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Nuclear News - 12/14/2012
PGS Nuclear News, December 14, 2012
Compiled By: Pia Ulrich

A.  Nuclear Energy
    1. British Regulators OK Nuke Reactor Design, UPI (12/17/2012)
    2. Spain's Oldest Nuclear Plant Shuts Down, Reuters (12/16/2012)
    3. Report Says Europe Should Boost Nuclear Power Generation, PennEnergy (12/14/2012)
    4. Kudankulam Nuclear Plant Commissioning Put Off to Jan, The Hindu Business Line (12/13/2012)
    5. New Lithuania Govt Reconsiders Nuclear Project, Backs LNG, Reuters (12/13/2012)
B.  Iran
    1. Iran Defiant on Enrichment Ahead of Possible Nuclear Talks, Reuters (12/18/2012)
    2. Iran Says it, World Powers Must End Nuclear Stalemate, Yeganeh Torbati, Reuters (12/17/2012)
C.  Nuclear Cooperation
    1. Russia, UAE Sign Nuclear Cooperation Deal, RIA Novosti (12/17/2012)
D.  North Korea
    1. For North Korea, Next Step is a Nuclear Test, David Chance, Reuters (12/13/2012)
E.  Nuclear Safety & Security
    1. Saudi Address at Nuclear Security Conference in Japan, Arab News  (12/17/2012)
    2. Higher Nuclear Safety Will Help Avoid Fukushima-Like Disasters – Amano, The Voice of Russia (12/15/2012)
F.  Japan
    1. Nuclear Back on Agenda After Japanese Election, World Nuclear News (12/17/2012)
    2. Fault Risk for Aomori Nuclear Plant is Raised, Japan Times (12/15/2012)
    3. IAEA to Help Japan Decontamination Work After Fukushima Disaster, Anna Mukai and Tsuyoshi Inajima, Bloomberg (12/15/2012)
    4. Japanese Operator in most Frank Admission Over Nuclear Disaster, Aaron Sheldrick, Reuters (12/14/2012)
G.  Links of Interest
    1. Annual Assessment of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile, US Department of State (12/18/2012)
    2. Rate of U.S., Russian Nuclear Disarmament “Slowing", Carey L. Biron, Inter Press Service News Agency (12/18/2012)

A.  Nuclear Energy

British Regulators OK Nuke Reactor Design
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British regulators have approved the design of a new generation of nuclear power reactor as the French companies seeking to build it have delayed their plans.

Britain's Office for Nuclear Regulation and Environment Agency Thursday said they have signed off on design specifications for the type of "European pressurized water reactor" proposed by EDF and Areva after a five-year review.

"We are satisfied that this reactor is suitable for construction in the U.K.," Colin Patchett, acting chief inspector of nuclear installations for the ONR, said in a statement. "It is a significant step and ensures that this reactor meets the high standards that we insist upon.

"We have been able to identify significant issues while the designs are on the drawing board."

Joe McHugh, the British Environment Agency's head of radioactive substances regulation, concurred, saying the decision was made after long years of studying the "U.K. EPR" design.

"We set out with ONR to rigorously, and transparently, assess whether this new reactor design, the U.K. EPR, would be acceptable for use in England and Wales," he said. "Through robust scrutiny we are satisfied that this design can meet the high standards of safety, security, environmental protection and waste management that we and ONR require."

EDF and Areva are seeking to build two new plants utilizing the EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset -- a 3.3-gigawatt project likely to cost at least $22 billion and which is being counted on by the British government to deliver on its goal of adding new nuclear capacity by 2020.

The approval process began in 2007 and was delayed following last year's Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, which required 16 changes to the U.K. EPR, including additional flood protection measures and the provision of mobile generators and pumping equipment, the BBC reported.

"The acceptance of the design for the EPR reactor is a major achievement and milestone for our new nuclear project in Somerset," EDF Energy Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz said. "It highlights our credibility and that of the EPR design, as well as demonstrating that the U.K. has a credible policy and regulatory framework in place."

The news, however, came as concerns about the costs of the project have mounted as EDF's prototype of the EPR reactor at Flamanville in Normandy, France, have jumped nearly $3 billion to $11.2 billion due to post-Fukushima changes, the BBC said.

One of its partners at Flamanville, Italy's Enel, later announced it was pulling out of the effort.

EDF also revealed this month its decision on a final investment at Hinkley -- originally hoped for by the end of this year -- has been pushed back until "the earlier possible date."

The British newspaper The Guardian, citing sources close to the project, reported this month the decision is unlikely to be announced before April even as British Energy Minister Ed Davey has fast-tracked negotiations to set a guaranteed price for EDF and Areva before the end of the year.

The project is also facing opposition by anti-nuclear activists, who in September staged a protest at the existing nuclear reactors at the Hinkley site.

Four people were arrested and charged with willfully obstructing a highway leading to the plant during a Nov. 23 protest in which 10 activists erected a blockade in an attempt to keep workers from clearing ground in preparation for the new reactors, ITV reported.

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Spain's Oldest Nuclear Plant Shuts Down
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Spain's oldest nuclear plant Garona is shutting down on Sunday ahead of new taxes included in a government energy reform that would render the plant unviable.

Spain is introducing higher taxes on electricity generation as a measure to address an over 24 billion euro ($31 billion)energy tariff deficit after years of selling power below costs.

The energy reform would add 153 million euros of taxes on Garona in 2013, its operator Nuclenor said in a statement, adding this would "increase current economic losses to the point of sending Nuclenor into bankruptcy."

The nuclear matter at Garona - which opened in 1970 and produced about 1.4 percent of annual Spanish electricity output - will be transferred to a storage pool at the plant on Sunday night.

Spain's industry ministry had wanted to keep Garona open to assure a mix of energy options for the country, but Nuclenor said it would need to invest around 120 million euros in order to keep the plant running, while also facing higher taxes.

Spain relies on imports to cover its energy needs, with nuclear energy providing 20 percent of domestic electric demand in 2011.

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Report Says Europe Should Boost Nuclear Power Generation
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Nuclear power will help Europe reduce carbon dioxide emissions and its dependence on foreign fossil fuels, according to a report from Frost & Sullivan.

"Despite the environmental risks, nuclear energy shows potential to reduce emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, and therefore, will be a major contributor to the European energy mix in 2020," a release from Frost & Sullivan stated.

Even as many countries, like Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Belgium, have renounced nuclear energy and said they plan to phase it out in the coming decades, researchers said it's hard to imagine a nuclear-free Europe. France, Finland, the United Kingdom and Sweden, however, remain committed to nuclear power generation. In the UK and Finland, regulators are pushing for better safety standards to support nuclear power growth over the next five years.

The Prague Daily Monitor reported the Czech Republic and Hungary are both increasing their nuclear power plants. Hungarian officials said the country is looking to produce more nuclear power in order to reduce its dependence on foreign sources.

The Frost & Sullivan report said renewable energy projects could help European energy demand but are currently not cost-effective.

"Moreover, it is not possible for renewables to compensate for the large-scale energy production currently supported by nuclear sources, until the next decade," according to the release.

PennEnergy's research area offers details on nuclear power in Europe.

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Kudankulam Nuclear Plant Commissioning Put Off to Jan
The Hindu Business Line
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Controversy-embroiled Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project will once again miss the target as the time frame of commissioning of the first unit has now been revised to the new year.

Commercial operation of the 1,000 MW first unit, where 99.65 per cent of the physical progress has been completed, is expected to take place in January, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) has said.

Minister of State in the PMO, V. Narayanasamy, who has been monitoring the progress of the Indo-Russian project, hit by protests over safety concerns, had informed Lok Sabha last week that Unit-I was likely to be commissioned by this month end.

Similarly, commercial operation of the second unit has also been fixed for August 2013.

“Preparatory works are going on. Each and every step of ours is being monitored by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

We are doing our best to commission it as soon as possible,” sources in the plant said.

M. Pushparayan, a leader of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, spearheading the over year-long stir demanding scrapping of the KNPP, said though it has been said the commissioning would take place some time this month “now, we heard that they have given a date on January 15”.

After resorting to a series of protests including “sea siege” of the plant, located in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, PMANE now wants a national debate on the Centre’s “ambitious and aggressive” nuclear power programme and intends to make it an issue in the Lok Sabha elections.

“If the Congress Party or BJP or any other party for that matter manages to convince the Indian voters about this full-scale nuclearisation of the country and obtains absolute majority in the next Parliament, we will call off the ongoing struggle against the Project immediately”, PMANE said.

Keywords: Kudankulam nuclear plant, Kudankulam power project, Kudankulam plant commissioning, Kudankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu, Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Nuclear Power Corporation of India, People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy

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New Lithuania Govt Reconsiders Nuclear Project, Backs LNG
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The centre-right government, which lost elections in October, had signed a preliminary deal to build a new nuclear power plant by 2020, but 63 percent of voters said "no" to the project in a non-binding referendum.

Lithuania must weigh costs and benefits of all options to meet its electricity needs, including plans for nuclear energy, the new government said in a programme approved by the parliament on Thursday.

"The (choice) of the best alternative should be based on cost and benefit analysis and to assure energy independence and the best price," it said.

The new government is led by Social Democrats who had previously criticised the project as too expensive for one of the poorest member states of the European Union.

Japanese-U.S. joint venture Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy was lined up to supply the 1,350 megawatt (MW) capacity ABWR reactor.

Lithuania's finance ministry has estimated the total cost of building a new plant at 6.8 billion euros, with 4 billion euros expected to come from loans.

The new government, meanwhile, has backed plans of the previous cabinet to build an LNG import terminal by end-2014 to reduce dependence on its sole natural gas supplier, Russia's Gazprom.

New Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said on Thursday he had assured the banks involved in the financing of the terminal that the project would not be suspended, the Baltic news agency BNS said.

"I said very clearly that we will not suspend any tenders (for the terminal), and the things that have been launched already shall be implemented," BNS quoted Butkevicius as saying.

Lithuania's majority state-owned oil company, Klaipedos Nafta, has signed a 10-year contract with Norway's Hoegh LNG to charter a floating gas storage and regasification vessel (FSRU).

The project is estimated to cost up to 604 million litas ($228.11 million) in infrastructure developments and 430 million euros ($560.72 million) for a 10-year charter of the FSRU, a business plan approved by the previous government showed.

Klaipedos Nafta is looking to funding for the terminal from commercial banks as well as the Nordic Investment Bank (NIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The government's programme also included earlier plans to build a gas pipeline to neighbouring Poland, which aims to produce a significant volume of shale gas.

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B.  Iran

Iran Defiant on Enrichment Ahead of Possible Nuclear Talks
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Iran will not stop higher-grade uranium enrichment in response to external demands, its top nuclear energy official was quoted as saying on Tuesday, signalling a tough bargaining stance ahead of planned new talks with world powers.

The West wants Iran to halt enrichment of uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent as it represents a significant step closer to the level that would be required to make nuclear bombs. Iran says it needs this higher-grade uranium to run its medical research reactor in Tehran.

Israel has threatened air strikes on Iran if its nuclear work is not curbed through diplomacy or sanctions, raising the spectre of a Middle East war damaging to the global economy.

Iran "will not suspend 20 percent uranium enrichment because of the demands of others," said Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) reported.

Iran "will produce 20 percent enriched uranium to meet its needs and for however long it is required."

He did not specify what he meant by "needs". Western diplomats say Iran already has made sufficient amounts to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor for several years. Abbasi-Davani has in the past said Iran plans to build another research reactor.

The European Union quickly responded to Abbasi-Davani's comments, saying Iran must come to grips with increasing international disquiet over the ultimate purpose of its uranium enrichment programme to resolve the protracted dispute.

"Iran has to address the immediate key concern, which is the issue of 20 percent enrichment, by taking an initial comprehensive confidence-building step in this area, thereby creating space for more diplomacy and negotiations," the spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

In his statements, Abbasi-Davani signalled renewed Iranian defiance in negotiations with world powers expected to resume soon. But he did not appear to categorically rule out that Tehran at some point could shelve higher-grade enrichment.

The powers - the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Rusia - also want Iran to shut down the Fordow underground site where its 20 percent enrichment is carried out.

Nuclear expert Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said about Abbasi-Davani's comments: "This hard line doesn't bode well for success in the next round of talks, where stopping the 20 percent enrichment is just one of the steps Iran will be asked to take."

But others suggested Abbasi-Davani's comments, and those of other Iranian officials, were intended more for public consumption at home and abroad.

Iranian foreign and security policies are ultimately decided by clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"What matters is not stay-the-course statements like these but whether behind the scenes the Supreme Leader and his entourage, and the Obama White House, step out of their shadow and agree to direct bilateral talks," Mark Hibbs, of the Carnegie Endowment think tank, said.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Iranian and EU officials had held discussions regarding the time and place of the next negotiations between the powers and Iran.

"If there is an agreement, it will be announced," Mehmanparast said in his weekly news conference.

The EU spokesman said the six powers are still waiting for an Iranian answer regarding a possible date for new talks: "We made contact last week and suggested getting together for another round. We are waiting to hear the response."

Though Israel has threatened to bomb Iranian nuclear sites, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said the Jewish state had noticed renewed U.S.-led efforts to curb Iran's nuclear work since President Barack Obama's re-election last month, including preparation for possible military action.

He also cited contacts among the powers and Iran about holding new negotiations and ongoing sanctions against Iran.

Iranian media quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying that any calls for direct talks between the U.S. and Iran were meaningless as long as Washington continued to exert pressure on Iran through sanctions and other measures.

In October, the New York Times reported that secret exchanges between U.S. and Iranian officials had yielded agreement "in principle" to hold one-on-one talks. Both Iran and the United States denied that the two countries had scheduled direct bilateral negotiations on the nuclear programme.

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Iran Says it, World Powers Must End Nuclear Stalemate
Yeganeh Torbati
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Iran's foreign minister said on Monday a way must be found to end the deadlock with major powers over the country's nuclear programme, an Iranian news agency reported, but he offered no new initiative on how to achieve this.

Ali Akbar Salehi's comments came ahead of an expected resumption of diplomacy, perhaps next month, aimed at preventing the decade-old nuclear dispute from degenerating into a Middle East war that could damage an already fragile world economy.

Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, has threatened military action to prevent its arch-enemy from acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran denies any such goal and says it would hit back hard if attacked.

"The two sides (Iran and world powers) have reached a conclusion that they must exit the current stalemate," Salehi was quoted as saying by the Iranian Students' News Agency.

The West suspects Iran is trying to develop the means to build atomic bombs under the cover of a declared civilian nuclear energy programme. The Islamic Republic says it is enriching uranium as fuel for civilian energy, not bombs.

Iran and the six powers - the United States, Russia, France, China, Britain and Germany - have expressed readiness to revive efforts to find a negotiated solution. But Salehi said he did not know when the next meeting would be held.

The powers, known as P5+1, said last week they hoped soon to agree with Iran on when and where to meet. There have been suggestions it could happen this month, though January now seems more likely, Western officials say.

In Washington, the State Department said Iran had been presented with a specific offer of a date and venue for the next talks but had yet to respond.

"We are continuing to maintain contacts with the Iranians. We did make an offer with regard to venue and timing for another round but we have yet to hear from the Iranians on this," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"Really the ball is in the Iranians' court. If they want to come back to the table we are ready to do that, but we want to see them be serious," Nuland told a news briefing.

Analysts and diplomats believe there is a window of opportunity for a new diplomatic initiative with Iran after last month's re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The powers want Iran to scale back its uranium enrichment programme and cooperate fully with U.N. nuclear inspectors.

The priority for Iran, a major oil producer, is for the West to lift punitive sanctions increasingly hurting its economy.

Three rounds of negotiations earlier this year - the last one in Moscow in June - failed to achieve a breakthrough.

The big powers have prepared an updated version of a package that was rejected by Tehran in the previous talks, Western diplomats say, without giving details.

Their immediate priority is for Iran to halt higher-grade enrichment that could relatively quickly be further processed to bomb-grade material, shut the Fordow underground plant where this work is carried out and ship out the stockpile.

Iran has hinted at flexibility regarding its enrichment to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, but it wants substantial sanctions easing in return, something the powers say would be premature before Tehran makes significant concessions.

Iran also wants recognition of what it says is its "right" to refine uranium, which can have both civilian and military purposes. "Iran demands its inalienable, legal and legitimate right and wants nothing more," Salehi said.

One Western official said it was too early to say whether the new diplomatic attempt may yield results. "We see that sanctions do have an economic impact on Iran and it is a matter for Iran to really take this offer seriously."

Iran's economic minister was quoted on Sunday as saying the country's oil revenues had been cut in half as a result of sanctions.

Another Western diplomat said the powers were increasingly concerned about Iran's expanded enrichment capacity at Fordow and wanted to address this issue in the new proposal. This could mean, he said, asking Iran to partially dismantle the facility.

"Shutting Fordow is not enough," the diplomat said, adding it would take longer to restart the facility if the enrichment installations had been taken apart.

The world powers hope to gain momentum in dealings with Iran by introducing "confidence-building measures" before approaching a final agreement at a later date, diplomats say.

They say the powers are likely to offer Iran some form of sanctions relief in return but any measures may be limited.

Salehi spoke a few days after the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran both said progress was made in talks last Thursday on resuming a long-stalled IAEA investigation into suspected atomic bomb research in the country.

A senior Iranian legislator said on Monday that Iran would expect some sanctions relief in return for granting IAEA inspectors access to the disputed Parchin military complex.

The IAEA believes Iran has conducted explosives tests with possible nuclear applications at Parchin, a facility southeast of the Iranian capital, and has repeatedly asked for access.

"They must certainly give some incentive in return, and in my opinion a reasonable and equal incentive would be lifting the sanctions," said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who chairs the national security and foreign policy committee in the Iranian parliament.

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C.  Nuclear Cooperation

Russia, UAE Sign Nuclear Cooperation Deal
RIA Novosti
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Russia and the United Arab Emirates on Monday signed an agreement on cooperation in the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The agreement was signed by Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom, and UAE Deputy Energy Minister Mohammed bin Zain al-Hamli.

“This is a comprehensive agreement encompassing cooperation in all areas of nuclear energy, including uranium mining and processing, fuel production, research and building nuclear power plants,” Kiriyenko said.

It lays the legal groundwork for technology transfers and the delivery of nuclear materials to the energy sector.

This past July the UAE authorities announced the launch of a program to build the country’s first nuclear reaction, which should be put into operation in 2017. In all, the UAE is planning to build four nuclear reactors 1.4 MW each.

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D.  North Korea

For North Korea, Next Step is a Nuclear Test
David Chance
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North Korea's next step after rattling the world by putting a satellite into orbit for the first time will likely be a nuclear test, the third conducted by the reclusive and unpredictable state.

A nuclear test would be the logical follow-up to Wednesday's successful rocket launch, analysts said. The North's 2009 test came on May 25, a month after a rocket launch.

For the North and its absolute ruler Kim Jong-un, the costs of the rocket program and its allied nuclear weapons efforts - estimated by South Korea's government at $2.8-$3.2 billion since 1998 - and the risk of additional U.N. or unilateral sanctions are simply not part of the calculation.

"North Korea will insist any sanctions are unjust, and if sanctions get toughened, the likelihood of North Korea carrying out a nuclear test is high," said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses.

The United Nations Security Council is to discuss how to respond to the launch, which it says is a breach of sanctions imposed in 2006 and 2009 that banned the isolated and impoverished state from missile and nuclear developments in the wake of its two nuclear weapons tests.

The only surprise is that the Security Council appears to believe it can dissuade Pyongyang, now on its third hereditary ruler since its foundation in 1948, from further nuclear or rocket tests.

Even China, the North's only major diplomatic backer, has limited clout on a state whose policy of self reliance is backed up by an ideology that states: "No matter how precious peace is, we will never beg for peace. Peace lies at the end of the barrel of our gun."

As recently as August, North Korea showed it was well aware of how a second rocket launch this year, after a failed attempt in April, would be received in Washington.

"It is true that both satellite carrier rocket and (a) missile with warhead use similar technology," its Foreign Ministry said in an eight-page statement carried by state news agency KCNA on August 31.

"The U.S. saw our satellite carrier rocket as a long-range missile that would one day reach the U.S. because it regards the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) as an enemy."

The end-game for the North is a formal peace treaty with Washington, diplomatic recognition and bundles of cash to help bolster its moribund economy.

"They might hope that the U.S. will finally face the unpleasant reality and will start negotiations aimed at slowing down or freezing, but not reversing, their nuclear and missile programs," said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul.

"If such a deal is possible, mere cognition is not enough. The U.S. will have to pay, will have to provide generous 'aid' as a reward for North Koreans' willingness to slow down or stop for a while."

Recent commercially available satellite imagery shows that North Korea has rebuilt an old road leading to its nuclear test site in the mountainous northeast of the country. It has also shoveled away snow and dirt from one of the entrances to the test tunnel as recently as November.

At the same time as developing its nuclear weapons test site, the North has pushed ahead with what it says is a civil nuclear program.

At the end of November, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the construction of a light water reactor was moving ahead and that North Korea had largely completed work on the exterior of the main buildings.

North Korea says it needs nuclear power to provide electricity, but has also boasted of its nuclear deterrence capability and has traded nuclear technology with Syria, Libya and probably Pakistan, according to U.S. intelligence reports.

It terms its nuclear weapons program a "treasured sword".

The missile and the nuclear tests both serve as a "shop window" for Pyongyang's technology and Kookmin's Lankov adds that the attractions for other states could rise if North Korea carries out a test using highly enriched uranium (HEU).

In its two nuclear tests so far, the North has used plutonium, of which it has limited stocks. However it sits on vast reserves of uranium minerals, which could give it a second path to a nuclear weapon.

"An HEU-based device will have a great political impact, since it will demonstrate that North Korean engineers know how to enrich uranium, and this knowledge is in high demand among aspiring nuclear states," Lankov said.

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E.  Nuclear Safety & Security

Saudi Address at Nuclear Security Conference in Japan
Arab News
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Saudi Arabia has called on the international community to pursue practical steps to achieve the highest safety standards, improve the safety of nuclear installations, spread the culture of nuclear safety, revise the standards continuously, and take advantage of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in setting national security regulations concerning safety, confronting operating incidents and rehabilitating specialized cadres.

In an address at Fukushima Ministerial Nuclear Safety Conference here, the President of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy and Head of the Delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Conference, Dr. Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani stressed the Kingdom’s determination to continue its ambitious program to develop atomic and renewable energy sources to achieve the requirements of the ambitious development in a safe, environmental and economic sustainability.

It is noteworthy that the Fukushima ministerial nuclear safety conference is being held in Japan with the participation of the International Atomic Energy Agency and 120 countries and international organizations.

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Higher Nuclear Safety Will Help Avoid Fukushima-Like Disasters – Amano
The Voice of Russia
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Boosting safety and security of nuclear power plants will help avoid disasters like the one involving the Fukushima nuclear plant, said Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, in a statement.

He was speaking during the opening of an international conference on nuclear safety earlier today in the Japanese city of Koriyama, near the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The forum is attended by experts from over 120 countries, including Russia. The international experts will assess Japan’s efforts to do away with the consequences of the Fukushima plant accident.

Scientists have said that the people of Japan and its energy system may expect new hardships. They discovered a fault line under the Tsuruga nuclear power plant on Honshu.

It’s not excluded that in case of an earthquake, the second power unit of the station might be damaged. The Japanese have energetically started demanding a preventive dismantlement.

After the technological disaster at Fukushima-1 in 2011 that set the world in turmoil, many countries were prompted to think about rejecting nuclear energy once and for all. Now another alarming signal is coming from Japan. This time, it also concerns a natural calamity that could trigger major problems. Reportedly, the previous accident was triggered by the most powerful earthquake in the country and tsunami followed by. In view of this, experts’ attitude towards the seismological activity in the region where the nuclear power plant is located is very serious although it was shut down 18 months ago. This is natural when taking into account that the fault line is situated only several hundreds of meters away from the second power unit. Scientists have flatly rejected the possibility of launching the reactor, while chief expert in radiation safety Shunichi Tanaka said that there was a possibility of dismantling the energy units.

However, not all agree with this idea. For one, the operator of the nuclear plant Power Co. has described the conclusions as unacceptable and promised to conducts its own study. Moreover, some experts do not exclude the possibility of launching new ones and those temporarily shut down because nuclear energy is still playing a crucial role in the country. Before Fukushima-1, the share of the country’s nuclear power was one third of the overall production. Director of the Centre for Energy and Security Anton Khlopkov agrees with this standpoint.

“At present, only two power units are working. Dozens of energy units are awaiting a political decision on the resumption of their work. In fact, the positions of people and business are diametrically opposed. Big business is actively lobbying for the resumption of the work of nuclear power plants, otherwise big companies are threatening to shift their factories to other countries. This is understandable. It’s impossible to expand production when there is no guarantee that the enterprises will get necessary electricity.

If the Japanese authorities fail to find the political will to launch nuclear power plants at least up to the average level, about 15% of the overall production of energy, it’s not excluded that there will be a significant rise in prices and a shortage of energy. At present, Japan is stick to use the alternative sources. This is witnessed by talks with Russia, says editor-in-chief of the Atomnaya Strategia” magazine Oleg Dvoinikov.

“The two countries are holding talks on supplying liquefied natural gas. The Japanese will demand that the government put an end to the construction of nuclear power stations and shut down the existing ones. Seismological danger will raise the problem of nuclear power plants, and Japan will do its best to shift to gas, coal and wind energy. It will follow Germany’s footsteps and develop new technologies,” Oleg Dvoinikov said.

Notably, a week ago Japan was hit by a severe earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 points on the Richter scale. This has added fuel to the fire in the discussions concerning the danger of the existing nuclear plants. However, it’s not yet clear what will be the government’s decision in the clash of interests between big business and millions of ordinary people.

If the country decides to shut down all nuclear power plants, it will need additional 65 billion cubic meters of gas a year. In this case share of such power stations will increase up to 25%. Meanwhile, Japan occupies the first place in the import of gas. When taking into account the recent dispute between China and Japan over a cut in rare earth metal export, a metal widely used in the Japanese industry, the situation might turn in the favour of promoting nuclear energy. One of Tokyo’s main fears is the country’s dependence on import. To get rid of this, the country will have to build new nuclear power stations.

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F.  Japan

Nuclear Back on Agenda After Japanese Election
World Nuclear News
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The future of Japan's planned nuclear phaseout looks less certain following a landslide victory for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the first general election held since the country suspended most of its nuclear generation.

Winning 294 of the 480 seats in the Japanese lower house, LDP leader Shinzo Abe will form a government with LDP's coalition partner party, New Komeito, which won 31 seats. Yoshihiko Noda has announced that he will resign as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) after the former governing party won only 57 seats.

Nuclear power has been one of the issues around which the 12 parties competing in the election have been campaigning. The economic struggles faced by Japan in recent years were compounded by the devastating effects of the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 which also triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. The country's recovery has been hampered by the loss of its nuclear generating capacity, the vast majority of which remains off line for extended safety assessments following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

A policy that would see Japan phase out nuclear energy completely by the 2030s was launched by Noda's government in September. However, the LDP was not supportive of the plans and prior to the elections Abe had branded plans to end the use of nuclear power "irresponsible."

Now the people of Japan - and the world - wait to see how Abe's government will shape energy policy. Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC) chairman Makoto Yagi called on the newly-elected government to review and modify the plans announced in September 2012 to make them "more realistic". In a statement, he said that nuclear power should be included in a diverse energy portfolio, considering Japan's limited indigenous energy resources. With its nuclear plants offline Japan has relied on fossil fuels, which it must import, for power generation. This has also led to increases in its greenhouse gas emissions.

The markets were quick to respond to the election results. Shares inTokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) jumped 33%, while Kansai Electric Power, which operates the only nuclear units currently producing power in Japan, saw its shares rise 18%. Other Japanese nuclear utilities saw their share prices increase too, while the Nikkei index rose nearly 1% in response to the election results. The effects have also been felt outside Japan, with The Australian reporting rises of 8.4% and 5% respectively for uranium companies Paladin and Energy Resources of Australia.

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Fault Risk for Aomori Nuclear Plant is Raised
Japan Times
(for personal use only)

Earthquake faults beneath the Higashidori nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture could be active and dangerous, a regulator said Friday.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Commissioner Kunihiko Shimazaki made this revelation at a press conference after a two-day on-the-spot survey of the plant, which currently has one Tohoku Electric Power Co. reactor but, according to plans, will have another one built for the utility as well as two constructed for and run by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Shimazaki and other survey participants will meet Thursday to consider the results of their probe.

If the regulators suspect the faults are active, it may be difficult for Tohoku Electric to restart the now-offline reactor amid safety concerns stemming from the triple-meltdown disaster at Tepco's Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

The experts Thursday confirmed four crush zones, including those running near the reactor 1 building. They continued the survey Friday to determine when the zones moved and find out whether there is any possibility they will move again.

Tohoku Electric has offered the explanation that fault slips under the plant site are caused by changes in groundwater levels.

But Shimazaki said Thursday he can't accept that explanation.

Survey team member Yota Kumaki, a professor at Senshu University, said the same day Tohoku Electric's claim raises many questions.

Another team member, Hiroshi Sato, a professor at the University of Tokyo, said he can't understand on what grounds the company drew such a conclusion.

Tohoku Electric maintains there are no active faults beneath the plant and thus there are no safety concerns.

The plant is the third nuclear power station to be inspected by the NRA for possible active faults, following Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi plant and Japan Atomic Power Co.'s Tsuruga plant, both in Fukui Prefecture. None of the earlier probes has reached a conclusion.

Following the latest survey, the agency plans to conduct on-site fault studies at Hokuriku Electric Power Co.'s Shika plant in Ishikawa Prefecture, Kepco's Mihama plant and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency's Monju fast-breeder reactor, both in Fukui.

A total of 118 hot spots in Fukushima Prefecture have been taken off the list of areas recommended for evacuation because their radiation levels have fallen below the reference value, the government said Friday.

After three core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 complex tainted much of Fukushima Prefecture and other areas with radiative fallout in March last year, the government urged residents in areas exhibiting an annual radiation dose of 20 millisieverts or more to evacuate.

The 118 spots include 117 in Date and a site in the village of Kawauchi encompassing 129 households. Studies have confirmed that radiation in those areas is now under the 20-millisievert evacuation threshold, the government said.

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IAEA to Help Japan Decontamination Work After Fukushima Disaster
Anna Mukai and Tsuyoshi Inajima
(for personal use only)

The International Atomic Energy Agency agreed to help Japan with decontamination and radioactive waste management after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The IAEA and the Fukushima prefecture government signed the agreement in Koriyama city, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. The IAEA will send teams to help decontaminate areas around the plant as well as help radiation monitoring and health-care research projects.

The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns and release of radiation into the air and sea from the Fukushima plant, forcing about 160,000 people to evacuate. Some areas around the plant, northwest of Tokyo, may be uninhabitable for at least two decades because of radioactive contamination, the government estimated last year.

The signing ceremony between the IAEA and Fukushima prefecture was part of a three-day conference through Dec. 17 to discuss nuclear safety. Officials from more than 50 countries and organizations are expected to attend the conference, according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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Japanese Operator in most Frank Admission Over Nuclear Disaster
Aaron Sheldrick
(for personal use only)

The operator of a Japanese nuclear power plant that blew up after a tsunami last year said on Friday its lack of safety and bad habits were behind the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years, its most forthright admission of culpability.

The operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, said it accepted the findings of a parliamentary inquiry into the Fukushima nuclear disaster that accused the company of "collusion" with industry regulators.

An earthquake on March 11 last year generated a tsunami that smashed into the nuclear plant on Japan's northeast coast and triggered equipment failures that led to meltdowns and the spewing of large amounts of radiation into the air and sea.

Takefumi Anegawa, the head of a company reform task force, told a news conference the report by a parliamentary committee contained "so many descriptions about the lack of a safety culture and our bad habits".

"We admit, we completely admit, that part of the parliamentary report," Anegawa, told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.

He was responding to a question on whether the company accepted the parliamentary committee's findings that the disaster was preventable and the result of "collusion" between the company and regulators.

Tepco President Naomi Hirose said several months ago he was baffled by criticism of the company, which until recently has denied it could have foreseen the scale the tsunami and earthquake that knocked out cooling and power at the plant, despite warnings from scientists.

The once well-respected utility, now under government control, has been widely castigated for its failure to prepare for the disaster, and lampooned for its inept response as the crisis unfolded.

In October, 18 months after the disaster, the company admitted for the first time it could have been avoided.

Anegawa, who has worked at the Fukushima plant, said there were some misunderstandings in the "technological part" of the report.

"But (for) most of the investigation of our organization culture, we admit that, and we will try to change," he said.

Anegawa was speaking at the news conference with outside monitors Tepco appointed two months ago to oversee its reforms.

Asked to give an example of a step Tepco had taken to improve since he was appointed, Dale Klein, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, would only say the company carried out a critical self-assessment and was sharing information.

Those were similar to comments he made in a Reuters interview in October.

Three reactors melted down at the plant, causing the worst radiological release since Chernobyl in 1986, contaminating wide areas of land and forcing about 160,000 people from their homes. Many of those people are unlikely to ever go home.

All of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors were shut down for safety checks after the disaster and only two have resumed operating.

The government's decision this year to restart the two units to avoid possible summer power cuts galvanized the country's anti-nuclear movement, prompting regular mass demonstrations.

The current government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, is aiming to phase out nuclear energy by the end of the 2030s.

But the business-friendly Liberal Democratic Party is expected to return to power in an election on Sunday and it says only that it will take the next 10 years to figure out Japan's "best energy mix".

But even the LDP, which promoted atomic energy during its nearly six decades in power, is not expected to revive a plan to increase nuclear power's share of Japan's electricity supply to more than half by 2030 from nearly 30 percent before the Fukushima disaster.

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G.  Links of Interest

Annual Assessment of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile
US Department of State
(for personal use only)

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Rate of U.S., Russian Nuclear Disarmament “Slowing"
Carey L. Biron
Inter Press Service News Agency
(for personal use only)

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DISCLAIMER: Nuclear News is presented for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to visit the websites from which the source material originates. Views presented in any given article are those of the individual author or source and not of Partnership for Global Security. Partnership for Global Security takes no responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in any article presented in Nuclear News.

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