Press (5/16/2011)
    2. Ahmadinejad Insists Iran Ready For Nuclear Talks, AFP (5/15/2011)
    3. Russia blasts UN Report On Iran, PressTV (5/14/2011)
    4. 'Bushehr Plant Reactor Functioning Well', PressTV (5/14/2011)
    1. U.S. Envoy On North Korea To Arrive In South Korea, Yonhap News Agency (5/16/2011)
    2. North Korea and Iran 'Sharing Ballistic Missile Technology’, BBC News (5/15/2011)
C.  Japan
    1. Japan Evacuates Residents Beyond Fukushima No-Go Zone, BBC News (5/16/2011)
    2. Quake 'Hurt Reactors Before Tsunami', Japan Times (5/16/2011)
    3. Tepco Rethinks Flooding Reactor No. 1 After Leakage Found, Hidenori Tsuboya, Asahi (5/15/2011)
D.  Nuclear Security
    1. Little Oversight of Radiation Sources, Emilio Godoy, IPS (5/13/2011)
E.  Nuclear Safety
    1. Experts Monitor Nuclear Plant In Quake-Prone Armenia, Hurriyet Daily News (5/16/2011)
    2. China To Spend $23 Million In 2011 On Nuclear Safety, Kazunori Takada, Reuters (5/14/2011)
    3. Europeans Split On Nuclear Safety Tests, UPI (5/13/2011)
F.  Nuclear Energy
    1. MPs Attack Government's Covert Subsidies For Nuclear Industry, Fiona Harvey, The Guardian (5/16/2011)
    2. Secret UK Burial Of Nuke Waste, Susie Boniface, Mirror (5/15/2011)
G.  Links of Interest
    1. Slovenia Joins OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, Nuclear Engineering International (5/12/2011)

A.  Iran

US Lawmakers Hope To Force Iran's Hand
Associated Press
(for personal use only)

Iran could face a new array of U.S. sanctions under proposed House legislation that is meant to force Tehran into international talks on its nuclear program.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Howard Berman, the panel's top Democrat, have introduced a bill that would impose penalties on human rights abusers in Iran, including freezing their U.S.-based assets, denying them visas and prohibiting financial or business transactions with any U.S. entity.

The round of sanctions also would target foreign companies that do energy business with Iran's Revolutionary Guard; expand help to pro-democracy groups in Iran; and require all companies, U.S. and foreign-based, that are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission to report on whether they are conducting activities with Iran that could trigger sanctions. The bill also would restrict the travel of Iranian diplomats to a 25-mile radius of New York and Washington.

The powerful Revolutionary Guard controls companies and organizations that have links to weapons proliferation, as well as companies and organizations involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities.

"The international community has recognized the unique distinction of the Iranian institution which not only is the leading influence in the development of their nuclear program but is one of the primary forces of the repression of the Iranian peoples," Berman said in a statement. "We must stay ahead of the curve and find ways to complement the sanctions which is the best course of action to persuade Iran to change its conduct."

The new legislation, which has the backing of several key Republicans and Democrats on the committee, builds on sanctions that Congress overwhelmingly passed — and President Barack Obama signed — last summer. Those penalties targeted exports of gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran and banned U.S. banks from doing business with foreign banks providing services to the Revolutionary Guard. The United Nations and the European Union have also imposed sanctions on Iran.

"U.S. policy toward Iran has offered a lot of bark, but not enough bite," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "This new bipartisan legislation would bring to bear the full weight of the U.S. by seeking to close the loopholes in existing energy and financial sanctions laws, while increasing the type and number of sanctions to be imposed."

The United States has tried repeatedly to coax Iran into international negotiations with the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany over its nuclear program. Iran contends that its program is designed to generate electricity, not build weapons.

Berman said that while the world has been riveted by the democratic movements throughout the Arab world this past spring, it would be a mistake to ignore the threat posed by Iran.

"Iran's effort to get nuclear weapons capability is the most serious security challenge we face," Berman said in an interview Sunday. He specifically mentioned the proliferation of barter arrangements between Iran and others, saying the new proposed sanctions would "constrain the circumvention."

He said he had notified the Obama administration of the sanctions legislation. A similar bipartisan measure has been proposed in the Senate.

Last week, an expert panel assembled by the United Nations said Iran was continuing to use "front companies, concealment methods in shipping, financial transactions and the transfer of conventional arms and related materiel" to circumvent U.N. sanctions. But the panel also said the penalties have succeeded in slowing Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

In signing the legislation last summer, Obama said, "There should be no doubt: The United States and the international community are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."

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Ahmadinejad Insists Iran Ready For Nuclear Talks
(for personal use only)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday that Tehran is "ready for a dialogue" with the world powers on the nuclear issue and hopes that future meetings will yield results.

"The best solution is cooperation," Ahmadinejad insisted in an interview on state television. "We hope that in future meetings (with world powers) if they occur, we get faster results."

He criticised the West's muted reaction to the letter sent by Iran in early May to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton proposing resumption of talks over Tehran's nuclear issue.

A spokeswoman for Ashton earlier this week said that Iran's letter "does not contain anything new and does not seem to justify a further meeting" between the six world powers and Iran.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany represented by Ashton are engaged in a dialogue with Iran over the latter's controversial nuclear programme which the world powers suspect is masking a weapons drive.

Iran denies the charge.

"I was surprised to hear that Ashton has taken such a position. We have stated our readiness for a dialogue in various fields based on mutual respect, within the framework of international laws and in a spirit of cooperation," Ahmadinejad said Sunday.

"Maybe Ashton expects that we have to accept her position when we have a dialogue. But then this is not a dialogue, this is a diktat."

An attempt to resume nuclear talks between the two groups in December and in January ended in a failure, with both sides sticking to their positions.

While the world powers want to focus on the Iranian nuclear programme, Tehran wants to expand the discussions to issues such as global security, global nuclear disarmament, the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel and the right of all countries to civilian nuclear cooperation.

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'Bushehr Plant Reactor Functioning Well'
(for personal use only)

A spokesperson for the Atomstroyexport company, the Russian contractor of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, says the activities at the plant is progressing well and on schedule.

Olga Tysleva told IRNA on Friday that the fuel loading of the reactor at the Bushehr nuclear plant is completed and the reactor is well functioning at the minimum controllable level of power.

She went on to say that the reactor has achieved a chain distribution, which is an automatic system, adding that this is one of the significant stages of the physical launch of the reactor.

Tysleva further pointed out that the plant will soon be put into service to generate electricity but did not provide an exact date for it.

She explained that the whole process of the construction of the plant has been carried out within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Organization.

She said that security issues come first in the construction of a nuclear plant, so the preliminary stages of the physical launch of the Bushehr plant will be fully supervised.

Atomstroyexport company said in a statement this week that the reactor of the plant has gone into operation, adding that the tests of control and protection systems would now be conducted.

In October 2010, Iran started injecting fuel into the core of the reactor at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in the initial phase of its launch. However, engineers began removing the fuel rods in late February for safety reasons.

The unloading of the fuel delayed the plant's joining the national grid, initially scheduled for the beginning of 2011.

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Russia blasts UN Report On Iran
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Russia's ambassador to the UN slams a report by the world body's nuclear experts which alleges that Iran is seeking to violate sanctions imposed on the country over its civilian nuclear program.

“As this report was superficial and carelessly prepared, Russia didn't approve of it,” Vitaly Churkin said in his exclusive interview with IRNA Saturday.

On the threshold of a meeting of UN nuclear experts on Iran held last Thursday, certain Western media tried to launch a war of nerves by propagating false news. They quoted a UN expert as saying that Tehran tries to breach sanctions.

“There are proposals in the report to which our experts do not agree, and Moscow has a problem with that report,” Churkin further told IRNA.

“As for the findings and proposals offered by the panel of experts, we presented more than three pages of evidence and documents to prove the report is wrong, and that's why we disagreed with it,” the top Russian diplomat underlined in the interview.

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U.S. Envoy On North Korea To Arrive In South Korea
Yonhap News Agency
(for personal use only)

The U.S. point man on North Korea was to arrive in South Korea on Monday to discuss the communist state's nuclear arms programs and other issues of mutual concern, foreign ministry officials here said.

From Monday to Wednesday, Stephen Bosworth will meet with senior government officials, including Chun Yung-woo, presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security; Unification Minister Hyun In-taek; and Win Sung-lac, South Korea's envoy to the stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear arms programs.

The visit, the second of its kind since January, comes amid reports of dire food shortages in North Korea and the communist state's ongoing uranium enrichment activities, a second track to developing nuclear warheads.

Bosworth's arrival in Seoul is slated for Monday evening, officials here said.

In an effort to resume the six-party talks that also include China, Russia and Japan, Beijing proposed last month that the two Koreas first hold dialogue between their nuclear envoys.

The proposal also envisages one-on-one talks between the nuclear delegates of the United States and North Korea ahead of the resumption of the six-party talks, stalled since late 2008.

North Korea has yet to produce a formal proposal for inter-Korean denuclearization talks, which it has long refrained from as it claims its nuclear arms are aimed at deterring U.S. aggression.

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North Korea and Iran 'Sharing Ballistic Missile Technology’
BBC News
(for personal use only)

North Korea and Iran appear to have been exchanging ballistic missile technology in violation of sanctions, a leaked UN report shows.

The report, obtained by Reuters, said regular transfers had been taking place through "a neighbouring third country", named by diplomats as China.

The sanctions were imposed on Pyongyang by the UN after it conducted a series of nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

They ban all trade in nuclear and missile technology with North Korea.

They also imposed an arms embargo and subjected some North Korean individuals to travel bans and assets freezes.

North Korea has twice tested nuclear devices and said in September last year that it had entered the final phase of uranium enrichment.

The country is believed to have enough plutonium to make about six bombs, but is not thought to have developed a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

'New challenges'

The report was written by a UN panel of experts monitoring Pyongyang's compliance with the sanctions.

It said that "prohibited ballistic missile-related items are suspected to have been transferred between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [North Korea] and the Islamic Republic of Iran", using regular scheduled flights on national carriers Air Koryo and Iran Air.

For arms and related material, "whose illicit nature would become apparent on any cursory physical inspection", Pyongyang appeared to prefer the use of chartered cargo flights, Reuters quoted it as saying.

The flights would travel "from or to air cargo hubs which lack the kind of monitoring and security to which passenger terminals and flights are now subject".

This presented "new challenges to international non-proliferation efforts", said the panel.

The report said North Korea's uranium enrichment programme was "primarily for military purposes" and so Pyongyang should be "compelled to abandon" it and have it placed under international monitoring.

It also raised concerns about safety at the nuclear complex at Yongbyon, warning of an "environmental disaster" if it were to be decommissioned or dismantled without care.

The report said the transfers travelled through "a neighbouring third country". The country was not named in the report but one diplomat told the BBC some sanctions-busting takes place through China.

He said Beijing was unhappy with the experts' report, and that the Chinese member of the panel had not signed off on it.

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C.  Japan

Japan Evacuates Residents Beyond Fukushima No-Go Zone
BBC News
(for personal use only)

Residents have been moved further away from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in northern Japan as the no-go zone is extended and there is a new setback at the plant.

Residents of the towns of Kawamata and Iitate were sent to evacuation centres.

Attempts to stabilise one of the plant's stricken reactors have had to be halted amid fears that highly radioactive water is leaking.

The power plant was badly damaged by the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March.

More than 80,000 local residents living within a 20km (12 mile) radius of the plant have been evacuated from their homes. A "stay indoors" policy has been operating in the area 20-30km from the plant.

A wider evacuation zone was decided upon last month as radiation levels were expected to increase, making the move necessary.

The towns are more than 30km (19 miles) from the Fukushima plant, which is continuing to leak radioactive material.

About 5,000 people have been moved into public housing, hotels and other facilities in nearby cities.

Theses first evacuees were reported to be mainly those with small children and pregnant women, who are thought to be more vulnerable.

The Mayor of Kawamata, Michio Furukawa, told the first group of evacuees: ''I know you are worried but we will overcome difficulties together."

More evacuations are expected in the coming days.

Leak fears

A giant barge which will be used to store radioactive water is currently on its way to Fukushima

Efforts to control the collapse of Fukushima are continuing to face problems.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), had intended to cool reactor 1 by filling the containment chamber with water.

But Tepco has now discovered that melting fuel rods have created a hole in the chamber, allowing 3,000 tonnes - more than could fit inside an Olympic-sized swimming pool - of contaminated water to leak into the basement of the reactor building.

Some experts fear the water could pose a serious environmental hazard to groundwater and the Pacific.

Tepco says it will come up with a new plan to stabilise the reactor by Tuesday. Such a scheme is likely to involve capturing the water and storing or processing it.

Amid similar fears of a water leak at reactor 3, Tepco said it would transferring highly radioactive water from that reactor to a waste-disposing facility on Tuesday, reported Kyodo News.

A giant water-storage barge - a Megafloat - has been dispatched to Fukushima as a possible storage site for contaminated water, and is set to arrive at the end of the month.

The earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems to the reactors, fuel rods overheated, and attempts to release pressure in the chambers led to explosions in some of the buildings housing the reactors.

The government and Tepco have said it would take until next January to achieve a cold shut-down at the plant.

Last week the government agreed a huge compensation package for those affected by the disaster.

Analysts say the final bill for compensation could top $100bn (£61bn).

In a separate development, the operators of Japan's ageing Hamaoka nuclear plant south-west of Tokyo said all reactors were in a state of cold shutdown.

The plant is located in the Tokai region near a tectonic faultline just 200km from Tokyo, and Prime Minister Naoto Kan called for its closure in light of the catastrophic events at the Fukushima plant.

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Quake 'Hurt Reactors Before Tsunami'
Japan Times
(for personal use only)

High radiation readings taken in the No. 1 reactor building the night of March 11 suggest it was the quake rather than the loss of cooling that critically damaged the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, a utility source said Saturday.

The belated disclosure could trigger a review of quake-preparedness at nuclear facilities across the country. Many have been focusing on increasing defenses against tsunami, which knocked out the plant's poorly placed emergency power generators.

On March 11, the nuclear plant shut down automatically just after 2:46 p.m., when the magnitude 9 quake occurred. Within an hour, it was hit by at least two tsunami. The external power supply then shut down, stopping the emergency cooling system from injecting water into the reactor core at 4:36 p.m.

That evening, Prime Minister Naoto Kan declared the country's first state of nuclear emergency and residents near the plant were asked to evacuate.

Workers entered the No. 1 reactor building during the night to assess the damage only to hear their dosimeter alarms go off a few seconds later, sources at Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. Since they thought the building was filled with highly radioactive steam, the workers decided to evacuate.

Based on the dosimeter readings, the radiation level was about 300 millisieverts per hour, the source said, suggesting that a large amount of radioactive material had already been released from the core.

The source of the steam was believed to be the No. 1 reactor's overheated pressure vessel.

But for that scenario to hold, the pressure in the reactor would have to have reached enormous levels ~~~- damaging the piping and other connected facilities. It should have taken much more time to fill the entire building with steam.

A source at Tepco admitted it was possible that key facilities were compromised before the tsunami.

"The quake's tremors may have caused damage to the pressure vessel or pipes," the official said.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has so far said the reactor withstood the shaking and that the unexpectedly large tsunami caused a station blackout, which led to explosions.

On the night of March 11, Tepco did not open the containment vessel vents to relieve pressure that was supposed to be rising. The move was finally taken the following morning, releasing radioactive steam from the vessel.

In the No. 1 reactor, the water level began falling from the night of March 11. Though Tepco sprayed in large amounts of water, the fuel was exposed and the reactor core melted down.

Subsequently, the fuel pellets' zirconium casings began reacting with the hot steam, generating the hydrogen that blew the reactor building's roof off at 3:36 p.m. on March 12.

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Tepco Rethinks Flooding Reactor No. 1 After Leakage Found
Hidenori Tsuboya
(for personal use only)

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been forced to devise a difficult new step to cool a reactor at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after its attempt to flood the pressure vessel and containment vessel with water failed.

TEPCO said on May 14 that 3,000 tons of water found in the basement of the No. 1 reactor building had likely leaked from the containment vessel.

The utility had fed more than 10,000 tons of water into the reactor for cooling, hoping to flood the core vessel and outer containment vessel so that damaged fuel rods will be kept submerged, in a process called "water entombment." However, some of the water apparently leaked through pipe joints in the containment vessel.

With the failure of the operation, the utility is now considering recirculating the leaked water to try to cool the fuel rods, most of which are believed to have dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel in a meltdown.

According to TEPCO, workers discovered about 3,000 tons of water in the basement of the southeastern side of the reactor building on May 13.

The water filled almost half the basement, which stands about 11 meters high.

The utility believes that the water spewed from the joints of pipes connecting the containment vessel and its suppression pool.

Although it has not measured the radiation level of the water, TEPCO said it is very likely highly contaminated.

With the discovery of the massive volume of contaminated water, the company is being forced to consider using the leaked water to cool the reactor core.

"We want to review our plan to circulate water to cool (the reactor)," said Junichi Matsumoto, a senior official with TEPCO.

The utility was initially seeking to pipe water from the containment vessel back into the pressure vessel after cooling the water.

But installing a system to recirculate the contaminated water for cooling will likely prove a big headache for the utility.

The radioactivity level inside the reactor building is very high, with a reading of up to 2,000 millisieverts per hour, an extreme danger to workers. That reading was taken May 13 at a site near a pipe leading to the pressure vessel at the southeastern part of the ground floor of the No. 1 reactor building.

The reading was the highest so far of the checks of radiation in the air conducted after the accident.

TEPCO must look for points where the radiation level is low in the building so that technicians can stay long enough to install pipes.

It also needs to work out a way to deter the flow of the highly contaminated water in the basement into the ocean.

Part of the highly radioactive water that leaked from the No. 2 and No. 3 reactor buildings has already flowed into the sea.

If the volume of contaminated water grows at the No. 1 reactor building, it could flow into the turbine building, then into a trench and finally into the sea. That was the course contaminated water at the No. 2 and No. 3 reactor buildings followed.

To prevent a recurrence, TEPCO must deal with the contaminated water while it is contained in the No. 1 reactor and turbine buildings.

But the volume of contaminated water is expected to increase for some time because the utility must continue to inject water into the reactor core until work to install pipes and the system for recirculating the radioactive water is completed. TEPCO continues pumping 8 tons of water per hour into the No. 1 reactor.

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D.  Nuclear Security

Little Oversight of Radiation Sources
Emilio Godoy
(for personal use only)

In spite of the potential risks posed by unwanted or uncontrolled radioactive materials, Mexico lacks comprehensive mechanisms to keep track of these "orphan" sources, originally used in medicine or industry, and to prevent them going astray.

One example of the problem is a sealed unit of Cobalt-60, a substance dangerous to the environment and to human health, inside a Picker 3000 radiotherapy machine, that is no longer in use and was found in the northern town of Ciudad Juárez, on the U.S. border, IPS learned.

The material was located and removed as part of a programme for recovering lost or obsolete orphan sources, implemented by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The IAEA contracted a U.S. company, Neutron Products Inc., to collect orphan source materials originating from countries in Latin America and disassemble them in the United States.

"When these sources are registered, the authorities can exert appropriately strict control," Benjamín Ruíz, of the Faculty of Chemistry at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told IPS. "The problem is that many of them enter the country illegally.

"If a hospital needs a tomography machine and wants to avoid the costs of importing it, they get one through contraband," he said.

The National Commission on Nuclear Safety and Safeguards (CNSNS), which comes under the energy ministry, is responsible for supervising all activities related to radioactive materials.

CNSNS's Radiation Safety Office has issued at least 1,897 permits in recent years for the possession of this kind of material. But the Cobalt-60 source described above does not appear in its records, and no technical expert is responsible for managing it.

"Large sources are well controlled," Juan Eibenschutz, the head of CNSNS, told IPS. "In the 10 years I have been in this post, there may have been three or four very small sources that were lost and never recovered."

The problem with those materials that get under the government's radar is that they end up in junkyards, and are eventually acquired as scrap by the metallurgical industry.

That was, in fact, what caused the worst radiation accident in Mexican history in the mid-1980s. In 1977, a radiotherapy machine containing Cobalt-60 was smuggled into the country from the United States, at the behest of the private Medical Specialties Hospital in Ciudad Juárez.

In 1983, the machine was sold by two hospital employees to the Yonke Fénix junkyard, which sent it to the now defunct state-owned Aceros de Chihuahua, a steelyard, where it was processed into iron reinforcing rods and other metal parts that were distributed to 16 of Mexico's 32 states. The authorities reported in 1985 finding 17,636 buildings containing radioactive reinforcing rods.

In another case, Tubos de Acero de México (TAMSA), the country's main manufacturer of steel pipes, inadvertently melted Caesium-137 in a smelter in the southeastern state of Veracruz, and was unable to trace the source of the potentially lethal radioactive material.

"Industry has unfinished business in terms of disposal of sealed radioactive sources, plans for closing facilities down and the transport of radioactive materials," Edmundo de Alba, an adviser to the National Ecology Institute and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told IPS.

In February, CNSNS inspected 37 facilities handling radioactive material, less than its stated target of 55 visits. It also dealt with a radiation emergency, but has not given any details about the event.

At least 7,733 people work with radiation sources in Mexico, according to CNSNS, which has investigated 42 cases of exposure to abnormally high doses of radiation in the past few years.

Since 1999, the U.S. Off-Site Source Recovery Project (OSRP), managed by the Los Álamos National Laboratory, has identified and collected 24,029 open radioactive sources in the United States, 479 in Peru, 431 in Chile, 127 in Brazil, 36 in Ecuador, 19 in Argentina and two in Uruguay, but none in Mexico.

Since 1984, sizeable accidents involving radiation have taken place in Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Brazil.

Neutron Products Inc. did not reply to IPS' efforts to contact it, and the IAEA said all its experts are presently focused on the nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant in Japan, following the Mar. 11 earthquake and tsunami.

According to UNAM's Ruiz, the way to prevent losses and leaks of radioactive material is for CNSNS to "make a proper inspection of all the hospitals, and find out what services they offer, which of them involve machines with radioactive sources, and require hospital administrators to show how they were bought, when, and what their safety management plans are.

"The difficulty in identifying sources is that there is no existing record of all of them," the expert said.

In 2010, the IAEA database on illicit traffic in radioactive materials worldwide was notified of at least 222 incidents, including unauthorised possession, attempts to sell or contraband these materials, and theft or loss of sources.

"Some incidents have occurred that have compelled an increase in international information and control of sources," Eibenschutz said.

In December 2010, the Mexican government signed a Country Programme Framework with the IAEA, setting out technical cooperation between the state and the agency for the period 2011-2015.

The priority areas are nuclear energy and disposal of radioactive waste, radiation and nuclear safety, as well as human health, food security, water management and protection of the environment.

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E.  Nuclear Safety

Experts Monitor Nuclear Plant In Quake-Prone Armenia
Hurriyet Daily News
(for personal use only)

International nuclear safety experts started to monitor an ex-Soviet reactor in earthquake-prone Armenia on Monday after concerns raised by the recent disaster in Japan, officials said.

"The group of experts will be studying the operational safety level of the Armenian nuclear power plant," a spokeswoman for the energy ministry, Lusine Harutiunian, told AFP. The Metsamor nuclear plant, only 30 kilometers from the capital Yerevan and close to the border with Turkey, is located in a seismic zone hit by a massive earthquake in 1988 that killed 25,000 people.

The experts from the International Atomic Energy Authority's Operational Safety Team will report on their findings at the end of the month, the ministry spokeswoman said. Last week Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said that safety rules at the nuclear plant had been revised after the catastrophe in Japan.

Officials insist that the plant is not at risk in the event of an earthquake despite concerns raised by local environmentalists. The Soviet-era reactor was closed for five years after the 1988 quake until energy shortages caused the authorities to reopen it, despite objections from Europe and the United States.

Concerned over the plant's high-risk location and ageing facilities, the European Union in 2004 offered to provide 100 million euros ($141 million) in compensatory aid if Yerevan agreed to shut it down permanently.

But instead the authorities are planning to build a new reactor unit at Metsamor that will extend its life. Armenian officials insist that the landlocked and resource-poor country has no alternative because it relies on the nuclear plant for around 40 percent of its electricity needs.

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China To Spend $23 Million In 2011 On Nuclear Safety
Kazunori Takada
(for personal use only)

China will spend 150 million yuan ($23 million) this year on nuclear safety, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday, as concerns mount globally over the sector following the crisis in Japan.

Last year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection ministry's budgetary report did not include any nuclear safety projects, Xinhua said.

The ministry will spend the money on monitoring radiation nationwide, reassessing technology at nuclear facilities and supervising privately-run plants.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday countries using nuclear energy must ensure their reactors are built to withstand multiple disasters after Japan's accident revealed gaps in safety standards.

More than 70,000 people living near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been forced to evacuate following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that smashed the plant and caused radiation leaks.

Engineers are still battling to bring the situation under control. The Japanese government has said the evacuation was likely to continue at least until the end of the year.

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Europeans Split On Nuclear Safety Tests
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European regulators are split on whether stress tests for nuclear plants should cover terrorism and other man-made threats.

Six hours of talks Thursday in Berlin, spurred by the Japanese disaster, failed to reach an agreement, the EUobserver reports.

EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, supported by his homeland, Germany, along with Italy and Sweden, said terrorism threats must be included in screening Europe's 143 nuclear power plants.

But French and British representatives said the reactors should be examined only on their ability to withstand natural disasters.

"No final decision has been taken," Oettinger's spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said. "Commissioner Oettinger was very clear on that. He said he would like terrorist attacks and other man-made disasters included in the tests. He would like to start as soon as possible, but for the credibility of the tests, the content is more important than the timing."

Officials will try again to reach an agreement in Prague next week.

Delay could prevent the European Commission from presenting a report on the state of nuclear plants in December, as planned.

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F.  Nuclear Energy

MPs Attack Government's Covert Subsidies For Nuclear Industry
Fiona Harvey
The Guardian
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The government is planning to award covert subsidies of hundreds of millions of pounds to nuclear power, betraying the coalition promise that the taxpayer would not foot the bill for a new generation of reactors, according to an influential committee of MPs.

The MPs criticised attempts to hide the subsidies as "deeply irresponsible" and said they put the government's green credentials in jeopardy.

The call comes at a critical time for the government , which is hoping to burnish its "greenest government ever" claim by accepting a proposal from the chief climate change adviser to adopt a tough emissions-cutting target for 2027, which would put the UK ahead of any other country in reducing carbon. The deal is expected to be announced this week. However, recommendations such as stricter carbon cuts before 2023 and controls on emissions from aviation and shipping have been ignored, as ministers are not legally obliged to consider them yet.

The deal was hammered out over the weekend after weeks of squabbling over the targets among cabinet ministers, which pitted the business secretary Vince Cable against fellow Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne, the climate secretary. The new target puts the government in line to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, compared with 1990 levels.

But the row over reactor subsidies points to divisions in the coalition on nuclear energy. "Ministers believe that new nuclear could play a key role in keeping the lights on and meeting our climate change targets, but they don't want to own up to supporting it," said Tim Yeo, Tory chairman of the energy and climate change committee, which produced the report. "This is understandable given the promise they made not to subsidise nuclear, but it would be deeply irresponsible to skew the whole process of electricity market reform simply to save face."

Nuclear power is a potential flashpoint for the coalition, because the Liberal Democrats oppose new reactors but the Conservatives want to encourage them. The coalition compromised on allowing new reactors but without public subsidies. According to the report, hidden subsidies will be awarded through government-supported long-term contracts to supply energy, and a minimum price for carbon emissions.

That floor price for carbon, levied on businesses, could channel more than £1bn to nuclear generators over the next decade, according to estimates by environmental groups. Nuclear companies are also likely to receive government assurances that the taxpayer could foot any increases to the estimated bill for storing radioactive waste from new reactors. "The government must be upfront about the support it is giving to nuclear and not hide subsidies," said Yeo.

Simon Bullock, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "This report shows the government's plans are stacked in favour of nuclear power over renewables and so vague they risk locking the UK into a new generation of polluting fossil fuels. We don't need to gamble on new nuclear power - by boosting green energy alternatives and slashing energy waste we can tackle climate change and create new jobs."

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of EEF, which represents manufacturers, said the tougher targets on climate change would harm UK industry: "The UK is already committed to some of the toughest carbon targets. Committing to ploughing a lone furrow without international agreement will damage our economy for little or no environmental benefit. There is little if any appetite across the EU for any further move towards a higher target when there is so much economic uncertainty and government must continue to seek international consensus."

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Secret UK Burial Of Nuke Waste
Susie Boniface
(for personal use only)

Hundreds of tons of radioactive waste from Britain's nuclear bomb tests have been secretly shipped back to this country and buried.

About 338 tons of sand, topsoil, metal debris, asbestos and lead were scooped up from Christmas Island in the South Pacific in 2008.

It was taken to a landfill site at Port Clarence on Teesside in a multi-millionpound clean-up operation. Nuke test veterans, many who suffered radiationrelated diseases, are furious. John Smith, 77, who lives near the dump and witnessed tests in 1958, said: "I thought I'd left all this behind - it's like it has followed me home after all these years."

The MoD says the "slightly elevated" radiation levels in 30 tons of the waste comes from small luminous dials in military vehicles rather than fallout, and the other 300 tons are unaffected.

Mp Alex Cunningham has called for an inquiry.

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G.  Links of Interest

Slovenia Joins OECD Nuclear Energy Agency
Nuclear Engineering International
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