1. Amid Rising Tensions, Preparations for Possible New Iran Nuclear Talks
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The Obama administration and its European allies are quietly preparing for a possible new round of international nuclear talks with Iran in the coming weeks, sources consulted on the prospective meeting say.
The prospective talks would be hosted by Turkey--and the preparations around them have taken shape amid heightened tension and heated rhetoric between the West and Iran, as Iran lashes out at planned new American and European sanctions that would choke off a key source of Iran's revenues from oil exports.
European and American officials say that no meeting has yet been agreed--and that a formal meeting date won't be set in the absence of firm commitments in writing from Iran pledging to engage in serious negotiations.
There will be no meeting "unless and until" the Iranians send a "letter that makes clear their intentions to engage seriously," a U.S. administration official told Yahoo News Wednesday. American officials haven't seen such a letter to date.
Michael Mann, a spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, echoed the same message.
"Before we can do anything, we need Iran to respond on the substance of our proposals," Mann told Yahoo News Wednesday via email.
The account from other sources indicating that a meeting is tentatively set for the Turkey-hosted talks in the next few weeks "is not true," he added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, in Tehran last week, and formally announced his country's offer to host the next round of international Iran nuclear talks.
Iran watchers say they think a meeting is likely to materialize--in spite of the considerable diplomatic difficulties involved in obtaining Tehran's written assent to the plan for the talks. Those difficulties have grown nearly comic at times. Ashton first issued the meeting proposal back in October; Turkey's Davutoglu re-delivered the proposal on his Iran visit last week, apparently to firmly nudge Iran to send the requisite RSVP. Iran in turn reportedly insisted that it did send off a formal response to Ashton on December 31. But staffers at Ashton's office told Yahoo News Tuesday that they checked the system again this week, only to find there is no letter.
Several veteran U.S. Iran analysts who consult closely with the Obama administration say they are growing increasingly worried about the risk of possible military confrontation between Iran and the United States.
Some analysts contend, in essence, that the Obama administration has become so focused on demonstrating toughness toward Iran that it has lost sight of how to achieve its desired end goal: persuading Iran to curtail aspects of its nuclear program. Exhibit A in this case is the push to implement newly passed U.S. legislation sanctioning Iran's Central Bank. This new measure--quietly opposed by the administration but passed by the Senate 100-to-0 and signed into law early this month--would effectively threaten Iran's ability to get compensation from foreign entities that purchase its oil. And the Obama administration has energetically set about enlisting countries around the world to comply--negotiating with oil supplying-nations and major Iran oil consumers in Asia to try to secure alternative oil-sources, while averting a spike in international oil prices. However, amid this full court press, some analysts say, American policymakers have spent far too little energy and attention on establishing negotiating strategies, channels and contacts to bolster chances of achieving a diplomatic resolution with Iran over its nuclear program.
The U.S. "decision to outlaw contact with Iran's central bank puts the United States' tactics and its long-standing objective--a negotiated end to Iran's nuclear ambitions--fundamentally at odds," Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department Iran official now with the Brookings Institution, wrote in Foreign Affairs this month. Washington "cannot hope to bargain with a country whose economy it is trying to disrupt and destroy. As severe sanctions devastate Iran's economy, Tehran will surely be encouraged to double down on its quest for the ultimate deterrent."
The upshot? Washington's "embrace of open-ended pressure means" the United States has effectively backed itself into a dead-end "policy of regime change," Maloney continued.
Obama faces both a domestic "political challenge and there are also divisions within the administration, so they don't know what the end game is," a former State Department official who requested anonymity to speak more freely told Yahoo News Wednesday. "What we have now is the folks in Tehran increasingly starting to believe the United States doesn't know what it wants its endgame to be--or that its endgame can change. Here we are at a position where both sides find themselves boxed in."
The 2012 presidential campaign has further increased domestic political pressure on the Obama administration to demonstrate toughness and resolve in its dealings with Iran--while downplaying prospects for a diplomatic settlement. The Obama White House's drift toward a more hawkish posture also may reflect the pressure, in some observers' eyes, to ward off any Israeli preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Iran watchers agree that the Pentagon takes the prospect of such a strike from Israel quite seriously.
Meanwhile, Obama administration officials counter that the sticking point in negotiations has to do with Iran's behavior--and with Iran's own internal political tensions and dysfunctions. They deny that the White House has embarked on any policy of regime change in Iran.
"The fundamental question is whether because of all the factional infighting in Iran, whether they are even capable of making a decision on their nuclear program," a former senior administration official told Yahoo News. He pointed to Iran's initial 2009 acceptance of a nuclear fuel swap deal--a provisional bargain that broke down after drawing heavy criticism from the domestic political rivals of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"So the first question is whether Iran is capable of striking a deal," he said. "The counter-argument is that, if the Iranians are incapable of responding to incremental increases in pressure, maybe we have to hit them with something so threatening" that the Supreme Leader makes a decision.
"Obviously sanctions . . .are not an end in themselves," Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns said in an interview Tuesday in Turkey with the Anadolu news service. "They are a means to an end to make clear to the Iranian leadership that it must live up to its international responsibilities and obligations." "We have made clear . . . that we are prepared to engage in serious negotiations with Iran on international concerns about its nuclear program," Burns continued. "But we are also, at the same time, deeply concerned about Iran's failure to live up to its international obligations. … We want to work with Turkey and with our other partners to try to make this clear to the Iranian leadership."
Burns traveled to Turkey this week to further discuss the recent conversations between Iranian and Turkish officials, while also sizing up the prospects for the tentative proposed talks. The United States is effectively calling on Turkey to help play postman and mediator between Iran and the West--and thereby grease the wheels for a new round of nuclear talks. Notably, Burns' visit to Ankara was immediately followed by that of Iran parliament speaker and former Iran nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
"Thank God the Turks were willing to put their feet in the fire again to do this shuttle diplomacy, which is high risk," the former State Department diplomat said. "At the end of the day, there will be negotiations in Istanbul at the end of the month. They will go down. And both sides are doing whatever they can to build up leverage and protect themselves politically at home."
"What we have been saying to Iran is that there has got be a confidence building measure that emerges out of the next round of negotiations," said Patrick Clawson, deputy director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in an interview with Yahoo News Tuesday.
Still, Clawson said, he didn't think prospects for a deal look promising.
"I think it's heading towards confrontation," Clawson said. "The whole point from the beginning is if we put pressure on the regime, the Iranians will crack at some point."
So far, at least, there's little sign the strategy is yielding the desired result. The Iranians have to date responded to the prospect of the tightened financial sanctions on the country's oil sector with an announcement of the launching of operations at the fortified, underground Fordo nuclear enrichment facility--together with sporadic threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. "The Iranians are screaming and yelling and upset and threatening," Clawson said.
So why isn't that a sign that the U.S. strategy is failing?
"It's a lot better to have a fight" that Iran provokes, Clawson replied, before adding: "Better to enter World War II after Pearl Harbor, and World War I after the sinking of the Lusitania."
Available at: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/envoy/amid-rising-tensions-preparations-possible-iran-nuclear-talks-225224612.html
2. Bomb Kills Iran Nuclear Scientist as Crisis Mounts
Ramin Mostafavi and Parisa Hafezi
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An Iranian nuclear scientist was blown up in his car by a motorbike hitman on Wednesday, prompting Tehran to blame Israeli and U.S. agents but insist the killing would not derail a nuclear programme that has raised fears of war and threatened world oil supplies.
The fifth daylight attack on technical experts in two years, the magnetic bomb delivered a targeted blast to the door of 32-year-old Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan's silver sedan as he was driven down a busy street near a Tehran university during the morning rush hour. The chemical engineer's driver also died, Iranian media said, and a passer-by was slightly hurt.
Israel, whose military chief said on Tuesday that Iran could expect to suffer more mysterious mishaps, declined comment. The White House, struggling for Chinese and Russian help on economic sanctions, denied any U.S. role and condemned the attack.
While Israeli or Western involvement seemed eminently plausible to independent analysts, a role for local Iranian factions or other regional interests engaged in a deadly shadow war of bluff and sabotage could not be ruled out.
The killing, which left debris hanging in trees and body parts on the road, came in a week of heightened tension:
Iran has started an underground uranium enrichment plant and sentenced an American to death for spying; Washington and Europe have stepped up efforts to cripple Iran's oil exports for its refusal to halt work that the West says betrays an ambition to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its aims are entirely peaceful.
Tehran has threatened to choke the West's supply of Gulf oil if its exports are hit by sanctions, drawing a U.S. warning that its navy was ready to open fire to prevent any blockade of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which 35 percent of the world's seaborne traded oil passes.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran's threats to close the strait were "provocative and dangerous" and repeated the White House denial of any U.S. involvement in the killing of Ahmadi-Roshan.
Analysts saw the latest assassination, which would have taken no little expertise, as less a reaction to recent events than part of a longer-running, covert effort to thwart Iran's nuclear development programme that has also included suspected computer viruses and mystery explosions.
While fears of war have forced up oil prices, the region has seen periods of sabre-rattling and limited bloodshed before without reaching all-out conflict. But a willingness in Israel, which sees an imminent Iranian atom bomb as a threat to its existence, to attack Iranian nuclear sites, with or without U.S. backing, has heightened the sense that a crisis is coming.
The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, which has failed to persuade the West that its quest for nuclear power has no hidden military goal, said the killing of Ahmadi-Roshan would not deter it: "We will continue our path without any doubt ... Our path is irreversible," it said in a statement carried on television.
"The heinous acts of America and the criminal Zionist regime will not disrupt our glorious path ... The more you kill us, the more our nation will awake."
First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, quoted by IRNA news agency, said: "Iran's enemies should know they cannot prevent Iran's progress by carrying out such terrorist acts."
Iran's leaders, preparing for the first national election since a disputed presidential vote in 2009 brought street protests against 32 years of clerical rule, are struggling to contain internal tensions. Defiance of Israel and Western powers plays well with many who will vote in March.
In Washington, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said: "The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this ... We strongly condemn all acts of violence, including acts of violence like what is being reported today."
Israel, which has a history of covert killings abroad, declined comment, though army spokesman Yoav Mordechai wrote on Facebook: "I don't know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding any tears."
On Tuesday, Israeli armed forces chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz was quoted as telling members of parliament: "For Iran, 2012 is a critical year in combining the continuation of its nuclearisation, internal changes in the Iranian leadership, continuing and growing pressure from the international community and things which take place in an unnatural manner."
The attack bore some of the hallmarks of sophisticated intelligence agencies capable of circumventing Iran's own extensive security apparatus and apparently taking care to limit the harm to passers-by.
While witnesses spoke of a frighteningly loud explosion at 8:20 a.m. (0450 GMT) and parts of the Peugeot 405 ended up in the branches of the trees lining Gol Nabi Street, much of the car was left intact. This suggested a charge designed to be sure of both killing the occupants and preventing serious injury to others.
Witnesses said the motorcycle, from which the rear pillion passenger reached out to stick the device to the side of the car, made off into the heavy commuter traffic.
Though the scientist killed -- the fourth in five such attacks since January 2010 -- was only 32, Iranian media described him as having a role overseeing uranium enrichment at Natanz underground site. The semi-official news agency Mehr said Ahmadi-Roshan had recently met officials of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
At the IAEA in Vienna, where a spokeswoman condemned the killing, officials could not confirm knowing of him.
Analysts say that killing scientists -- especially those whose lack of personal protection suggests a relatively junior role -- is unlikely to have much direct impact on Iran's nuclear programme, which Western governments allege is seeking to enrich enough uranium highly enough to let it build weapons.
Sabotage -- like mysterious reported explosions at military facilities or the Stuxnet computer virus widely suspected to have been deployed by Israel and the United States to disrupt nuclear facilities in 2010 -- may have had more direct effects.
However, assassinations may be intended to discourage Iranians with nuclear expertise from working on the programme.
An Israel official said Mossad agents called that "virtual defection": "It's not that we've been seeing mass resignations, but rather a sense of spreading paranoia," the official, who has extensive Iran expertise, told Reuters.
"It means they have to take more precautions, including, perhaps, being a little less keen to stand out for excellence in their nuclear work. That slows things down."
Bruno Tertrais from France's Strategic Research Foundation said: "It certainly has a psychological effect on scientists working on the nuclear programme."
He cautioned, however, against assuming that Israel, the United States or both were behind the latest attack.
Trita Parsi, a U.S.-based expert on Iran, said the killing might, along with the heightened rhetoric of recent weeks, be part of a pattern ahead of a possible resumption of negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme; some parties may want to improve their bargaining position, others may see violence as a way of thwarting renewed negotiations altogether, Parsi said.
Last month, Iran signalled a willingness to return to a negotiating process which stalled a year ago, though Western officials say a new round of talks is far from certain yet.
Iran's decision to carry out enrichment work deep underground in the once undeclared plant at Fordow, near the holy Shi'ite city of Qom, could make it harder for U.S. or Israeli forces to carry out veiled threats to use force against Iranian nuclear facilities. The move to Fordow could reduce the time available for diplomacy to avert any attack.
The announcement on Monday that enrichment -- a necessary step to make uranium into nuclear weapons -- had begun at Fordow has given added impetus to Western efforts to impose an oil export embargo intended to pressure Tehran to halt enrichment.
Iran, a signatory to the treaty banning the spread of nuclear weapons, complains it is entitled to conduct peaceful research and denies any military nuclear aims. Its adversaries say its failure to take up their offers of help with civilian technology undermine the credibility of its position.
Oil prices have firmed 5 percent since U.S. President Barack Obama moved on New Year's Eve to block bank payments for oil to Iran. The European Union is expected this month to impose a ban on its states buying oil from Tehran, and other major customers have been looking for alternative supplies.
In Iran, the new U.S. sanctions have started to bite.
The rial currency has lost 20 percent of its value against the dollar in the past week and Iran has threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, visiting Beijing, appealed for Chinese cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation, but Chinese officials made clear that they still opposed the U.S. sanctions and would go on buying Iranian oil.
Russia, too, came out against the U.S.-led oil embargo.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/11/iran-idUSL6E8CB1EY20120111
3. Iran Envoys Visited N. Korea in Nov., Possibly on Uranium Enrichment
The Mainichi Daily News
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An Iranian defense delegation visited North Korea in late November for talks with key officials, including military chief of staff Ri Yong Ho, apparently to confirm continued military cooperation and discuss advanced centrifuge technologies related to uranium enrichment, an informed Western diplomatic source said Saturday.
The source familiar with Tehran-Pyongyang relations said information on the visit by a delegation from Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics was confirmed by various Iranians concerned.
Ri, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army, is a core member of the new leadership under Kim Jong Un, third son of the late leader Kim Jong Il. He is on a par in status with Kim's sister Kyong Hui, a department director of the ruling party, and her husband Jang Song Thaek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission.
North Korea fostered close ties with Iran in areas such as ballistic missiles under Kim Jong Il. The Iranian government is believed to have received several assurances from North Korea after Kim Jong Il's death that the special relationship will continue under his successor Kim Jong Un.
The United States and some other nations believe North Korea may have developed more advanced uranium enrichment technologies than Iran and are tightening their guard against any possible attempt by North Korea's new leadership to sell such technologies as a new source of foreign income.
The visit to North Korea is also believed to be part of Iran's efforts to seek ways to cover up its cooperation with the country and overseas procurement channels following the release of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency last November warning of suspicions that the Middle Eastern country is developing nuclear weapons, the source said.
The Iranian Embassy in Tokyo has denied any bilateral nuclear cooperation with North Korea, saying in an e-mail to Kyodo News that Iran "does not have any kind of cooperation with (the) DPRK in nuclear or military technology fields."
DPRK is the acronym for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. North Korea has also dismissed the allegations, describing them in a November commentary by the official Korean Central News Agency as slander by the country's enemies.
According to the source, the three-member Iranian delegation met Ri and other senior officials during a four-day visit to North Korea. It was learned that one of the topics discussed was "maraging steel and high explosives," although further details and results of the talks remain unknown.
Maraging steel is essential for P-2 type centrifuges, developed by the now-disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan based on European technologies. Japan and other countries concerned about the latest developments are analyzing the information as maraging steel can also be put to use in ballistic missiles, the source said.
David Albright, president of U.S. think tank Institute for Science and International Security, said he is "pretty worried" there might be nuclear cooperation between Tehran and Pyongyang, saying North Korea "could have incentives" to cooperate with Iran over issues where they may be having troubles.
"Iran knows how to make carbon fiber rotors better than North Korea...(and) North Korea appears to be able to make P-2s better than Iran...so there's...areas of potential cooperation that I would worry about," he said in a recent telephone interview with Kyodo News.
The IAEA's report in November warned that Iran may have conducted experiments associated with detonator development and high explosives, and that its engineers were believed to be studying how to integrate a nuclear payload into the chamber of the Shahab 3 intermediate-range missile.
An undisclosed report by a panel of U.N. experts on sanctions against Pyongyang, obtained recently by Kyodo News, concluded in January last year that North Korea "must have been developing its (uranium enrichment) capability for at least a decade."
It also said that while Iran appeared to have concentrated first on the older P-1 type centrifuges, North Korea got a head start by focusing from the beginning on the more advanced P-2 type and had cooperated more closely with Khan than Iran did.
It is possible Iran is seeking assistance from North Korea as it is believed to have not yet been able to put its P-2 centrifuge development on track. A diplomatic source familiar with Iranian internal affairs said that as of the end of 2008, about 300 North Korean technicians had been dispatched to Iran.
The source added that North Korea's ability to defy international sanctions and procure necessary resources to proceed with its nuclear development programs also appeared to appeal to Tehran.
Available at: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/international/news/20120109p2g00m0in010000c.html
1. India Talking to France, US on Nuclear Programmes
The Economic Times
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India is in the process of holding technical level discussions with France and the US for its civil nuclear programmes, a senior Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) official said today.
"We are also talking to the French right now. The French regulators' report post Fukushima has come just a couple of days back, and we are studying it. Thereafter, we will again have a detailed technical discussion with the French vendors and we wish to go for that reactor, that is offering 1650 MW from one unit, a very large capacity," Shiv Abhilash Bhardwaj, Director (Technical), NPCIL told reporters here.
As for the US collaboration, he said, "In the next plan, what we propose is that we will make eight units of 700 MW each and eight units of light water reactors, which includes four reactors of United States technology (two each, with two vendors from the US). We are talking to them on technical level."
Strongly believing in the nuclear option to cater its energy needs of the country, the Centre has already approved plant proposals in many states, he said.
"Government has approved two locations in Madhya Pradesh, one each in Haryana, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal...Right now, we are looking at Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, where two sites have been offered. And we hope that within this year, we should be able to start work there. So there will be four units of 700 MW," he said.
Bhabha Atomic Reseach Centre was carrying out a research on effects of the mild radiation and mild temperature of the nuclear waste on hard rocks over which they were stored, he said, replying to a query on the storing of nuclear waste.
Available at: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-01-11/news/30616045_1_nuclear-waste-reactors-npcil
2. Finnish Fortum Still Hot on Polish Nuclear Power
News From Poland
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Fortum Power and Heat Polska, part of the Finnish energy group Fortum, has reiterated its plans to start nuclear power production in Poland.
The company's mini-PR nuclear blitz in Poland at the end of 2011 was toned down somewhat, with renewable energy now top of its list of priorities internationally, but the reiteration is an important statement of intent and belief in Polish nuclear plans.
Shale gas production sits full square in the picture of how Poland will seek to diversify its gas supplies away from Russian sources over the next two decades, but the nuclear option is hanging on in there.
“We are not resigning from our Polish nuclear plans, despite the Fukuyama disaster in Japan, the change of policy in Germany and other parts of Europe and the general economic downturn,” head of international communications at Fortum Izabela van den Bossche said at a press conference in Warsaw on Tuesday, adding that the company was not interested in shale gas exploration, an area that promises to start production as early as 2014, six years at least before the first nuclear facility, should it go ahead, start production.
Russia supplies about two thirds of Polish gas needs and Poland has been looking for the last two decades at ways of diversifying its sources. Poland is believed to have the largest deposits of shale gas in Europe and exploration appears to be indicating sufficient deposits to make commercial drilling cost effective.
The Polish Economy Ministry is still preparing a report on the country’s nuclear energy strategy, Deputy Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak said in 2011. The decision to write the report came in the wake of the events in Japan in 2011 and Germany's decision to move away from nuclear energy from 2022.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk in November 2008 announced the construction of two nuclear power plants in Poland with 3,000 MW each. The first block would start in 2020. The costs of constructing these power plants and associated investments in the energy market is estimated at $100 billion.
In mid-2011 the official invitation to tender for the supplier of technology to the first power plant was made and the tender winner is seen chosen by the end of 2013, with construction commencing in early 2016.
“If in the future it emerges that investment in nuclear energy in Poland faces serious objections then I'm open to a proposal for a referendum on the construction of nuclear power plants,” Tusk said in June 2011. "We all know how dominant energy exports from Russia still are for the region and nobody hides from the fact that we'd like to get a position where we are independent of our [currently] largest supplier of energy."
The Polish energy group designated to oversee the nuclear building projects, PGE, believes the plants can be built for a cost of €3-3.5bn per 1000MW.
48% of Poles asked in 2011 were opposed to the construction of a nuclear power plant in Poland, according to a poll by TNS OBOP for public television programme ‘Forum.’ 46% believe nuclear power should be produced in Poland, with 6% not having an opinion.
Available at: http://www.thenews.pl/1/12/Artykul/81845,Finnish-Fortum-still-hot-on-Polish-nuclear-power
Bangladesh is all geared to foray into nuclear technology with two 1,000-megawatt nuclear plants coming up at Rooppur with Russian technology.
"The construction work is likely at the end of this year or early next year, and the work is expected to be completed in the next five years," state minister for science and technology Yeafesh Osman told bdnews24.com in an exclusive interview.
"Nuclear science is an advanced technology and not many countries in the world harness power from it," Osman said. "It will give a strong signal to the world that Bangladesh has the potential and ability to control and manage advanced technology like nuclear science," he added.
Nuclear power is cost-efficient and environment-friendly at the same time. With sources for traditional fossil fuel such as coal and oil depleting fast and the demand for electricity steadily going up, nuclear power has come up as an effective means of generating power, he observed.
"Electricity produced from 3 tonnes of coal or 2.6 tonnes of fossil fuel can be produced with only one gram of uranium," Osman said, adding that there is abundant and ensured supply of nuclear fuel.
"It is probably the only tested solution for producing cheap electricity. According to estimates, the cost of generating one unit of nuclear power is one-third of that of coal-based power. The per unit cost for us will be not more than Tk 2 as uranium cost is very nominal," the minister said.
Though the upfront cost for setting up such a plant is very high, it is recovered within 10 to 15 years of a plant's commissioning, Osman said. The plants will have a life cycle of 60 years with another 20-year extension.
Setting up of a 1,000-mw nuclear power plant entails an expenditure of $1.5 billion to $2 billion, depending on security features and technology standard.
"We are getting all necessary support from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Association). We will also get expertise support once the plants are commissioned," the minister said.
He cited India's example to point out that the neighbouring country would produce 60,000 mw from nuclear power by 2030.
The Fukushima nuclear power plant mishap in Japan following the devastating tsunami in March 2011 has made the government up the ante on the security aspects. The most important issue for the government is "safety first and safety last… We are gradually progressing with extreme caution," the minister said.
"Keeping the Fukushima experience in mind, the Rooppur plants will have all possible measures to prevent radiation leak.
"We are buying the latest Third Generation technology from Russia where a five-layer security measure will be installed," Osman said. It will be built to resist the combined effect of a powerful tsunami and earthquake.
The plant will have a water-based cooling system, but in case of a power failure, automatic air ventilation system will start the cool-down process. The plant structure will be built to withstand even a big aircraft crash, the minister claimed.
A final cooperation agreement with Rosatom of Russia has already been signed and the Russian government will provide all necessary support and infrastructure development.
"Russia will also provide the fuel required to run the plant and will also take back the spent fuel," said Osman. "They will also help in human resource development."
The financial agreement is likely to be signed in May or June this year when prime minister Sheikh Hasina visits Russia, he said. "We are working on the financial agreement now."
The cabinet has already passed the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Bill, 2012, which will be tabled in the winter session, Osman said.
The winter session of parliament will commence on Jan 25.
"The law [provisions under the Bill] was formulated after consultations with the IAEA, besides help from the Russian government," Osman claimed.
The first initiative for a nuclear power plant at Rooppur was taken way back in 1961, and 260 acres was acquired for the purpose.
In 2008, the caretaker government took the initiative to revive the project and started communication with Russia. When the Awami League came to power in 2009, it worked on speedy completion of the project.
A framework agreement with Rosatom was signed in May 2010, and in June a national committee headed by the prime minister was formed to implement the work. The final cooperation agreement with the government and Rosatom was signed on Nov 2. The financial agreement is likely to be signed in May or June this year.
Available at: http://bdnews24.com/details.php?id=215713&cid=2
1. Extract Says Potential China Takeover Gets Namibia Approval
(for personal use only)
Extract Resources Ltd., owner of the world’s fourth-largest uranium deposit, said Namibia approved a potential acquisition of the company should a Chinese bid for its biggest shareholder Kalahari Minerals Plc succeed.
The Namibian Competition Commission has endorsed the proposed acquisition by China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group Co., and Extract’s directors “are continuing to review all available opportunities to maximize shareholder value,” the uranium explorer said in a statement today. The regulator’s approval is one condition of the takeover proposal to Kalahari shareholders.
China is pursuing new sources of the fuel to feed rising demand for atomic power in the world’s second-largest economy. Kalahari, whose directors recommended the Chinese bid announced last month, owns 43 percent of Extract. Guangdong Nuclear said today the Kalahari stake pledged to it by the company’s directors is now 3.7 percent, up from 2.2 percent after Chairman Mark Hohnen exercised options over 4 million shares.
Extract, developer of the Husab uranium deposit in Namibia, was unchanged at A$8.49 at the close of trade in Sydney, valuing the Perth-based company at about A$2.1 billion ($2.2 billion). Guangdong Nuclear has agreed to buy Kalahari for 243.55 pence a share. The stock gained 0.4 percent to 243 pence by the close in London.
Australian regulators have ruled that Guangdong Nuclear must offer A$8.65 a share for Extract should the Chinese state- owned company’s 632 million-pound ($969 million) offer for London-based Kalahari succeed.
Rio Tinto Group, the world’s third-biggest mining company and owner of the Rossing mine near Husab, holds a 14 percent stake in Extract and an 11.5 percent share in Kalahari, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The Rossing mine is the third-biggest producer of uranium, accounting for about 6 percent of global supply, data from the World Nuclear Association show. Husab is about 7 kilometers (4.4 miles) from Rossing and 30 kilometers from Paladin Energy Ltd.’s Langer Heinrich project.
Available at: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-01-12/extract-says-potential-china-takeover-gets-namibia-approval.html
2. Areva Denies Plans to Buy Stake in Urenco for Now
(for personal use only)
French nuclear group Areva (AREVA.PA) on Wednesday denied having any plans to buy a stake in Urenco for the time being, reacting to media reports flagging its interest in the UK-based uranium enrichment company.
Urenco is owned by German utilities RWE (RWEG.DE) and E.ON (EONGn.DE), which jointly hold 33 percent, as well as the Dutch and British governments, which each have one-third of the company's equity.
The timing is not ideal for Areva as it is cutting investments and selling assets to shore up its balance sheet as the world's biggest nuclear reactor builder tries to weather a plunge in demand in an industry still reeling from Japan's Fukushima disaster.
Earlier this month, a Dutch newspaper wrote that Areva had asked bank Nomura to look into acquiring a stake while a source told Reuters that the Dutch government had appointed Credit Suisse (CSGN.VX) to advise on a potential sale.
Britain has been seeking to dispose of its 33 percent stake for several years.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/11/us-areva-idUSTRE80A0H720120111
3. Tepco Said to Seek 2 Trillion Yen in Loans to Stay Solvent
Emi Urabe, Tsuyoshi Inajima and Yuriy Humber
(for personal use only)
Tokyo Electric Power Co. is in talks with banks to borrow as much as 2 trillion yen ($26 billion) to help stave off bankruptcy as it compensates survivors of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and decommissions reactors, according to two people with knowledge of the talks.
Three Japanese banks and the state-run Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund are negotiating with the utility known as Tepco, the people said. The loans are contingent on Tepco raising electricity rates, accepting a capital injection from the fund and restarting reactors. The unidentified banks would lend 1 trillion yen to Tepco and 1 trillion yen to the fund, which would use the money to buy the utility’s shares to get voting rights, the people said.
“The banks are hedging their bets,” said Penn Bowers, a Tokyo-based utilities analyst with CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. “They know that the ultimate entity holding the key to this is the government and that’s who you need to be nice to.”
Tepco, which was the world’s largest non-state-run utility in the 1970s, now depends on government support as it faces as much as 4.5 trillion yen in compensation payments by 2013 after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami destroyed its Fukushima Dai- Ichi nuclear station, sparking the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
Tepco shares yesterday rose the most in almost three months on reports of a government capital injection to avert bankruptcy. Tepco spokeswoman Chie Hosoda declined to comment.
Uncertainty over whether the government will take control of the utility and how state-backed cash will be distributed to Tepco has made the stock “jumpy” in the past few days, said Kenichi Hirano, general manager and strategist at Tachibana Securities Co. in Tokyo.
The utility rose 0.9 percent to 217 yen at 11:30 a.m. local time today, reversing an earlier drop of as much as 11 percent. The stock fell 12 percent yesterday on the Tokyo Stock Exchange before surging to close 24 percent higher.
“It was sold big on signs the government is likely to control the utility, and it’s being bought back simply after the news was priced in,” Hirano said.
Tepco received 2 trillion yen in emergency loans last year related to the Fukushima disaster and last month the company requested 689.4 billion yen in additional aid from the state’s nuclear fund.
The aid comes at the price of independence for the company, while for Tepco clients, it means higher electricity bills as soon as the second quarter of this year, CLSA’s Bowers said. Rising fuel prices are already hurting Tepco’s finances more than the compensation claims and government intervention is needed to keep operations running, he said.
“Ultimately, it is taxpayer funds that effectively guarantee these loans and thus ultimately pay it back,” Bowers said. “The situation is, if you live in Tokyo your rates are going up or your taxes are going up, or both.”
Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano told Tepco president Toshio Nishizawa last month that the company must consider “all options, including temporary government control,” to improve its finances. The country’s biggest utility and power provider to metropolitan Tokyo, the world’s biggest city with 29 million people, needs to meet all its compensation payments and raise funds for decommissioning the Fukushima Dai-Ichi station, Edano said at a Dec. 27 briefing.
The government will consider taking control of the country’s nuclear plants unless utilities assume more responsibility for the risks involved in the operations, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Jan. 6, citing Edano, whose ministry oversees the atomic power industry.
Available at: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-01-11/tepco-said-to-seek-2-trillion-yen-in-loans-to-stay-solvent.html
1. Japanese, S. Korean Nuclear Envoys Hold N. Korea Talks
Voice of America
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Japanese and South Korean nuclear envoys held talks Thursday in Seoul, to explore further initiatives aimed at persuading North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.
The meeting between Japanese negotiator Shinsuke Sugiyama and South Korean counterpart Lin Sung-nam comes just days before the duo travels to Washington for high-level nuclear consultations next week.
Last month, envoys from North Korea and the United States met in Beijing — just days before North Korea announced the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il. Those talks, described by participants as positive, were aimed at persuading the North to rejoin a larger forum of countries seeking an end to Pyongyang's nuclear activities. North Korea quit the six-party nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States in late 2008.
Western news reports had said the North was poised to announce an agreement with Washington to suspend its uranium enrichment program and accept international nuclear oversight of its nuclear activities, in exchange for urgently needed food aid.
Analysts say it is not yet clear whether Mr. Kim's successor and son, Kim Jong Un, will agree to suspend enrichment efforts.
Available at: http://blogs.voanews.com/breaking-news/2012/01/12/japanese-s-korean-nuclear-envoys-hold-n-korea-talks/
2. US 'Offers Food Aid' in Exchange For North Korea Halting Nuclear Programme
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The comments by a foreign ministry spokesman to Pyongyang's official news agency were the first by North Korea on the issue.
Before the sudden death of the North's leader Kim Jong-Il on December 17, there were several media reports that such an agreement was imminent.
At talks in July last year, Washington "proposed to take confidence-building steps such as suspension of sanctions, as well as food aid" in return for a "temporary suspension" of uranium enrichment, the North's spokesman said.
Experts say the uranium programme disclosed in November 2010 could give the communist state a second way to make nuclear weapons. The disclosure spurred efforts to revive stalled six-party nuclear disarmament negotiations.
The US and North Korea last year held two rounds of bilateral talks aimed at restarting the negotiations last held in December 2008.
A third round was reportedly scheduled in Beijing before the announcement of Kim's death put the process on hold.
The spokesman's statement suggested that a deal was still on the cards if the US raised the amount of food it is willing to offer.
"We will watch if the US truly wants to build confidence," it said.
Washington says any decision to offer humanitarian food aid would not be linked to other issues, but the spokesman accused the United States of politicising the issue.
Robert King, US special envoy for North Korean human rights, met senior North Korean foreign ministry official Ri Gun in Beijing on December 15-16 to discuss a possible resumption of US food aid.
South Korean media reports at the time said the North had agreed to suspend its uranium programme while the US would provide up to 240,000 tonnes of food.
The United States pledged 500,000 tonnes of rice in 2008. Shipments stopped the following year amid questions over transparency of the distribution, and Pyongyang told the Americans to leave.
The North's spokesman said on Wednesday the US had failed to provide 330,000 tonnes of the amount promised three years ago.
In recent talks it "has drastically changed the amount and items of provision contrary to the originally promised food aid", the spokesman said, adding this raised doubts about Washington's willingness to build confidence.
The US is offering high-energy biscuits and similar nutritional supplements in its latest package, rather than rice which could be diverted to the military or the elite.
UN agencies who visited in February 2011 said six million North Koreans - a quarter of the population - need urgent aid in a nation where hundreds of thousands died in a famine in the 1990s.
On Wednesday the United States said it plans to host high-level talks this month with Japan and South Korea on regional issues, including the situation in North Korea following Kim Jong-Il's death.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, would host the talks with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.
But Ms Nuland said she could not yet announce a date.
The three will "talk about all the regional issues, but included very much within that our approach to the DPRK," or North Korea, she said.
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/9008864/US-offers-food-aid-in-exchange-for-North-Korea-halting-nuclear-programme.html
Switzerland’s five nuclear power plants must prove the containment buildings surrounding their reactors can withstand a major earthquake despite passing a European Union stress test.
The Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate said on Tuesday that it had made the demand following the results of the EU test on atomic facilities in which Switzerland took part.
Officials said that while all of the country’s plants fulfilled the test’s criteria, there were a number of points that demanded further clarification. It pointed out that while containment buildings could withstand an earthquake, the margin of security was not large.
Depressurisation systems in the confinement buildings of the Gösgen and Leibstadt reactors will also be checked for earthquake resistance after it appeared they could be more vulnerable than the buildings themselves.
The operators of the Mühleberg and Gösgen facilties have been asked too to analyse where the flow of the River Aare, which helps cool their reactors, could be blocked by debris. Mühleberg near the capital Bern was singled out for further requirements. It must provide by the end of the month data on the seismic resistance of the Wohlensee dam, one kilometre upstream from the plant, and its emergency shutdown system.
The EU stress tests were carried out to analyse the security situation of all European nuclear power plants in the wake of last year’s Fukushima disaster in Japan.
Available at: http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/Nuclear_reactor_safety_requires_more_checks.html?cid=31919526
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