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Nuclear News - 5/19/2011
PGS Nuclear News, May 19, 2011
Compiled By: Eli Ginsberg

A.  Iran
    1. US, EU Demand Iran Return To Nuclear Talks, Matthew Lee, Associated Press (5/13/2011)
    1. Russian Foreign Intelligence Chief Holds Talks With Kim Jong-il, RIA Novosti (5/18/2011)
    2. North Korea On 'Dead-End Road' Unless It Denuclearizes: Envoy, Yonhap News Agency (5/18/2011)
    3. China Plays Down U.N. Report On North Korea, Iran Proliferation, Chris Buckley, Reuters (5/17/2011)
C.  Japan
    1. Tepco Misleading Public Over Nuclear Crisis, Tsuyoshi Inajima and Yuji Okada, Bloomberg (5/18/2011)
    2. Japan Offers WHO Apology For Nuclear Crisis, Japan Times (5/18/2011)
D.  Pakistan
    1. Pakistan Building New Reactor, UPI (5/17/2011)
E.  Russia
    1. Russia To Enhance Strike Potential If Missile Cooperation With NATO Fails, RIA Novosti (5/18/2011)
    2. Medvedev Warns Of New Cold War Over Missile Defense, Maria Antonova, Agence France-Presse (5/18/2011)
F.  Nuclear Energy
    1. Chinese Nuke Plants Could Power Australia, AAP (5/18/2011)
    2. Nuclear Power Gets Green Light, Karolin Schaps and Gerard Wynn, Reuters (5/18/2011)
    3. A Worldwide Nuclear Slowdown Continues, Peter Fairley, MIT Technology Review (5/18/2011)
    4. Responsible To Keep Nuclear For Now-German Minister, Sam Cage, Reuters (5/17/2011)
G.  Links of Interest
    1. Security Council Briefed By Committees On Terrorism And Nuclear Non-Proliferation, UN News Centre (5/16/2011)

A.  Iran

US, EU Demand Iran Return To Nuclear Talks
Matthew Lee
Associated Press
(for personal use only)

The United States and the European Union demanded Tuesday that Iran return to international talks over its nuclear program and prove to the world that its atomic intentions are peaceful.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Iran must stop stalling and respond in good faith to invitations to discuss the nuclear matter with international negotiators. That's the same demand, and the same invitation, that negotiators have made for years. They have been unsuccessful in persuading Iran to openly discuss its atomic program, which the U.S. and its allies believe is a cover for nuclear weapons development.

"Iran has to meet its international obligations and negotiate seriously on the nuclear issue," Clinton told reporters after she and Ashton met at the State Department. "The burden remains on Iran to demonstrate it is prepared to end its stalling tactics, drop its unacceptable preconditions and start addressing the international community's concerns."

Ashton said she would seek clarification on Iran's latest written response to a proposal for talks, which she called disappointing.

"I had wished for a stronger and better letter from them to recognize that the offer on the table is an offer they should look at very carefully," she said. "I do urge Iran to think again and to consider coming back to the table."

According to confidential letters obtained by The Associated Press last week, Iran wants a new round of talks with six world powers to focus on a host of issues including its rights as a nation, and even high-seas piracy, instead of international fears that it's building a nuclear bomb.

The correspondence appeared certain to strengthen Western concerns that Iran is drawing out years of negotiations with procedural delays and rhetorical debates in order to gain time to enrich enough uranium to build a bomb - an intention Iran denies.

Iranian state television channel said Tuesday that the government had accepted a proposal by the European Union on behalf of six powers for a new meeting, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said it would be held in Istanbul. But the EU said no such plans have been made.

The last round of talks in January ended in failure, and the correspondence between Ashton and chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili provided little cause for optimism.

Ashton's Feb. 11 letter said new talks need to focus on reducing fears about Iran's nuclear ambitions. Jalili's May 8 response evaded that request. Instead, it urged "respect for democracy and the rights of the people" as the basis for new negotiations.

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North Korea On 'Dead-End Road' Unless It Denuclearizes: Envoy
Yonhap News Agency
(for personal use only)

North Korea will remain on the wrong path unless it abandons its nuclear weapons program, the top U.S. envoy to Seoul said Wednesday, urging the communist state to work toward a peaceful and denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

"Without denuclearization, North Korea is on a dead-end road. That's about as clear as I can be right now," U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens said at a debate hosted by the Kwanhun Club, a fraternity of senior Korean journalists.

"There really is a choice here to be made and ... there are actions that North Korea could take to demonstrate it is making a choice towards moving towards everything being possible as outlined" in a 2005 denuclearization agreement, she said.

The agreement, signed within the framework of the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the U.S., committed Pyongyang to dismantle all its nuclear programs. In return, the isolated and impoverished state was promised normalized relations with the U.S. and Japan, a permanent peace treaty with South Korea, and large amounts of economic and energy aid.

Implementation of that pact has been stalled over a series of provocations by the North that started with two test nuclear explosions in 2006 and 2009, and peaked with two deadly attacks on a South Korean warship and border island last year.

Despite such incidents, North Korea has in recent months said it would like to resume the six-party negotiations that have been deadlocked since December 2008 and even discuss its newly revealed uranium enrichment program within that forum.

The ambassador was speaking as Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, is in Seoul to meet South Korean officials over the resumption of the six-way talks and possible food aid to the North.

"As we've said repeatedly, we would like to see action from North Korea, not just words," Stephens said, declining to name the specific actions Pyongyang should take to prove its willingness to denuclearize. "You want to give a little room for the kind of action that would demonstrate a seriousness of purpose."

"Words are important, but action also shows the seriousness of purpose, and we would like to see actions by North Korea that would demonstrate its commitment to implementing the 2005 Joint Statement of Principles," she added.

On the possibility of direct dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea, she said it would largely depend on developments in inter-Korean relations.

"We also are prepared to engage bilaterally, but I think we've been very clear that we want to see first and foremost an improvement in the atmosphere of North-South."

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Russian Foreign Intelligence Chief Holds Talks With Kim Jong-il
RIA Novosti
(for personal use only)

A delegation of Russian diplomats led by Foreign Intelligence Service head Mikhail Fradkov held talks on Tuesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, the Korean Central News Agency said.

The talks in the capital of the reclusive communist state had a "warm and friendly atmosphere" and ended in a dinner at which Fradkov presented gifts to Kim and his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, the agency said.

Officials from the North Korean Foreign Ministry and Workers' Party were also present at the meeting.

Russia, the United States, China, Japan and South Korea have been trying for the past two years to resume stalled talks with North Korea over its nuclear program.

The talks came to a halt in April 2009 when North Korea walked out of negotiations in protest against the United Nations' condemnation of its missile tests. The country is banned from conducting nuclear or ballistic missile tests under UN Resolution 1718, adopted after Pyongyang's first nuclear test on October 9, 2006.

North Korea carried out a second nuclear test on May 25, 2009, followed by a series of short-range missile launches, and has threatened to build up its nuclear arsenal to counter what it calls hostile U.S. policies.

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China Plays Down U.N. Report On North Korea, Iran Proliferation
Chris Buckley
(for personal use only)

China on Tuesday played down a United Nations report that pointed to it as a trans-shipment point for banned missile technology and other illicit trade between North Korea and Iran.

The report, obtained by Reuters over the weekend, said North Korea appeared to have been exchanging ballistic missile technology and expertise with Iran in violation of Security Council sanctions.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not outright deny the report by a U.N. Panel. But it said the document did not have the authority of the Security Council and said Beijing scrupulously upheld punitive U.N. measures against North Korea.

The report did not identify China, but said North Korean-Iranian missile trade went via a country neighboring North Korea, which diplomats at the U.N. told Reuters was indeed China.

"This does not represent the position of the Security Council, and nor does it represent the position of the relevant Security Council sanctions committee," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a faxed statement.

Statements that China was the trans-shipment site for banned cargo were anonymous accusations, said Jiang.

"I am not willing to make any comment about such claims from anonymous sources," she said. "But I can tell you that China is conscientious and responsible in enforcing Security Council resolutions."

Beijing is North Korea's only major ally, and its economic and diplomatic support has been important in shoring up its otherwise isolated neighbor. China also buys large amounts of oil from Iran, which is largely shunned by the West.

But China has also pressed North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, and has supported Security Council resolutions that condemned North Korea for its nuclear tests and authorized sanctions.

The report was submitted to the Security Council last week by a U.N. Panel of Experts, a group that monitors compliance with U.N. sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after it conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

The U.N. sanctions included a ban on trade in nuclear and missile technology with North Korea, as well as an arms embargo. They also ban trade with designated North Korean firms and demand asset freezes and travel bans on some North Koreans.

But analysts have said China has failed to enforce rigorously the U.N. decisions.

A U.S.-based think-tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, had said North Korea used China as a trans-shipment point for technology for a uranium enrichment facility shown to a visiting U.S. scientist.

Uranium enrichment could give North Korea a second pathway to developing nuclear weapons.

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C.  Japan

Japan Offers WHO Apology For Nuclear Crisis
Japan Times
(for personal use only)

An annual meeting of the World Health Organization heard an apology Tuesday from Japan for the radioactive contamination in air and seawater caused by the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Kohei Otsuka, vice minister of health, labor and welfare, offered the apology both at the meeting and again at a special WHO gathering convened over the radiation leaks at the Fukushima plant.

At a news conference following the meetings, Otsuka said he also offered apologies to Japan's neighbors when he met with their health ministers and senior officials on the sidelines of the WHO meeting.

"I realized during the special meeting that the fact that the cooling system at the plant had been destroyed by the tsunami was not well known (among the WHO members)," Otsuka said.

He also said the government intends to conduct a long-term health survey on residents in the crisis-hit area, but that the numbers and how to conduct it have yet to be decided.

The government is trying to decide the scope of the survey based on the amount of radiation in the area, he added.

The necessity of a long-term health survey was brought up at the WHO general assembly earlier in the day.

Otsuka said the survey data will be used to address the health concerns of residents and for epidemiological research in the future.

Japan has been conducting a similar long-term health survey of the victims of the U.S. atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Makoto Akashi, executive director of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, a government-affiliated institution for comprehensive scientific research on radiation and health, told the news conference that various health problems have been triggered by the disaster, including psychological problems.

"It is important to conduct a followup survey on the damage caused by radiation for future studies," Akashi said.

More than two months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, Tokyo Electric Power Co. is still struggling to restore key cooling functions at the plant's reactors and spent fuel pools.

The disaster has forced people living within 20 km of the plant and some areas beyond to evacuate.

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Tepco Misleading Public Over Nuclear Crisis
Tsuyoshi Inajima and Yuji Okada
(for personal use only)

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has made misleading statements about when it will stabilize its nuclear reactors crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, said Tetsuo Ito, head of the Atomic Energy Research Institute at Kinki University in western Japan.
The company, known as Tepco, yesterday reiterated the schedule on its so-called road map announced a month ago to achieve cold shutdown of the three radiation-leaking reactors as early as October. Setting a timetable without knowing the condition of the reactor cores doesn’t make sense, Ito said in a phone interview from Osaka.

“Only after understanding what’s going on inside the buildings and reactors, will it be clear what parts of the timetable are achievable,” Ito said. “Devising a road map without that will give the public a false sense of security.”

On May 15, or more than two months after the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, Tepco said conditions were worse than expected in reactor No. 1 when it found all uranium fuel rods had melted. Today it sent four workers into reactor No. 2 for the first time since March 14 to measure radiation levels and assess whether work can be done to fix gauges that will show the condition of the core.

“It’s highly likely No. 2 and No. 3 reactors are worse than thought,” Ito said. “Tepco devised the first (road map) before fully grasping the situation inside the reactor buildings; a scientist wouldn’t do such a thing.”

Ito has headed the institute, which started running Japan’s first university-based nuclear reactor in 1961, for more than five years. He has spent 35 years in nuclear engineering research.

Targets Achievable

Tepco officials believe the targets remain achievable, spokeswoman Ryoko Sakai said by phone today. She declined to comment on Ito’s other remarks.

When asked whether Tepco has sought the advice of nuclear engineering academics, Vice President Sakae Muto said yesterday the company has talked to experts, nuclear companies and government bodies around the world.

Tepco has also been criticized by government officials for responding too slowly to the crisis that unfolded at Fukushima after the tsunami washed ashore.

The utility plans to build self-circulating cooling systems in reactor buildings damaged by explosions after the earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and pumping equipment to cool fuel rods and spent pools.

This is to achieve a cold shutdown, where the core temperature in the three damaged reactors falls to below 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit).

Forced Evacuations

Beside radiation leaks into the atmosphere forcing about 50,000 families near the plant to evacuate, more than 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons) of contaminated water have leaked or been released into the sea.

Millions of liters of radiated water have also filled basements and trenches at the station from leaking reactor vessels and piping.

Since the accident, Tepco shares have lost 82 percent of their value. They traded at 392 yen at 2:32 p.m. in Tokyo today compared with 2,153 yen on March 10.

Japan’s government in April raised the severity rating of the Fukushima crisis to the highest on an international scale, the same level as the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The station, which has withstood hundreds of aftershocks, may release more contamination than Chernobyl before the crisis is contained, Tepco officials have said.

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D.  Pakistan

Pakistan Building New Reactor
(for personal use only)

Recent satellite images indicate Pakistan is building a fourth reactor to make plutonium at its Khushab facility, Fox News reported.

The U.S. network said it obtained the satellite images, which were taken April 20, from the aerial imagery company GEOEYE. The Khushab facility is about 100 miles south of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

There are reports Pakistan has been expanding its nuclear program in the past two years at the site, which two years ago was reportedly barren.

"They have a telltale sign," Paul Brannon, a nuclear analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security, told Fox News, while explaining the satellite images.

"I mean you can see the square of the reactor building, you can see the inner square of the reactor hall where the actual reactor goes, and if you measure the dimensions of the building it matches up exactly to the second and the third reactors."

Pakistan conducted its first nuclear test in 1998 and it was after the country disclosed the Khushab site and its plutonium production facility, the report said.

That was also when the country turned to plutonium production from its previous enriched uranium program, the report said, noting plutonium weapons are lighter, more mobile and easier to deliver.

Pakistan reportedly has about 100 nuclear weapons but experts, including Brannon, told Fox News the new plutonium model could help it build between eight and 20 nuclear weapons a year.

Brannon said the cost of the new program would be in the billions and the report quoted U.S. officials, who have been observing Khushab, as saying there is no clear explanation how Pakistan is paying for it.

"This is a military reactor. It's outside of the civilian program," Brannon said.

Pakistan has received about $20 billion from the United States since 2001 in military and economic aid.

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E.  Russia

Medvedev Warns Of New Cold War Over Missile Defense
Maria Antonova
Agence France-Presse
(for personal use only)

President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday warned of a new Cold War era if Russia and the West failed to agree on missile defence, in the first major news conference of his presidency.

Despite the startling warning to the United States and Europe, Medvedev confounded expectations he would use the event to finally announce if he intends to seek a new Kremlin mandate in 2012 elections.

Russia is increasingly worried about US plans to build missile defence facilities in ex-Communist eastern Europe and is also offended that NATO appears to have shunned its proposals for a joint missile defence shield.

Medvedev told reporters that the US decision to push ahead with construction of the missile defence system despite Russia's objections will force Moscow "to take retaliatory measures -- something that we would very much rather not do."

"We would then be talking about developing the offensive potential of our nuclear capabilities," Medvedev warned.

The Russian leader also reiterated an earlier threat to pull out of the new START disarmament agreement that entered into force this year if the missile shield is deployed and operated without the Kremlin's input.

"This would be a very bad scenario. It would be a scenario that throws us back into the Cold War era."

The United States insisted it viewed Russia as a partner on security issues rather than a threat.

"We have been consistent and clear for many years now that our missile defence cooperation in no way is directed at Russia," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

"And in fact we want to cooperate on missile defense with Russia and we have been quite clear on that," Toner added.

Moscow has been fighting NATO plans to deploy a system the West sees as a means of protection from nations such as Iran but Russia believes could potentially be deployed against its own defences.

Medvedev on Wednesday demanded a legally-binding assurance from the United States that this will never happen -- a safeguard that Moscow says Washington is refusing to give.

NATO has thus far invited Russia to voice its concerns in formal meetings but refused to provide Moscow with a formal role in the shield's operation that it seeks.

"We would like to see missile defence develop under clear rules," Medvedev said in the first broad-ranging press conference of his three-year presidency.

The news conference, at a technology hub on the outskirts of Moscow, was broadcast live on Russian state television. Medvedev stood, US presidential style, alone at a lectern against the backdrop of the Russian flag.

Hundreds of reporters attended the news conference, in a major event for Medvedev who so far has only spoken to the press alongside foreign leaders or in small scale briefings.

Seeking to show his confidence, Medvedev chose each question apparently at random from journalists in the audience, many of whom concentrated on local issues.

But despite intense speculation that he wants to stand for a new presidential term instead of Prime Minister Putin, Medvedev refused to say if he intended to seek a new mandate in 2012.

"This kind of decision has to be made when all the conditions are right, when it has the final political effect," Medvedev said.

"This does not mean that this can last for ever... As I said in the interview to your Chinese colleagues, this decision will come fairly soon," he said, referring to a recent interview with Chinese television.

Medvedev said it was wrong for rulers to stay in power for too long, although he made these comments in reference to Russia's powerful regional governors whom he has reshuffled drastically in the last years.

"No-one stays in power for ever. And if anyone has that kind of illusion then they will end badly," said.

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Russia To Enhance Strike Potential If Missile Cooperation With NATO Fails
RIA Novosti
(for personal use only)

Russia will boost its strike nuclear capabilities if NATO refuses to cooperate with Moscow in the European missile defense project, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday.

The United States refused to comply with a Russian request that it provide legally binding guarantees that its European missile defense system will not be directed at Russia.

"I hope we will be able to forge a missile defense cooperation model," Medvedev told around 800 journalists at a news conference at the Skolkovo School of Management near Moscow. "If we don't, we will have to take retaliatory measures, which we do not want to have to do. This will mean forcing the development of our strike nuclear potential."

"This would be a very bad scenario, which would take us back to the Cold War era," the president added.

Medvedev reiterated a warning issued by the Foreign Ministry that Moscow may pull out of the New START disarmament agreement, which entered into force this year, in response to the United State's position on the shield.

"It is clear that the missile defense shield is directed at blocking the strategic capabilities of certain states," Medvedev said. "I understand that other states mentioned do not have Russia's [nuclear] potential and are unlikely to receive them in the coming years...So, it is directed against us."

Russia and NATO agreed to cooperate on the so-called European missile shield during the NATO-Russia Council summit in Lisbon in November 2010. NATO insists there should be two independent systems that exchange information, while Russia favors a joint system.

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F.  Nuclear Energy

A Worldwide Nuclear Slowdown Continues
Peter Fairley
MIT Technology Review
(for personal use only)

The bad news from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to reverberate around the world, dimming nuclear energy's future and boosting the fortunes of low-carbon power sources. Last week's decision by Japan's prime minister to scrap plans for 14 new reactors is just the latest sign of a global nuclear slowdown, and the technology faces renewed scrutiny even in countries with pronuclear governments, including the U.S., China, and France.

"Due to both the time needed for integrating the lessons learned from Fukushima in new reactor designs and the likely hesitations of the public and decision makers, the deployment of nuclear power will be delayed," says Jan Horst Keppler, principal economist at the Nuclear Energy Agency, a Paris-based arm of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

What has not changed, says Keppler, are the drivers that were fueling new reactor construction: concerns over energy security and climate change. In the past, nuclear technology has been perceived as the cheapest option. But with nuclear on hold, governments are looking to accelerate renewable-energy development, and the latest cost estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Agency provide support for that position.

The agency's Annual Energy Outlook, released this month, estimates that new reactors starting up in 2016 will produce power at a cost of $114 per megawatt-hour. Onshore wind turbines, geothermal, and biomass power plants all beat that price, according to the agency's figures (as do gas-fired power plants that capture and sequester their carbon emissions underground).

The potential for renewable energy technologies to scale, meanwhile, was affirmed this month by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which issued a special report predicting that renewable sources could satisfy up to 80 percent of global energy needs by 2050.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also highlighted nuclear energy's comparatively troubled position last week with his call for a high-level debate on nuclear energy's costs, risks, and benefits. "Twenty-five years after Chernobyl and in the aftermath of Fukushima, I believe it is high time to take a hard look at ... strengthening nuclear safety and security," he told reporters at a press conference in Geneva last Wednesday. The discussion by world leaders is scheduled for September's General Assembly meeting in New York.

Japan is taking the hardest look at nuclear, as Tokyo Electric Power—Fukushima Daiichi's operator—continues to wrestle with dangerous radiation levels in its bid to cool the reactors and spent fuel pools at its stricken plant. Last week it was revealed that nuclear fuel in one reactor had melted and sunk to the reactor's bottom, and that Tokyo Electric Power had withheld radioactivity readings in the first days of the crisis, keeping the government and public in the dark and putting plant workers at risk.

Japan's prime minister, Naoto Kan, is looking to renewable power and energy efficiency to replace some nuclear energy. But in the short term, he faces a power-supply crisis that got worse last week when two reactors at the coastal Hamaoka nuclear plant, southwest of Tokyo, were shut down at Kan's request pending tsunami-protective upgrades.

Chubu Electric Power, the utility that owns Hamaoka, may struggle to meet peak demand this summer without the reactors, which generate over 3,600 megawatts of power. Tokyo Electric is counting on 1,000 megawatts from Chubu to meet its own summer peak, and even with that help, it is facing at least a 5,000-megawatt supply shortage this summer, according to the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan.

Germany is also moving to shut down nuclear plants and transition to greater reliance on renewable energy. In 2010, Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed legislation through the parliament extending the operating lives of Germany's 17 nuclear plants—then slated to be shut down by 2022—by an average of 12 years. But Merkel quickly reversed course after Fukushima, ordering the immediate shutdown of Germany's seven oldest plants. Her government is now working to pass legislation that would shutter those plants permanently and reinstate phase-out plans for the rest. "Merkel wants this issue out of the political limelight before the summer recess," says Andreas Kraemer, director of the Berlin and Washington-based Ecologic Institute, an environmental think tank.

The German government has already identified renewable energy as the future, setting plans to boost renewable generation to 50 percent of electrical consumption by 2030 (from 17 percent last year) and to 80 percent by 2050. But which form of renewables will win is still in question.

Under last summer's legislation, a new nuclear-power tax was expected to subsidize large offshore wind farms. But with last summer's nuclear extension on the rocks, Merkel's legislation could now shift support to more distributed forms of renewable energy, says Kraemer. This includes onshore wind turbines and power generation from biogas (methane produced from manure, food wastes, and biomass).

Germany's accelerated nuclear phase-out may also threaten plans in Eastern Europe by undermining support for subsidies. As Kraemer notes, German taxpayers contribute a third of European development funds, and may balk at contributing to new reactors on their borders.

The deepening nuclear debate over nuclear energy in France, meanwhile, may have global implications. France generates 80 percent of its electricity with nuclear, and its state-owned firms are world leaders: Paris-based EDF is the largest operator of nuclear power plants worldwide, while Areva is the largest provider of nuclear services and technology.

Even France's allegiance to nuclear appears to be loosening, however. Late last month, Paris-based oil and gas multinational Total announced that it would invest $1.38 billion in solar power by purchasing 60 percent of U.S.-based solar-panel producer SunPower.

EDF says it is moving forward with plans to build a reactor in Normandy. But even EDF is hedging its bets, observes Emmanuel Guérin, a climate and energy expert at Sciences Po, France's elite university of political science and economics. As Total was buying SunPower last month, EDF was securing the remaining shares that it didn't own in subsidiary EDF Renewable Energies. "It's clearly an indication that EDF doesn't want to be outside the bet on renewable energies," says Guérin.

At the same time, France's Socialist Party, previously staunchly pronuclear, is debating its position. Several candidates vying to take on Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential election next year have called for France to begin shifting from nuclear to renewable energy.

China and the U.S. are also showing signs of strain over the issue. China's government has temporarily suspended approval of new reactors, and is talking about shifting the balance between its nuclear and renewable energy plans. Chinese officials have said that they may double their goal for solar power from five gigawatts to 10 gigawatts by 2015.

In the U.S., nuclear investment plans are wavering. Last month, NRG Energy wrote off its $481 million investment in a two-reactor project in Texas, blaming potential delays in nuclear approvals and competition from power generators fueled by cheap natural gas. This month, an Areva subsidiary halted construction of a facility in Newport News, Virginia, that was to forge large components for nuclear reactors, while North Carolina legislators rejected a bill to streamline the financing of new reactors. In a conference call with financial analysts earlier this month, the CEO of Duke Energy, a utility proposing to build new reactors in the state, blamed the nuclear crisis in Japan for the political defeat.

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Chinese Nuke Plants Could Power Australia
(for personal use only)

It will soon be possible for Australia to import nuclear power plants made in China, a nuclear policy expert says.

Former Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) chair Ziggy Switkowski says the "centre of gravity" for innovation and manufacturing of nuclear power is moving quickly to China.

The cost to manufacture nuclear components in China was likely to be around 60 per cent of that in Western countries, he said.

Mr Switkowski made the comments during a panel discussion on Australia's energy future - and the use of nuclear power - in the wake of Japan's Fukushima disaster.

"When we are ready to get involved in nuclear power, we will look in a catalogue, pick up the phone and place an order on a Chinese vendor, who will deliver it at a price that we can afford," Mr Switkowski told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia luncheon on Wednesday.

"Today there are 60 reactors being constructed around the world and I think 27 of them are being constructed by the Chinese.

"The Chinese are rapidly building up expertise and experience in building nuclear power stations."

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Nuclear Power Gets Green Light
Karolin Schaps and Gerard Wynn
(for personal use only)

Britain is to push on with its nuclear plant building plans and let existing reactors run as normal, the government said on Wednesday after its nuclear watchdog dismissed fears of a Fukushima-like disaster in the UK.

Britain's position contrasts with Japan, Germany and Italy which are re-thinking their nuclear plans after a huge earthquake and tsunami sparked the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years on March 11.

The report by the chief inspector of nuclear installations Mike Weightman reassured the government that Britain does not face the natural hazards which caused the Fukushima crisis, but told the industry to check its safety procedures against extreme events.

"We want to see new nuclear as part of a low carbon energy mix going forward, provided there is no public subsidy," Energy Minister Chris Huhne said. "The Chief Nuclear Inspector's interim report reassures me that it can."

In his interim report, to be completed after a forthcoming trip to Japan, Weightman said safeguards already in place in Britain should protect against even very remote risks.

"The extreme natural events that preceded the accident at Fukushima - the magnitude 9 earthquake and subsequent huge tsunami - are not credible in the UK," he said.

His report said there was no need to halt nuclear power generation, and supported proposed sites for new reactors, but recommended that the industry review sea-level protection.

A nuclear meltdown and radioactive release in Japan happened after a huge tsunami overwhelmed the Fukushima reactor's defences, flooding back-up power generators and leading to a loss of cooling in reactor cores.

Weightman's report recommended that the UK nuclear industry review whether it needed additional backup power. He supported Areva and Westinghouse's designs for future reactors that are likely to be built in Britain, saying he would be surprised if major design changes were needed.

Britain has identified eight sites around England and Wales as possible building sites for new nuclear plants, with the first expected to be built by EDF at Hinkley Point on the coast of southwest England by 2018.


Japan is reeling from the triple disaster of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, with the government struggling to figure out how to pay for reconstruction.

Japan's Prime Minister said on Wednesday that Japan needed to rethink fundamentally how nuclear power was regulated but sidestepped the question of how big a role atomic energy would play in the country's future.

Germany moth-balled its oldest reactors immediately after Fukushima, but the country shouldn't altogether exit nuclear energy immediately, its environment minister said on Tuesday. Italy has delayed until 2012 a vote on new build.

The quake caused the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986, after a partial meltdown of fuel at the Fukushima nuclear plant and explosions led to a radioactive release and the imposition of a 20-km exclusion zone.

Such explosions caused by a release of hydrogen could not happen at UK plants, Weightman's report said.

He visits Japan next week to lead a fact-finding mission on behalf of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

His report on Wednesday said that the Fukushima reactor was not defended against the 15 metre tsunami despite reports of some greater than 20 metres around Japan in the past 150 years.

He praised the determination of the operating company TEPCO in dealing with the crisis.

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Responsible To Keep Nuclear For Now-German Minister
Sam Cage
(for personal use only)

The responsible thing for Germany to do is keep nuclear power for now and not hastily exit the sector, Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said on Tuesday, citing a report by a panel of experts.

Roettgen said the panel advising the government on nuclear safety had concluded that a serious plane crash is one threat which none of Germany's 17 nuclear plants is protected against, though no single conclusion could be drawn regarding safety levels and the results still needed to be evaluated.

"According to the report, it is responsible not to exit immediately," Roettgen said, adding that the three-month moratorium on operation of Germany's seven oldest plants was not over.

"There is no argument why we should go head over heels today, to exit now, on technical and safety grounds."

Chancellor Angela Merkel reversed a decision made by her government to extend the life of Germany's nuclear plants after the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11 led to disaster at Japan's Fukushima reactors.

Merkel imposed the three-month moratorium, ordered safety checks on all reactors and launched two commissions to make recommendations on the industry.

The safety report will be evaluated by the German government, along with a separate report by an ethics commission, before it makes a decision on nuclear power.


The industry group German Atomic Forum cautioned against abandoning nuclear power without careful consideration.

"A quick and rash exit from German nuclear power would raise costs for the whole economy, make us miss climate goals, raise our reliance on fossil fuels and make our power supply less secure, meaning more power imports and problems with network stability," said president Ralf Gueldner.

"It would also spark intense debate in the European Union," he added.

Nuclear power has long been unpopular in Germany and Merkel's decision last year to extend the life of nuclear plants was a major factor in her party's loss of power after 60 years in a prosperous conservative state in March.

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G.  Links of Interest

Security Council Briefed By Committees On Terrorism And Nuclear Non-Proliferation
UN News Centre
(for personal use only)

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