Syria has offered to cooperate with a U.N. nuclear watchdog probe into a suspected reactor site after years of stonewalling, and a meeting may take place in October, the Vienna-based agency's head said on Monday.
U.S. intelligence reports have said the Dair Alzour complex was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor intended to produce plutonium for atomic weaponry, before Israeli warplanes reduced it to rubble in 2007.
Syria has said it was a non-nuclear military facility.
In June, the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors voted to report Syria to the Security Council, rebuking it for failing to cooperate with the agency probe.
Addressing the board on Monday, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said Syria in a letter last month had "stated its readiness to have a meeting with agency safeguards staff in Damascus in October."
The purpose of the talks would be to "agree on an action plan to resolve the outstanding issues" regarding the Dair Alzour site, Amano cited the Syrian letter as saying.
He said the IAEA had proposed that the meeting take place on Oct 10-11 "with the aim of advancing the agency's verification mission in Syria."
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/12/us-nuclear-syria-iaea-idUSTRE78B1UR20110912
2. UK Firms Sign £200m Trade Deals as Cameron Woos Russia
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David Cameron will today announce trade deals with Russia worth £200m including plans to co-operate over civil nuclear energy as part of attempts to recalibrate Britain's relationship with Moscow.
The Prime Minister was due to arrive in the Russian capital late last night, accompanied by 24 British business leaders including the BP chief executive Bob Dudley and the CEO of Rolls Royce, Sir Simon Robertson.
Today he will meet the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
It will be the first official bilateral visit to the country by a British Prime Minister since 2005, and comes as the UK seeks to "re-set" its relationship with Russia following the murder of Alexander Litvinenko by suspected Russian agents in 2006. While Mr Cameron is expected to raise the issue of Litvinenko, the British have made it clear that they no longer regard it as an issue that should get in the way of improving relations with the Kremlin
This has caused concern among four former Foreign Secretaries who wrote to The Sunday Times yesterday demanding Mr Cameron confronts the Russians over the regime's hostility to businessmen, lawyers and journalists. "More than half of Russian businessmen said they would like to leave the country entirely and their reasons are obvious," wrote David Miliband, Margaret Beckett, Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind.
"One in six of their fellow businessmen have been subject to criminal proceedings, and hundreds of thousands are currently detained in Russia's jails, victims of an increasingly potent mix of corruption and lawlessness."
But Mr Cameron said improving relations were a priority: "Although our differences in recent years are well known, we face many similar challenges and the President and I believe we can make more progress by working together on matters of real importance. That's why we've sought to put our relationship on a firmer footing and why I'm looking forward to my visit."
There are 600 British companies already operating in Russia, where economic growth is around 4 per cent – well above the European average.
On this trip deals worth £215m are expected to be announced. The two countries are expected to strengthen co-operation in the area of civil nuclear energy, paving the way for increased commercial co-operation between the UK nuclear supply chain and Russian state energy corporation Rosatom, which is developing civil nuclear projects around the world.
The agreement is expected to put leading British firms involved in nuclear engineering and manufacturing in a good position to bid for work on Rosatom's contracts with the possibility that they could secure business worth £1bn. Speaking about the trading relationship between the UK and Russia in a speech tomorrow, Mr Cameron will say: "Russia is resource rich and services light. Britain's the opposite. So we're uniquely placed to help each other grow."
Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/uk-firms-sign-163200m-trade-deals-as-cameron-woos-russia-2353153.html
4. Japan-Vietnam Talks on Nuclear Reactor Exports Resume After Hiatus
The Mainichi Daily News
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Japan and Vietnam restarted talks Thursday on proposed exports of two nuclear reactors to Vietnam after a six-month hiatus following radiation leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, the trade ministry said.
Both sides held consultations on the outline of the proposed transaction, including the terms of Japanese financial aid to the Vietnamese government, officials at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said.
On Aug. 5, the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Naoto Kan approved a document stating Japan should honor earlier agreements with Vietnam and another three countries to export its reactors. New trade minister Yoshio Hachiro said, "It is necessary to export the reactors, given the standpoint of maintaining Japan's trustworthiness (in relation to Vietnam)."
Available at: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/business/news/20110909p2g00m0bu062000c.html
5. Russia Wants West Bengal Nuclear Plant in Haripur to be Relocated
The Economic Times
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The government is looking at allotting another site for nuclear reactor to Russia in place of Haripur in West Bengal, a location marred by controversy. Confirming that the Russians have officially sought another site, government sources indicated a new site could be allotted soon.
The Mamta Banerjee-led government in the state announced last month that it was going to scrap the project, but it did not prevent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from making a strong case for nuclear energy when he visited Kolkata later.
"There is no decision yet but we are looking at the request from the Russians. We can allot another site to them," said a senior government source. The Russians have been expressing concern about protests in Haripur since last year, but the government was still hopeful of a way out. With Mamata's regime not relenting, the Centre has been forced to think of other alternative sites.
West Bengal power minister said in the assembly last month that the government would not allow any nuclear power plant to be set up in the state. Russia's state-owned nuclear power equipment and service giant Rosatom had asked the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to consider allotting it another site for the plant.
The coastal region of Haripur had been allotted by the Centre to Russia because of its low population density. The proposed plant had acquired all necessary environmental clearances in January, 2010. Haripur was said to have the potential for six reactor units. It had been earmarked initially for two 1,000mw power plants and the construction work was to commence this year.
However, after the protests led by Trinamool Congress started to gain momentum last year even then state's ruling party CPM tried to distance itself from the project dubbing it was Centre's brainchild.
Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko had earlier said that a total of 12 nuclear power units were to be built at Kudankulam and Haripur. Haripur was said to be an important part of the Centre's plans for achieving its target of generating 30,000MW of nuclear power by 2030.
Available at: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/russia-wants-west-bengal-nuclear-plant-in-haripur-to-be-relocated/articleshow/9921182.cms
6. In Face of Iran Threat, Saudi Arabia Mulls Nuclear Cooperation With Pakistan
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For a former high-level official in Israel's security services, the news this week was not upsetting - that Iran on its own had produced new, advanced nuclear centrifuges.
According to a report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has begun to install the centrifuges in its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. But the high-level source noted that development and production of the new centrifuges began more than seven years ago. That does not speak of a great technological capability on Iran's part.
Israeli intelligence, like its American counterpart, views 2014 or 2015 as the date when Iran will be able to build nuclear weapons, says the source - if it wants to and no one blocks it. In Saudi Arabia, in contrast, they are a bit more disturbed by the developments in Iran. An American Department of Energy delegation visited Riyad and met with Dr. Hashim Yamani, who heads the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy. The talks followed a memorandum of cooperation between the two countries that was signed in August 2008.
Saudi Arabia wants to equip itself with nuclear reactors to generate electricity. The United States is interested in selling Riyad reactors for two reasons - fat contracts worth billions of dollars for the American nuclear energy industry and there's the somewhat covert aspect: Supplying the reactors allows Washington to keep close tabs on nuclear developments in Saudi Arabia. The American administration is concerned that with a nuclear program for civilian uses, Saudi Arabia would actually like to prepare the infrastructure so it could switch to producing nuclear weapons relatively quickly, should Iran possess such weapons.
The French website Intelligence Online reports that the Saudi royal family has been divided over this issue for years. Its defense minister, Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, and the country's former intelligence chief, Turki Bin Faisal, favor the preparation of a secret nuclear program for military uses, in cooperation with a Sunni Muslim ally - Pakistan, which possesses dozens of atomic bombs. This would counterbalance Iran's secret military plans.
Saudi Arabia reportedly funded Pakistan's nuclear weapons program in return for Pakistan's promise to aid the monarchy in this area if need be. According to a 2004 report, the Saudi deputy defense minister visited the Pakistani nuclear center in Kahuta, which produces bombs. Intelligence Online says Pakistani nuclear scientists recently visited Saudi Arabia - as pilgrims to Mecca, who made use of their visit for a work meeting with, among others, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the head of the National Security Council and former ambassador to the United States.
Bandar is considered to be among those encouraging the nuclear connection with Pakistan to put his country on a secret path to nuclear weapons. To this end he visited Kazakhstan a few weeks ago and met with the directors of the state-owned company that produces uranium, Kazatomprom.
In contrast to the hawks in Riyad, there is also a group, headed by Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal and Interior Minister Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, that opposes establishing a secret nuclear military program reliant on Pakistan and prefers to be defended against Iran under the American nuclear umbrella.
The Egyptian newspaper Rose al Yusuf reported last month that Ashraf Marwan was an agent of the Mossad security service, and that he had warned Israel of the coming 1973 war, which is why former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered his assassination. Marwan fell to his death from the balcony of his London apartment in April 2007. It was supposed to look like suicide. The Rose al Yusuf story is comprehensive, relying mostly on reports from the Israeli media, and cites the decision of Justice (ret. ) Theodore Orr, who mediated the much-publicized dispute between former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir and Eli Zeira, the head of Military Intelligence during the 1973 war. The significance of the report lies not in the details but in the fact that it was published at all. This is the first time a well-known and respected Egyptian newspaper has dared to publish a story backing up Israeli reports on the subject. However, my colleague Jack Khoury, who translated the story from Arabic to Hebrew, emphasizes that the newspaper, formerly a mouthpiece for the Mubarak government, is exhibiting signs of Islamization now that the former president is on trial.
In this context it is important to note again that this column repeatedly held that Marwan was assassinated by the Egyptian secret service after Zeira intentionally exposed him as a double agent. Zvi Zamir, Brig. Gen. Amos Gilboa and Col. Yossi Langotsky sued Zeira over this leak.
A sluggish police investigation eventually led to findings being turned over to the attorney general. Yehuda Weinstein, who has been deliberating on the matter for years, is in no hurry to reach a decision in one of the most serious cases in the history of Israeli intelligence - where a senior agent died because an irresponsible general sought to absolve himself of responsibility for intelligence failures in the Yom Kippur War.
Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/in-face-of-iran-threat-saudi-arabia-mulls-nuclear-cooperation-with-pakistan-1.383153
1. Lawmakers Ask Obama to Shield Nuke Programs From Funding Cuts
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A House Armed Services subcommittee chairman wants President Obama to ask lawmakers to ensure several key nuclear weapon programs are not hit with a funding cut until a 2012 Pentagon spending bill is passed.
Armed Forces Strategic Forces subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and panel member Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), in a letter that will be sent to the White House on Monday, will ask President Obama to repeat an action he took last year: requesting a funding “anomaly” for a list of nuclear weapon programs.
The move is needed to keep “on track the tight schedule for infrastructure modernization and life extensions of our current warhead types” should Congress fail to pass a Pentagon appropriations bill before Oct. 1, Turner writes in the letter, obtained Friday by The Hill.
Like last year, the passage of annual spending bills by the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year looks unlikely, several senior lawmakers said this week. And like last fall, that means the Pentagon will be funded for at least several months by a continuing resolution.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday that he expects a final 2012 Defense Department spending bill likely will be the vehicle on which a government-wide funding measure is attached. But that might not happen for months, meaning a Pentagon stopgap is inevitable.
“The object of the anomaly is to fund things at the [fiscal year 2012] level for the duration of the continuing resolution,” a House staffer said via email Friday.
Turner and Heinrich want the Obama administration to send Congress an anomaly request covering the same nuclear programs as covered by last year’s version. But the duo wants this year’s anomaly to cover that and more.
“While the administration did not ask for, or receive, an anomaly for the … naval reactor or nonproliferation programs in [fiscal year 2011], we fully support a broader anomaly this year and will work with your administration to see that it is provided by the Congress for as long as the federal government is operating under a [continuing resolution] in [fiscal year 2012],” the House lawmakers wrote.
The lawmakers said the president’s goal of securing loose nuclear material would be at risk if funding is not preserved.
“The administration’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material within four years, and the vital naval reactor development activities to support the Ohio ballistic missile submarine replacement program all require the stability provided by an anomaly, as do the weapons activities for which [the National Nuclear Security Administration] is responsible,” according to the letter.
The Ohio-class submarine replacement program is one of the Navy’s top acquisition priorities.
Available at: http://thehill.com/news-by-subject/defense-homeland-security/180727-lawmakers-ask-obama-to-shield-nuke-programs-from-funding-cuts
2. Many Nuclear Plants Still Mulling Safety Improvements
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Six months into the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant crisis, only three of the 11 nuclear plants that decided they needed to improve their sea defenses in the light of the March 11 earthquake have actually started building.
New seawalls are currently being constructed or existing walls are being raised at Chubu Electric Power Co.'s Hamaoka plant, Hokuriku Electric Power Co.'s Shika plant and Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s Shimane plant, according to an Asahi Shimbun survey.
But eight other plants that decided to improve their defenses are at the planning stage. Many are still discussing the details of their designs and expect construction to be completed in one to three years.
Those eight plants are Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture, the Higashidori plant in Aomori Prefecture operated by Tohoku Electric Power Co. and TEPCO, Tohoku Electric Power's Onagawa plant in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan Atomic Power Co.'s Tokai No. 2 plant in Ibaraki Prefecture, Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Mihama, Takahama and Oi plants in Fukui Prefecture, and Japan Atomic Power's Tsuruga plant, also in Fukui Prefecture.
Most of the eleven plants are basing their new plans on a worst-case scenario of a 15-meter tsunami, but the Hamaoka plant is building an 18-meter seawall. Six nuclear plants are not considering bolstering their sea walls at all. The Asahi Shimbun's survey excluded the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants.
Immediately after the start of Fukushima crisis, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency asked all utilities to implement extra emergency measures at their nuclear plants, such as deploying extra power-generation vehicles and fire engines.
However, action on longer-term safety improvements appears to be stalled at some plants. In fact, some safety improvements suggested prior to the March 11 earthquake have not been implemented at many of the nation's nuclear facilities.
In the 2007 Chuetsu-Oki Earthquake, emergency operations were hindered when a door to an emergency control room at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant became stuck. Insights gained from that crisis informed the use of earthquake-resistant technologies in the construction of the emergency management building at the Fukushima No. 1 plan that has been used as the main base for operations since March 11.
Only three other plants--the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, the Hamaoka plant and the Tokai No. 2 plant--are equipped with such technology.
Six plants, including the Shika plant and the Ikata plant, have decided to erect earthquake resistant buildings, and some of them have already started construction, but the remaining seven plants are still uncertain of the necessity of the buildings and discussing whether to follow suit.
There is also great variation in the disaster-response planning by local authorities with nuclear plants in their areas. The Fukushima crisis uncovered flawed assumptions behind the Emergency Planning Zones (EPZ) stipulated by the government's pre-quake plans for a nuclear disaster. Those zones were supposed to cover localities within an 8- to 10-km radius of a nuclear plant, but the Fukushima no-entry zone was eventually extended to a 20-km radius around the plant.
Many municipalities have asked the Nuclear Safety of Commission of Japan for revision of the EPZ framework and new guidance on dealing with a multiple disaster on the scale of March 11, but that revised advice is not yet available. The commission has said it will review the EPZ by October and issue new guidance by next March.
In the meantime, several municipal governments have taken matters into their own hands. In May, the prefectural government of Kyoto expanded its EPZ from 10-km to 20-km around the Takahama and Oi plants. The Nagasaki prefectural government extended its planned evacuation area from 10-km around the Genkai plant to a 30-km radius.
The existing disaster prevention guidelines were revised in 1999 when a nuclear incident occurred at a nuclear facility operated by the nuclear fuel processor JCO Co. It did not envisage the possibility of the extended radiation leaks seen at the Fukushima plant. Haruki Madarame, chairman of the NSCJ, said: "The current guidance contains numerous problems such as assuming that people will be able to take refuge inside (their own homes) over the long-term. We need to learn lessons (from the Fukushima accident)."
Available at: http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201109080485.html
3. Nuclear Regulation Bill Introduced to Indian Parliament
World Nuclear News
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A bill to set up a new national nuclear authority and other regulatory bodies to oversee radiation and nuclear safety has been introduced to India's lower house, the Lok Sabha.
The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill was drawn up in response to events at Fukushima and aims to establish several new regulatory bodies. A new Council of Nuclear Safety (CNS) would oversee and review policies on radiation safety, nuclear safety and other connected matters. Chaired by the prime minister, the CNS would be made up of various government ministers, with the cabinet secretary and head of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) as ex-officio members, plus government-nominated "eminent experts".
The second major body to be established would be called the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) and would be responsible for ensuring radiation safety and nuclear safety in all civilian sector nuclear activities. The NSRA's officers would consist of a chairperson, two full-time members and up to four part-time members, all experts in one or more nuclear or other "relevant" discipline, appointed for three-year terms. In the wording of the bill presented to the Lokh Sabah, the NSRA would be "autonomous in the exercise of its powers and functions."
The NSRA would subsume and supersede the existing Indian nuclear regulator, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), which is currently responsible for the regulation and licensing of all India's nuclear facilities. The AERB's current chair and members would take on the corresponding roles in the NSRA until new officers are appointed.
In a statement made in the Lok Sabah only days after the Japanese plants were struck by the devastating tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh promised to strengthen India's nuclear safety regulatory framework.
The government announced in April that it would draw up a new nuclear safety law to create an autonomous regulatory body.
The AERB and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), which encompasses all the government-owned enterprises involved in India's nuclear power industry, are both part of the AEC. The independence of the regulator has therefore been brought into question, especially in the light of Fukushima: the location of the Japanese regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), within the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Trade (METI) has been seen as giving it an insufficient level of independence and fostering a potential conflict of interest for METI as both promoter and regulator of nuclear energy.
The proposed bill also provides for the government to set up other regulatory bodies to take responsibility for nuclear activities related to defence and national security.
Available at: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-Nuclear_regulation_bill_introduced_to_Indian_parliament-0909117.html
4. Pakistani Pleads Guilty in U.S. Nuclear Export Case
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A Pakistani national pleaded guilty on Friday in a U.S. court to conspiring to commit export violations in a scheme to illegally transfer nuclear-related materials to his home country from the United States.
The Justice Department said Nadeem Akhtar, 46, who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, a Washington suburb, entered the guilty plea at a court hearing in Baltimore, Maryland, as part of a deal with federal prosecutors.
Under his plea agreement, Akhtar, who owned a company called Computer Communication USA, admitted that he and his conspirators used the firm from 2005 through 2010 to obtain or attempt to get various nuclear-related devices and equipment.
The items, which included radiation detection devices, resins for coolant water purification and calibration and switching equipment, had a value of more than $400,000.
The Justice Department said Akhtar took direction from the owner of a trading company located in Karachi who had business relationships with Pakistani government entities.
It said Akhtar's co-conspirators included individuals in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and New York associated with the owner of the Pakistani trading company.
Washington has long been concerned with Pakistan's nuclear program, which included the development of atomic weapons and added to regional tensions with its longtime rival, India.
Akhtar faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine at his sentencing scheduled on January 6.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/09/us-usa-security-nuclear-idUSTRE78865O20110909
1. IAEA Still Sees "Significant" Nuclear Energy Growth
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The U.N. atomic agency still expects significant growth in the global use of nuclear power over the next two decades, despite a slowdown in the wake of Japan's Fukushima accident, its head said on Monday.
The number of operating reactors in the world is expected to increase by between 90 and 350 units by 2030, Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a speech.
Currently, there are about 432 reactors worldwide, with the United States, Russia and France among countries with the most units.
"This represents continuous and significant growth in the use of nuclear power, but at a slower growth rate than in our previous projections," Amano told the IAEA's 35-nation board in Vienna.
"Most of the growth is still expected to occur in countries that already have operating nuclear power plants, especially in Asia," he said. "China and India will remain the main centres of expansion."
Increasing global demand for energy, climate change fears and dwindling oil and gas reserves were among factors behind growing interest in nuclear power before Fukushima and they had not changed because of the accident, Amano said.
The huge earthquake and tsunami that crippled the plant in March, causing the world's worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, prompted a global rethink of atomic power.
Germany has decided to close all its reactors by 2022 and Italy voted in a referendum to ban nuclear for decades.
Before the Fukushima crisis, the IAEA had expected up to 25 countries to bring their first nuclear power plants on line by 2030. Today, some 29 states have nuclear energy.
Amano said the projected slowdown in global growth in nuclear power reflected the planned phase-out in Germany, some immediate shutdowns in Japan as well as "temporary delays" in an expansion in other countries.
But interest in countries which are considering introducing nuclear power remained strong, he said.
"Most of these countries are proceeding with plans to add nuclear power to their energy mix, although a few countries have cancelled or revised their plans, while others have taken a 'wait and see approach," Amano said.
Available at: http://in.reuters.com/article/2011/09/12/idINIndia-59291420110912
The UK has formally joined forces with a US laser lab in a bid to develop clean energy from nuclear fusion.
Unlike fission plants, the process uses lasers to compress atomic nuclei until they join, releasing energy.
The National Ignition Facility (Nif) in the US is drawing closer to producing a surplus of energy from the idea.
The UK company AWE and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory have now joined with Nif to help make laser fusion a viable commercial energy source.
At a meeting this week sponsored by the Institute of Physics and held at London's Royal Society, a memorandum of understanding was announced between the three facilities.
The meeting attracted scientists and industry members in an effort to promote wider UK involvement with the technology that would be required to make laser fusion energy plants possible.
"This is an absolutely classic example of the connections between really high-grade theoretical scientific research, business and commercial opportunities, and of course a fundamental human need: tackling pressures that we're all familiar with on our energy supply," said David Willetts, the UK's science minister.
The idea of harvesting energy from nuclear fusion is an old one.
The UK has a long heritage in a different approach to accomplishing the same goal, which uses magnetic fields; it is home to the Joint European Torus (Jet), the largest such magnetic facility in the world and a testing ground for Iter, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.
But magnetic fusion attempts have in recent years met more and more constricting budget concerns, just as Nif was nearing completion.
Part of the problem has been that the technical ability to reach "breakeven" - the point at which more energy is produced than is consumed - has always seemed distant. Detractors of the idea have asserted that "fusion energy is 50 years away, no matter what year you ask".
But Mr Willetts told the meeting that was changing.
"I think that what's going on both in the UK and in the US shows that we are now making significant progress on this technology," he said. "It can't any longer be dismissed as something on the far distant horizon."
The Rutherford Appleton Lab is where the idea of fusion energy was first proved, and both that laboratory and the AWE play host to high-intensity lasers that can act as proving grounds for future technology.
The laser fusion idea uses pellets of fuel made of isotopes of hydrogen called deuterium and tritium. A number of lasers are fired at the pellets in order to compress the fuel to just hundredths of its starting size.
In the process, the hydrogen nuclei fuse to create helium and fast-moving subatomic particles called neutrons whose energy, in the form of heat, can be captured and used for the comparatively old-fashioned idea of driving a steam turbine.
The aim is to achieve "ignition" of the fuel for which Nif is named - a self-sustaining fusion reaction that would far surpass breakeven.
Nif's director Ed Moses told the meeting that ignition was drawing ever nearer.
"Our goal is to have ignition within the next couple of years," he said.
"We've done fusion at fairly high levels already. Even on Sunday night, we did the highest fusion yield that has ever been done."
Dr Moses said that a single shot from the Nif's laser - the largest in the world - released a million billion neutrons and produced for a tiny fraction of a second more power than the world was consuming.
But for ignition, that number would need to rise by about a factor of 1,000.
The UK leads the High-Power Laser Energy Research (Hiper), a pan-European project begun in 2005 to move laser fusion technology toward a commercial plant.
"We recognised several years ago with Nif... and the ignition that was likely to occur, that the profile of fusion would be raised," said John Collier, the director of Hiper.
"We were thinking: 'what would be a way forward, how could Europe define a strategic route for laser power production to take advantage of these developments?' And that was the kernel of Hiper."
Both Hiper and Life, a similar effort at Nif, estimate that a functioning laser power plant would need to cycle through more than 10 fuel pellets each second - a million each day. Nif, since its completion in 2009, has undertaken only 305 such shots in its quest for ignition.
Professor Collier said the technological challenges that presented were incredible opportunities.
"The BMW plant in Oxford is producing one Mini a minute - you think of the complexity of that and you wouldn't think that's possible," he said.
"But these are tractable things; Lego bricks, bullets - these things are made in huge quantities and there are huge intellectual property opportunities for those people, those industries that get in."
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14842720
Germany's abandonment of nuclear power is a risky strategy, the new head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in an interview with website Spiegel Online released on Thursday.
IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven said that the policy announced by Chancellor Angela Merkel would show itself especially problematic in the coming colder months.
"I consider the German way risky.... This winter it will be difficult for German network operators to keep the voltage stable," she said.
Merkel shut down eight of Germany's nuclear power generators in the wake of March's disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan, and later said all its remaining nuclear capacity would be taken off the grid by 2022.
The eight plants now closed represent over 8,000 MW of generating capacity.
The sudden U-turn in policy -- before Fukushima Merkel had planned on longer use of nuclear power -- weighed on GDP in the second quarter, leading quarterly economic growth to slow to 0.1 percent in April-June.
In her interview, van der Hoeven said the IEA hoped to improve the transparency of oil markets by improving an early warning system to identify when oil prices could spike.
"We want to know earlier when supply and demand diverge, that's to say when the risk for oil shortages and price rises exist," she said.
"The IEA cannot dictate prices to oil producers. It would go beyond our mandate. But it is true that oil prices are so high they are dragging on global growth."
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/08/germany-nuclear-iea-idUSL5E7K837P20110908?rpc=401&feedType=RSS&feedName=rbssEnergyNews&rpc=401
A U.S. scientist who visited a secret North Korean nuclear site last year says Pyongyang may seek to launch a third atomic test to enable it to develop a small fissile warhead that can be carried by a missile.
Siegfried Hecker — who first revealed news of a previously clandestine North Korean uranium enrichment plant — also expanded on details of that facility on Friday. He said it was more advanced than Iran's enrichment operation, and could be re-engineered to turn out enough fissile material to make two nuclear weapons a year.
The North tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009 based on plutonium — like enriched uranium, a potential source of fissile warhead material.
North Korea dismantled or mothballed much of its plutonium producing capacity several years ago as part of now shattered commitments to denuclearize in exchange for economic and political concessions from the U.S. and other global or regional powers.
Before that, however, the North amassed enough plutonium for up to seven bombs.
At a lecture Friday, Hecker said Pyongyang remains committed to having a nuclear deterrent and may want to launch a test at least one more time to progress from developing a small and sophisticated missile warhead from the basic weapon it now has.
"The second test was a necessity because the first one didn't work well," Hecker said. While the North now has the knowledge to make "a rudimentary plutonium bomb ... they would need one more nuclear test" to develop a modern missile warhead, he said.
Hecker said that the North has appeared to shut down its plutonium production for good after dismantling its Yongybon reactor and mothballing other facilities four years ago, but expressed concern about the enrichment program that he revealed last year.
In a confidential report obtained last week by The Associated Press, the International Atomic Energy agency said the enrichment plant contained about 2,000 centrifuges and the North Koreans had told Hecker's group that the machines were setup to produce low-enriched uranium, used for reactor fuel. North Korea has a small research reactor fueled by low-enriched uranium.
But Hecker on Friday said that — if reconfigured — the facility could churn out up to 40 kilograms of 90 percent highly-enriched and weapons grade uranium each year. That would be enough material for two nuclear bombs.
He did not discount speculation that North Korea had helped Iran develop Tehran's larger uranium enrichment program — an activity that has led to four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions over fears Tehran could use the program to make fissile weapons-grade material.
But Hecker noted that Pyongyang's program was more advanced than Iran's, with the North Koreans using more efficient centrifuges than the Islamic Republic, which appears not to have progressed in its advanced centrifuge manufacture beyond the testing stage.
The IAEA has assessed that North Korea built Syria's now leveled nuclear reactor, and Hecker said that underlined the potential of Pyongyang as an illicit proliferator, along with its record of clandestinely exporting its missile technology. He said the Syrian facility, which was destroyed by Israeli war planes in 2007, appeared to have no other purpose that to produce plutonium.
North Korea's enrichment activities are "not a big problem" if restricted to what has now been revealed, said Hecker, while expressing concern of hidden sites elsewhere.
If North Korea is making large amounts of enriched uranium "it becomes a problem, especially in terms of export," he said, adding that with the North already "into the nuclear export business" it is going to be very difficult to shut down such illicit trade.
Pyongyang had denied U.S. assessments that it had a secret uranium enrichment program until Nov. 12 when it allowed a small group led by Hecker to inspect the facility. Hecker, a professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California, subsequently informed the U.S. government of what he saw.
Both Iran and North Korea are under U.N. Security Council sanctions — the North for its nuclear and missile tests, and Iran primarily for refusing to stop enrichment despite concerns that it could turn the program toward making weapons — a path Iran says it will never take.
Concerns over those nations and Syria will be discussed at a 35-nation IAEA board meeting Starting Monday.
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