Iran is preparing to install centrifuges for higher-grade uranium enrichment in an underground bunker, diplomatic sources say, a development that is likely to add to Western worries about Tehran's atomic aims.
Preparatory work is under way at the Fordow facility, tucked deep inside a mountain to protect it against any attacks, and machines used to refine uranium could soon be moved to the site near the clerical city of Qom, the sources said.
The Islamic Republic said in June it would shift production of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity to Fordow from its main Natanz plant this year and triple output capacity, in a defiant response to charges that it is trying to make atomic bombs.
Tehran only disclosed the existence of Fordow two years ago after Western intelligence detected it and said it was evidence of covert nuclear activities. The facility has yet to start operating.
"They are preparing (for the centrifuges to be installed) in Fordow," one diplomatic source said.
Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power reactors and also, if enriched to much higher levels, provide material for atomic arms.
Iran's June announcement that it would move and boost output has drawn censure from the West, which has imposed increasingly tough sanctions on Tehran to try to force it to halt enrichment.
Carrying out the process in Fordow could provide greater protection for Iran's uranium-purifying centrifuges against any U.S. and Israeli air strikes.
Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons and says it is enriching uranium for electricity production and medical applications.
But its decision in early 2010 to raise the level of enrichment from the 3.5 percent purity needed for normal power plant fuel to 20 percent worried countries that saw it as a significant step toward the 90 percent needed for bombs.
IRAN DENIES NUCLEAR ACCUSATIONS
Iran says it needs 20 percent uranium to make fuel for a medical research reactor after talks on a swap -- under which other countries would have supplied the material -- broke down.
"Enrichment from natural uranium to 20 percent is the most time-consuming and resource-intensive step in making the highly-enriched uranium required for a nuclear weapon," British Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote in the Guardian newspaper this week.
"And when enough 20 percent enriched uranium is accumulated at the underground facility at Qom, it would take only two or three months of additional work to convert this into weapons grade material."
The Institute for Science and International Security, a U.S.-based thinktank, has said the Fordow plant could, a year after its implementation, enable Iran "to more quickly break out and produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon, if it chose to do so."
Some Western experts say Iran is seeking to develop the means to make nuclear bombs.
"We see Iran moving in the direction of becoming a nuclear weapons capable state," said Olli Heinonen, a former head of U.N. nuclear inspections worldwide.
Iran says that building nuclear bombs would be a strategic mistake and that it would also be against Islam.
"Our Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) has explained that the production and use of atomic weapons is wrong, not only in terms of foreign policy but on religious grounds," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in Vienna on Monday.
In its latest report on Iran, in late May, the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had told it in February of plans to begin feeding nuclear material into enrichment centrifuges at Fordow "by this summer."
But the IAEA added that as of May 21 no centrifuges -- cylindrical machines spinning at supersonic speeds to increase the level of the fissile U-235 isotope -- had been introduced into the facility.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/13/us-nuclear-iran-enrichment-idUSTRE76C1A520110713
2. Iran Offers IAEA Cooperation, but Sets Condition
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Iran's foreign minister said Tuesday his country is ready to cooperate more closely with International Atomic Energy Agency but only if it cancels its probe into allegations that Tehran has secretly worked on a nuclear weapons program — a condition rejected by the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
The agency already has accused Iran of stalling the investigation and that has become a major source of international tension over Iran's nuclear program.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that Iran is ready to work "closer than ever before" with U.N. nuclear agency, if it first ends the investigation.
He spoke after meeting with IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, who has been accused by Tehran of pro-U.S. bias in his pursuit of allegations that Tehran appears to have worked on secret experiments designed to be components of a nuclear weapons program.
The agency says its investigation is part of a work plan agreed to by Iran four years ago and complains that it has been stonewalled for nearly three years.
Tehran, in turn, says the probe goes beyond the conditions set by the work plan. It argues that it has cooperated and answered all questions mandated by the plan. For years, it has demanded that the IAEA say so and declare its weapons-related investigation is closed.
Salehi on Tuesday suggested that his country is ready to discuss new terms — but only if the agency agrees to terminate the probe by declaring that Iran has fully cooperated and met its obligations to be open and forthcoming about the alleged work on a weapons program.
Any new questions based on the allegations should be pursued "within the framework of a new mechanism ... based on the fact that the IAEA should say the first stage is over and those outstanding issues have been answered," he said.
Amano rejected the overture, however.
"The director general indicated that he is not in a position at this stage to consider the work plan to be completed," said an IAEA statement on the meeting.
It said that Amano also "reiterated the agency's position on issues where Iran is not meeting its obligations" — an allusion to Iran's refusal to cooperate with IAEA experts on the probe and provide other answers the agency is seeking in its efforts to ensure that Tehran's nuclear program is only geared toward peaceful purposes.
Iran insists its activities are meant only to produce nuclear fuel for a future network of reactors. But its uranium enrichment program can create both reactor fuel and fissile warhead material.
It has refused to cease enrichment, despite four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions, and has recently conducted missile tests that the West says appear to be part of a developing nuclear weapons delivery system.
Describing his talks with Amano as "very positive," Salehi said: "Both sides have promised that their experts will sit together and think of a new mechanism of doing our work."
In a departure from recent Iranian criticism of alleged pro-U.S. bias on the part of Amano, Salehi said he is "trying to do his best to be an impartial director general."
At a separate meeting with Salehi, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger criticized Iran's human rights record as "alarming" and urged Tehran to show more flexibility over its nuclear activities.
"The stalemate over the (Iranian) nuclear dossier is irresponsible," said Spindelegger.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iA9yW2fttq6u62ZEKuKnNL-_ybUg?docId=77acbfb6f8c443958fd226b9f83b3716
3. Iran Upbeat on Nuclear Talks, but Stalemate Remains
Sylvia Westall and Fredrik Dahl
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There was no sign of movement in the deadlock between Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog over Tehran's atomic activities Tuesday despite an upbeat assessment by the Islamic state's foreign minister.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he held "very fruitful" discussions with Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and they had agreed to explore ways to help resolve outstanding issues.
He said experts will seek to create a "new mechanism" to improve cooperation between the U.N. body and Tehran, which is facing intensifying Western sanctions pressure.
But the IAEA gave a different picture, saying in a brief statement that Amano had "reiterated the agency's position on the issues where Iran is not meeting its obligations."
The IAEA has voiced growing concern in the past year about suspicions that Iran may be seeking to develop a nuclear-armed missile. The U.N. agency has repeatedly called on Tehran to engage with it to help ease such concerns.
For several years, the IAEA has been investigating Western intelligence reports indicating Iran has coordinated efforts to process uranium, test explosives at high altitude and revamp a ballistic missile cone so it could take a nuclear warhead.
Iran says the allegations are baseless and forged, and that its nuclear program is aimed at producing electricity.
"If we wanted nuclear weapons then we would have left the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty)," Salehi said. "We believe that atomic weapons are damaging to the international community."
Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment -- an activity that can have both civilian and military purposes -- has led to four rounds of U.N. sanctions on the major oil producer, as well as tighter U.S. and European Union restrictions.
Diplomatic efforts to find a solution to a dispute that has the potential to spark a Middle East conflict have stalled, after talks between Iran and six world powers half a year ago failed to make any progress.
Salehi said "very positive" conclusions were reached in his meeting with Amano. But he gave few details and there was no indication that Iran would be ready to heed demands to curb enrichment and be more transparent about its nuclear work.
He suggested Iran would be willing to discuss the allegations about suspected military-linked nuclear activities only if the Vienna-based IAEA first declared that a work plan dating back to 2007 had been finalised.
Iran says it has answered all points raised under the plan agreed with the U.N. agency four years ago to help clarify the nature of Tehran's nuclear program.
But the IAEA says Iran has failed to cooperate with it over allegations of possible military links to its atomic activities.
"The director general (Amano) indicated that he is not in a position at this stage to consider the work plan to be completed," the agency's statement said.
Western diplomats have often accused Iran of deploying stalling tactics in the nuclear dispute with major powers, including the United States, China and Russia, to buy more time while it pushes ahead with its disputed activities.
Amano has taken a blunter approach towards Iran than his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei. Iran has accused Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat, of taking orders from Washington.
Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, who met Salehi separately in Vienna, said Europe remained ready to return to the negotiating table with Iran. "It is important for us to overcome the stalemate that exists in the talks," he said.
Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/07/12/uk-nuclear-iran-iaea-idUKTRE76B4VV20110712
1. South Korea Seeks Budget Cuts for North Korea Denuclearization Efforts
Yonhap News Agency
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South Korea's foreign ministry has asked to dedicate a smaller portion of its budget next year to efforts to resolve the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program, a lawmaker said Wednesday, as diplomacy with the North has come to a standstill.
Multilateral negotiations aimed at dismantling the North's nuclear program, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, have been stalled since late 2008. The North claims to be willing to return to the talks without preconditions, but South Korea and the U.S. say Pyongyang must show its sincerity in denuclearizing before resumption of the stalled talks could take place.
The ministry sought 6.7 billion won (US$6.3 million) for its 2012 budget on North Korea's nuclear program, down 23.3 percent from this year, according to a report released by Rep. Park Joo-sun of the main opposition Democratic Party.
Park, a member of the National Assembly's foreign affairs committee, said he obtained the report from the ministry.
Out of the proposed budget for dismantling the North's nuclear program, the ministry asked the National Assembly to significantly cut spending to monitor the denuclearization process in the North to 430 million won from 780 million won.
Spending on diplomats' activities related to the six-party talks was also frozen, according to the report.
As for its total budget for next year, the ministry is seeking 1.82 trillion won, a 4.7 percent increase from this year, the report said.
The ministry sought to sharply increase its budget for multilateral cooperation to 46.3 billion won next year as it is preparing to host the Nuclear Security Summit in March 2012.
The proposed budget for U.N. peacekeeping operations and financial contributions to international organizations rose 6 percent to 527.5 billion won, as South Korea pledged more aid to the international community, the report showed.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2011/07/13/76/0301000000AEN20110713005200315F.HTML
2. France to Open Cooperation Office in North Korea
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France will open a cooperation bureau in North Korea, Le Monde newspaper said Tuesday, but underscored that Paris was not launching diplomatic relations with the reclusive Stalinist state.
A senior French diplomat is currently in Pyongyang where he "will present to the North Koreans" the future French representative, the daily said, identifying him as Olivier Vaysset, a diplomat who has worked in Singapore.
"The opening of this office does not signify that France is opening as such diplomatic relations with this totalitarian country," it said but added that it could serve as a "diplomatic intermediary."
The proposed office will handle cultural cooperation, it said.
The French embassy in Seoul declined comment on the report, saying any comment would have to come from Paris.
The then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said in March last year his country would not establish diplomatic relations with the North but would open an office to support non-governmental groups.
"We are not going to open an embassy, certainly not," Kouchner told a news conference in Tokyo. "Open an office, yes, in order to help the NGOs there."
France is the only major European Union member that does not have diplomatic ties with the communist state.
Paris has argued that the human rights situation must improve and has cited concerns over nuclear proliferation.
French special envoy to Pyongyang, Jack Lang, visited the North in November 2009. He said afterwards that France had offered to forge permanent cultural links with North Korea but not full diplomatic ties.
The French move comes as ties between North and South Korea are at their lowest ebb after Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing a warship in March 2010, killing 46 sailors.
North Korea angrily denied the charge but went on to shell a border island last November, killing four South Koreans including two civilians.
Denuclearisation talks with Pyongyang, which has tested two nuclear bombs, have also been stalled since 2009.
The six-party talks, grouping the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, are aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons for energy aid and security and diplomatic benefits.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hFUxO8m0CbZh01olXMe6W592WXQg?docId=CNG.30b3c946c2c894e47045f723d8b684af.121
The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff urged the Chinese leadership to rein in North Korea to prevent further unprovoked attacks on South Korea.
U.S. Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, on the first visit of a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to China in four years, told journalists in Beijing that historically North Korea is likely to launch another attack against South Korea.
But China could help stabilize the area by exerting its influence with Pyongyang and advising against such acts.
"The provocations I think now are potentially more dangerous than they have been in the past," said Mullen at the start of a 4-day visit.
"All of us are focused on a stable outcome here of what is increasingly a difficult challenge with respect to the leadership in North Korea and what it might do."
At issue is a change in leadership at some time in the near future when Kim Jong Il likely hands over to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un. The son remains a largely unknown figure and possibly an insecure leader who may try to garner credibility with North Korea's military by launching attacks.
An unprovoked attack in which South Korea restrains from severe retaliation -- as happened in November -- could raise the profile of Kim Jong Un and boost his credibility with North Korea's generals. The Chinese, said Mullen, could dissuade a new North Korean leadership from such attacks.
Relations between the two Koreas rang alarm bells in Washington and Beijing in November when North Korea unexpectedly shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea and several miles from the North's mainland.
The daylight attack, in which North Korea fired around 170 shells, damaged dozens of houses and several military buildings. It also killed two South Korean marines and two civilians and injured at least 20 other people. South Korean forces returned fire but there were no known causalities to North Koreans.
Relations already were low after the sinking in March last year of the South Korean navy's 1,200-ton patrol ship Cheonan in which 46 sailors died. Seoul blames North Korea, which continues to deny it was involved.
"The Chinese leadership, they have a strong relationship with the leadership in Pyongyang and they exercise that routinely ... continuing to do that as they have done in the past is really important," Mullen said.
Specifically, the stalled six-party talks among China, which hosts them, the two Koreas, Japan, the United States and Russia, could be restarted. The talks, which cover North Korea's denuclearization, were shelved in 2009 when Pyongyang pulled out to protest U.N. sanctions over its nuclear tests.
However, South Korea maintains there can be no talks unless the North demonstrates its denuclearization commitment and takes responsibility for torpedoing of the Cheonan and shelling Yeonpyeong Island.
Mullen's visit is the start of a thaw in U.S.-China military relations, welcomed by both countries. China put a stop to contacts over U.S. military sales to Taiwan, which Beijing considers an integral part of China.
The visit also is a reciprocation of a visit to the United States in May by his Chinese counterpart Gen. Chen Bingde.
Their discussions and meetings in Beijing come at a time of increased tensions not just on the Korean Peninsula but in the South China Sea. Several countries, including China, the Philippines and Vietnam, have territorial claims to islands and reefs that are the source of naval confrontations.
At stake is ownership of potentially huge oil and gas reserves on the seabed surrounding the islands.
Mullen said the United States will stand by its allies in the region and continue to hold joint naval exercises as has been the case with the Philippines and Viet Nam.
China had expressed concern over a recent 11-day joint naval exercise by the U.S. Navy and that of the Philippines.
During a speech to students at Renmin University of China in Beijing, Mullen warned that misunderstanding over territorial sovereignty and resource research activities could lead to "an outbreak that no-one anticipated."
He said the United States is committed to remaining a power in the area. "We are, and will remain, a Pacific power, just as China is a Pacific power."
Later, after a closed door meeting, Chen said he and Mullen discussed, apart from the South China Sea, the attitude of some U.S. politicians toward China, cybersecurity and China's military development.
"It's fair to say that we found a lot of common ground while we do have different opinions on certain issues," Chen said.
Chen urged the two sides to implement the consensus reached by their heads of state to push forward the development of bilateral military relations, the China Daily newspaper reported.
Available at: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2011/07/12/Mullen-urges-Beijing-to-influence-N-Korea/UPI-97601310465400/
4. North Korea's FM to Attend Asian Security Forum in Indonesia
Yonhap News Agency
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North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun plans to attend a regional security forum later this month in Indonesia, a diplomatic source here said Tuesday.
The North Korean minister's visit to the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on July 21-23, hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), comes amid persistent tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North's deadly attacks on South Korea and a diplomatic impasse over the North's nuclear program.
"It has been understood that about 10 North Korean officials, led by Pak, plan to attend the forum," the source said on the condition of anonymity.
However, Ri Yong-ho, North Korea's vice foreign minister who played a leading role in discussing the North's nuclear issue at last year's ARF, is expected to skip this year's forum, according to the source.
Late last month, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan told reporters that he was willing to meet with his North Korean counterpart on the sidelines of the forum.
"If the North's Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun wants to talk with me, there is no reason for me to refuse," Kim said. "Whether it be me who proposes a meeting first or Minister Pak, I am willing to sit with him through any channel available."
Since 2000, when inter-Korean relations warmed, foreign ministers from the two Koreas had occasionally met during the annual forum.
However, no such meetings have taken place since 2008, as tensions have grown over the North's long-range missile launch, nuclear defiance and Seoul's get-tough policy toward Pyongyang.
The 27 ARF members are Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, East Timor, the U.S., Vietnam and the European Union.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2011/07/12/3/0401000000AEN20110712003100315F.HTML
1. Ditching Nuclear Energy Would Pose Risks: Japan AEC Vice-Chair
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Japan's public should realize that phasing out nuclear power would not be risk-free, the vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission warned on Wednesday, as the government seeks to craft a new energy policy and the Fukushima crisis drags on.
The radiation crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima plant, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, has sparked debate about the role of nuclear power in quake-prone, resource-poor Japan, as well as concerns about power shortages with 35 of the nation's 54 reactors now halted.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Tuesday that Japan had no choice but to reduce its reliance on nuclear power over time.
The unpopular premier stopped short, however, of calling for a complete phasing out of nuclear power, which before the crisis accounted for about 30 percent of Japan's electricity supply.
"Phasing out nuclear power is not risk-free," said Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, which advises the government on nuclear policy.
"Probably the immediate risk would be increased consumption of fossil fuels that would lead also to CO2 emissions increases and other air pollution," Suzuki told Reuters in an interview.
"Another possible risk would be energy prices could go up and possibly dependence on the Middle East or other fossil fuel exporting countries," he said.
Adopting a policy to abandon nuclear power would also create problems in maintaining plant safety and securing workers and experts during the decades needed to phase out and decommission reactors and deal with nuclear waste, Suzuki said.
"Having a vision of being nuclear energy-free is one thing. How to achieve it is another thing. It is very difficult to phase out nuclear power in a real sense," he said.
KEEPING OPTIONS OPEN
"My sense it that it would be very important to keep the option alive so that if anything happens in the future we can come back to make nuclear power in a better way."
Economics Minister Kaoru Yosano, an ardent supporter of nuclear power, echoed concerns about economic costs, telling a news conference that substituting fossil fuel for atomic energy would be equivalent to a large rise in Japan's corporate tax and slice several trillion yen off gross domestic product. But he gave no time frame for that prediction.
Suzuki defended Kan's introduction of reactor stress tests to soothe public worries about safety following the Fukushima crisis, the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.
Last week's abrupt decision to introduce the tests, simulations to confirm nuclear plants' safety and check their ability to withstand extreme events, fanned corporate worries about power shortages if idled reactors stay off-line, and outraged some local officials who had been ready to approve restarts after earlier government safety assurances.
"NISA (Nuclear Industry and Safety Agency) has already confirmed the safety of existing nuclear power plants but to ensure local public concerns (are addressed) we need further tests," he said.
"I think it is important to make sure that any additional concerns could be answered ... so I think it is good to conduct another test to make sure that people feel safe."
Suzuki said power shortages could spread nationwide as more nuclear power plants come off-line for regular checks but that corporate and consumer efforts to save energy were going well.
"The point is not total energy consumption but rather peak load, so one way to continue manufacturing but also to reduce the peak load is shifting production programs, so that is already being done."
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/13/us-japan-nuclear-commission-idUSTRE76C0PM20110713
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan was on Wednesday due to outline his plan to reduce the country's reliance on nuclear power and promote renewables in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
The embattled centre-left leader has announced a full review of Japan's energy plan, under which atomic power had been set to meet over half of demand by 2030, up from about one third before the March 11 quake-tsunami disaster.
Kan, who started his political life as an environmental activist, has said he wants to make clean energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal a new "major pillar" of the industrial power's energy mix.
The premier, Japan's fifth in as many years, is making the speech at a time when he is under intense pressure to step down from political adversaries who accuse him of having bungled Japan's response to the tsunami.
Since the tectonic catastrophe struck, Kan has butted heads with plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) over the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, the world's worst since Chernobyl 25 years ago.
The premier's scepticism about boosting nuclear power in the quake-prone island nation has also set him on a collision course with pro-nuclear lawmakers, both in the conservative opposition and within his own party.
The earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima plant, which has suffered meltdowns and explosions and leaked radiation into the air, soil and sea.
With all but 19 of Japan's 54 reactors now shut, mostly for regular checks, Japan is going through a power crunch in the sweltering summer months, and there are fears that outages could slow the already limping economy.
Kan, in a press conference scheduled for 6:00pm (0900 GMT), was expected to present what he terms a "realistic" plan to ease the nation's reliance on nuclear power, the Nikkei financial daily and other media reported.
Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Kan said: "We should start over from scratch... We can't help but lower our reliance on nuclear."
He also suggested that nuclear power companies may need to be nationalised, calling for debate about the ability of the private sector to run atomic power plants, given TEPCO's multi-billion-dollar compensation bill.
Anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan has grown since the Fukushima disaster.
Thousands have since protested at a string of rallies against TEPCO and nuclear power and for a shift towards alternative energy, while telecom giant Softbank has announced plans to build large-scale solar power plants.
The liberal, mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun daily on Wednesday called for a shift toward a nuclear-free society within two or three decades.
It pointed at an ongoing energy saving campaign, in which companies in Japan's northeast are being asked to cut back use by 15 percent, and argued that, if it works, it proves that Japan can live without atomic power.
The newspaper suggested in its editorial: "How about setting a target of reducing (atomic power) to zero within 20 years, to urge people to make their utmost efforts, and to review the plan every few years?"
Available at: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/1140605/1/.html
3. New Nuclear Tests the Product of Political Infighting
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Disagreements between Prime Minister Naoto Kan and industry minister Banri Kaieda forced trade-offs in the new nuclear power safety evaluation regime announced by the government on July 11.
The system will introduce two sets of computer-based assessments for nuclear power stations, each reflecting the different visions of the prime minister and his industry minister.
The first-stage assessment, which will be applied to suspended reactors, is designed to allow those reactors to get restarted as quickly as possible, in line with the policy of Kaieda and his industry ministry.
Still, it is expected to take several months for those reactors to get restarted after the first-stage assessment.
The second-stage assessment, which will be applied to all reactors, reflects Kan's insistence that Japan's stress tests should be as strict as those of the European Union.
The reactors will be suspended depending on the results of the second-stage assessment.
A source close to Kan acknowledged that the two-stage system produced "new standards that do not solve any problem."
"(They) ended up as ambiguous rules due to differences among the ministers involved," the source said.
Excluding the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants, 25 of Japan's nuclear reactors are currently suspended for regular inspections or other reasons. They include two reactors at the Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture, which Kyushu Electric Power Co. has been pushing to restart.
The details of the new testing regime have yet to be finalized.
On July 11, officials at the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan (NSC) were unable to provide specifics of the schedule and methodology of the testing because of the suddenness of the government's decision to introduce the new structure.
NISA, part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, is currently considering what should be included in the tests and is expected to report its findings to the NSC this week at the earliest.
"We cannot comment because concrete contents and schedules are not clear," Hakuei Ishizuka, who heads the safety environment department of Fukui Prefecture, said. "We cannot approve restarts unless the government responds to our requests on the safety of (aging) reactors and other issues."
There are also serious issues with the legal and organizational foundations of the new testing system.
Questions have been raised about the new role of the NSC under the new system.
Electric power companies will conduct the safety assessments by calculating their facilities' ability to withstand earthquakes and flooding not envisaged in their original designs.
NISA will inspect the results, and the NSC will evaluate whether the assessments are appropriate. The NSC was included in the process at Kan's insistence because he said the government could not get public backing if it allowed the restart of nuclear power reactors based only on the judgment of the industry ministry and NISA.
But Haruki Madarame, chairman of the NSC, said it will not be directly involved in decisions about whether reactors should be allowed to restart after the stress tests.
At a news conference on July 11, Madarame acknowledged the importance of the stress tests but emphasized that the commission's role is defined by law. The commission, set up under the Cabinet Office, is tasked with providing recommendations to the prime minister and government organizations.
The stress tests also lack legal foundation. Legally, there is nothing to stop reactors that pass regular inspections from being restarted.
While Kaieda agreed to make the first-stage assessment a condition for restarts, some industry ministry officials are questioning the legal basis for the new regime.
Local governments that have nuclear power plants in their areas are complaining that it is still difficult to make decisions on the restarts.
"The details of the methodology, what will be assessed and the period of the stress tests are unclear. We cannot evaluate (the government decision) at this stage," Ehime Governor Tokihiro Nakamura said in a statement on July 11.
The No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime, which has been suspended for regular inspections, will be subject to the first-stage assessment, but Nakamura said the prefectural government has not made any decision on the restart of the reactor.
Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida was also critical of the government: "I cannot understand how the government can win public understanding without verifying the cause of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant."
Some governors welcomed the government's decision to introduce stress tests.
"Although it is a little late, I am happy that the government has presented certain standards," said Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai.
Hokkaido Governor Harumi Takahashi said she would look carefully at the details of the new assessment system.
Available at: http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201107120465.html
4. Kan to Explore Possibility of Nationalizing Nuclear Power
Mainichi Daily News
(for personal use only)
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday he will explore the possibility of nationalizing Japan's nuclear power operations in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
When asked about Japan's future nuclear policy, Kan told a parliamentary session that he has doubts regarding the private sector's ability to deal with eventualities, given the huge impact of possible accidents.
Bearing in mind that nine private companies are currently operating nuclear facilities in Japan, Kan said, "It is not necessarily the same in other countries and we need to have discussions," while reviewing the country's current energy policy.
In France and Russia, for example, nuclear power operations are run by state-owned companies, while in South Korea they are undertaken by a single private firm.
Kan's remarks also suggested that Japan could set up a new private or semigovernmental entity solely in charge of nuclear operations.
Kan said his government has no choice but to scrap a plan to increase the ratio of Japan's reliance on nuclear energy to 53 percent by 2030.
Before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima complex, Japan relied on nuclear power plants for about 30 percent of its electricity.
While trying to lessen dependency on fossil fuels and nuclear power, Kan has said that Japan will aim to generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources as soon as possible in the 2020s.
Available at: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20110712p2g00m0dm030000c.html
1. Entry into Force of the U.S.-Russian Agreement to Dispose of Excess Weapon-Grade Plutonium
United States Department of State
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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today exchanged diplomatic notes bringing the U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement and its 2006 and 2010 Protocols into force. This marks another significant step in both countries’ efforts to eliminate nuclear-weapon-grade materials and to reduce nuclear dangers.
The amended Agreement commits each country to dispose of no less than 34 metric tons of excess weapon-grade plutonium, under strict non-proliferation conditions. The initial combined amount, 68 metric tons, represents enough material for about 17,000 nuclear weapons, and the Agreement envisions disposition of more weapon-grade plutonium over time. Disposition of the plutonium is scheduled to begin in 2018.
Entry into force of the Agreement also represents a significant milestone in U.S.-Russian cooperation on nuclear security measures, and it marks an essential step in the nuclear disarmament process by making these reductions in plutonium stocks irreversible.
In addition, the Agreement breaks new ground on cooperative transparency. Pursuant to a joint request by Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Amano last August, the two countries and the IAEA are making progress on appropriate IAEA verification measures for each country’s disposition program.
Available at: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2011/07/168287.htm
U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar announced the following progress in the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Programduring March and April 2011.
1 nuclear submarine capable of launching ballistic missiles destroyed, 9 nuclear weapons transport train shipments, 8 biological monitoring stations built and equipped and, 112.52 metric tons of chemical weapons agent neutralized.
The Nunn-Lugar scorecardnow totals 7,599 strategic nuclear warheads deactivated, 791 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) destroyed, 498 ICBM silos eliminated, 180 ICBM mobile launchers destroyed, 155 bombers eliminated, 906 nuclear air-to-surface missiles (ASMs) destroyed, 492 SLBM launchers eliminated, 670 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) eliminated, 33 nuclear submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles destroyed, 194 nuclear test tunnels eliminated, 194 nuclear test tunnels/holes sealed, destroyed 1,922.5 metric tons of Russian and Albanian chemical weapons agent, 524 nuclear weapons transport train shipments secured, upgraded security at 24 nuclear weapons storage sites, built and equipped 32 biological threat monitoring stations.
Perhaps most importantly, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus are nuclear weapons free as a result of cooperative efforts under the Nunn-Lugar program. Those countries were the third, fourth and eighth largest nuclear weapons powers in the world.
Lugar makes annual oversight missions to Nunn-Lugar Global sites around the world. During his most recent mission, Lugar led a mission to East Africa to expand efforts to secure deadly biological threats.
In November 1991, Lugar (R-IN) and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) authored the Nunn-Lugar Act, which established the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. This program has provided U.S. support and expertise to help the former Soviet Union safeguard and dismantle its enormous stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, related materials, and delivery systems. In 2003, Congress adopted Senator Lugar’s Nunn-Lugar Expansion Act, which authorized operators outside the former Soviet Union to address proliferation threats. In 2004, Nunn-Lugar funds were committed for the first time outside of the former Soviet Union to destroy chemical weapons in Albania, under a Lugar-led expansion of the program. In 2007, Lugar announced the complete destruction of Albania’s chemical weapons.
Available at: http://lugar.senate.gov/news/record.cfm?id=333450&&
1. Reactors for Jaitapur Have Been Tested: AEC Ex-Chief
The Times of India
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Former Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chairman Anil Kakodkar has stated that the French-made Areva European pressurized reactors, which India plans to import for the Jaitapur nuclear power project in Ratnagiri district, were tested. "It is wrong to say that they were untested reactors. They are based on previous reactor experience," he asserted, while pointing out that other countries were constructing similar reactors.
He was addressing nearly 400 students and teachers from 30 Mumbai colleges at the R D National College on Saturday. The programme was organized by the National College and W A Science College, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Vijnana Bharati.
It was almost the first attempt by the DAE to reach out to Mumbai students.
"India is an intelligent buyer and nobody can dump untested reactors on us," Kakodkar told the students. His remark assumes significance in the context of opposition to the Jaitapur project by anti-nuclear activists and locals. Efforts by the DAE and Nuclear Power Corporation to convince them about the safety levels of these reactors have failed to make headway.
He said constructing many reactors in one place has economical and operational advantages. "The only thing is that an accident in one reactor should not propagate to another reactor," he stated.
Kakodkar, who was a key negotiator when the Indo-US nuclear deal was being firmed up, urged the students to shed their 'foreign complex' and added that Indian reactors have set the benchmark for foreign ones, which India will import under the deal with the Americans.
The students applauded when he remarked that India should be proud of this. The benchmark, he said, was being set in terms of price competitiveness, robustness and safety.
"The imported reactors have to produce electricity at competitive rates," he said. Kakodkar said India had to sign the Indo-US deal as we have plenty of thorium, but not adequate uranium to fuel the reactors.
"Uranium could not have been imported unless we signed the Indo-US nuke deal," he said.
Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Reactors-for-Jaitapur-have-been-tested-AEC-ex-chief/articleshow/9205309.cms
2. EU Agrees to Extend FP7 Programme of Nuclear Research
Nuclear Engineering International
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The Council of the European Union has agreed, in principle to extend for another two years the framework programme (FP7) for nuclear research. The current European nuclear research funding only runs for five years until the end of 2011, while the rest of the programme lasts until 2013.
The Euratom programme funds mainly fusion research (ITER), fission and radiation protection activities and research at the Joint Research Centre (JRC).
According to FORATOM, in March 2010, the European Commission published its proposal to extend the budget of the EURATOM FP7. It envisages allocating EUR 2.2 billion (86% of the overall sum) to nuclear fusion research and above all to the construction of the international experimental fusion reactor ITER in Cadarache, France, EUR 112 million to nuclear fission, education and training, and safety and radiation protection research, and EUR 233 million to the JRC.
Available at: http://www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?sectionCode=132&storyCode=2060124
3. Ukraine Seeks Investments for Uranium Extraction, Izvestia Says
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VostGOK, Ukraine’s state-owned ore extracting company, is seeking 6.5 billion hryvnia ($810 million) in loans from state lenders to explore for uranium at the Novokonstantinovskoe deposit, Ekonomicheskie Izvestia reported.
The company is in talks with VAT Oshchadbank and the State Export-Import Bank of Ukraine JSC for loans between seven to eight years, the newspaper reported. VostGOK may also consider investments from Japan’s Itochu Corp. (8001), the newspaper said.
Uranium extraction at Novokonstantinovskoe will require around 1 billion hryvnia a year, Izvestia said.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-12/ukraine-seeks-investments-for-uranium-extraction-izvestia-says.html
The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) discussed with law enforcement agencies from across the UAE on its upcoming regulation on the security of radioactive sources during a workshop held on Tuesday.
The FANR experts informed representatives from the Ministry of Interior, police departments from all emirates and the Critical National Infrastructure Authority (CNIA) about the detailed requirements of the draft regulation, which deals with the physical protection of radioactive sources.
“This regulation will focus on efforts to prevent radioactive sources from getting lost or stolen,” said Salem Al Qubaisi, Director of Nuclear Security Department at FANR.
“We are mandated by the federal law to take the lead in the security of radioactive sources, but it is the police who work on crime prevention and investigation. That is why we attach so much importance to interacting with them before we issue any regulation,” he said.
The acting General Commander for Civil Defence in the UAE, Major-General Rashid Thani Al Matrooshi from the Ministry of Interior, added: “There is no indication that the security of radioactive sources in the UAE is an issue. But we need to be prepared for any eventuality and I believe FANR’s regulation will help clarify roles and responsibilities in this field.”
FANR has so far received 520 applications from government and private entities to conduct a regulated activity, and has issued more than 340 licences for the safe use of radiation sources.
Radioactive sources are commonly used for many industrial and medical applications such as in the exploration for oil or diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Approximately 100 of these licensees with high activity sources (Category 1, 2, 3) will fall under the requirements of the new regulation FANR-REG-23 on radioactive sources security.
Through its regulations and inspection regime, FANR aims to control the safe and secure use of these sources, as mandated by the federal law by Decree No. 6 of 2009 concerning the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Earlier, FANR conducted training sessions for federal authorities and local entities on searching and securing orphan radioactive sources, and responding to nuclear or radiological emergencies.
Available at: http://www.khaleejtimes.com/displayarticle.asp?xfile=data/theuae/2011/July/theuae_July330.xml§ion=theuae&col
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