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Nuclear News - 10/4/2012
PGS Nuclear News, October 4, 2012
Compiled By: Pia Ulrich

A.  Iran
    1. U.N. Atomic Agency Says No Date Set for Fresh Iran Talks, Reuters (10/4/2012)
    2. Iran to Enrich Uranium to 60% if P5+1 Talks Drag On: MP, Press TV (10/2/2012)
    3. Iran May still Be Years Away from any Nuclear-Armed Missile, Fredrik Dahl, Reuters (10/2/2012)
B.  North Korea
    1. Korea Peninsula Could Face 'Thermonuclear War,' North Tells UN, Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols, Reuters (10/1/2012)
C.  Nuclear Energy
    1. EDF Seeks Compensation for Fessenheim Reactor Halt, CEO Says, Tara Patel, Bloomberg, Bloomberg (10/4/2012)
    2. U.S. Regulations Stricter than Russia, South Korea, Swagato Chakravorty, Energy and Capital (10/3/2012)
    3. Lithuanian Nuclear Plant Raises Eyebrows, UPI (10/1/2012)
D.  Nuclear Cooperation
    1. Areva, Guangdong Nuclear Decide Against U.K. Atomic Bidding, Sally Bakewell and Alex Morales, Bloomberg Businessweek (10/3/2012)
E.  Nuclear Safety & Security
    1. New Nuclear Disaster Guidelines Raise Hurdles for Nuke Plant Reactivation, The Mainichi (10/4/2012)
    2. EU Questions Safety of German Nuclear Reactors, Wolfgang Dick, Deutsche Welle (10/4/2012)
    3. New Regulatory Body Won't Determine Whether to Restart Nuke Reactors, Power Engineering (10/4/2012)
    4. Problems Not Apparently Serious, but Public Trust at a Low Regarding Nuclear Plant Safety, Lee Keun-young, The Hankyoreh (10/3/2012)
    5. EU Nuclear Reactors Need 10-25 Billion Euros Safety Spend, Barbara Lewis, Reuters (10/2/2012)
F.  Links of Interest
    1. U.S. Urges Japan to Keep Stored Plutonium to a Minimum, Japan Times (10/4/2012)
    2. UPF to Be Redesigned because Equipment Won't Fit; $500M already Spent on Y-12 Project,, Frank Munger, KnoxNews (10/2/2012)
    3. Japan Agency To Study Radiation Fallout From Fukushima, RTT News (10/2/2012)

A.  Iran

U.N. Atomic Agency Says No Date Set for Fresh Iran Talks
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The U.N. atomic agency has yet to agree a date for further talks with Iran and has little hope for a speedy resolution to a standoff with Tehran over its nuclear program, the head of the nuclear watchdog said on Thursday.

Efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to engage with Iran over suspicions it has been conducting research into developing nuclear weapons have stalled and a hoped for meeting this month would not be possible, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told reporters following an address in Sydney.

"We are committed for dialogue and we are ready to have a meeting at an early date but the fact is, that as of today, no specific date is decided for a meeting," Amano said.

Any meeting would take at least a month to organize, he said, adding he saw no sign a resolution was near.

"We need to see how the dialogue will be when we meet. But it took almost one year and we haven't produced any concrete results so therefore we don't have the reason to believe overnight everything would change - I don't have that indication either."

The six countries involved in discussions over Iran's program have held three rounds of talks with Tehran this year without visible progress. A U.S. official voiced hope last week for a fourth round "in the not too distant future".

Israel, Iran's arch foe, says Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability and last week warned the Islamic state will be on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon by mid-2013.

But Western experts believe Iran is still a few years away from being able to assemble a nuclear-armed missile.

Last month, Iran accused the IAEA of passing on confidential details of its atomic work to Israel, and a military commander said Tehran may consider a pre-emptive strike on the Jewish state if it looked set to attack.

Iran, one of the world's largest oil producers, says its nuclear program is aimed at producing electricity, not making nuclear bombs.

Amano said the agency had "no particular" new information on Iran's program since November when it released a trove of intelligence on past and possibly continuing efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

"The fact is Iran continues to enrich uranium...contrary to the U.N. Security Council resolution," Amano said.

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Iran May still Be Years Away from any Nuclear-Armed Missile
Fredrik Dahl
(for personal use only)

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

Israel's warning last week that Iran will be on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon by mid-2013 seemed to refer to when it could have a sufficient stock of higher-grade uranium to make a quick dash to produce a bomb's worth of weapon-grade material.

But, analysts say, Tehran would need time also for the technologically complicated task of fashioning highly refined uranium gas into a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a missile - if it opts for such weapons of mass destruction.

"If they haven't worked out all the steps with dummy materials beforehand they will have a lot to do," said a Vienna-based diplomat who is not from one of the six world powers involved in diplomacy over Iran's disputed nuclear activity.

"Maybe they have all of the equipment ready. Maybe they have played with surrogate materials. I don't think anyone knows."

Experts stress that timeline estimates are fraught with uncertainty as it is unclear how advanced the Islamic Republic may be in its suspected nuclear bomb research.

"I still think that we are talking about several years ... before Iran could develop a nuclear weapon and certainly before they could have a deliverable nuclear weapon," said Shannon Kile, head of the Nuclear Weapons Project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think-tank.

Iran rejects suspicions of a covert quest for atomic bomb capability. But its refusal to curb nuclear work with both civilian and military applications, and its lack of openness with U.N. inspectors, have drawn tough Western sanctions.

A high-level group of U.S. security experts - including former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage - estimated that Iran would need between one and four months to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear device.

"Additional time - up to two years, according to conservative estimates - would be required for Iran to build a nuclear warhead that would be reliably deliverable by a missile," they said in a report published last month.

Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank, also said Iran would need at least two years for assembling a nuclear-tipped missile.

Senior researcher Greg Jones of the U.S.-based Nonproliferation Policy Education Center put forward a much quicker breakout scenario for any bomb bid and suggested a truck rather than a missile could be used for delivery to target.

Iran could refine uranium for a nuclear weapon in 10 weeks and produce the required non-nuclear components in six months or less, he said, adding this could be done simultaneously.

But the IISS argued in a report last year that the weaponisation time must be added to that required to produce the fissile material to calculate when a usable bomb could be made.

Making the actual weapon entails converting uranium gas to metal, designing a nuclear triggering device and the production and fitting of spherical explosive lenses, it said.

The United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last year published a report with a trove of intelligence indicating past, and some possibly continuing, research activities in Iran that could be relevant for nuclear weapons.

They included suspected high explosive experiments and possible work on designing a device to produce a burst of neutrons for setting off a fission chain reaction.

"The information indicates that prior to the end of 2003 the activities took place under a structured program; that some continued after 2003; and that some may still be ongoing," the IAEA said in its latest report on Iran, issued in late August.

Washington still believes that Iran is not on the verge of having a nuclear bomb and that it has not made a decision to pursue one, U.S. officials said in August.

Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has threatened military action to stop Iran obtaining such weaponry, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week signaled any attack was not on the cards this year.

In a speech at the annual United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Netanyahu drew a "red line" on a cartoon bomb just below a label in which Iran was 90 percent along the path to having sufficient weapons-grade material.

Experts put that at the point when Iran has amassed enough uranium, purified to a fissile level of 20 percent, that could quickly be enriched further and be used to produce a bomb.

Iran has produced more than 6.8 tonnes of uranium refined up to 5 percent since 2007, an amount experts say could be used for about five nuclear weapons if processed much further.

Worryingly for the West and Israel, some of that material has been refined to 20 percent, representing most of the effort involved in reaching potential bomb material.

According to the latest IAEA report, Iran has produced about 190 kg of this higher-grade uranium, about half of which has been earmarked for conversion into research reactor fuel, leaving a stockpile in August of just over 90 kg.

Traditionally, about 250 kg is estimated to be needed for a bomb, but some believe less would do.

"It is widely known that even a first device can be made with much less," the diplomat in Vienna said. But, "no one breaks out to make one warhead. Estimates vary but most think three to five warheads is a minimum to be a real nuclear power."

An Israeli official briefed on the Netanyahu government's Iran strategy told Reuters: "Once Iran gets its first device, no matter how rudimentary, it's a nuclear power and a nuclear menace. With that said, we have always noted that, from this threshold, it would take Iran another two years or so to make a deployable warhead."

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Iran to Enrich Uranium to 60% if P5+1 Talks Drag On: MP
Press TV
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An Iranian lawmaker says the Islamic Republic will enrich uranium up to 60-percent purity if negotiations with world’s major powers (the P5+1) prove ineffective.

“In case our [multifaceted] talks with the P5+1 group -- including the US, the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany -- fail to pay off, Iranian youth will master [the technology for] enrichment [of uranium] up to 60 percent [purity] to fuel [Iranian] submarines and ocean-going ships,” Mansour Haqiqatpour, deputy head of Iran Majlis (parliament) Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said on Tuesday.

“The P5+1 that postpone negotiations [with Iran] to the future should know that if these talks continue into next year, Iran cannot guarantee it would keep its enrichment limited to 20 percent. This [level of] enrichment is likely to increase to 40 or 50 percent,” he said.

“They should not think that we will stay calm in the face of threats, sanctions and pressure,” the Iranian MP noted.

The United States, Israel and some of their allies have repeatedly accused Iran of pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program.

Iran argues that as a signatory to Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it is entitled to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

IAEA has conducted numerous inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities, but has never found any evidence indicating diversion in Tehran's nuclear energy program toward military purposes.

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B.  North Korea

Korea Peninsula Could Face 'Thermonuclear War,' North Tells UN
Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols
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U.S. policy toward North Korea has made the Korean peninsula the most dangerous place on the planet because a "spark" there could ignite a nuclear war, a senior North Korean official told the U.N. General Assembly on Monday.

One of the last speakers at the 193-nation assembly's annual gathering in New York, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Pak Kil-yon was also full of praise for Kim Jong-un, the reclusive communist country's young new leader.

"Today, due to the continued U.S. hostile policy towards DPRK, the vicious cycle of confrontation and aggravation of tensions is an ongoing phenomenon on the Korean peninsula, which has become the world's most dangerous hot spot where a spark of fire could set off a thermonuclear war," Pak said.

DPRK refers to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the country's official name.

Speaking of North Korea's nuclear "deterrent," Pak said that it was a "mighty weapon that defends the country's sovereignty."

North Korea is under U.N. Security Council sanctions due to its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests. Earlier this year, Western powers had expressed concern that North Korea would carry out another atomic test but that detonation never took place.

North Korea has long argued that in the face of a hostile United States, which has military bases in South Korea and Japan, it needs a nuclear arsenal to defend itself.

Six-party aid-for-disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China have been stalled since 2008.

Pak said that the North Korean people were united behind their new leader, who came to power after Kim's father Kim Jong-il died last December.

"Our dear respected marshal, Kim Jong-un, is firmly determined to make our people, who have overcome manifold hardships, enjoy a happy life to their heart's content in a prosperous, socialist state," he said.

"Our people are following dear respected marshal Kim Jong-un with absolute trust in him and are vigorously advancing to the final victory with full conviction and optimism about the future, single-heartedly united behind him," Pak said.

United Nations estimates show that a third of North Korea's population is malnourished, and the economy still has yet to regain output levels seen in the 1990s, when a devastating famine and the withdrawal of Soviet aid hit the country hard.

A formal peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean War between the North and South, rather than the armistice in place, has been a longstanding demand from North Korea, which wants diplomatic recognition from the United States.

The United States and its ally South Korea, which is host to more than 28,000 U.S. troops, insist that North Korea give up its nuclear ambitions before considering a peace treaty and large-scale economic aid.

North Korea withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, the first country to do so. For North Korea, analysts say its ability to threaten nuclear war has long been its only real diplomatic leverage with the outside world, especially the United States.

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C.  Nuclear Energy

EDF Seeks Compensation for Fessenheim Reactor Halt, CEO Says
Tara Patel, Bloomberg
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Electricite de France SA will hold talks with the French government about compensation for the planned shutdown of the utility’s oldest nuclear plant, Chief Executive Officer Henri Proglio said.

“Discussions will be started with the government,” he said today in an interview on RTL radio. “I am responsible for a company so I am responsible vis a vis my investors to defend the interests of the company. That’s legitimate.”

French President Francois Hollande said Sept. 14 Fessenheim will be shut at the end of 2016, marking the first step in his bid to reduce the nation’s reliance on atomic power. The Fukushima disaster in Japan prompted concern that the plant, which has two 900-megawatt reactors that began operating in 1977, wouldn’t be able to withstand an earthquake or flooding.

France holds 84 percent of EDF (EDF), which owns the country’s 58 working nuclear reactors and is developing a new one in Flamanville in Normandy. Proglio has said he wants to extend the lifetime of EDF’s reactors to as much as 60 years, a strategy that could be revised due to Hollande’s policy.

“I will speak with the state about the consequences,” of shutting Fessenheim, Proglio said today.

EDF allocates 17.5 percent of the power produced by the 1,800 megawatt Fessenheim plant to German utility EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG (EBK) and 15 percent to Swiss electricity consortium CNP, according to the company’s annual report.

France gets more than three-quarters of its electricity production from nuclear reactors, a higher proportion of nuclear energy than any other country. Hollande has pledged to boost renewable energy, bringing reliance on nuclear power down to 50 percent by about 2025.

Projections for rising power demand by 2025 from a combination of an increased French population and economic growth could bring the proportion of electricity provided by EDF’s existing reactors down to 50 percent, Proglio said today.

The utility’s generating capacity is valued at 450 billion euros ($583 billion), he said. This includes 100 billion euros for hydroelectric dams, 250 billion euros for nuclear reactors and 50 billion euros for the grid.

EDF slipped 0.4 percent to 16.75 euros at 9:47 a.m. in Paris, giving the utility a market value of 31 billion euros.

EDF may be forced by the country’s atomic safety watchdog to shut Fessenheim as early as the middle of next year if it doesn’t carry out work to bolster the site’s defenses against a meltdown. The regulator is evaluating the utility’s plans for the modifications.

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U.S. Regulations Stricter than Russia, South Korea
Swagato Chakravorty
Energy and Capital
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Domestic demand for U.S. nuclear reactors is on the decline, and as a result, the industry is pushing for relaxed export restrictions so that it can more readily sell technology and equipment to China, Russia, and other nations where nuclear power is still in heavy demand.

Most of the regulations in question were put in place in the aftermath of the Cold War, and they naturally put domestic suppliers at a distinct disadvantage on the world market, which could be worth as much as a quarter of a trillion dollars within just ten years.

The U.S. regulations are more cumbersome than comparable rules in France, Japan, Russia, and even South Korea, according to a report authored by the Nuclear Energy Institute. Competing suppliers to Nuclear Energy Institute members like Exelon Corp. (NYSE: EXC) and Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) are based in those countries.

This year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its first nuclear reactor construction licenses in over 30 years, even as domestic demand is crashing thanks to booming natural gas production.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is charging ahead with plans to develop reactors, despite the attention-grabbing disaster at Fukushima just recently. China is currently building 26 reactors, Russia’s constructing 10, and India is developing 7 reactors.

Over the next decade, demand for commercial nuclear technology could be worth between $500 and $740 billion, and the sector could support tens of thousands of jobs. Most other nations have a single agency that regulates exports; in the U.S., the process is managed by the Commerce, Energy, and State Departments, as well as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And the latter bars exports to six countries including Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.

All in all, the U.S. system is very leaden, and that’s exactly what industry groups and leaders are pushing against. As a starting move toward a possible overhaul, the Energy Department has suggested some revisions that could significantly rework the regulatory framework, but it’s a slow process and plenty remains to be done.

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Lithuanian Nuclear Plant Raises Eyebrows
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The international director for Greenpeace expressed concern over plans to build a nuclear power station in Lithuania, citing safety and cost concerns.

Lithuania is to have a non-binding referendum Oct. 13 on whether to move ahead with the construction of the Visaginas nuclear power plant.

The project, if completed, could generate as much as 3,400 megawatts of electricity for Lithuania. The project company states the country is "extremely dependent" on electricity generated from fossil fuels and most of those resources are imported from Russia.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo expressed concerns about the project in an open letter to the Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius.

"We call upon you to stimulate a more open and evidence-based public debate on nuclear power before the referendum so that Lithuanian citizens are able to make their minds up with all the facts at their disposal," the letter read.

Greenpeace says regional and international plans to cancel various nuclear power plants suggest that form of energy is priced out of the market. Safety issues in the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster in 2011, meanwhile, highlight growing concerns about nuclear energy.

The European Commission in June stressed radioactive waste disposal was a long-term concern but said safety matters are best left to independent governments. The commission said "the Visaginas project contributes to a sustainable energy mix on national as well as regional level."

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D.  Nuclear Cooperation

Areva, Guangdong Nuclear Decide Against U.K. Atomic Bidding
Sally Bakewell and Alex Morales
Bloomberg Businessweek
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Areva SA (AREVA) and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group Co. decided against bidding for the Horizon venture in the U.K. being sold by German utilities EON AG and RWE AG. (RWE)

Areva, based in Paris, and the Chinese company “suspended their interest in the planned sale,” Patricia Marie, a spokeswoman at the French developer, said today by e-mail.

The company said July 7 it would team up with utilities and CGNPGC to bid for the venture, which has government backing to set up reactors in Wales and western England.

Areva’s group was one of three expected to bid for Horizon by Sept. 28. A Hitachi Ltd (6501).-led partnership put in a proposal, Keisaku Shibatani, a spokesman, said today by phone, declining to name its partners. A group comprising Westinghouse Electric Co. and China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. was also expected to bid. Westinghouse U.K. Chief Executive Officer Mike Tynan couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Areva’s action is a blow to Britain’s nuclear plans as it seeks to replace atomic plants, upgrade grids and cut emissions requiring about 110 billion pounds ($177 billion) of investment by 2020. The U.K. is one of only three western European nations pursuing new nuclear plants after last year’s disaster in Japan.

“We are seeing a high level of interest in the U.K. nuclear market, including from a diverse range of potential new entrants,” the Department of Energy and Climate said by e-mail.

Officials at RWE and EON, which in March pulled out of the venture because of rising costs, declined to comment.

The decision to withdraw probably came from the Chinese contingent, Malcolm Grimston, an analyst at Chatham House in London, said today by phone. The Chinese may have provided most of the investment with Areva as plant provider, Grimston said.

“Having other companies there with the money to build them would have been helpful,” he said. All of Britain’s nuclear reactors are due to shut by 2035 and it’s seeking to spur new plant projects through a bill that guarantees power contracts.

Areva’s EPR reactor, which is in the final stages of the U.K. assessment process for new designs, is being built in Finland, France and China. Electricite de France SA plans to use two EPRs at its Hinkley Point site in Somerset and two at Sizewell in Suffolk. EDF plans to make a final investment decision on Hinkley Point by the year-end, while Iberdrola SA (IBE) and GDF Suez (GSZ) SA are also pursuing their U.K. nuclear plans.

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E.  Nuclear Safety & Security

EU Questions Safety of German Nuclear Reactors
Wolfgang Dick
Deutsche Welle
(for personal use only)

German nuclear power plants have lax safety measures and poor maintenance, says a soon-to-be-released report by the European Commission. But critics say the EU didn't evaluate the plants' readiness against terrorism.

In 10 years, the German government plans to shut down the last of the nine nuclear power plants still in operation. Reactors that have been already been shut down should be monitored and continue to pose safety risks, according to a European Commission study set to be released this month.

For its part, the German Environment Ministry did not comment on the Commission's assessment of actual or alleged security shortcomings at the facilities that are still operating.The Environment Ministry said there were no problems with cooling water, electric supply or the emergency measures. But EU experts saw the situation differently after conducting their "stress tests." Nuclear power plants in Germany lack earthquake warning systems and the country is yet to implement international guidelines for serious accident, they said.

The energy companies that operate Germany's nuclear power plants pointed out that hardly any of the facilities are in earthquake-prone areas. The German nuclear industry has adhered to all the all major safety guidelines, an industry spokesman said, adding that the Biblis nuclear power plant was taken offline after several incidents in the seismically active Rhine rift.

A recent incident at a nuclear power plant in Brokdorf, in the state of Lower Saxony, showed what critics called the greatest danger: mistakes during maintenance. Output at the facility fell sharply on Sunday (30.09.2012) due to a loss of power when a maintenance team changed the power supply. Older operating nuclear power plants also need to be gradually updated. But there have been frequent problems when replacing analog parts with newer digital ones.

For example, the control system of Germany's oldest pressurized water reactor, Neckarwestheim I, was blocked during the installation of digital control parts, according to report to the country's Nuclear Safety Commission. The report also stated that the window for maintenance work had been reduced from four weeks to two week and that trained assistants were responsible for some maintenance.

The EU Commission's report did not cover preparations to fend off terrorist attacks - an aspect that has been long criticized in current measures. A study commissioned by the German government and conducted in the United States shed light on how reactors could be better protected against terrorist attacks using aircraft or anti-tank weapons. The walls of the reactor units can be reinforced with an additional two to three meters of concrete, steel mesh and fogging systems, the study suggested.

Nuclear power plant operators, major power companies, the Environment Ministry and the Society for Plant and Reactor Safety will not reveal whether any, or all, of these proposals have already been implemented stating that the information was classified company secrets.

NGOs like Greenpeace and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) provide their own information nuclear power plant safety in Germany. Both organizations have commissioned their own investigations. The results show that none of the German nuclear power plant could withstand the crash of a large aircraft, said Tobias Riedl from Greenpeace. The danger is particularly high at old power plants because the walls are thinner than newer facilities. Even small planes could cause widespread damage at one of the older plants, he said. In addition, the reactors were poorly protected against fire.

The Society for Plant and Reactor Safety proposed that passenger aircraft incorporate special electronics that automatically redirect aircraft if they deviate from their course and fly too close to a nuclear plant. But officials could not confirm whether such a security measure has been implemented. Instead, regulatory authorities for nuclear power plants said helicopters can no longer land in the vicinity of nuclear reactors.

Critics of nuclear energy have said no German nuclear power station is sufficiently protected against natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes. Most walls, ducts and mounting systems are too weak to withstand an earthquake, said Henrik Paulitz who has worked with nuclear safety reports for years with IPPNW. During floods, water has penetrated into the reactor buildings. He also warned against the reliability of emergency power supplies as there have been times when they did not work properly in the past.

A decision by the Federal Administrative Court obligated nuclear power plant operators to retrofit safety equipment - under the condition that costs and effort are reasonable. Most nuclear plant operators feel the desired improvements are too expensive.

In the agreement to extend the operating life of plants, nuclear power plant operators received assurances from the German government that they would pay a maximum of 500 million euros in upgrade costs to modernize reactors. If retrofitting costs exceeded this amount, the companies would be permitted to reduce contributions into state environmental funds.

When asked about safety flaws at nuclear power plants, operators referred to risk studies showing the safety of nuclear power. One of the frequently quoted studies from the Society for Plant and Reactor Safety dates back to 1989 and said a serious accident in German nuclear power plants can be expected only every 33,000 years. But the report did not address when the accident would occur and its likely consequences.

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New Nuclear Disaster Guidelines Raise Hurdles for Nuke Plant Reactivation
The Mainichi
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The new nuclear disaster guidelines released by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) largely expanded the municipalities to fall under anti-disaster measures from 45 to 135 cities, towns and villages, raising hurdles for the reactivation of nuclear plants that require local permission.

The NRA released the new guidelines on Oct. 3 and they presuppose that "nuclear accidents could happen," according to an NRA member. Under the latest guidelines, the number of municipalities subjected to disaster prevention measures was raised from 45 in 15 prefectures to 135 in 21 prefectures. Because power companies are required to gain understanding from local municipalities surrounding nuclear plants before reactivating reactors, the new guidelines apparently made it more difficult for early plant restarts.

Meanwhile, areas that had thus far been free from nuclear disaster prevention are now faced with the need to pursue measures for resident evacuation and other steps, leaving some municipalities at odds.

"We have yet to examine where and how all our residents would be evacuated," said an official with the Ibaraki Prefectural Government's nuclear safety measures department. The prefecture hosts the Tokai No. 2 Power Station, whose Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone (UPZ) is home to some 930,000 residents -- the nation's largest.

According to an estimate by the Ibaraki Prefectural Government, the 7,080 buses registered in the prefecture can only transport up to 240,000 people. The prefectural government also envisages evacuation using private cars but is faced by a mountain of challenges including traffic jams.

The Tokai Municipal Government has repeatedly asked the Ibaraki Prefectural Government to "take the initiative in deciding where to evacuate residents as it is expected to become an extensive evacuation," whenever information exchange meetings were held between village and prefectural officials in charge.

In June, the Ibaraki Prefectural Government organized a study meeting at its office inviting representatives from 14 cities, towns and villages that will fall under the UPZ in case of a nuclear accident at the Tokai No. 2 Power Station.

The UPZ surrounding the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Shizuoka Prefecture -- which has been under suspension at the government's request in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster -- hosts some 740,000 residents.

"We still can't specifically designate the UPZ and draw up concrete evacuation methods because the central government hasn't presented us with the results of radioactive material diffusion simulations," said Kunihiko Sugiura, head of the nuclear safety measures department at the Shizuoka Prefectural Government. The prefectural government is also faced with challenges including the relocation of an off-site center from the current location only about 2.3 kilometers away from the Hamaoka plant to somewhere else.

Kyoto Prefecture, which is only 4.4 kilometers away from the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture and has thus heretofore formulated disaster-prevention measures with the UPZ in mind, is apparently upset with the central government's delayed initiatives. The prefectural government is waiting for the central government to come forward with radioactive material diffusion simulation results before deciding where to evacuate residents in the event of a nuclear disaster at the Takahama plant.

Specifically, the city of Kyoto -- which falls under a 30-kilometer radius from the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture and is the nation's only government-designated major city to fall under the UPZ -- mapped out a provisional plan on the city's nuclear disaster responses in March. On Sept. 1, the city conducted radiation dosimetry tests on residents near the UPZ. "The central government should make decisions with a greater sense of urgency," complained Fujio Yoshida, head of the crisis control department at the Kyoto Prefectural Government.

Shiga Prefecture, which is only 13 kilometers away from the Tsuruga nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, used to be ineligible to receive information from the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) under the former government guidelines. While the prefectural government used to predict the extent of radioactive material diffusion on its own and designated areas up to 43 kilometers away from the Tsuruga plant as falling under the UPZ, the new guidelines allow the prefecture to receive SPEEDI information. The prefectural government is planning to combine its own projections and data from SPEEDI in demanding the central government to take fiscal measures for preparing protective equipment and iodine tablets.

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New Regulatory Body Won't Determine Whether to Restart Nuke Reactors
Power Engineering
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Japan's new nuclear regulatory commission agreed Wednesday its mission is to assess the safety of reactors from a scientific standpoint and not to make judgments on whether they should be reactivated.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority tried to clarify its role over the resumption of reactors, given uncertainty over who is the main actor in making a judgment on the controversial issue following a revamp of the country's nuclear regulation setup in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi complex disaster last year.

Noting that the supply and demand of electric power and economic aspects should be taken into account when rebooting reactors, commission head Shunichi Tanaka said, "Government offices in charge of energy policy as well as plant operators should make the decision on activating reactors and create a consensus among local people."

His view was shared by four other members of the authority, with one saying that clearing the safety assessments carried out by the authority is a "necessary condition" for the resumption but "not a sufficient condition."

But Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a press conference on Sept. 21 that the regulatory body will play "a leading role" in the reactivation of reactors, remarks that can be interpreted as if regulators will make the judgment.

Then Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano said on Sept. 28 that the government plans to use reactors once they are acknowledged as safe by the authority and local governments approve their resumption.

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Problems Not Apparently Serious, but Public Trust at a Low Regarding Nuclear Plant Safety
Lee Keun-young
The Hankyoreh
(for personal use only)

Nuclear power plant fears, already stoked by last year’s Fukushima disaster in Japan and a power outage, then subsequent cover-up, at Busan’s Kori No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, were fanned further by technical problems Oct. 2 that led to shutdowns at the Shin-Kori No. 1 and Yeonggwang No. 5 power stations.

Troubled by the recurrence of control rod incidents that could lead to safety issues, as well as the increased accident rate at the so-called “Korean-standard” reactors, observers are now saying Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) and the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC), which respectively operate and regulate the plants, need to look into the cause of the problem and take appropriate action.

On Oct. 2, KHNP announced a technical problem with the control system for the rods that adjust reactor output at Shin-Kori No. 1. This comes after similar incidents at Yeonggwang No. 6 on July 30 and Shin-Wolseong No. 1 on Aug. 19, where the reactors were also shut down due to rod control system problems.

Control rods are used to control the fission chain reaction in nuclear fuel. They play an important role as a means of preventing accidents at operating reactors.

According to KHNP, the recent problems were all assigned an International Atomic Energy Agency risk level of zero, since the control rod issues would not immediately lead to an accident involving the release of radiation.

But if coupled with a natural disaster scenario such as the earthquake that struck Fukushima, or an explosion like the one at Chernobyl, a rod control failure could lead to a devastating accident.

Also drawing attention is the fact that all three reactors, as well as Yeonggwang No. 5, which was also recently shut down over a technical problem, are Korean-model designs.

Yeonggwang No. 5, which began commercial operation in 2002, is a Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant (KSNP), which Shin-Kori No. 1, which went on line in February 2011, has an improved KSNP design called the OPR1000.

Of the 105 accidents and technical problems that occurred at South Korean nuclear power plants between 2000 and last month, thirty-nine, or 37%, occurred at Korean-standard reactors. The percentage is especially high given that nine of them have gone online since the first one built, Uljin No. 3, went into operation in 1998.

Seoul National University nuclear engineering professor Hwang Il-soon cautioned against reading too much into the numbers. “There’s no obvious correlation between the Korean-model designs and the frequency of problems, and there tend to be more problems early in their operation anyway,” he said.

“The problem seems to be more that the plant operations have lost trust than that the actual risk is greater,” he added.

Indeed, sixty-two of the 86 problems reported between 2002 and 2011, or 72%, were determined to be the result of human error. Popular distrust appears to stem from a lack of trust in power plant safety management more than anything else.

At the same time, neither KHNP nor the NSSC has made any plans for special investigations of the frequent shutdowns.

Yoo Kook-hee, the NSSC’s safety policy bureau chief, said, “If you consider that we added another two reactors this year, there hasn’t been a huge increase in power plant shutdowns, nor is there any commonality in the places and causes of the technical problems.”

Yoo added that independent examinations were under way to determine whether the problems might be associated with some shared vulnerability.

But Yang-Lee Won-young, head of Korean Federation for Environment Movement’s bureau for post-nuclear energy, said that if the reactors are put back into operation with only the problematic parts replaced, the likelihood of continued accidents, possibly major, increases.

“KHNP and the NSSC need to take this opportunity to uncover the root cause and allay the public’s fears,” Yang-Lee said.

Lee Heon-seok, an aide to lawmaker Kim Je-nam of the Preparatory Committee for a New Progressive Party, noted the approach adopted with nuclear power plants in Europe.

“They’re conducting three-stage inspections for all power plants, with crosschecking by operators, safety regulators, and regulators in other countries,” Lee said. “They extend the deadlines and conduct careful examinations to earn the trust of citizens, publicly disclosing everything they find.”

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EU Nuclear Reactors Need 10-25 Billion Euros Safety Spend
Barbara Lewis
(for personal use only)

Europe's nuclear reactors need investment of 10-25 billion euros, a draft European Commission report said, following a safety review designed to ensure a disaster like Japan's Fukushima cannot happen.

The Commission is expected to finalize the stress test report by Thursday and it will be debated by EU ministers later this month.

After that, the Commission intends in 2013 to propose new laws, including on insurance and liability to "improve the situation of potential victims in the event of a nuclear accident", the draft seen by Reuters said.

Of the 134 EU nuclear reactors grouped across 68 sites, 111 have more than 100,000 inhabitants living within 30 km (18 miles).

Safety regimes vary greatly and the amount that needs to be spent to improve them is estimated at 10-25 billion euros ($13-32 billion) across all the reactors, the draft says.

France's nuclear watchdog has already said the country, which relies on nuclear power for about 75 percent of its electricity, needs to invest billions of euros.

The lesson of Fukushima was that two natural disasters could strike at the same time and knock out the electrical supply system of a plant completely, so it could not be cooled down.

The stress tests found that four reactors, in two different countries, had less than one hour available to restore safety functions if electrical power was lost.

By contrast, four countries operate additional safety systems fully independent from the normal safety measures and located in areas well-protected against external events. A fifth country is considering that option.

The main finding, the draft says, is that there are "continuing differences" between member states' safety regimes. It also says provisions to ensure the independence of national regulators are "minimal".

The stress tests are a voluntary exercise to establish whether nuclear plants can withstand natural disasters, aircraft crashes and management failures, as well as whether adequate systems are in place to deal with power disruptions.

All 14 member states that operate nuclear plants took part, however, as did Lithuania, which is decommissioning its nuclear units. From outside the 27-member bloc, Switzerland and Ukraine joined in the exercise.

The tests were meant to have been completed around the middle of the year, but countries were given extra time to assess more reactors.

Non-governmental organizations are among those who have criticized the process as not going far enough and having no powers to force the shut-down of a nuclear plant.

"The stress tests only give a limited view," said Roger Spautz, energy campaigner at Greenpeace, which believes nuclear power should be phased out.

He cited independent research earlier this year which said some European reactors needed to be shut down immediately, as well as the example of Belgium, where the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors have been halted because of suspected cracks.

The draft report says the stress tests are not a one-off exercise and will be followed up. Existing legislation also needs to be enforced, it said.

The deadline for passing the existing nuclear safety directive into national law was July 2011. The Commission started infringement proceedings against 12 member states that missed it.

To date, two have still not complied but the report did not specified which ones.

The Commission does not comment on leaked drafts.

But on Monday, the EU energy spokeswoman said the recommendations were being finalized and would not be "very, very detailed".

In France, the nuclear watchdog and operator EDF said they would not comment before seeing the official report.

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F.  Links of Interest

U.S. Urges Japan to Keep Stored Plutonium to a Minimum
Japan Times
(for personal use only)

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Japan Agency To Study Radiation Fallout From Fukushima
RTT News
(for personal use only)

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UPF to Be Redesigned because Equipment Won't Fit; $500M already Spent on Y-12 Project,
Frank Munger
(for personal use only)

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