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Nuclear News - 10/25/2012
PGS Nuclear News, October 25, 2012
Compiled By: Pia Ulrich

A.  Nuclear Safety & Security
    1. French Nuclear Regulator Slams EC, Oettinger Over EU Stress Tests, Platts (10/19/2012)
B.  Iran
    1. Iran Filling Nuclear Bunker with Centrifuges: Diplomats, Fredrik Dahl, Reuters (10/25/2012)
    2. Iran Dismisses Nuclear Arms Concerns, RIA Novosti (10/24/2012)
    3. Major Powers Examine Long-Shot Options in Iran Talks, Justyna Pawlak and Fredrik Dahl, Reuters (10/23/2012)
C.  North Korea
    1. North Korea May Be Expanding their Nuclear Arsenal more than Anyone Imagined, Joshua Berlinger, Business Insider (10/24/2012)
D.  Japan
    1. Nuclear Watchdog May Broaden Definition of Active Fault Lines, Ryuta Koike, The Asahi Shimbun (10/24/2012)
    2. Japan To Extend Nuke Plant Evacuation Zone To 30 Km, RTT News (10/24/2012)
    3. Japan Needs Nuclear Power to Offset High Gas Costs, Tanaka Says, Ben Sharples, Bloomberg Businessweek (10/23/2012)
    4. Surprisingly Japan Declines to Join 16 UN Countries in Outlawing Nuclear Weapons, Adam Westlake, The Japan Daily Press (10/23/2012)
    5. Japan, IAEA Working on Fukushima Decontamination and Disposal Base, The Japan Times (10/22/2012)
E.  Nuclear Energy
    1. Bulgarians to Vote on New Nuclear Plant after Gov't Reversal, Tsvetelia Tsolova, Reuters (10/24/2012)
    2. China to Approve Only a Few New Reactors by 2015, David Stanway, Reuters (10/24/2012)
    3. Dominion Closing Nuclear Plant Due to Low Natgas Prices, Scott Disavino, Reuters (10/22/2012)
F.  Nuclear Cooperation
    1. EON, RWE Said to Sell British Nuclear Venture to Hitachi, Tino Andresen, Aaron Kirchfeld and Sally Bakewell, Bloomberg (10/25/2012)
    2. Jordan Ends Uranium Deal with France Nuclear Giant, AFP (10/24/2012)
    3. Nuclear Test Ban Body's New Head to Seek Compliance of Key Powers, Fredrik Dahl, Reuters (10/23/2012)
G.  Links of Interest
    1. More Nuclear, Say UK Residents, World Nuclear News (10/23/2012)
    2. Russia to Commission First Borey Class Nuclear Sub in 2013, RIA Novosti (10/22/2012)

A.  Nuclear Safety & Security

French Nuclear Regulator Slams EC, Oettinger Over EU Stress Tests
(for personal use only)

European nuclear regulators now "mistrust" EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger and his "methods" of controlling nuclear safety in the EU, France's senior nuclear regulator, Andre-Claude Lacoste, has told the French government in a letter that Platts obtained late Thursday.

In the letter, dated October 11, Lacoste accused the European Commission of "contempt" for Europe's nuclear safety regulators over the way it handled wrapping up the EU's nuclear safety stress tests.

The EU agreed in May 2011 to carry out such tests -- organized by the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group, Ensreg, which represents EU nuclear safety authorities -- in response to Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011. The EC published a report on these test results October 4.

Lacoste said in his letter that the EC had forced Ensreg members to accept additional reactor site visits after the stress tests peer review process that Ensreg designed finished in April.

Lacoste said the additional sites to be visited by peer review teams were chosen "with no objective criterion, except, apparently" their interest to the media. These visits -- which included Fessenheim, Cattenom and Chooz in France -- "could not bring any real added value," he said.

Lacoste advised the French government to be "extremely vigilant" at meetings of EU ministers at which the EU reactor stress tests and the EC's communications about the results of those tests are on the agenda.

He also said safety authorities' mistrust of the EC "could, in the long term, weigh very heavily on future work, in particular in the legislative field" with the EC's proposed revision of the EU nuclear safety directive, expected early next year.

Ensreg was instrumental in developing the original EU safety directive, passed in 2009, after an impasse in negotiations between EU countries and the EC.

In the letter, Lacoste said that Oettinger's "successive interventions" in the stress-test process that Ensreg designed and led "have now weakened" that process "and called its results into question."

He said Oettinger's positions have "shaken the trust between safety authorities and the European Commission and make cooperation on the European level in nuclear safety difficult going forward."

Lacoste has been France's chief nuclear safety regulator for 20 years. He plans to retire next month.

The EC on Friday defended both its report and its dealings with Ensreg.

"We believe that our cooperation with Ensreg went very well. The meeting with the Ensreg chairman before the [report's] presentation in the European Parliament and the [October 4] press conference was also very positive," EC energy spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said in an email to Platts.

"We also believe that [our report] represents the findings well. It is evident, however, that it is complex to synthesize the conclusions of a thousand pages of national reports in a 60-page document," she added.

"This necessarily leads to possible different interpretations on whether the focus is precisely correct or certain details have been correctly interpreted. We have invited Ensreg and national authorities to provide us with their remarks to further refine the document," she said.

EU leaders intend to discuss the EC's report during one of their quarterly meetings in Brussels, possibly in December, Holzner said.

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B.  Iran

Iran Filling Nuclear Bunker with Centrifuges: Diplomats
Fredrik Dahl
(for personal use only)

Iran appears to have nearly finished installing centrifuges at its underground nuclear plant, Western diplomats say, potentially boosting its capacity to make weapons-grade uranium if it chose to do so.

Iran only disclosed the existence of the Fordow plant, built inside a mountain to shield it from air strikes, in 2009 after learning that Western spy services had detected it.

The United States and its allies are particularly worried about Fordow because Iran is refining uranium there to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which Iran says it needs for a medical reactor.

The diplomats said they had heard of indications that Iran had put in place the last 640 or so uranium centrifuges of a planned total of some 2,800 at the site, but had not started running them yet.

"I understand that they have installed all the centrifuges there," one envoy said.

Another diplomat said he also believed that the centrifuges had been placed in position, but that piping and other preparations needed to operate them may not yet be completed.

Twenty percent purity is only a short technical step from weapons grade, and the work goes to the heart of Western fears that a program that Iran says is purely peaceful is in fact a cover for the development of a nuclear weapons capability.

Any move by Iran to increase output at Fordow would further alarm the United States and Israel, which have reserved the option to use military force to prevent Iran getting the bomb, and complicate on-off diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute.

There was no immediate comment from Iran or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. watchdog based in Vienna, which is expected to issue its next report on Tehran's nuclear program in mid-November.

Diplomacy and successive rounds of economic sanctions have so far failed to end the decade-old row, raising fears of Israeli military action against its arch enemy and a new Middle East war damaging to a fragile world economy.

Iran already has enough low-enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs if it were refined to a high degree, but may still be a few years away from being able to assemble a missile if it decided to go down that path, analysts say.

The IAEA said in its last report in August that Iran had doubled the number of centrifuges at Fordow to 2,140 in about three months.

But diplomats said the number of machines that were in operation, nearly 700, had not changed since early this year.

"The last I heard was that they (the newly installed centrifuges) were not operational," one of the diplomats said.

It was not clear whether Iran was holding back for technical or political reasons. It is also not known whether the centrifuges that are not yet operating will be used for 5- or 20-percent enrichment, or both.

Iran may be able to accumulate up to four 'significant quantities' of weapons-grade uranium - each sufficient for one bomb - in as little as nine months from now, nuclear experts Olli Heinonen of Harvard University's Belfer Center and Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute said in a paper.

"This timetable will shrink as more 20 percent enriched uranium is produced, at which point potential breakout time will be measured in weeks rather than months," they said.

Nuclear experts say any country seeking to become a nuclear-armed power would probably only break out once it could produce at least several bombs.

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Iran Dismisses Nuclear Arms Concerns
RIA Novosti
(for personal use only)

Tehran on Wednesday dismissed as irresponsible recent remarks by the French foreign minister who said Iran could acquire nuclear weapons next year.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday that Iran looked to be on course for its goal of producing nuclear weapons by mid-2013.

“We considered France an advocate of the role of international organizations and their affiliated institutions, but now it seems that the French government is moving away from its traditional stance in the international arena,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted by Press TV as saying.

The French minister’s comments completely ignore the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in recent years that have shown that “the Islamic Republic is not deviating from peaceful purposes,” Mehmanparast added.

Fabius said experts, whom he did not identify, have established that Iran has amassed a complete range of centrifuges that “apparently will enable it to acquire nuclear weapons by the first half of next year.”

The United States, Israel and some of their allies accuse Iran of pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program. Iran rejects the allegations, arguing that it is entitled to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

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Major Powers Examine Long-Shot Options in Iran Talks
Justyna Pawlak and Fredrik Dahl
(for personal use only)

Big powers may ask Iran for stricter limits on its nuclear work if it wants an easing of harsh sanctions -a long-shot approach aimed at yielding a negotiated solution that has eluded them for more than a decade.

A solution to the standoff is increasingly urgent. The longer the impasse goes on, the closer Iran could get to the technological threshold of a capability to build an atom bomb, raising the odds of Israeli strikes against its installations.

Western diplomats say the possibility of revising their negotiating tactic is under discussion as they prepare for possible talks with Iran after the Nov. 6 presidential election in the United States, following three inconclusive rounds this year.

One option could be for each side to put more on the table - both in terms of demands and possible rewards - than in previous meetings in a bid to break the stalemate despite deep scepticism about the chances of a breakthrough any time soon.

Years of diplomacy and sanctions have failed to resolve a dispute between the West and Iran over its nuclear programme, raising fears of Israeli military action against its arch foe and a new Middle East war damaging to a fragile world economy.

"The next meeting would have to be well prepared," said one Western diplomat. "There could be interesting new developments, like more demands and more concessions."

Israel, believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear power and convinced a nuclear Tehran would pose a mortal threat, says Iran could arrive at the point of being able to "weaponise" enriched uranium next spring or summer.

Iran denies accusations it is seeking nuclear weapons and has so far refused to meet demands that it scales back its atomic activity, insisting on immediate sanctions relief.

Western powers have rejected that and, instead, offered limited incentives focused on technology cooperation. They have also ramped up punitive measures to draw Iran, one of the world's biggest oil producers, into meaningful talks.

Another Western diplomat cautioned that a new strategy for diplomacy had yet to be finalised by Iran's six interlocutors: the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

But he said a new meeting with Iran soon after the U.S. vote could not be ruled out, and preparations were under way.

"It is possible there may indeed be some meeting in November to discuss an offer ... and that we ask more of the Iranians, in which case we could offer more," this diplomat said.

In a possible sign diplomacy could gather speed after the U.S. election, the New York Times has reported Washington and Iran have agreed in principle to hold one-on-one negotiations, although the White House denied that any talks had been set.

In the earlier meetings this year, the powers called on Iran to stop producing higher-grade enriched uranium, shut down its Fordow underground facility and ship out its stockpile.

Iran rejected the proposal, described by Western officials as an initial step to build confidence, and demanded recognition of its "right" to refine uranium, activity which can have both civilian and military purposes, as well as lifting of sanctions.

But for Iran to secure any relaxation of the pressure, it would have to take substantial additional action beyond the so-called "stop, shut and ship" demand, another Western official said. "For a lifting of sanctions they would have to do much more than just these three steps," the official said.

A more-more strategy would make sense as the West would want to see strict limits to Iran's entire enrichment programme, said nuclear expert Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank.

Any new proposal would also have to take into account Iran's growing holdings of refined uranium as well as its expanding enrichment capacity, according to Fitzpatrick.

In return for making concessions, Iran "will need some sanctions relief beyond the meagre measures that were offered in the earlier rounds of talks," he added.

But Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group said a "gulf of expectations" between negotiators and the irreversible nature of many sanctions made a "more-for-more" strategy implausible.

"Managing to seal a 'big-for-big' deal in the total absence of trust would be equivalent to reversing the law of gravity."

Iran has enough low-enriched uranium for several atomic bombs if it were refined to a high degree, but may still be a few years away from being able to assemble a missile if it decided to go down that path, analysts say.

Experts say it has become increasingly unrealistic to expect Iran to suspend all its enrichment, even if this demand is enshrined in a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the aim should be to restrain the activity as much as possible.

Daryl Kimball of the Washington-based Arms Control Association said high-level U.S.-Iranian talks could help to reach a deal and reduce the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Negotiators should seek to limit Iran's enrichment, cap its stockpiles and give U.N. inspectors more access to ensure it does not engage in weapons-related nuclear activity. In return, there would be a "phased rollback of sanctions," he said.

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C.  North Korea

North Korea May Be Expanding their Nuclear Arsenal more than Anyone Imagined
Joshua Berlinger
Business Insider
(for personal use only)

North Korea might be increasing the "size and sophistication," of its nuclear arsenal, according to a report published on 38 North.

The report, authored by David Albright and Christina Walrond of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), evaluated three different explanations as to why North Korea might be upping its nuclear capabilities.

The first explanation says that North Korea is creating nuclear reactors called "Civil Light Water Reactor" which it produces low-enriched uranium and does not produce plutonium for weapons.

The second explanation says that North Korea is using its plutonium in a "Militarized Light Water Reactor," which would be optimal for making weapon-grade plutonium.

The final explanation is that North Korea is dedicating its centrifuge capacity to making weapon-grade uranium, which would also strengthen its nuclear arsenal.

All of these projections "show an increase in North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal."

Because there are "significant uncertainties" regarding how to analyze how much weapon-grade uranium and plutonium the hermit state has, the report says it is difficult to come to a formative conclusion. But "regardless of these uncertainties, the current North Korean stocks of nuclear weapons may be larger than commonly believed."

The report comes at a crucial time. According to Albright and Walrond, the escalation in the production of nuclear material coincides with the failure of a February 29 reciprocal arrangement between the United States and North Korea aimed at fostering nuclear deterrent.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met with his South Korean counterpart at the Pentagon for security discussions focused on North Korea.

Panetta highlighted that the subsequent shift of U.S. focus toward Asia was in part geared towards pressuring North Korea.

“The bottom line, " he told reporters, "is we still don’t know whether or not he will simply follow in the steps of his father or whether he represents a different kind of leadership for the future."

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D.  Japan

Japan To Extend Nuke Plant Evacuation Zone To 30 Km
RTT News
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Japan's nuclear regulator has unveiled projections for the spread of radiation from nuclear power plants across the country in the event of an accident like the one last year at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The country's Nuclear Regulation Authority says severe accidents at four of the 16 nuclear power stations examined could result in widespread contamination beyond a 30-kilometer radius of the plants, and exceeding an international benchmark for evacuation.

It proposed raising the extent of the evacuation zone around the country's nuclear plants from a 10-kilometer radius to 30 kilometers, Japanese media reported.

The projections released on Wednesday visualize an event equivalent to the Fukushima accident, with a one-time massive release of radioactive substances from each plant. Assumptions include weather patterns recorded over the past year.

The projections show locations where effective doses of radiation in the first seven days would reach 100 millisieverts, the international benchmark for evacuation.

At 12 plants, including the Tomari plant in Hokkaido and the Ikata plant in Ehime prefecture, these locations were all within the 30-kilometer radius. Locations with 100 millisieverts of radiation showed up outside the 30-kilometer radius of four plants.

At the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata prefecture, which has seven nuclear reactors, high-level radiation locations were projected in Uonuma city, about 40.2 kilometers from the plant.

The other three plants examined are the Fukushima Daini in Fukushima prefecture, the Ohi plant in Fukui prefecture and the Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka prefecture.

The projections are expected to serve as a reference for municipalities compiling evacuation plans for their residents by the end of next March.

The nuclear watchdog says the projections do not take into account the geological features of areas surrounding the plants and should therefore be viewed as rough estimates only.

The Authority looked into the fact that many elderly and hospitalized patients died in the course of evacuation after last year's Fukushima accident.

Its draft guidelines call for deciding evacuation shelters in advance and setting up temporary shelters for those who cannot move far away. The Authority plans to complete the guidelines before the month-end.

The guideline will form the basis of disaster plans to be made by the end of next March by 135 municipalities in 21 prefectures that lie within 30 kilometers of a nuclear plant.

The Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011 sent radioactive materials into the ocean and atmosphere, contaminated the food and water supply, and forced the evacuation of 160,000 residents from a 30-kilometer radius of the tsunami-wrecked power plant in Japan's north-east.

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Nuclear Watchdog May Broaden Definition of Active Fault Lines
Ryuta Koike
The Asahi Shimbun
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A commissioner at the government nuclear watchdog has called for substantially expanding the definition of "active fault lines" in relation to nuclear reactor safety.

All geological fault lines that have shifted at least once during the past 400,000 years should be labeled as active and considered in discussions about the quake resistance of nuclear reactors, Kunihiko Shimazaki, the deputy chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters Oct. 23.

The government's current anti-seismic guidelines define active faults as those that have shifted during the last 120,000 to 130,000 years.

But Shimazaki said current subsurface stresses have remained unchanged for 400,000 years, a view widely shared by experts based on observations of topographical uplifts and other features.

He said a geological fault line that has shifted during the past 400,000 years could, therefore, move again in the future.

If the definition of active faults is broadened, some faults currently labeled as inactive may be earmarked for consideration in future discussions over anti-seismic design, possibly necessitating further reinforcement work at some nuclear reactors.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority is examining the anti-seismic guidelines as part of its review of safety standards for nuclear reactors. Shimazaki is the only seismologist among the five commissioners of the body, which means forthcoming discussions on the review are likely to be centered around his ideas.

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Japan Needs Nuclear Power to Offset High Gas Costs, Tanaka Says
Ben Sharples
Bloomberg Businessweek
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Japan, which pledged this year to scrap nuclear power by 2040, needs to keep atomic fuel in its electricity mix to offset rising energy costs and a possible military conflict in Iran, according to the former executive director of the International Energy Agency.

“Without nuclear, we have a very serious problem,” Nobuo Tanaka, now a global associate for energy security at the Institute of Energy Economics in Japan, said in an interview today in Singapore. He predicts that atomic power may contribute as much as 30 percent to the nation’s future mix and said phasing it out will prove to be “impossible.”

Japan’s government said in September it will eliminate atomic power following radiation leaks resulting from Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster. This decision may be reviewed in light of continued business support for reactors, the Institute of Energy Economics of Japan said yesterday. Keidanren, Japan’s biggest business lobby that includes industry giants like Toyota Motor Corp. as well as power utilities, has called the zero nuclear plan “unrealistic” and a threat to Japanese manufacturing.

While Japan is paying about five times as much for gas as buyers in the U.S., Yukio Edano, Japan’s Trade and Industry Minister, disagrees with those advocating getting as much as 25 percent of Japan’s future power from reactors.

“I don’t think the zero-nuclear scenario is any more negative than the 20 to 25 percent scenario for Japan’s economy,” Edano said Aug. 7. “Rather, it will positively impact the economy if we do it right,” and developing renewable-energy and power-saving technologies would boost domestic demand and improve Japan’s competitiveness, he said.

Conflict in Iran and the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, a transit route for 85 percent of Japan’s oil and 25 percent of its liquefied natural gas imports, adds energy risks, Tanaka said. A military strike by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities is the “most likely scenario,” he said.

All but two of Japan’s 50 reactors remain shut more than 18 months after an earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant and shattered public confidence in the safety of atomic power. The country’s utilities imported 5.31 million tons of LNG in August, a record for that month, the Federation of Electric Power Cos. said Sept. 14. Japan accounted for 18 percent of Asia-Pacific gas demand last year, according to BP.

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Surprisingly Japan Declines to Join 16 UN Countries in Outlawing Nuclear Weapons
Adam Westlake
The Japan Daily Press
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On Monday the Japanese government stated that it would not agree to join an initiative with 16 other countries from the U.N. to work towards outlawing nuclear weapons worldwide. The reason given was because it would not align with Japan’s security alliance with the United States. The refusal to join such a plan comes as a surprise, as Japan, the only nation to have ever had a nuclear weapon used against it, is usually seen as the forefront of the movement to end the world’s use of nuclear power.

The first statement of the initiative, including participation from nations like Switzerland and Norway, outlining the efforts to abolish nuclear weapons is set to be submitted to the U.N. General Assembly’s First Committee in New York City. Kazuya Shinba, Japan’s Senior Vice Foreign Minister, stated at a news conference that they will not be joining because the initiative is not consistent with Japan’s national security policy. Another Foreign Ministry official commented that in the arrangements made with the U.S. over security issues, it is necessary to have something that will discourage enemy actions, and that includes the use of nuclear weapons.

What this means is that Japan has to maintain the appearance of an ability to use nuclear weapons. If Japan was to officially commit to its refusal to use nuclear weapons, North Korea, for example, or China, would see the country as unable to truly retaliate in some kind of large-scale war. By declining to give up the ability to use nuclear weapons, they are telling any potentially hostile countries that they can defend themselves.

That doesn’t stop the refusal to outlaw nuclear weapons as seeming a bit contradictory, however. Local leaders from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two locations hit by the U.S.’s atomic bombs in World War II, along with the remaining survivors of those attacks, have campaigned around the world to bring an end to nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear power. Even Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda spoke at this year’s Nagasaki memorial, calling for a worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons. It’s a sad instance when something like a security alliance with another nation, or the necessity of keeping up aggressive appearances to the international community, result in the saying of one thing and doing another when it comes to nuclear weapons.

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Japan, IAEA Working on Fukushima Decontamination and Disposal Base
The Japan Times
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The International Atomic Energy Agency and the Japanese government plan to set up a long-term research base in Fukushima to study ways to decontaminate radiation-tainted areas and dispose of radioactive waste, government sources said Saturday.

Because of the massive fallout unleashed by Fukushima No. 1 core meltdowns following last year's massive earthquake and tsunami, vast areas of Fukushima Prefecture remain under evacuation. As of the beginning of the month, some 110,000 people were banned from their homes.

Through the multiyear project, the government aims to conduct field research it hopes will allow residents to return to the hot zone as soon as possible without endangering their health.

The IAEA is expected to dispatch researchers from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia who participated in the research and rebuilding efforts launched following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, which was then a part of the former Soviet Union, the sources said.

At the ministerial conference on nuclear safety in Fukushima on Dec. 15, the two parties hope to see Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato and IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano sign an agreement for the project.

Fukushima initially called on the IAEA to open an office in the prefecture, but the nuclear watchdog was unable to secure the funding needed.

The Japanese government, with the cooperation of Fukushima Prefecture, is seeking to secure a facility stocked with the necessary equipment by January, the sources said.

The central government has allotted ¥930 million from the fiscal 2011 budget to conduct joint projects with the IAEA and is negotiating to use part of those funds for the research project.

On Aug. 31, Sato visited IAEA headquarters in Vienna to request the IAEA's help with decontamination and other efforts.

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E.  Nuclear Energy

Bulgarians to Vote on New Nuclear Plant after Gov't Reversal
Tsvetelia Tsolova
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Bulgarians will vote on whether to build a new nuclear power plant in the Balkan country's first referendum since the fall of communism in 1989, parliament ruled on Wednesday.

The government earlier this year abandoned a 2,000-megawatt nuclear project at Belene, citing a lack of Western investors. But Russian state firm Atomstroyexport, which had a contract to build the plant, last month demanded 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in compensation for the cancellation.

The opposition Socialists demanded a referendum to challenge the decision to drop the project, which cost the government popularity against a backdrop of rising electricity prices and high unemployment in the European Union's poorest country.

Parliament voted 106-7 in favour of a referendum.

But the centre-right government of Boiko Borisov amended the question to be posed in the plebiscite. It will now ask, "Should we develop nuclear energy in Bulgaria by building a new nuclear power plant?" and not mentioning Belene specifically.

The original question was: "Should we develop nuclear energy by building a new power plant at the Belene site?" The Socialists abstained from parliament's vote in protest at the change in wording.

"By changing the question Borisov is already losing support," said Andrey Raichev of pollster Gallup International. "But the referendum is not going to decide next year's elections."

The referendum may well prove invalid because of a tough turnout requirement of matching the number of voters in the last parliamentary elections, or about 4.25 million out of a population of 7.3 million.

"It is a complete nonsense to expect that we will have that many people showing up at any referendum," said political analyst with Sofia University Rumiana Kolarova.

Many Bulgarians had hoped the Belene plant would help to restrain electricity prices. Bulgaria already has one operational 2,000 megawatt nuclear plant on the Danube River at Kozloduy which provides cheap electricity.

The Socialists collected over 770,000 signatures for a referendum, well above the minimum half-million required.

They said Borisov's GERB party had used its strength in parliament to override a significant degree of popular support for the nuclear project.

The president now has a month to set a date for the vote, which is most likely to be held in January.

Support for GERB has fallen in opinion polls to 21.4 percent compared with 16.1 percent for the Socialists, according to the latest survey by independent pollster Alpha Research.

Even if GERB remains the largest party in next year's election, it would probably need to strike a coalition deal with other parties to stay in power.

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China to Approve Only a Few New Reactors by 2015
David Stanway
(for personal use only)

China will approve a small number of new nuclear reactors before 2015 to be built only in coastal regions, the government said on Wednesday, as it unveiled a raft of measures to spur private investments in energy.

In its latest five-year plan for the energy sector, China said it would also promote price reforms for electricity, coal, oil and natural gas and pledged to boost its hydro, solar and wind power generation in an effort to cut emissions.

The approval of new nuclear safety and development plans comes after a near 20-month ban by Beijing on approvals of new plants following the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

The latest plan could pave the way for Beijing to resume approvals, which would be a boon to Chinese nuclear power equipment makers including Shanghai Electric Group Co. and Dongfang Electric Corp., whose long-term contracts have been frozen during the ban.

In a decision that could be good news for foreign reactor builders including France's Areva and U.S.-based Westinghouse, which is owned by Japan's Toshiba, China stipulated that new reactors would need to adhere to "third-generation" technology that meets the highest international safety standards.

China's current fleet of nuclear reactors is mostly second-generation and is based on a variety of designs from Canada, France and Russia.

The country is building four Westinghouse-designed AP1000 third-generation reactors, which will be the first of this model to go into operation globally, as well as two Areva EPRs in the southern province of Guangdong.

Before the disaster in Japan, China was widely expected to more than double its existing target of 40 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity by 2020, despite concerns about the reliability of its second-generation technologies as well as a shortage of regulators, safety inspectors and skilled staff.

The new sector guidelines include no new capacity target, but industry experts have said a more realistic figure would be 60 to 70 GW. Total capacity amounted to 12.57 GW by end-September.

In the wide-ranging document, Beijing also vowed to encourage more private investment in its state-dominated energy sector.

Included in the list of possible private investment targets were the exploration and development of energy resources, coal processing, oil refining, renewables, the construction of oil and natural gas pipelines and the electricity sector.

"All projects listed in the national energy program, except those forbidden by laws or regulations, are open to private capital," the document said.

Beijing also said it would welcome foreign investment, by the way of joint ventures, to develop its unconventional oil and gas resources. It also encouraged foreign investment in the building of nuclear stations and some lower-emission coal-fired power stations as long as the Chinese parties have control.

"China needs energy investment, that's why the government is encouraging private and foreign investment. But it is too early to say if they will have any material impact on the energy sector," said Wang Aochao, head of research at UOB Kay Hian in Shanghai.

Private firms currently are shut out of lucrative energy projects. Its oil market is dominated by two large state-owned oil companies, Sinopec and CNPC, which control domestic wholesale crude oil pricing.

China is preparing for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition in November, and its new leaders are widely expected to push for the sort of market-oriented reforms that will break up monopolies in sectors such as energy.

The government will speed up the reform of its state-owned enterprises, including the railway, postal and salt industries, and lower the threshold for entry into the telecoms, power, oil and petrochemical industries, the head of State Asset Supervision and Administration Commission said separately on Wednesday.

Large state enterprises will have to list their main business if conditions allow, Wang Yong was quoted as saying by state media Xinhua. For those not fit for listing, Beijing will encourage them to restructure and will introduce corporate governance rules.

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Dominion Closing Nuclear Plant Due to Low Natgas Prices
Scott Disavino
(for personal use only)

Dominion Resources Inc plans to shut its Kewaunee plant in Wisconsin next year, the first U.S. nuclear plant to fall victim to the steep drop in power prices as rising natural gas production makes some plants uncompetitive.

After claiming hundreds of coal-fired plants, the boom in U.S. shale gas output is now starting to grind down the nuclear industry, with smaller older plants like the 566-megawatt (MW) Kewaunee plant first to be affected.

The surge in U.S. shale gas has upended the domestic power market, and this year combined with flagging demand due to the struggling economy to send prices to near 10-year lows. For the nuclear industry, it means the Dominion plant -- which had been up for sale since April 2011 -- will be the first U.S. reactor to shut since the late 1990s.

The closing, which did not catch many in the industry by surprise, highlights the struggle of the U.S. "nuclear renaissance."

A decade ago, the nuclear industry talked about a nuclear renaissance due to rising fossil fuel prices and concerns about meeting greenhouse gas emissions, but the revival did not occur in the United States as the cost of fossil fuels like natural gas fell and the federal government has been slow to put a price on carbon.

Recently, the rush of domestic gas into the U.S. market and public concerns following the Fukushima disaster in Japan have helped to scuttle some plans to build new reactors.

Natural gas' share of total U.S. generation has increased to 30 percent this year from about 20 percent in 2006, while the percentage from nuclear has held steady at about 20 percent.

Power prices in the PJM grid, the nation's biggest power grid, for the first nine months of 2012 were down almost 30 percent from the same period last year and the lowest since 2002.

For Virginia-based Dominion, the decision to decommission the plant, in the second quarter of next year, was "based purely on economics," according to Thomas Farrell, Dominion chairman, president and chief executive.

Attempts to find a buyer failed, even thorough the plant had a renewed license that did not expire until 2033. With natural gas prices expected to remain under pressure from rising shale output, the company decided to take a third-quarter after-tax charge of $281 million to decommission Kewaunee.

"Dominion was not able to move forward with our plan to grow our nuclear fleet in the Midwest to take advantage of economies of scale," Farrell said in a statement.

The station will remain under the oversight of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) throughout the decommissioning process.

Following the station's shutdown, Dominion said it plans to meet its obligations to the two Wisconsin utilities -- Integrys Energy Group Inc's Wisconsin Public Service unit and Alliant Energy Corp's Wisconsin Power and Light unit --that buy power from Kewaunee under power purchase agreements expiring in December 2013.

"Kewaunee's power purchase agreements are ending at a time of projected low wholesale electricity prices in the region," said Farrell.

Kewaunee is located on Lake Michigan, about 35 miles southeast of Green Bay. It began commercial operation in 1974 and has a Westinghouse pressurized water reactor.

Dominion is one of the top U.S. power generating companies, with about 27,400 MW of capacity. It serves close to 6 million utility and retail energy customers in 15 states. Shares of the company ended regular trading on Monday down 1 percent at $52.96.

While nuclear plants can still produce power more cheaply than natural gas, analysts say future capital investments, which could run into the hundreds of millions or more at existing reactors, might prompt operators to shut some units.

"A number of nuclear units won't run their 60-year licensed lives if current gas price forecasts prove accurate," said Peter Bradford, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and current professor of energy policy and law at the Vermont Law School.

"The determining factor is likely to come at the point at which they need to decide on a major capital investment."

Bradford pointed to Duke Energy Corp's Crystal River reactor in Florida, which may need a new containment dome that could cost more than $3 billion, and Edison International's San Onofre reactors in California, which may need new steam generators.

Especially vulnerable under this scenario would be small, old single reactor sites.

Other units that could be on the hit list because they fit the profile include Exelon Corp's Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Xcel Energy Inc's Monticello in Minnesota, and Entergy Corp's Palisades in Michigan, Vermont Yankee in Vermont and Pilgrim in Massachusetts.

"Future decisions will be made on a case by case basis determined by the circumstances unique to each facility, just as is the case for fossil-fueled power plants," said Steven Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group.

Kerekes noted that so far coal-fired plants had borne the brunt of the competition from cheap gas, as they collectively face billions of dollars worth of investment to upgrade systems to meet increasingly strict federal environmental regulations.

Generators have already announced the retirement or fuel conversion of more than 35,000 MW of coal-fired power plants, which is more than 10 percent of the nation's total coal-fired fleet.

Despite the planned shutdown of Kewaunee, Farrell said Dominion, which also owns reactors in Virginia and Connecticut, still firmly believes nuclear energy must play an important part in the nation's energy future.

"The situation Dominion faces at Kewaunee is the result of circumstances unique to the station and do not reflect the nuclear industry in general," Farrell said.

"The nation will be hard-pressed to meet its energy needs, let alone do so in a secure and affordable manner, without a robust and growing nuclear energy program,"

Analysts also insist larger nuclear plants, which have better economies of scale, will remain profitable and in business.

"We agree that the economics of Kewaunee were uniquely challenged given its small size and regionally depressed power prices," said UBS Research.

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F.  Nuclear Cooperation

EON, RWE Said to Sell British Nuclear Venture to Hitachi
Tino Andresen, Aaron Kirchfeld and Sally Bakewell
(for personal use only)

EON AG (EOAN) and RWE AG (RWE), Germany’s two largest utilities, are set to sell their U.K. venture Horizon Nuclear Power to Japan’s Hitachi Ltd. (6501), people familiar with the matter said.

The sale for the venture with government backing to build plants in Wales and western England will be signed in the next few days, according to two people, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations are private.

The deal would be a boost for the U.K. government, which is seeking to spur new reactors to replace aging power plants, upgrade grids and cut pollution at a cost of 110 billion pounds ($178 billion). EON and RWE decided to sell Horizon after Germany said it will close all of its reactors following last year’s disaster in Japan, prompting the utilities to pull out of the nuclear industry worldwide. That left the U.K. as one of only three western European nations pursuing new reactors.

Keisaku Shibatani, a spokesman for Hitachi, said the company had put in a bid and declined to comment further. Officials at RWE and EON declined to comment. An official at the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change said that while the deal was a commercial matter for RWE and EON, there had been strong interest in buying Horizon.

While Britain has no specific target for new nuclear, industry has set out plans to build 16 gigawatts of new reactors by 2025. The U.K. has designated eight sites for plants. The program appeared to unravel when Areva SA and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group Co. decided against bidding for Horizon this month and SSE Plc (SSE) earlier gave up plans. That left Electricite de France SA (EDF), Iberdrola SA (IBE) and GDF Suez (GSZ) SA as the only developers progressing U.K. nuclear plans.

“It’s the best news that one can imagine at this stage but it’s not a guarantee that new nuclear is going to go ahead,” said Malcolm Grimston, an analyst at the Chatham House research group in London.

The atomic program will hinge on legislation overhauling the electricity market including contracts that guarantee prices for power, Grimston said. Energy Secretary Ed Davey will put his final proposals for an Energy Bill before Parliament next month.

DECC is currently negotiating with EDF on the commercial terms of the U.K.’s first atomic project since the 1980s. EDF said Oct. 23 a final investment decision for the Somerset-based reactors required more progress and a compeling business case.

Hitachi’s Advanced Boiling Water Reactor, which it makes with General Electric Co., has been licensed in the U.S., Taiwan and Japan. While it is yet to seek U.K. approval through a process known as Generic Design Assessment, the reactor equipment already operates in Japan.

“In terms of global positioning of the technology, it’s ahead of the game,” Grimston said by phone. “Inherently, you’d think that it would be easier to get a GDA for a case where the inspectors can actually look at one working.”

A team comprising Westinghouse Electric Co. and China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. was also expected to bid for the Horizon venture. Westinghouse’s AP1000 model and a design by Areva SA (AREVA), called the European Pressurized Reactor, received “interim” approvals from British regulators on Dec. 14 under the GDA process.

Westinghouse U.K. Chief Executive Officer Mike Tynan said on Sept. 27. his company had paused the process until it has a British customer while Areva’s EPR continues to answer questions identified by regulators.

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Jordan Ends Uranium Deal with France Nuclear Giant
(for personal use only)

Jordan said on Tuesday it had terminated a uranium mining licence for a joint venture between Areva and a local firm, but the French nuclear giant insisted the agreement was only covering exploration.

"The licence for the Jordanian French Uranium Mining Company (JFUMC) to mine for uranium in central Jordan is now void," the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission said in a statement carried by state-run Petra news agency.

"With this decision, the mining agreement has been terminated by mutual consent of all parties to the agreement without any liability on any of the parties involved in the mining agreement."

The commission said JFUMC had "failed to submit its report on time."

The joint venture between Jordan Energy Resources Incorporated (JERI) and Areva said in a June report that the overall uranium potential on the licensed 70 square kilometre (27 square miles) area exceeds 20,000 tonnes.

But an Areva spokesman said it "had never been agreed that (the venture) would lead to production."

"We created a joint-venture with JERI and the JFUMC as part of an agreement on uranium exploration in Jordan, which was due to expire this year (in January)," he told AFP.

"After having extended the convention for a few months, we agreed with our partners to end it... we consider that the job was done."

The spokesman insisted the agreement "was only covering exploration and it had never been agreed that it would lead to production."

The commission said in the statement that a leading Australian company had discovered uranium resources in central Jordan were more than double the amount announced by the JFUMC.

"Since then and under the supervision of a first class specialised international auditor, the parties conducted further field tests and algorithm analysis. As a consequence, the uranium concentration in the top layers should be adjusted with a doubling of the grades as indicated," it said.

"After consultations with other leading companies around the world, the commission will continue exploration in central Jordan, depending on local expertise," it added.

The termination of the licence "does not place any financial or legal liability on any party. The Jordanian French Uranium Mining Company will be responsible for the exploration cost of 20 million dinars ($28 million)," it said.

In 2010, Amman signed an agreement with Areva giving it exclusive uranium mining rights in central Jordan.

Jordan is currently weighing an offer by a consortium formed by Areva and Japan's Mitsubishi as well as a proposal by Russia's Atomstroyexport to build the country's first nuclear plant.

With desert covering 92 percent of its territory, the kingdom is one of the world's 10 driest countries and wants to use atomic energy to fire desalination plants to overcome its crippling water shortage.

Importing 98 percent of its power needs, Jordan also wants to develop nuclear technology to meet its growing energy requirements.

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Nuclear Test Ban Body's New Head to Seek Compliance of Key Powers
Fredrik Dahl
(for personal use only)

A 183-nation body set up to monitor a ban on nuclear bomb tests elected a new head on Tuesday to face the tricky task of helping convince the United States and other hold-outs to finally turn the landmark treaty into global law.

After four rounds of voting to separate the five candidates, Burkina Faso geophysicist Lassina Zerbo was picked as new executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

Seen as a cornerstone of efforts to free the world of atomic bombs, the pact, negotiated in the 1990s, enjoys wide support around the world but still needs to be ratified by eight more so-called nuclear technology states to come into force.

Backers of the CTBT say it has already had a major impact in reducing the number of nuclear tests in the world but that this achievement may be jeopardized if it does not take legal force.

"The next two years are very critical," an African diplomat said, warning that some countries may "start losing interest".

Zerbo - who now heads the CTBTO's International Data Centre and will succeed Hungary's Tibor Toth - can play an important role in promoting the test ban by showing the effectiveness of the agency overseeing it, diplomats say.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama - who is up for re-election next month - has said it is preparing a new push for Senate approval, arguing the country no longer needs to conduct atomic tests but does need to stop others from doing so.

More than 2,000 nuclear tests were carried out between 1945 and 1996, when the CTBT opened for signature, most of them by the United States and the then-Soviet Union. Since then, only India, Pakistan and North Korea have conducted such blasts.

"But until the CTBT enters into force, the door to testing is still open," said Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based advocacy and research group.

The United States is one of eight countries - together with China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, North Korea and Egypt - whose ratification is needed for the pact that has so far been ratified by 157 states to take effect.

Proponents say U.S. ratification of the pact, rejected by Washington lawmakers in 1999, could encourage others to follow.

They say a global test ban would make it more difficult both for non-nuclear states to acquire atomic bombs and for nuclear powers to develop even more advanced weapons.

The United States and China are two of the world's five officially recognized nuclear weapons states, together with Britain, Russia and France.

India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel are outside the separate nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the 1970 pact meant to prevent the spread of nuclear arms. Iran is part of the NPT but the West accuses it of seeking covertly to develop a capability to build atomic bombs. Tehran denies the charge.

At the time of the U.S. Senate vote on the CTBT 13 years ago, opponents argued that a permanent end to testing could erode the reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The United States last carried out a nuclear test two decades ago.

The CTBTO has established a system to detect any nuclear blasts, with more than 280 monitoring sites in the world.

An adequately funded and effective "verification regime will hasten the treaty's entry into force by demonstrating the capability to detect and deter violations," U.S. diplomat John Godfrey told delegates at this week's CTBTO meeting in Vienna.

But nuclear expert Henry Sokolski said the treaty was unlikely to get past U.S. Republicans "still upset" about the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, which the administration had difficulty winning Senate backing for.

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G.  Links of Interest

More Nuclear, Say UK Residents
World Nuclear News
(for personal use only)

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Russia to Commission First Borey Class Nuclear Sub in 2013
RIA Novosti
(for personal use only)

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