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Nuclear News - 1/9/2012
PGS Nuclear News, January 9, 2012
Compiled By: Michael Kennedy

A.  Nuclear Safety & Security
    1. How Threat of Loose Soviet Nukes Was Avoided, Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press (1/8/2012)
    2. Nuke Regulators Get Teeth Via Bills, Kazuaki Nagata, The Japan Times (1/7/2012)
    3. 3 Years for Md. Man in Nuclear-Linked Export Case, Associated Press (1/6/2012)
    4. Bulgarian Nuclear Plant Among Safest in Europe - Stress Test, Sofia News Agency (1/5/2012)
B.  Iran
    1. Report: Iran Enriching Uranium at New Lab, Associated Press (1/8/2012)
    2. Panetta: Iran Has Not Yet Decided to Make a Nuclear Bomb, Associated Press (1/8/2012)
    3. Iran Mulling Over Russia’s Revised ‘Step-By-Step’ Plan: Envoy, Tehran Times  (1/7/2012)
C.  Nuclear Cooperation
    1. Japan, Turkey Agree to Restart Talks on Nuclear Cooperation Pact, The Mainichi Daily News (1/7/2012)
D.  Nuclear Energy
    1. CEZ Likely to Scale Back Nuclear Expansion Plan, Jan Korselt, Reuters (1/9/2012)
    2. India Says Work at Russia-Built Nuclear Plant Remains Stalled, Rakteem Katakey, Bloomberg (1/9/2012)
    3. Tiny Particles May Illuminate Reactor Cores, The Daily Yomiuri (1/8/2012)
E.  North Korea
    1. Korea's Unification Minister: Six-Party Talks the Most Effective Way to Mediate N.Korean Nukes, Song Ji-sun, Arirang News (1/8/2012)
    2. Police Investigating Rumor of Nuclear Explosion in N. Korea, Yonhap News Agency (1/7/2012)
F.  Links of Interest
    1. Policy of Decommissioning Aged Nuclear Plants Too Abrupt, The Daily Yomiuri (1/8/2012)
    2. The Fukushima Black Box, The Economist (1/7/2012)
    3. Iran's First Nuclear Fuel Rod: Another View, The Guardian (1/6/2012)
    4. Time to Ratify Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, CNN (1/5/2012)

A.  Nuclear Safety & Security

How Threat of Loose Soviet Nukes Was Avoided
Vladimir Isachenkov
Associated Press
(for personal use only)

The doomsday scenario of Soviet nukes falling into the hands of rogue states or terrorists has, as far as is known, remained fiction, thanks to a massive U.S.-Russian effort to lock the weaponry up safely after the Soviet Union fell apart.

The vast nuclear arsenal, scattered among several newly independent nations, was secured because Russian military officers acted with professionalism and honesty, Moscow and Washington shared clear priorities, and the U.S. taxpayer coughed up billions of dollars, former top officials who dealt with the Soviet nuclear legacy say.

Even so, as the world marks the 20th anniversary of the Soviet demise at the end of 1991, occasional doubts surface about whether the system was airtight. There's the Russian scientist who perhaps went to work for Iran's nuclear program, an old claim that portable nuclear devices went astray, the seizures of smuggled fissile material in the 1990s.

But difficult though it is to prove a nuclear negative, U.S. and Russian officials insist in interviews with
The Associated Press that the fears of the 1990s have not become a reality, even though the challenges of safeguarding Soviet nukes were daunting at the time.

"Twenty years on it's pretty hard to believe that not a single nuclear weapon has shown up loose," said Graham Allison, who played a key role in the effort as an assistant secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton and now heads Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

A quick U.S.-sponsored deal had Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan handing all their nukes over to Russia, and American cash helped safeguard the weapons at a time when the new governments couldn't even afford to pay military wages on time. Additional U.S. incentives offered jobs to disgruntled nuclear scientists from the former Soviet Union, many of whom were courted by nations like Iran.

There have been gnawing fears that a few Soviet nukes still might have gone missing, but experts with inside knowledge say that if it were true the world would already know.

"If somebody or a terrorist group got hold of a nuclear weapon, they would probably use it as quickly as possible," said Steven Pifer, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, held other senior State Department posts and is now director of the Brookings Institute's Arms Control Initiative. "So the fact that you haven't seen a nuclear detonation ... reflects the fact that the nuclear weapons have been maintained in a secure way."

That was no mean achievement given the enormous proliferation risks posed by the Soviet breakup.
The economic meltdown of the early 1990s forced many officers of the once-proud Soviet Army to moonlight as security guards or even cab drivers And with the wars and ethnic clashes triggered by the Soviet collapse came strong incentives to steal weapons for the black market.

The immediate task for the Russian military was to quickly remove thousands of battlefield weapons such as nuclear artillery shells and land mines from other Soviet nations. These relatively compact arms posed the biggest proliferation risk and often were stored close to areas of conflict.

"The military officers who did the job were the unknown heroes," said Alexander Golts, a Russian independent analyst. "It's hard to imagine what might have happened if the tactical nuclear weapons had remained on the territories of the states involved in military conflicts."

The next goal, strongly backed by Washington, was to remove strategic nuclear weapons from Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The first two agreed quickly, but Ukraine, which had inherited enough of the Soviet arsenal to be the world's third largest nuclear power, balked at the plan, setting the stage for years of diplomatic battles.

A war for custody of nukes? "All this was quite terrifying," said Allison.

Pifer said that some Ukrainian officials longed to keep them, but around 1992 concluded their country had neither the money nor the expertise to remain a nuclear power.

Also, the world's worst nuclear disaster had happened in 1986 at Chernobyl, in Ukraine, and public opinion wasn't keen on keeping nukes.

Still, Ukraine bargained for years for compensation in tough talks that sometimes made even seasoned diplomats lose their temper.

"There was a lot of pressure, they threatened us with all kinds of economic sanctions, they wanted to get this issue over with fast," Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine's then president, told the AP.

Ukraine insisted the U.S. provide hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for safeguarding and dismantling the arsenal. From Russia it demanded nuclear fuel as compensation for the highly enriched uranium in the warheads. And it wanted security guarantees from all the nuclear powers.

"We didn't want to get naked for free," Kravchuk said.

Tensions over which country military officers in Ukraine should swear allegiance to — Russia or Ukraine — also stoked tensions. In February, 1992 an entire squadron of combat jets flew from Ukraine to Russia after their pilots refused to take the oath.

Ukraine eventually got the money and security guarantees it was seeking, but the Russians had other obstacles to overcome. For instance, the economy was so bad that the military struggled to pay wages on time, and top brass were reduced to struggling to give the strategic nuclear forces personnel better rations, said Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Vladimir Dvorkin, a nuclear weapons expert in the Russian Defense Ministry in the early 1990s.

Control over the security of nuclear weapons never slackened, Dvorkin said. "People realized their responsibility because they were fully aware of the dangers."

Nuclear arsenals surrendered by former Soviet republics had to be safely transported long distances to centralized storage sites and secured. Dismantling missiles, bombers and submarines as required by the 1991 START treaty with the U.S. also required huge funds.

"Russia badly needed assistance," Dvorkin said, and the U.S. responded quickly with the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program initiated by Sens. Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, which provided billions of dollars in equipment and know-how to help Russia and its neighbors deal with the Soviet nuclear legacy.

"It seems to me that Nunn-Lugar was one of the smartest uses of defense dollars we ever made," Pifer said.

Under the program, the U.S. provided reinforced rail cars to carry nuclear warheads, high-tech security systems for storage sites and dismantling mothballed nuclear subs.

"The program provided colossal support," Dvorkin said.

Building on their cooperation in securing the Soviet nuclear arsenals, Moscow and Washington moved later to reduce the number of nuclear weapons held by both sides, most recently with the New START deal signed by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev that took effect last year.

But while Dvorkin says the military in Russia and other ex-Soviet nations kept tight control over atomic weapons, numerous civilian agencies were far less diligent in keeping track of nuclear materials at their disposal. "Fissile materials at nuclear power plants were controlled by one agency, and research reactors were in the hands of another one," he said.

Oversight at civilian structures was less stringent than in the military, creating conditions for a steady string of thefts of radioactive materials in the early 1990s, which were later seized by police in Germany and other European nations.

"There were such cases, but they didn't entail catastrophic consequences," Dvorkin said, noting that
the amounts of uranium and plutonium seized in Germany and elsewhere were extremely small, each measuring just a few grams.

Another major worry for the West was that scientists with nuclear know-how would be hired by unfriendly forces.

The U.S. responded quickly by setting up research centers that distributed grants to scientists "so that they can do civilian research and do it in Russia and avoid the temptations perhaps to go to countries such as North Korea and Iran," Pifer said.

"Thousands of scientists participated in this project in Russia and Ukraine, so we know of thousands of people who stayed behind," he said. "Whether we got everybody, I don't know."

Iran was working actively to attract scientists from Russia and other ex-Soviet lands, and the International Atomic Energy Agency in a report released in November said a foreign expert helped Iran on some of its alleged weapons-related experiments by working on ways to set off a nuclear blast through a sophisticated multipoint explosives trigger. Diplomats identified him as former Soviet scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko, who worked in Iran for several years.

Despite the assurances from Russian and U.S. officials that no Soviet nukes got lost in the chaos of the post-Soviet years, allegations occasionally surfaced that some of the weapons went missing.

Gen. Alexander Lebed, who headed Russia's Security Council for several months in 1996, made the most stunning of such claims in 1997, saying the military lost track of dozens of suitcase-sized portable nuclear devices. Lebed issued several contradictory statements about the number missing, and Russian officials rejected his claim.

Dvorkin said Lebed, who died in a helicopter crash in 2002, didn't know what he was talking about.

"I personally know people who were counting the weapons at centralized depots, and they have confirmed that nothing was stolen," he said. "They did the check after Lebed's statements and made
sure that everything was in place."

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Nuke Regulators Get Teeth Via Bills
Kazuaki Nagata
The Japan Times
(for personal use only)

The government wants to legally compel nuclear plant operators to take every measure possible to prevent a crisis like the one that occurred at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 power plant and follow the latest safety steps when reactor standards are changed, Environment Minister Goshi Hosono said Friday.

The government also plans to limit reactors to 40 years of service, but Hosono said there may be exceptions if safety requirements are met.

The new conditions will be included in bills to revise laws on the regulation of reactors and nuclear fuel to be submitted to the Diet this month.

The government will also submit a bill to establish a new nuclear regulatory authority under the Environment Ministry, with April targeted as the launch date.

Under current regulations, the regulatory body can order utilities to adopt the latest safety measures, but such an order is not legally binding. The proposed changes would make such orders obligatory and carry the threat of shutdown in the event of noncompliance.

Currently, it is up to utilities to prepare for severe crises. But in order to prevent core meltdowns and radioactive fallout even when earthquakes or tsunami beyond expectations trigger severe events, the new regulations will legally compel utilities to come up with measures that include ensuring the availability of multiple power and coolant sources, said Hosono.

On the lifespan of reactors, the government is still drafting the bills but will likely set rules for checking the conditions at each facility and the given utility's technical ability to maintain operations before approving extensions beyond 40 years.

Officials in charge of drafting the new regulations said the government decided to set the 40-year limit based on various factors. For instance, pressure vessels wear out to a certain degree after 40 years.

Also, the U.S. applies the 40-year rule and if plant operators wish to run reactors longer, they must submit a request and undergo safety checks.

Reactors 1, 2 and 3 at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, all of which experienced meltdowns in March, began operating in 1971, 1974 and 1976.

The government also plans to strengthen the independence of regulators, as the Fukushima crisis underscored how ineffective the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency's actions were.

NISA is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which is the main government organ for promoting nuclear power.

The coexistence of the promotion and regulatory bodies under the same roof has long been criticized.

The government plans to separate the regulatory body and place it under the jurisdiction of the Environment Ministry.

An interim report recently disclosed by the third-party panel investigating the causes of the Fukushima crisis pointed out the ineffectiveness of NISA officials during the initial stages of the event.

For instance, they didn't try harder to gather information from Tepco about the Fukushima No. 1 situation even though they suspected the utility was slow in providing updates.

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3 Years for Md. Man in Nuclear-Linked Export Case
Associated Press
(for personal use only)

A Maryland businessman was sentenced Friday to more than three years in prison for conspiring to export to Pakistan materials and equipment that can be used in nuclear reactors and defrauding the United States.

Nadeem Akhtar, 46, of Silver Spring, Md., was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Akhtar, one-time owner of Computer Communications USA of Columbia, was charged with trying to sell more than $400,000 in radiation detectors, calibration devices and other restricted nuclear-related equipment to

The U.S. has restricted exports to Pakistan's civilian and military nuclear programs, but Akhtar misrepresented what items he was selling and to whom they would be sold, U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod Rosenstein said.

According to the U.S., Akhtar bought goods subject to export restrictions from companies in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Texas, then used false-end user certificates to ship them through front companies in Dubai and elsewhere to Pakistan.

Akhtar admitted evading export regulations by using Computer Communications USA to buy, or try to buy, radiation detection devices, resins for coolant water purification, calibration and switching equipment, attenuators and surface refinishing abrasives.

According to his plea agreement, Akhtar acted on the orders of the owner of a Karachi trading company, who received orders from organizations or individuals in the Pakistani government. The Karachi trader told Akhtar what to buy and how to conceal the products' nature and intended end-user, the plea said, then usually paid Akhtar a commission of 5 percent to 7.5 percent.

His customers included Pakistan's Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission and the Chinese-built Chashma Nuclear Power Plant I, both subject to U.S. export restrictions, according to the Justice Department.

Akhtar is a Pakistani national and permanent resident of the U.S. His sentencing comes at a time when relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have been severely strained by everything from the raid last spring that killed Osama bin Laden to NATO's accidental killing of 24 Pakistani border troops in

It also comes at a time of rising concern in the U.S. about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Western experts say Pakistan has about 100 nuclear weapons and is in the midst of a rapid expansion of that arsenal.

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington said at least some of the goods Akhtar admitted exporting could have been used at the Khushab Nuclear Complex. Albright's institute has identified Khushab as a center for the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Albright said the goods could also be used at a suspected reprocessing facility at Chashma, another suspected weapons facility.

Pakistan, which has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, was hit with U.S. sanctions after it developed nuclear weapons in secret and conducted its first nuclear test in 1998.

Abdul Qadeer Khan, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, has been accused of running a nuclear black market ring that sold weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. The ring operated for years before it was disrupted in 2003.

U.S. experts say Pakistan is the key to stabilizing Afghanistan after U.S. and NATO forces leave. They say Islamabad's continuing cooperation will be critical to efforts to prevent mischief by the remnants of al Qaida and dozens of homegrown jihadi groups that call Pakistan's wild tribal regions home.

But securing Pakistan's nuclear arsenal against the diversion or theft of a warhead or weapons-usable material may be an even bigger concern. A 2010 Harvard study found that Pakistan's arsenal "faces a greater threat from Islamic extremists seeking nuclear weapons than any other nuclear stockpile on earth."

There is some quiet cooperation between the two nations on securing those weapons. The U.S. has provided Islamabad with millions worth of aid to protect its weapons, including money for intrusion detection systems, advice on designing tiered defenses and training.

But U.S. officials say Islamabad has refused to give the U.S. access to sensitive sites or agree to any formal plan for joint action in an emergency.

"We'd love to be able to help Pakistan, but there's certainly no formal agreement to do that," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

Rick Shimon, Special Agent in Charge of the Commerce Department's Washington Office of Export Enforcement, said the case highlighted the U.S. determination to disrupt proliferation networks.

"Preventing sensitive U.S.-origin technology from being used in illicit nuclear programs is one of our top priorities at the Commerce Department," he said.

Pakistan's military said Friday it is training 8,000 additional security personnel for its nuclear arsenal, which the U.S. fears might be stolen or diverted or Islamist militants.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that if the Pakistani Taliban forces topple the government, they would "have the keys to the nuclear arsenal."

"We can't even contemplate that," she added.

Those fears were heightened by a recent U.S. report that quoted unnamed Pakistani and American officials as saying Pakistan transports nuclear weapons components around the country in delivery vans with little security to avoid detection — a claim denied by Islamabad.

Pakistan insists its nuclear arsenal is well-defended, and the widespread fear among many Pakistanis is that the main threat stems not from al-Qaida or the Taliban, but from suspected U.S. plans to seize the country's weapons. These fears were heightened by the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

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Bulgarian Nuclear Plant Among Safest in Europe - Stress Test
Sofia News Agency
(for personal use only)

The management of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency presented Thursday Bulgaria's national report on stress tests at the Nuclear Power Plant, NPP, "Kozloduy" and for the NPP "Belene" project.

The Agency's Head, Sergey Tsochev, informed the results show a very high level of stability for both.

He also presented at a briefing to the media the methodology and history of the checks. Stability under extreme external influences such as earthquakes, strong winds, floods, power loss, and other severe accidents have all been assessed.

Following the accident at earthquakeicken Japanese NPP "Fukushima," all European nuclear plants were mandated to make similar stress checks to identify measures to improve safety.

The experts found that the "Kozloduy" meets the safety requirements for maximum earthquake. It was proven that "Kozloduy NPP" ensures safety for maximum seismic influences and has large resources regarding earthquakes stronger than those for which it was designed.

With regard to floods, the inspection proved that the site of "Kozloduy" cannot be flooded and there is no risk of tsunami or other waves. The site was built 35 meters above sea level and during extreme events such as rupture in the wall of the hydrologic system "Zhelezni Vrata" (Iron Gate), which is 250 km from the Bulgarian NPP, on the Serbian-Romanian border, and prolonged heavy rainfall, the maximum water level would reach 32.9 meters.

The plan is that by mid-2012 Units 3 and 4 to be released from nuclear fuel, said the Head of the Agency.

A series of measures to improve sustainability of Units 5 and 6 to extreme external influences has been developed. There is a proposal for the installation of an automatic cooling system, powered by mobile operators.

The inspection report shows that the level of safety is adequately reflected and it found that "Kozloduy" to date maintains a high level of safety, compliant to the requirements and there is no need of special measures such as closure of the NPP for reconstruction, said Tsochev, but added that the Agency has proposed additional measures to increase security, just in case.

The conclusions from the stress tests at "Belene" are that the plant is resistant to earthquakes, 40% stronger than the project design, and the project provides solutions for the entire spectrum of emergencies. It has been proven that an adequate response is planned for any emergency.

Experts found that "Belene" has a modern design with a high level of safety which far outstrips the level of safety of nuclear facilities in Bulgaria and the world, said the Head of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. He explained that the Belene project provides both active and passive safety systems.

It became clear that next week the Nuclear Regulatory Agency will begin discussions with the
NPP "Kozloduy" on the stated intentions to increase the power of Units 5 and 6.

Sergei Tsochev explained that "Kozloduy" is required to present a program for replacement of equipment four years prior to the expiration of the license of the available units - in 2013, since the license expires in 2017.

Power of the Units could be increased if "Kozloduy" demonstrates a capacity to do so in two years, according to Tsochev. He said that the NPP management has already submitted part of the documentation.

Now "Kozloduy" has three thousand megawatts of thermal power, which is 100% of the plant and the intention is to increase it to 104%. An increase by 4% corresponds to the thermal capacity of 3120 megawatts thermal power, as the Agency's Head explained.

Regarding statements of Traicho Traikov, Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism that the construction of a seventh unit at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant may start before the end of the GERB government's term in office, Tsochev was adamant the subject had never been discussed.

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B.  Iran

Panetta: Iran Has Not Yet Decided to Make a Nuclear Bomb
Associated Press
(for personal use only)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says Iran is laying the groundwork for making nuclear weapons someday, but is not yet building a bomb and called for continued diplomatic and economic pressure to persuade Tehran not to take that step.

As he has previously, Panetta cautioned against a unilateral strike by Israel against Iran's nuclear facilities, saying the action could trigger Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces in the region.

"We have common cause here" with Israel, he said. "And the better approach is for us to work together."

Panetta's remarks on CBS' Face the Nation, which were taped Friday and aired Sunday, reflect the long-held view of the Obama administration that Iran is not yet committed to building a nuclear arsenal, only to creating the industrial and scientific capacity to allow one if its leaders to decide to take that final step.

The comments suggest the White House's assessment of Iran's nuclear strategy has not changed in recent months, despite warnings from advocates of military action that time is running out to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.

Several Republican candidates have called for a tougher line against Iran, saying they believe it is committed to building the bomb. "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon," said Mitt Romney. "And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."

Rick Santorum has said that the U.S. should plan a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities and "say to them that if you do not open up those facilities and close them down, we will close them down for you."

Iran has opened two dozen of its facilities to international inspectors, but has refused in defiance of the U.N. Security Council to suspend its uranium enrichment.

A leading hardline Iranian newspaper reported Sunday that Iran has begun uranium enrichment at a new underground site well protected from possible airstrikes.

Kayhan daily, which is close to Iran's ruling clerics, said scientists have begun injecting uranium gas into sophisticated centrifuges at the Fordo facility near the holy city of Qom.

In a talk at a Brookings Institution forum in December, Panetta said an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would "at best" delay Iran's nuclear program by one or two years. Among the unintended
consequences, he said, would be an increase in international support for Iran and the likelihood of Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces and bases in the Mideast.

Panetta did not discuss the issue directly on Sunday's "Face the Nation." But Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, appearing with the defense secretary, said that he wanted the Iranians to believe that a U.S. military strike could wipe out their nuclear program.

"I absolutely want them to believe that's the case," he said.

Panetta did not rule out launching a pre-emptive strike.

"But the responsible thing to do right now is to keep putting diplomatic and economic pressure on them to force them to do the right thing," he said. "And to make sure that they do not make the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon."

Panetta said if Iran started developing a weapon, the U.S. would act. "I think they need to know that -- that if they take that step -- that they're going to get stopped."

Dempsey also said that Iran has the military power to block the Strait of Hormuz "for a period of time" if it decides to do so, but that the U.S. would take action to reopen them. "We can defeat that," he said.

Panetta said closing the strait would draw a U.S. military response. "We made very clear that the United States will not tolerate the blocking of the Strait of Hormuz," he said. "That's another red line for us and ... we will respond to them."

A number of experts say Iran is unlikely to close the strait, through which Gulf oil flows, because the action could hurt Iran as much as the West.

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Report: Iran Enriching Uranium at New Lab
Associated Press
(for personal use only)

Iran has begun uranium enrichment at a new underground site built to withstand possible airstrikes, a leading hard-line newspaper reported Sunday in another show of defiance against Western pressure to rein in Tehran's nuclear program.

The operations at the bunker-like facility south of Tehran, reported by the Kayhan daily newspaper, are small in comparison to Iran's main enrichment site. But the centrifuges at the underground labs are considered more efficient and are shielded from aerial surveillance and protected against airstrikes by up to 300 feet (90 meters) of mountain rock.

Uranium enrichment is at the core of the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies fear Iran could use its enrichment facilities to develop high-grade nuclear material for warheads.

Iran — which claims it only seeks nuclear reactors for energy and research — has sharply increased its threats and military posturing against stronger pressures, including U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's Central Bank in attempts to complicate its ability to sell oil.

A senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard force was quoted as saying Tehran's leadership has decided to order the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic oil route, if the country's petroleum exports are blocked. Revolutionary Guard ground forces also staged war games in eastern Iran in an apparent display of resolve against U.S. forces just over the border in Afghanistan.

Iranian officials have issued similar threats, but this is the strongest statement yet by a top commander in the security establishment.

"The supreme authorities … have insisted that if enemies block the export of our oil, we won't allow a drop of oil to pass through the Strait of Hormuz. This is the strategy of the Islamic Republic in countering such threats," Revolutionary Guard deputy commander Ali Ashraf Nouri was quoted as saying by another newspaper, the Khorasan daily.

The latest statements are certain to ramp up tensions with the U.S. and its allies, which are trying to increase pressure on Iran to punish it for its disputed nuclear program.

For the moment, however, U.S. officials are seeking stronger diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran rather than increasing threats of military action. A number of experts say Iran is unlikely to close the strait because that could hurt Iran as much as the West.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Iran is laying the groundwork for making nuclear weapons someday, but is not yet building a bomb. Panetta reiterated U.S. concerns about a unilateral strike by Israel against Iran's nuclear facilities, saying the action could trigger Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces in the region.

"We have common cause here" with Israel, he said. "And the better approach is for us to work together."

Panetta's remarks on CBS' "Face the Nation" reflect the Obama administration's long-held view that Iran is not yet committed to building a nuclear arsenal, only to create the industrial and scientific capacity to allow one if its leaders to decide to take that final step.

The Kayhan newspaper, which is close to Iran's ruling clerics, said Tehran has begun injecting uranium gas into sophisticated centrifuges at the Fordo facility near the holy city of Qom.

"Kayhan received reports yesterday that show Iran has begun uranium enrichment at the Fordo facility amid heightened foreign enemy threats," the newspaper said in a front-page report. Kayhan's manager is a representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all important matters of state.

Iran's nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, said Saturday that his country will "soon" begin enrichment at Fordo. It was impossible to immediately reconcile the two reports.

Iran has a major uranium enrichment facility in Natanz in central Iran, where nearly 8,000 centrifuges are operating. Tehran began enrichment at Natanz in 2006.

Nouri said Iran's leadership has made a strategic decision to close the Strait of Hormuz should its exports be blocked. One-sixth of the world's oil flows to market through the strait, which is jointly controlled by Iran and Oman at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

President Obama approved new sanctions against Iran a week ago, targeting the central bank and its ability to sell petroleum abroad. The U.S. has delayed implementing the sanctions for at least six months, worried about sending the price of oil higher at a time when the global economy is struggling.

But the new sanctions nevertheless prompted a series of threats from Iranian officials about closing the Strait of Hormuz.

The newspaper paraphrased Nouri as saying that a 10-day naval drill that ended Jan. 3 was preparation for such a closure. The Guard, which is Iran's most powerful military force and which has its own naval arm, has planned more sea maneuvers for February.

Khamenei "determined a new strategy for the armed forces, by which any threat from enemies will be responded to with threats," Nouri said.

The U.S. and Israel have said that all options remain open, including military action, should Iran continue with its enrichment program.

Late Sunday, Iran's intelligence minister said several people have been arrested on suspicion of spying for the U.S. and plotting to disrupt Iran's parliamentary elections this year. He gave no further details.

Tehran says it needs the nuclear program to produce fuel for future reactors and medical radioisotopes needed for cancer patients.

The country has been enriching uranium to less than 5 percent for years, but it began to further enrich part of its uranium stockpile to nearly 20 percent as of February 2010, saying it needs the higher grade material to produce fuel for a Tehran reactor that makes medical radioisotopes for cancer patients.

Weapons-grade uranium is usually about 90 percent enriched.

Iran says the higher enrichment activities — to nearly 20 percent — will be carried out at Fordo. These operations are of particular concern to the West because uranium at 20 percent enrichment can be converted much more quickly for use in a nuclear warhead than uranium enriched to only 3.5 percent.

Built next to a military complex, Fordo was long kept secret and was only acknowledged by Iran after it was identified by Western intelligence agencies in September 2009.

The facility is a hardened tunnel and is protected by air defense missile batteries and the Revolutionary Guard. The site is located about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Qom, the religious nerve center of Iran's ruling system.

"The Fordo facility, like Natanz, has been designed and built underground. The enemy doesn't have the ability to damage it," the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted nuclear chief Abbasi as saying Sunday.

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Iran Mulling Over Russia’s Revised ‘Step-By-Step’ Plan: Envoy
Tehran Times
(for personal use only)

The Iranian ambassador to Moscow has said that the Russian proposal for a “step-by-step” plan toward Iran’s nuclear program has undergone a number of revisions.

On July 13, 2011, Russia made a proposal for a step-by-step approach, according to which Iran could address questions about its nuclear program and be rewarded with a gradual easing of sanctions.

Ambassador Reza Sajjadi, in an interview with the Fars News Agency published on Saturday, said, “After the Russians presented the plan, we studied it for two months. Mr. Ali Baqeri, the deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, during his trip to Moscow (in early November 2011) expressed the country’s views in this regard. The Russians, after about three weeks, presented their revised initiative to Iran through the Russian Embassy in Tehran. The relevant authority is now deliberating on the revised plan.”

“The difference between this initiative and the proposals of the 5+1 (group) (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) is that first of all, the 5+1, in contravention of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, does not recognize our legitimate rights in regard to nuclear activities, and, on the other hand, has been calling for all our peaceful nuclear activities to be halted. But the step-by-step plan recognizes Iran’s inalienable right to acquire peaceful nuclear energy,” he stated.

Sajjadi added, “Previously, we took some steps and confidence-building measures to which the West has not given any positive response. The basis of the plan of (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov is logical, but in order for an agreement to be reached and (the plan) to be accepted by us, many consultations are required.”

In reply to a question about the fact that U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law a defense funding bill that imposes sanctions on financial institutions dealing with the Central Bank of Iran on December 31, 2011, Sajjadi said that Obama’s move was “illegal” and “unilateral.”

“The Russians had earlier announced that they do not approve of sanctions that go beyond resolutions and do not tolerate them. What Obama did caused a split between the members of the United Nations Security Council and undermined the UN,” he stated.

Sajjadi added, “The move is rejected, and the Russians have clearly announced that they will not agree to such sanctions and that Iran’s nuclear issue can only be resolved through dialogue.”

Elsewhere in his remarks, the Iranian ambassador dismissed news reports claiming that Russian officials have asked for permission to inspect the U.S. spy drone that was recently downed by the Iranian armed forces and said, “We have not received any request from the Russians to inspect the drone.”

He also said that the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council did not discuss the issue of the drone with Russian officials during his trip to Moscow in early December 2011.

SNSC Secretary Saeed Jalili and Russian officials only exchanged views on regional issues, Sajjadi stated.

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C.  Nuclear Cooperation

Japan, Turkey Agree to Restart Talks on Nuclear Cooperation Pact
The Mainichi Daily News
(for personal use only)

Japan and Turkey agreed Friday to work toward the resumption of negotiations on a bilateral nuclear cooperation pact.

The agreement was announced by Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu after their meeting in Ankara.

Davutoglu also told a joint news conference that Turkey is hoping to launch talks with Japan on a bilateral free trade agreement.

In an attempt to enhance bilateral economic cooperation, the two countries agreed to start regular ministerial-level dialogue, Gemba said, adding that Japan will consider the feasibility of an FTA with Turkey within this new framework.

Turkey is planning to build nuclear power plants in three locations by 2023. The talks between Tokyo and Ankara on the construction of its second nuclear complex, as well as on a civilian nuclear power pact, were suspended following the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

During a working lunch later in the day, Gemba and Davutoglu exchanged views on the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West, according to a Japanese official.

Davutoglu told Gemba that Turkey will continue to be actively involved in trying to resolve the rising tension between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, the official said.

Davutoglu visited Iran for two days through Thursday. Both Japan and Turkey import oil from Iran, at a time when the United States and the European Union are stepping up their sanctions on Tehran.

Gemba is on an eight-day tour that started Thursday and will also take him to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to discuss regional and energy issues.

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D.  Nuclear Energy

CEZ Likely to Scale Back Nuclear Expansion Plan
Jan Korselt
(for personal use only)

Czech power company CEZ will likely scale back its nuclear expansion tender because of new legal restrictions on public procurement, a decision that would reduce the potential size of the deal by some $15 billion.

A company spokesman said CEZ was likely to drop an option to build three new reactors in addition to two planned units at the Temelin nuclear plant.

The move would significantly reduce the potential value of the contract to the companies planning to bid: France's Areva , Toshiba unit Westinghouse and a consortium of Czech company Skoda JS and Russia's Atomstroyexport.

"The public tender is for two plus three but of course with the legal change it can hardly be expected that the option could be used," CEZ spokesman Ladislav Kriz said.

A new Czech public procurement law limits the amount of extra work that can take place as part of an option at 30 percent. In this case, it means CEZ would not be able to fund three new units because the extra work in the option would exceed the limit.

Kriz said it was unclear at this point if the option could be part of the contract or not but added the assumption was that it would not be part of the overall deal.

The tender for the two units at Temelin is expected to be worth around $10 billion.

This excludes the other potential three units at other nuclear plants - one at CEZ's Dukovany plant and two in Slovakia. If CEZ wants to build those as well, which is to be decided later, it would have to hold another tender in the future.

A renewal of nuclear technology in Europe has been set back by the disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan last year and Germany's subsequent decision to phase out its nuclear stations.

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India Says Work at Russia-Built Nuclear Plant Remains Stalled
Rakteem Katakey
(for personal use only)

Nuclear Power Corp. of India said work at its plant at Kudankulam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, being built with Russia’s help, remains at a standstill following continuing protests by villagers near the site.

“No work’s happening now,” S.A. Bhardwaj, director of technical services, said in New Delhi today. “Once the agitations are over, it’ll take us about two months to get contract workers back at the site. We can start generating power about four months after that.”

The first of two 1,000-megawatt reactors at Kudankulam, which state-owned Rosatom Corp. is helping to build, will start in a couple of weeks, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Moscow Dec. 16, after meeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The plant near the southern tip of India is part of 60,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity planned by Singh to battle a shortage of power in Asia’s second-fastest growing major economy. Residents of nearby villages intensified their protest in August, five months after an earthquake in Japan triggered the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.

The protesters have asked the government to shut the plant, demanding that more be done to ensure the safety, livelihood and security of the people.

“We’re trying our best to explain to the people that this plant is safe,” Bhardwaj said. “Various rounds of discussions have taken place between the protesters and a team of experts. They have genuine fears and it’s up to us to answer their questions.”

The start of the first unit of the plant has been delayed to May from December and the second is scheduled to begin in February 2013, according to Nuclear Power Corp.’s website.

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Tiny Particles May Illuminate Reactor Cores
The Daily Yomiuri
(for personal use only)

Using particles from space to look into the heart of nuclear reactors--this is the goal of researchers at Nagoya University.

The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned that a team of researchers from the university is developing technology to use elementary particles from space to see into the interiors of crippled reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Their aim is to establish technology that can obtain images similar to X-rays of what is happening inside the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors, whose cores melted down in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to start operations to move melted-down nuclear fuel out of the reactors within the coming 10 years as a step toward decommissioning them.

To do so, the power utility must know exactly where the lumps of nuclear fuel are in the reactors. The government has therefore thrown its support behind the critical project at Nagoya University.

The university team is scheduled to launch studies on practical use of the envisaged technology when the amount of radiation being emitted from the reactors is reduced, making it possible for members to work nearby.

The team comprises researchers at the state-run university's Kobayashi-Maskawa Institute for the Origin of Particles and the Universe, and is led by Associate Prof. Mitsuhiro Nakamura of the university.

The researchers are using elementary muon particles in lieu of X-rays. Muon particles are one of 12 kinds of elementary particles that constitute matter. They have properties similar to electrons, but weigh about 200 times more, and fall to Earth from space at a rate of one particle onto a person's palm per second.

Muon particles have a strong ability to penetrate substances, but are absorbed in proportion to the concentration of those substances. The greater the density of the substance they pass through, the more muon particles are absorbed and the more their number declines, according to the study team.

Observation of muon particles penetrating the reactors will make it possible to determine differences in density within the reactors, the researchers said.

By setting a special film measuring one square meter near each of the reactors, researchers will be able to create an image of their interiors based on the muon particles penetrating the reactors, they said.

As the density of nuclear fuel is higher than steel and other materials used in the reactors, the areas containing the fuel will appear paler than the images of other materials on the special film, making it possible to determine the exact locations and shapes of melted-down nuclear fuel, the researchers said.

The Nagoya University group successfully observed the bottom of the crater of Mt. Showa Shinzan, a volcano in Hokkaido, in collaboration with the University of Tokyo in 2007, obtaining images of magma locations.

Nakamura took the initiative in starting the reactor fluoroscopy project after the March 11 disaster.
The Japan Science and Technology Agency of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has designated the research project as eligible for receiving government subsidies from fiscal
2011 to 2014.

When the fluoroscopy method is applied to reactors, however, the special film may be affected by gamma rays emitted from the reactors, the researchers said. Gamma rays also have strong powers of penetration.

The research team therefore plans to shield the reactors with lead, so only muon particles can be detected.

The exact locations of the melted-down nuclear material in the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors and their container vessels are currently unknown.

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E.  North Korea

Korea's Unification Minister: Six-Party Talks the Most Effective Way to Mediate N.Korean Nukes
Song Ji-sun
Arirang News
(for personal use only)

South Korea's Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik appeared on state-run television on Sunday saying that Pyeongyang has coped with Kim Jong-il's sudden death pretty well and that Kim Jong-un's new regime is settling down better than expected.

When asked about the six party talks Yu said that the high-level talks are the most effective means to talk the North out of its nuclear ambitions.

Yu stressed that renouncing the six party talks or seeking an alternative could be extremely dangerous as it may signal some type of an acknowledgement of approval to the North's nuclear programs and control over the North's nukes would be lost completely.

Yu added that although it would be agonizing for North Korea to give up its nuclear programs, the country's economic hardships and international sanctions will be too much to bear the consequences of possessing them.

And even if Pyeongyang attempts to resume talks only with Washington and not with Seoul, Yu said that things wouldn't work out that way as the Korea-US alliance is tighter than ever.

And although it is highly unlikely that North would make any type of provocation in the near future Yu commented that it is possible for Pyeongyang to take such actions probably to boast its military power or to mute domestic conflicts.

The Unification Minister closed his remarks asking the North to engage in talks with the South Korean government saying that Seoul is open for conversation whenever Pyeongyang is ready.

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Police Investigating Rumor of Nuclear Explosion in N. Korea
Yonhap News Agency
(for personal use only)

The national police said Saturday they have launched an investigation into an earlier market rumor about a nuclear explosion in North Korea, trying to determine if speculators had intentionally spread the false report to make profits.

The Cyber Terror Response Center at the National Police Agency said the investigation was under way upon request from the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS), the nation's financial watchdog. The rumor spread Friday that a light-water reactor had exploded in North Korea and was leaking radioactive materials that could reach South Korea.

"We received the request late Friday night," a police official said. "We will look into details of the rumor and verify other relevant facts."

According to police, if speculators spread the rumor specifically to disrupt the market and make profits, they may be punished for violating laws guiding capital market and financial investments.

The government quickly dismissed the rumor as groundless, but word spread through instant messenger services among securities brokerages in Yeouido, a major financial district in Seoul, while others tweeted the rumor.

The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) fell 1.11 percent on Friday, and at one point shed as much as 2.12 percent. The local currency depreciated 0.88 percent to the greenback.

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F.  Links of Interest

Policy of Decommissioning Aged Nuclear Plants Too Abrupt
The Daily Yomiuri
(for personal use only)

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The Fukushima Black Box
The Economist
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Iran's First Nuclear Fuel Rod: Another View
The Guardian
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Time to Ratify Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
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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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