1. Nuclear Watchdog Urges French Plants to Boost Safety
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A French watchdog on Tuesday called for the country's nuclear plants to beef up safety following the Fukushima disaster under a programme it estimated would cost tens of billions of euros (dollars).
But no reactor faced any immediate shutdown, it said.
It also called for a "rapid reaction force" to be operational by the end of 2014 that could intervene in a nuclear accident in less than 24 hours.
The recommendations, handed to Prime Minister Francois Fillon, were drafted by the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) as part of an inspection of France's nuclear industry in the light of the March 11 nuclear catastrophe in Japan.
"(...) The ASN believes that the installations that have been assessed have a sufficient level of safety to warrant it not to request any immediate shutdown," the agency said.
"At the same time, the ASN believes that continuing operations require existing safety margins to be strengthened as swiftly as possible."
It gave operators until June 30 to spell out measures to strengthen safety in response to floods and earthquakes, providing for instance backup systems for power, coolant and plant operations, and their procedures for handling an emergency.
The measures should aim at "preventing a serious accident or limiting its spread" and "limiting massive releases (of radioactivity) in an accident scenario," the ASN said.
The measures will require "tens of billions of euros (dollars) in investment," the ASN's president, Andre-Claude Lacoste, told a press conference.
He noted that a single emergency diesel generator, designed to be protected against floods, costs "tens of millions" of euros. Another major expense would be building "bunkers" to serve as emergency backup for plant controllers.
"I don't see how this cannot have an impact on (electricity) prices," he warned.
A senior executive with the state-owned electricity provider Electricite de France (EDF) said the recommendations would lead to additional costs for the corporation of up to 10 billion euros (13 billion dollars).
"We had scheduled investment of around 40 billion euros (over 30 years) in our 58 reactors on the basis of plant operational life of up to 60 years," said Jean-Marc Miraucourt, head of engineering for nuclear facilities.
"Our preliminary estimates are that we will be in the range of 40 to 50 billion euros (52-65 billion dollars)," he told AFP.
Pre-Fukushima, EDF estimated the overall cost of nuclear-generated electricity at 46 euros (59.8 dollars) per megawatt-hour. This is now likely to be revised to 46-50 euros (59.8-65 dollars) per megawatt-hour, he said.
Fillon's office said the government would ensure that ASN's requests would be carried out "in their entirety (and) on time."
An anti-nuclear group, the Nuclear Observatory, dismissed the ASN report as a whitewash and Greenpeace said the billions of euros should be spent on alternative energy sources.
France is the most nuclear-dependent country in the world, deriving 75 percent of its electricity needs from 58 reactors, most of which were built in response to the oil shocks of the 1970s.
The programme gave birth to a massive state industry, with giants such as the nuclear plant builder Areva and operator EDF as well as the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), which carries out civilian and military research.
But a decades-long "nuclear consensus" gathering all the major parties was badly shaken by the March 11 earthquake that ravaged the Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan.
The issue is rising up the political agenda ahead of key elections this year.
In November, the opposition Socialist Party joined with the Greens to campaign for France to scale back its reliance on nuclear to 50 percent by 2025 by shutting 24 reactors and boosting production from wind, solar and other renewable sources.
France will vote in the first round of a presidential election in April and potentially a second round in May, followed by a two-round parliamentary election in June.
Available at: http://news.yahoo.com/nuclear-watchdog-urges-french-plants-boost-safety-152439579.html
Slovakia's four nuclear reactors have passed so-called stress tests against potential severe accidents, earthquakes, floods and other extreme events, the country's nuclear regulator reported on Tuesday.
The analysis followed Japan's Fukushima disaster in March 2011 which spurred the European Union to mandate safety tests of the European Union's 143 reactors.
The Slovak regulator released its report a day after the neighboring Czech Republic announced that the nuclear power plants of utility CEZ at Temelin and Dukovany had passed the EU-mandated stress tests.
The Slovak tests included an analysis of unexpected incidents such as quakes, floods, power failures, a long-term interruption of the water supply and other system checks.
The regulator said it had taken further safety steps such as adding new emergency diesel generators and purchasing manual, portable pumps in case of flooding.
"There were no such deficiencies identified which would question further safe operation of existing units and continued construction of new units," the Nuclear Regulatory Authority said in the 178-page report.
Slovakia is the European Union's second most nuclear-dependent state after France, with atomic energy accounting for 50 percent of its electricity production.
The euro zone country operates two 470 MW reactors at the Mochovce plant and two 505 MW reactors at Jaslovske Bohunice. Another two reactors at Mochovce are under construction and should be finished in 2012 and 2013.
Slovenske Elektrarne, a unit of Italy's Enel, is the operator of the two plants.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/03/us-nuclear-slovakiaess-idUSTRE8020CD20120103
The government has decided to sign a pact with Ukraine to share information on measures against nuclear accidents such as the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe experienced by the former Soviet Union republic, according to government sources.
Under the envisioned agreement, the two countries will share data and develop countermeasures against the radioactive contamination of soil and the health risks this could pose. The Japanese government aims to use these measures to help it resolve the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and to improve the safety of nuclear reactors, the sources said.
This will be Japan's first bilateral agreement that focuses exclusively on measures against nuclear accidents, according to the sources.
Ukraine has essentially accepted the pact, and it will begin negotiations with Japan this month toward a formal agreement.
The pact will stipulate the two countries are to cooperate in sharing information on how they have responded to nuclear accidents, as well as promoting the exchange of nuclear experts. The shared information is to include how radioactive substances can be removed from farmland, the effects of low-level radiation exposure on the human body, and how patients exposed to radiation can be treated.
As part of the pact, the Japanese government is to dispatch experts to Ukraine to examine how it handled the Chernobyl disaster, while simultaneously inviting Ukrainian authorities to Japan.
The government is also planning to enhance the Japanese Embassy in Ukraine by adding six more members--including Foreign Ministry bureaucrats, scholars and interpreters--and it will prepare radiation detection equipment such as dosimeters as well as protective gear.
Available at: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120104005302.htm
2. Pakistan Rejects Indian Proposal to Join FMCT Talks
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Pakistan has rejected an Indian proposal seeking Islamabad’s inclusion in talks on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) at the next session of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), which is likely to commence in the third week of January.
At present Pakistan is the only hold-out at the CD among 65 countries in talks on the FMCT, a proposed global pact that will ban the production of nuclear bomb making material. India asked Pakistan to join the talks at the recently concluded two-day Pakistan-India talks on conventional and nuclear confidence-building measures (CBMs) and said the proposed treaty could be an important step towards effective nuclear disarmament.
Apart from India coming up with this proposal, Pakistan had also been facing immense pressure from the United States for the last couple of years to sign the FMCT. It was in 2009 that Islamabad decided to block the start of negotiations on the vital treaty in the CD as it was not only advocating a ban on future production of the material used in making nuclear bombs, but also favoured a pact covering the existing stocks of fissile material in the possession of various nuclear states.
“Yes, this proposal came up for discussions from the Indian side during the recently concluded talks on CBMs but Islamabad refused to oblige owing to its stated position on the vital issue that the treaty must cover the existing stocks of fissile material possessed by India and other nuclear states,” said a Pakistani official here on Monday, asking not to be named.
Available at: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2012/01/pakistan-rejects-indian-proposal-to-join-fmct-talks/
3. Turkey and Israel to Meet at Seoul Nuclear Summit
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Turkish and Israeli authorities are expected to come together in the South Korean capital, which is set to host the Nuclear Security Summit on March 26-27, amidst diplomatic tension between the two countries.
Turkish-Israeli relations were strained following the murder of nine activists onboard a Gaza-bound Turkish aid flotilla by Israeli soldiers that took place in international waters on May 31, 2010. Turkish officials insist on an apology from Israel for its bloody raid as a condition for repairing diplomatic ties. Israel refuses to comply.
In an interview with Today's Zaman, South Korean Ambassador Lee Sangkyu said the Korean authorities expect to see Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the nuclear summit in Seoul.
Lee said Israeli officials have also been invited to the meeting, although it remains unclear who will be representing the country at the summit.
US President Barack Obama, along with representatives from roughly 50 countries, is expected to be in attendance. The 2010 Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington.
According to Lee, the summit aims to coordinate nuclear security and prevent terrorists from obtaining access to nuclear technology. The primary objective of the summit is to eliminate nuclear weapons around the globe. The Korean ambassador has said he thinks Turkey has an important role to play in developing a world free of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, Korean authorities are waiting for an offer to be made by Turkey for the construction of a nuclear power plant along the Black Sea coast by Korean firms. Korea missed an opportunity to build Turkey's first nuclear power plant on the southern coast when Turkey signed a deal with the Russians in 2010. Lee confirmed that Turkey and Korea are not currently negotiating over the construction of a nuclear power plant since the details of the project are not yet known, adding, “We would like to learn the conditions and discuss them.”
“Korea has always been interested in nuclear power plants in Turkey and this has not changed.
However, we could not agree on the conditions of the first one. The conditions for the new plant are not definite yet. That is why we are not negotiating. We are ready to hear Turkey's offer,” he noted.
Available at: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-267518-turkey-and-israel-to-meet-at-seoul-nuclear-summit.html
1. Areva Eyes Stake in Uranium Enricher Urenco –Paper
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French nuclear group Areva is eyeing a stake in UK-based uranium enrichment company Urenco, a Dutch paper reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.
Areva has asked bank Nomura to look into acquiring a stake, while German utilities RWE and E.ON, which together own 33 percent of Urenco, have asked Merrill Lynch to seek a buyer of their stake, daily Het Financieele Dagblad said.
Britain and the Netherlands also hold a third each of Urenco, and the British government has been looking into a sale of its stake since 2009.
Asked about the report by Reuters, Urenco Nederland executive Huub Rakhorst said there have been earlier media reports about the stakes and what Britain wants to do with its share, and referred further questions to parent company Urenco Ltd.
Urenco Ltd was not immediately available to comment, while Areva, E.ON and RWE declined comment.
"Areva is not eying Urenco's dividend, it's about synergy," an unnamed person familiar with the matter was quoted as saying by the paper.
"It is serious. A neighbour's house only comes up for sale once," the person said.
The British ministry of energy told the paper it has not yet taken a "clear" decision about Urenco.
Credit Suisse is advising the Dutch state about its 33 percent stake, the paper said.
The Dutch Finance Ministry was not immediately available to comment.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/05/idUSL6E8C509620120105
Korea Resources Corporation (Kores) has agreed to invest $3.5 million over two years for a 50% stake in the Mkuju South uranium project in Tanzania.
The agreement between Kores and Australia-based East Africa Resources Ltd was formally signed recently in Seoul, South Korea. Kores will now commit to invest $2 million to "satisfy work obligations and expenditure requirements" during an initial exploration program for Mkuju South, to be undertaken within the next 12 months. In return, it will receive a 28% stake in the project. Kores will then invest a further $1.5 million to fund a second exploration program during the following 12 months. Its share of the project will then increase to 50%.
In addition to its shareholding in Mkuju South, Kores will earn the right to buy up to 100% of the uranium subsequently produced at the project. The terms of those sales have yet to be agreed upon by Kores and East Africa resources.
East Africa Resources’ Mkuju Project area is in the southern region of Tanzania, immediately adjacent to Uranium One's Nyota project on its eastern boundary and also sits above Uranex Ltd's Likuyu North project on its southern boundary.
State-owned Kores was formed in 1967 to further Korea's access to strategically important mineral resources - including uranium - both domestically and internationally. It has previously declared an intention to invest heavily in uranium and copper mines in Africa and South America.
Kores president Kim Shin-Jong commented, "We are pleased to be partnering East Africa Resources in their exploration work in Tanzania. Kores recognises the potential of the region to develop into a mining centre of international significance."
Available at: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/ENF-Korea_to_invest_in_Tanzanian_project-0401124.html
1. Tehran Hails Moscow’s Diplomatic Efforts Over Iranian Nuclear Program
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev during a telephone conversation on Thursday that Tehran backed Moscow's diplomatic efforts to settle the dispute over Iranian nuclear program, the Kremlin said.
"Medvedev noted with satisfaction the Iranian president's positive assessment of the Russian initiative, a plan of gradual restoration of trust to the Iranian nuclear program,” the Kremlin said, adding that both leaders had agreed to continue talks on this issue.
The two presidents spoke the next day after the EU officials reached a preliminary agreement, backed by the United States, to impose an embargo on the Iranian oil exports that make up 60 percent of the country’s revenues.
The oil embargo may leave Tehran without its second largest market since the EU states buy 450,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day (bpd). China, the main customer of Iranian oil, has already cut its orders by more than half this month.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran aggravated in late December when the Iranian Navy, involved in the Velayat-90 military drills, discovered an American aircraft carrier nearby.
The situation around the maneuvers escalated when Iranian authorities said they might close the Strait of Hormuz which accounts for one-third of the world's tanker-borne oil and 17 percent of all oil traded worldwide. The United States however rejected the threat, saying that its navy would carry on mission in the strait.
Western powers and Israel suspect Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its program is civilian in nature.
Available at: http://en.ria.ru/russia/20120105/170631657.html
2. China Repeats Opposition to Unilateral Sanctions on Iran
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China on Wednesday restated its opposition to the U.S.-led push for unilateral sanctions on Iran over Tehran's nuclear programme and said the crisis should be resolved through diplomacy, as Iran lashed out with threats against Washington.
Iran threatened on Tuesday to take action if the U.S. Navy moves an aircraft carrier into the Gulf, Tehran's most aggressive statement yet after weeks of sabre-rattling as new U.S. and European Union financial sanctions take a toll on its economy.
"China has consistently believed that sanctions are not the correct way to ease tensions or resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear programme," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing.
"The correct path is dialogue and negotiations. China opposes putting domestic law above international law to impose unilateral sanctions on another country," he said.
China has long defended its oil and trade ties with Iran and criticised Western sanctions that could frustrate those ties.
Hong added: "China and Iran have normal and transparent trade and energy exchanges that do not contravene U.N. Security Council resolutions. The dealings in question should not be affected (by sanctions)."
U.S. President Barack Obama on the weekend authorised a law imposing sanctions on financial institutions that deal with Iran's central bank, its main clearinghouse for oil exports.
That U.S. sanctions threat could be a worry for China, the biggest buyer of Iranian oil, followed by India and Japan. Only Saudi Arabia and Angola sell more crude than Iran to China.
As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, China can veto resolutions mandating sanctions.
But Beijing has voted for them, while working to ensure its ties are not threatened.
China has, however, also criticised the United States and EU for imposing separate sanctions on Iran and said they should take no steps reaching beyond the U.N. resolutions.
Last year, Chinese investment ventures in Iranian oil and gas slowed, apparently prompted by commercial friction and, at least partly, by Beijing's efforts to cut the risk of Chinese oil firms being hit by U.S. sanctions.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/04/china-iran-usa-idUSL3E8C40DT20120104
Japan's prime minister pledged Wednesday in his traditional new year's press conference to bring "rebirth" to the area around the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said authorities would work to decontaminate the region from radioactive fallout, while ensuring compensation and health checks for those affected by the disaster.
"These three pillars will bring the rebirth of Fukushima," he said. Noda gave no timeframe, and government officials have said it may be years or even decades before many of the 100,000 residents displaced by the disaster can return.
The nuclear crisis, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986, was triggered by damage from an earthquake and tsunami in March. It spewed radiation into the surrounding soil, water and forests. A 20-kilometer (12-mile) region around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant plus some adjacent areas remain off-limits.
On Dec. 16, the government declared that the plant had achieved "cold shutdown conditions," and was essentially stable, but Noda stressed that "the battle against the accident is not over."
A government-sponsored investigation released last week found the response was confused and riddled with problems, and that authorities delayed disclosing information about dangerous radiation leaks.
The interim report criticized officials' use of the term "soteigai," meaning "outside our imagination," implied a shirking of responsibility. By labeling events as such, officials invited public distrust, it said.
When asked about how he might work to regain public confidence, Noda -- who took office in September -- said authorities have worked to release accurate information in timely fashion, but if that still needed improving, the government would work to correct that.
"This nuclear accident is something that people all around the country are concerned about, so transmitting the information accurately and appropriately is fundamental," he said.
Noda said he planned to visit Fukushima on Sunday, and wanted to listen to the opinions of those affected by the crisis.
He also promised to revive Japan's weak economy and tackle social security reform as the country's population rapidly ages.
Noda said that this week he planned to complete a final draft of the party's tax and social reform plan calling for Japan's sales tax to double, from 5 percent to 10 percent, by 2015. The sales tax would rise to 8 percent in 2014.
Noda said he hoped to hold talks with opposition parties, which control the less powerful upper house of parliament, as early as next week, and to submit the bill to parliament by the end of fiscal year, which ends in March.
Noda said the government's social security costs have been growing steadily and reforms should not be delayed any longer.
"We have reached a point where it is even difficult to sustain our current level of social security system," he said.
Available at: http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9S261380.htm
2. Austria and Czech Republic Divided Over Nuclear Power
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The disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan last year has re-shaped the debate in Europe on the future of atomic power.
Austria, which has long been anti-nuclear, has called for the continent to abandon nuclear power altogether, but its neighbour, the Czech Republic, is pushing ahead with plans to increase dramatically its production of atomic energy.
The nuclear age ended in Austria before it had begun. Just outside Vienna is the atomic power plant at Zwentendorf on the Danube.
In the late 1970s, it was ready to go into operation. All that was needed was the installation of the fuel rods and the push of a button.
But it never went online because the Austrians voted No to nuclear power in a national referendum in 1979.
Today the plant is a ghostly dinosaur. You can walk right up to the walls of the reactor to areas which, in functioning plants, would be radioactive.
These days it is used for safety training courses for nuclear engineers and as a film set.
Stefan Zach from EVN, the energy company which now owns Zwentendorf, says it was an expensive decision - but one that few Austrians regret.
"Over the years Zwentendorf cost about one billion euros [£834m; $1.3bn] but has never produced any nuclear electricity," he said.
"We think it is a perfect symbol for the green, renewable energy future. Since 2005 we have produced solar power at the plant, which provides energy for a few hundred households in the region."
These days Austria wants to play a leading role in stopping nuclear energy throughout Europe.
Austrian Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich says safety should come first.
"Austria is against nuclear power. After Fukushima it is clear that it is no perspective for Europe or the world. So we see that nuclear power plants are not safe and we are working on an anti-nuclear alliance to find a way for Europe in the future working without nuclear energy."
Seven countries have signed up to the anti-nuclear alliance, including Ireland, Portugal and Greece, but Austria is surrounded by countries that disagree.
Just over the border in the Czech Republic is the Temelin nuclear plant.
Unlike Germany, which decided to phase out atomic energy after the Fukushima accident, the Czech government is pushing ahead with plans to build two new reactors.
Petr Zavodsky, director of nuclear power plants development at Czech energy group CEZ, says the country has to reduce its dependence on coal.
"We have to think about safe nuclear power because we don't have enough coal to build coal power plants and we don't have space to build hydro.
"So for us it is the only chance, we have to import oil and gas, so safe nuclear power is the only option for the Czech Republic at the moment and we have to reduce CO2 emissions."
Temelin, which was Soviet-designed and upgraded with US technology, has long been a source of friction between Vienna and Prague. Austria has vowed to fight the expansion plans.
But Vaclav Bartuska, the government's special envoy for the completion of Temelin, says the concerns are misplaced.
"It is as safe as most power plants in the world, yes. I think it is the right thing to be afraid or at least respectful of nuclear power.
"And I definitely do not condone those who are fully, 100% pro-nuclear without thinking of the possible risks or consequences. And I am definitely glad we have neighbours like Austria or possibly Germany who are very careful, sometime negative and very precise. It is good to have them."
Mr Bartuska says "the final decision about Temelin" will be made in Prague, not in Brussels or Vienna.
The Czech Republic says expanding atomic power is crucial to its energy security.
Some Czechs feel that Austrian attitudes towards their nuclear programme are unrealistic and tinged with old, anti-Soviet prejudice. But many Austrians feel that they are on the right side of history. Europe's nuclear debate is far from over.
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16359991
3. Greenpeace Files Criminal Complaint Over Areva Espionage Report
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Greenpeace International filed a criminal complaint over a French news report that Areva SA (CEI), the world’s biggest supplier of nuclear fuel and services, had the environmental activist group spied on.
Spies may have infiltrated three watchdog groups, including Greenpeace, at Areva’s request, according to a Jan. 1 report in the Journal du Dimanche, prompting Greenpeace France to ask the Paris prosecutors to order an investigation today, Adelaide Colin, a Greenpeace France spokeswoman, said by phone.
“We learned of this affair in the press and want all possible light shed on this possible spying operation,” Colin said in a statement about the complaint, which didn’t name Areva as a target.
Greenpeace won damages in a criminal case last year against Electricite de France SA (EDF) over charges Europe’s biggest power producer hired private investigators to spy on the group’s anti- nuclear activities.
Areva said that it hasn’t spied on Greenpeace.
“There has never been an investigation request into Greenpeace,” said Patricia Marie, a spokeswoman for Paris-based Areva.
Greenpeace opposes France’s reliance on nuclear energy, which produces more than three-quarters of the country’s power. The country’s nuclear industry has been scrutinized in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima atomic disaster, and French Greenpeace activists last month broke into two atomic plants operated by EDF to expose security lapses.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-03/greenpeace-files-criminal-complaint-over-areva-espionage-report.html
1. US Downbeat About Revival of NKorea Nuclear Talks
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The United States said on Tuesday that the new North Korean leadership's stated refusal to engage with South Korea bodes ill for reviving six-party nuclear disarmament talks.
'That's not going to be conducive to getting back to the table,' State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland told reporters when asked about the North Korean stand.
North Korea on Friday ruled out engagement with South Korea's current government of conservative President Lee Myung Bak, a day after proclaiming Kim Jong Un, the son of late leader Kim Jong Il, as its new supreme chief.
The North will never have dealings 'with the Lee Myung Bak group of traitors,' according to the National Defense Commission, the top decision-making body. Ms Nuland recalled that 'there have been two criteria that we are looking for in particular in terms of getting back to six-party talks.' 'One is the continued improvement' of relations between the two Koreas, she said.
Available at: http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Asia/Story/STIStory_751650.html
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