Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has cautiously welcomed a Russian proposal for bringing Iran back to talks over its nuclear program.
A Thursday report by the official IRNA news agency quotes Ahmadinejad as saying Iran has taken steps to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency and now it is the turn of nations negotiating with Tehran to respond.
The proposal by Russia calls for the international community to make limited concessions to Iran for each step it takes in meeting demands to prove its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
The West suspects Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Iran denies the accusation.
Earlier this month, the U.S. said it would send a team of experts to consult with the Russians about their plan.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i3omTNZEn0voX1-ly93G2vfh2x0w?docId=b64b77396c2040d79267f5d0d53174dd
1. China Reaffirms Support for Inter-Korean Dialogue Before Nuclear Talks
Yonhap News Agency
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The foreign ministers of South Korea and China reaffirmed their joint stance that improvement in inter-Korean relations is a prerequisite to moving toward reopening multinational talks on North Korea's nuclear program, officials said Thursday.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan held talks for about 40 minutes with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting on this Indonesian resort island of Bali.
"During the talks, the Chinese minister expressed his support for the principle that inter-Korean dialogue on a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula should be prioritized before the resumption of the six-party talks," said Seoul's Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae.
"The two sides also agreed to continue to cooperate with each other in their efforts toward dialogue with North Korea," Cho said after the talks.
The spokesman said Yang also plans to hold a bilateral meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun on Friday.
Multilateral negotiations on ending North Korea's nuclear program have been stalled since late 2008. The talks group the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
South Korea, the U.S. and other regional powers are pushing to reopen the six-party talks in a three-step approach in which North Korea will meet with South Korea first and then the U.S. for one-on-one talks on denuclearization before resuming the multilateral process.
During this week's ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Kim said he is seeking to hold an informal meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Pak, who is scheduled to arrive in Bali later Thursday to attend the annual forum.
Asked how Pyongyang would respond to a proposal for an informal meeting, a North Korean delegate in Bali sidestepped the question.
"We will announce our stance on Saturday," the North Korean delegate told reporters, asking not to be named and referring to the date of the ARF meeting.
On Kim's talks with Yang, the spokesman said the two sides agreed to swiftly provide information on offshore oil spills in the wake of oil leaks off the Gulf of Bohai, the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea adjacent to South Korea.
"The two ministers also agreed to actively work together, including containment works, if such a maritime accident happens," Cho told reporters.
An unspecified amount of oil has leaked from the rig operated by China's largest offshore energy producer, the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), since mid-June, and South Korea's foreign ministry had expressed concern about the oil leaks.
Kim also asked Yang to support South Korea's bid for a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council in 2013-14, Cho said, declining to clarify how the Chinese minister responded.
The council has five permanent veto-wielding members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- and 10 non-permanent members elected to serve two-year terms.
South Korea, which last sat on the council in 1996-97, officially applied to return to the council last year, and the U.N. will vote on the bid in October next year, foreign ministry officials said.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2011/07/21/71/0401000000AEN20110721006700315F.HTML
2. South Korea Seeks ARF Statement on North Korea's Uranium Program
Yonhap News Agency
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South Korea is trying to convince Asia's biggest security gathering this week to adopt a statement expressing concern about North Korea's uranium enrichment program and prodding the North to prove by action its denuclearization commitment, officials said Wednesday.
Top diplomats of 27 Asia-Pacific nations are scheduled to meet in Bali, Indonesia, on Saturday for an annual meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) that brings together North Korea and all other key players on security issues.
The forum, hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has served as an important venue for discussions on North Korea. The North's nuclear standoff is expected to be highlighted at this year's session after it unveiled its uranium enrichment program last November.
"We will make diplomatic efforts to include concerns about North Korea's uranium enrichment program and inter-Korean dialogue as an essential step before building conditions for the resumption of the six-party talks into this year's ARF statement," said a ranking official at the Foreign Ministry.
However, the official said South Korea has no plan to raise the issue of the North's deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last November at this year's session, in an apparent bid to break the diplomatic deadlock with Pyongyang.
The North's revelation of its uranium enrichment program, together with its two deadly military attacks on South Korea last year, has created hurdles to efforts by regional powers to reopen the six-party talks which involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
South Korea wants to take the North's uranium program to the U.N. Security Council for new sanctions but China opposes such a move, arguing that the issue can be handled at the six-party talks, according to South Korean officials.
Pyongyang claims the uranium enrichment program is for peaceful energy development but outside experts believe that it would give the country a new source of fission material to make atomic bombs, in addition to its widely known plutonium-based nuclear weapons program.
The six-party talks have been stalled since late 2008. North Korea claims to be willing to return to the talks without preconditions, but South Korea and the U.S. have said Pyongyang must show its sincerity in denuclearizing before the resumption of the stalled talks can take place.
Ahead of the ARF, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan plans to host a series of bilateral meetings with his counterparts from the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
Kim, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto will also hold a trilateral meeting in Bali to coordinate their joint strategy on the North's nuclear program.
North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun will also be in attendance at the ARF and Kim said he was willing to meet Pak "through any channel available."
"Minister Kim is pushing ahead with a plan to hold an informal meeting with Pak on the sidelines of the ARF," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
Other hot topics at this year's ARF would be rising tensions surrounding the South China Sea with the dispute over the resource-rich marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean becoming a new flash point in relations between the U.S. and China.
South Korean officials said they will maintain a neutral stance on the South China Sea dispute.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2011/07/20/25/0301000000AEN20110720002500315F.HTML
1. Warming India-U.S. Ties Hit Speed Bump Over Nuclear Trade
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It was meant to be the cornerstone of relations between the world's two biggest democracies, but a lucrative nuclear deal that was to welcome U.S. firms into India's $150 billion atomic power market is clouding otherwise warming bilateral ties.
While the 2008 U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement backed by then President George W. Bush elevated relations and ended India's nuclear isolation, it has yet to benefit private U.S. firms which have kept away, deterred by a stringent Indian law on accident liability that could force such firms to pay out billions in the event of a nuclear accident.
"Two reactor sites have now been set aside for American companies in future," said a senior U.S. official travelling with Hillary Clinton during her visit to India.
"It would be a very serious problem if India were to come out with regulations that were not in fact in compliance with (a global convention governing nuclear liability) and then left us out in the cold not being able to profit from all of the hard work that we've put into that," the official added.
Clinton on Tuesday pressed India to accede to the multilateral convention to assure its suppliers any liabilities would be in line with international norms.
The impasse has meant rival state-backed nuclear reactor makers from Russia and France have raced ahead in tapping into India's nuclear power market, leaving Washington to lobby New Delhi to water down the law that was passed last year.
While overall ties are on an upswing, the standoff over nuclear trade is being seen by many as nettlesome, potentially slowing cooperation between two of the world's biggest markets.
"As it stands it's a big problem because the United States had put in so much political capital into the deal and its commercial interests are being hurt," said Robinder Sachdev, the head of strategic think tank ImagIndia Institute.
"Any bad blood from this could spill over into other aspects of the wider ties which were otherwise doing well."
India's parliament passed laws in August to open up the domestic nuclear market. But its nuclear liability law also gives the right to seek damages from plant suppliers if there is an accident.
India is the only country to have such a provision, which was added after wide political pressure, partly stoked by painful memories of industrial calamities such as India's Bhopal disaster in 1984 when plumes of poisonous pesticide from a U.S.-run Union Carbide plant killed thousands.
That move has made the entry of firms like General Electric and Westinghouse Electric, a U.S.-based unit of Toshiba , into India uncertain unless the country provides more clarity on compensation liability for private operators.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Indian officials to amend the law but analysts say it will be almost politically impossible for New Delhi to water it down.
"The penny will finally drop on the Americans as they realise the Indian liability law cannot be diluted and they will have to look for other get-arounds like factoring in liability in the pricing structure (for reactors)," said Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor of The Hindu newspaper.
The United States has also pressed India to accede to the multilateral Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC) to assure its suppliers any liabilities would be in line with international norms.
India is seen by the United States as a key geopolitical player for stability in South Asia, as well as a counterweight to a rising China. Its vast economy, along with China's, is seen as a locomotive that can help revive moribund western economies.
India, which conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998, has so far proven to be a responsible and benign nuclear state, though a bitter rivalry with fellow nuclear-armed Pakistan has made nuclear proliferation a latent risk in the subcontinent.
The 2008 civilian nuclear pact scrapped a 30-year U.S. ban on supplying India with nuclear fuel and technology but it was criticised for undermining the global nuclear non-proliferation treaty which states that only nations which renounce nuclear arms qualify for civilian nuclear assistance.
Beyond the nuclear sphere, India has pledged to buy billions in U.S. military hardware while bilateral trade is up from $5.6 billion in 1990 to $36.5 billion in 2009/10.
"Indian investments in the U.S. are higher than American investments in India which shows the relationship is well-rounded," said Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to Washington.
Though the risk of this cooperation unravelling is low, the logjam over the Indian liability law could slow progress.
"There is concern and disappointment both at the government and industry level," said Sachdev. "It's more than an irritant."
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/20/india-us-nuclear-idUSL3E7IK1LI20110720
1. Japan Plans Additional $165 Billion for Reconstruction
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Japan's government plans additional spending of 13 trillion yen ($165 billion) for reconstruction projects after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, on top of a combined 6 trillion yen already set aside in two extra budgets, a government source said on Thursday.
Investors are counting on reconstruction spending to help the world's third-largest economy pull out from a slump caused by the disasters and to resume moderate growth in the third quarter.
To raise the money, the government is considering issuing special bonds, scaling back other spending plans and selling national assets, said the source, who declined to be identified.
Assets the government could considering selling include shareholdings in NTT, Japan's largest phone company, and Japan Tobacco, the nation's largest cigarette maker, the Nikkei business daily said.
The government has yet to finalize the maturities for reconstruction bonds it will issue but the Ministry of Finance is planning on five-year bonds, while the government will consider raising taxes to repay them, the source said.
The markets had expected fresh spending beyond the first two extra budgets to exceed 10 trillion yen.
The 13 trillion yen would support projects worth a total of about 23 trillion to 25 trillion yen, the source said, with about 80 percent of those to be implemented over the next five years and the remainder to be completed within the following five years. The Mainichi newspaper said the projects would include financial assistance to farmers in quake-hit areas, renewable energy development and the creation of special districts for rebuilding the fishing industry.
But the reconstruction plans do not include any spending, the source said, to address the crisis at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, which has been leaking radiation since in the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The government is likely to struggle to generate cash to help pay for Japan's biggest rebuilding project since the period immediately after World War Two, as its ability to borrow is constrained by a debt pile already twice the size of the $5 trillion economy.
It avoided new borrowing when it funded the previous two extra budgets, by tapping fiscal reserves and reallocating spending.
A government advisory panel on reconstruction last month proposed a temporary increase in the corporate, personal income and sales taxes.
Tokyo has also floated the idea of share sales in NTT and Japan Tobacco but it would first have to amend laws that require minimum shareholdings in the two companies.
The government also owns shares in Tokyo Metro Co, the operator of Tokyo's subway systems, which could potentially generate cash with an initial public offering.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/21/us-japan-economy-reconstruction-idUSTRE76K10220110721?rpc=401&feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews&rpc=401
Government Reveals Timeline for Decommissioning Reactors, Asahi, 7/21/2011 Japanese authorities published on July 19 the first detailed timeline for decommissioning the damaged reactors of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant but offered no dates for lifting the evacuation zones around the stricken facility.
In the first preparatory phase of decommissioning, expected to be completed within three years, nuclear fuel will be removed from fuel pools at the plant and concrete shield walls will be dug into the ground to prevent radiation-contaminated groundwater from leaking into the sea.
The government and the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which jointly announced the new road map, said the amount of radioactive material being discharged into atmosphere had fallen by the end of June to 1/2,000,000th of that escaping immediately after the initial accidents at the plant.
Officials said the initial goal of the disaster response effort, to achieve stable cooling of the reactors, had been achieved, as expected, by mid-July. The installation of a circulating cooling system, which treats radiation-contaminated water and then uses it to cool down the reactors, was critical in achieving stable cooling, they said.
The next stage, scheduled to be concluded some time between October and January, will aim at achieving a "cold shutdown" of the reactors.
The plan specifies for the first time what the Japanese authorities mean by a "cold shutdown," which is one of the key conditions for lifting the evacuation zones around the plant.
According to the new document, it will require a drop in the temperature in the bottom portions of the reactors' pressure vessels to 100 degrees or lower and a legally stipulated reduction in radiation levels at the borders of the nuclear power plant compound to one millisievert or lower a year.
Excluding the radioactive materials already discharged, the radiation currently being released is equivalent to about 1.7 millisieverts per year near the border of the nuclear plant's compound.
After cold shutdowns have been achieved, TEPCO and the government will consider plans to decontaminate soil and work with local governments to lift evacuation zones around the plant. They will move onto the first preparatory phase of decommissioning, while monitoring the reactors and keeping them in the "cold shutdown" state for the following three years.
A previous official plan, published by the Japanese authorities in April, did not define what was meant by a "cold shutdown" and was criticized for its vagueness. The new plan is more specific but still offers no dates for when evacuation zones will be lifted. It only says that the government will consider lifting restrictions after cold shutdowns of the reactors.
The evacuation restrictions cover all areas within a radius of 20 kilometers of the power plant and additional "keikakuteki (planned)" evacuation zones beyond that radius that are considered particularly at risk from radiation.
Goshi Hosono, the state minister responsible for handling the nuclear crisis, said conditions for lifting the "evacuation stand-by zones," where residents have been told to be ready for evacuation in an emergency, were likely to be met in early August. He said the cooperation of local governments would be required to lift those restrictions.
Available at: http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201107200277.html
1. China Connects First Fast Nuclear Reactor to Electricity Grid
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China connected to the electricity grid an experimental nuclear reactor that produces less radioactive waste than current designs, in a move that may help the nation build safer atomic plants after the Fukushima crisis.
The 65-megawatt fast-neutron reactor near Beijing connected to the grid at 40 percent capacity today, Xu Mi, chief engineer at the experimental fast reactor program of the China Institute of Atomic Energy, said by telephone. The reactor was built by the institute with help from the Russian government.
China continues to promote the development of nuclear power even after it stopped approving new plants pending safety reviews following the March 11 accident at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl 25 years ago. France, the U.S. and U.K. are among countries developing the next generation of reactors based on fast-neutron technology that uses uranium fuel more efficiently.
“This is a pretty big breakthrough, as in the reactor is actually producing electricity,” Dave Dai, regional head of utilities research at Daiwa Securities Capital Markets, said by telephone from Hong Kong. “This basically means they can go ahead in terms of schedule for the real commercial ones.”
The experimental fast reactor took a decade to build and achieved criticality, or started controlled and sustainable generation, exactly a year ago, according to a report by the China Institute of Atomic Energy published on the website of China National Nuclear Corp., the nation’s biggest operator of atomic plants. China started fast-reactor research in the mid- 1960s, it said.
Fast reactors reduce radioactive waste compared with existing operational designs by using most of the fuel during the nuclear reaction, according to the World Nuclear Association.
The reactors utilize up to 70 percent of uranium feedstock compared with 1 percent for existing pressurized water reactors, such as the AP1000 design by Westinghouse Electric Co., according to the report published by China National Nuclear.
About 20 fast reactors have been operating around the world, some since the 1950s, the nuclear association said on its website. France and Russia run commercial plants based on the technology, it said.
“The next step for us is to increase the generating capacity of the reactor to 100 percent while connected to grid,” China Institute’ Xu said. “After that, we can use the technology to build our own commercial fast reactors.”
China plans to start construction of a 1-gigawatt fast reactor at Sanming city in 2018 using home-grown technology, Xu said. State-owned China National Nuclear will start building two 800-megawatt fourth-generation reactors using Russian designs in 2013 or 2014, he said. The reactors will also be at Sanming.
The nuclear industry has developed several generations of reactors starting with the first in 1950-1960s, according to the website of the World Nuclear Association. There are no such reactors outside the U.K. today. The second generation units are used in the U.S. and France, while early third-generation reactors have been operating in Japan since 1996, according to the nuclear association.
“Generation IV designs are still on the drawing board and will not be operational before 2020 at the earliest,” the group said.
China will build more fast reactors of greater than 600 megawatts in capacity starting 2015 and start commissioning them from 2030, Xu said on May 13.
China plans to conclude safety checks on all its nuclear plants by October, completing one stage of a nationwide review of its atomic power industry following the Fukushima crisis.
The country, planning to build more nuclear reactors than any other nation, said on March 16 it suspended approval of all new atomic projects until a safety review is carried out. China’s existing reactors use second-generation technology, the official Xinhua News Agency said on July 22.
China started its first commercial nuclear plant in 1994 and currently has the highest number of atomic facilities under construction, according to data from the World Nuclear Association.
The nation has 13 generators in commercial operation while 28 are being built, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said in June. China may have more than 100 atomic reactors by 2020, it said.
Japan’s 40-year-old Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, causing radiation leaks.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-21/china-connects-fast-nuclear-reactor-to-grid.html
2. France Delays New Generation Nuclear Plant Amid New Safety Concerns
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France’s electricity giant announced Wednesday it is delaying its new generation nuclear reactor for two years after a pair of deadly accidents and safety reviews prompted by the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.
The setback to the showcase EPR reactor in Flamanville in western France hits a country that is one of the world’s loudest proponents of nuclear energy, at a time when some governments are rethinking their commitment to atomic power in the wake of Japan’s lingering troubles.
Electricite de France, the world’s largest nuclear plant operator, says the reactor at Flamanville will go online in 2016 instead of 2014, and will cost some €6 billion ($8.5 billion)overall instead of the €5 billion earlier estimated.
The reactor has already faced repeated delays and run billions of euros over budget.
EDF said in a statement Wednesday that two accidents had caused it to reorganize its construction planning. One accident, in which a worker died after a fall in January, forced civil engineering work to be suspended for nine weeks. The other left one worker dead after a fall in early June. Both are under investigation, EDF said.
The company said another reason for the delay is linked to the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant following a tsunami in March. EDF and nuclear plant operators around Europe are conducting so-called stress tests of nuclear reactors after the Japanese accident.
“Comprehensive analyses carried out as part of the post-Fukushima safety assessment audits will be submitted to the Nuclear Safety Authority in September,” EDF said.
“EDF has had to review its assessment of the extent of the work to be done, particularly in terms of civil engineering,” such as iron reinforcements and anchor plates, the statement said.
The EPR, or European Pressurized Reactor, has been decades in the making. The first one, being built by French manufacturer Areva, is under construction in Olkiluoto, Finland. It, too, has been plagued by delays. Others are planned in China, Britain and the United States.
Explosions and radiation leaks at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in March have eroded confidence in nuclear power in recent months — confidence that took decades to rebuild following the Soviet Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania.
France gets up to 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, and French companies Areva and EDF have aggressively marketed nuclear technology around the world.
Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/industries/france-delays-new-generation-nuclear-plant-because-of-new-safety-concerns/2011/07/20/gIQAqcOpPI_story.html
3. Nuclear Power Plants to Get Fast-Track Planning Approval
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There had been concern that nuclear power plants planned for 2018 and 2020 could be held up for years in lengthy local planning inquiries. It took a four years and 16m words of evidence for Sizewell B to be approved, after a record inquiry in 1985.
The new reforms aim to cut the length of inquiries to a maximum of a year, drawing criticism from local interest and green groups.
However, they have been strongly welcomed by the energy industry. On Tuesday, EDF committed to building the first two new nuclear stations in Somerset and Suffolk with Centrica, describing it as a "major milestone".
Henri Proglio, the executive chairman of the EDF, said: "The UK parliament's vote in favour of nuclear is an essential step for EDF Group and its new nuclear projects. Alongside its partner Centrica, EDF is therefore in a position to move forward its project to build new nuclear stations."
An independent planning body called the Infrastructure Planning Commission will have final responsibility for waving through new nuclear plants in the national interest. The reforms were drafted by the previous Labour government, but the Coalition delayed and overhauled the rules.
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/8648250/Nuclear-power-plants-to-get-fast-track-planning-approval.html
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