1. Six-Party Nuclear Talks to Restart in Near Future – Iran
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Iran will meet for talks with "six party" representatives over its nuclear activities in the "nearest future" Iran's IRNA agency reported on Tuesday, quoting foreign ministry official Ramin Mekhmanparsat.
The secretary of Iran's higher security council, Saeed Jalili, expressed his readiness to meet the six (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.S.) in a letter to EU foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton, Jalili said.
Mekhmanparsat did not specify an exact date or venue for the talks but Istanbul was suggested.
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi had previously said that Iran was ready to talk, but a venue had to be agreed first.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Akhmet Davutoglu said in February that Turkey was ready to host the talks.
The United States and its western allies suspect Iran of concealing a nuclear weapons development program behind its civil nuclear activities. Tehran has always denied the accusations.
Several states have declared resolutions and implemented sanctions against Iran, demanding it make transparent its nuclear program and particularly its uranium enrichment activity.
A group of international intermediaries on the Iran problem sent a joint declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on March 8 calling for Iran to return to dialogue without preconditions.
The six-party group of international intermediaries and the IAEA have since 2003 demanded Iran cease uranium enrichment work, which they claim threatens the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Talks were suspended in 2009 after the IAEA accused Iran of building undeclared nuclear facilities.
Available at: http://en.ria.ru/world/20120313/172131491.html
2. US Nuclear Expert Finds Iran Explosive Site in Imagery
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A U.S. non-proliferation expert said on Tuesday he has identified a building at the Parchin military site in Iran suspected of containing, currently or previously, a high-explosive test chamber the U.N. nuclear watchdog wants to visit.
David Albright, founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, said he studied commercial satellite imagery and found a building located on a relatively small and isolated compound at Parchin that fit a description in the November 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report.
The building has its own perimeter security wall or fencing and there is a berm between the building and a neighboring building, Albright said in a report.
The compound is located more than four kilometers away from high-explosive related facilities at Parchin which the IAEA visited in 2005, Albright's report said.
Iran refused access to Parchin, southeast of Tehran, during two rounds of talks with IAEA inspectors. Western diplomats say Iran may be delaying access to give it time to sanitize the facility of any incriminating evidence of explosive tests that would indicate efforts to design nuclear weapons.
"We have information that some activity is ongoing there," IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said recently, referring to Parchin.
The IAEA has evidence that the test chamber was placed at Parchin in 2000 and that a building was subsequently constructed around it, Albright's report said.
The information was that a large explosive test chamber was used to conduct experiments possibly related to the development of nuclear weapons in the early years after 2000, Albright said.
He was not able to gauge the level of activity at this particular site without comparing it to multiple images over a short period of time.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/13/iran-parchin-imagery-idUSL2E8EDNXC20120313
1. Japan Struggles to Handle Plutonium as Fast-Breeder Reactor Project Becomes Unrealistic
The Mainichi Daily News
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Japan has been fighting an urgent and difficult battle to dispose of accumulated plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel as it has become increasingly unrealistic to realize the country's long and expensive fast-breeder reactor project.
One gram of plutonium is said to have energy equal to 1 kiloliter of petroleum. If plutonium is mixed with uranium to create "MOX (mixed-oxide) fuel" and is burned at a fast-breeder reactor, more plutonium is produced than consumed. But now that it has become difficult to realize the government's project to build a fast-breeder reactor that was once dubbed a "dream reactor," Japan has been hard-pressed to dispose of accumulated plutonium.
Japan started the construction of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, in 1985, and succeeded for the first time in generating power at the fast-breeder reactor in August 1995. But in December 1995, a fire broke out at the facility when sodium used as coolant leaked out. The operation of the reactor was resumed in 2010, but it has been plagued by a series of problems ever since, and therefore it is extremely difficult to put it into commercial use.
Based on the assumption that the fast-breeder reactor project will be carried out in the future, the Japanese government has extracted plutonium from spent nuclear fuel at nuclear power plants that run on uranium as fuel. As of the end of last December, Japan had about 45 metric tons of accumulated plutonium.
It is unforgivable, however, to possess useless plutonium from an international perspective from the standpoint of anti-terrorist measures. Radiation emitted from plutonium is called alpha rays, a type of radiation that can be easily prevented from penetrating human bodies, but if it builds up in the lungs, the liver or bones, it could cause cancer. In the wake of the outbreak of the nuclear crisis at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, plutonium has been detected even outside the premises of the nuclear complex. Therefore, it is necessary to strictly manage the plutonium.
In 1997, meanwhile, the Cabinet approved a plan to promote a fuel cycle program including the so-called "pluthermal project" that would require existing reactors to burn "MOX fuel." Under the proposal, Japan is supposed to carry out the fuel cycle program at 16 to 18 reactors by fiscal 2015.
Nevertheless, because it has been difficult to secure consent from local governments that host nuclear plants, there are only four reactors, including the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, that have introduced pluthermal power generation so far. It is also not clear whether or when the operations of other reactors can be resumed due mainly to the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
If the government were to decide not to build new nuclear reactors and move toward a policy of decreasing its dependence on nuclear power and decommission aging reactors, plutonium would not be consumed. Under such circumstances, Japan would have no option but to bury spent nuclear fuel underground without reprocessing it. Methods of disposing of spent "MOX fuel" have not been put to practical use due to high costs, and therefore, there is no prospect of the nuclear fuel cycle program being realized in the future.
2. Majority of Japanese Oppose Nuclear Plant Restarts: Poll
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A majority of Japanese oppose a restart of nuclear power plants currently shut for maintenance, a poll by the Asahi newspaper showed on Tuesday, reflecting high public distrust towards atomic power after the 2011 tsunami-triggered nuclear crisis.
The government wants to restart some of the nuclear plants to avoid a potential power crunch come the peak summer season, with only two of 54 nuclear reactors generating electricity.
The two last reactors are due to be shut for maintenance.
Trade Minister Yukio Edano said this month that no nuclear reactors in Japan may resume operations in time for summer, leaving the country facing an estimated 10 percent power shortage during demand hours in summer.
According to the opinion poll conducted over the weekend, 57 percent of people opposed the restart of nuclear reactors with 80 percent not trusting the government's safety measures.
Public concern towards nuclear power shot up in the wake of the nuclear disaster last March, when a powerful earthquake and tsunami crippled Fukushima's Daiichi atomic power plant 240 km (160 miles) northeast of Tokyo and triggered the worst disaster of its kind since Chernobyl in 1986.
The government has been conducting stress tests on the reactors to prove their safety to a cynical public.
But many local governments hosting nuclear reactors have called for a more comprehensive set of tests taking into account damage caused at Fukushima.
After the Fukushima disaster Japan said it will reduce its reliance on nuclear -- which before the crisis accounted for 30 percent of electricity demand -- in the medium to long term.
For the time being the dwindling share of nuclear power has forced Japan to import more oil and especially liquefied natural gas (LNG) to plug the gap.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/13/us-japan-nuclear-poll-idUSBRE82C02C20120313
3. Fukushima One Year on: Clean Up Efforts Slowly Gaining a Toe Hold as Public Trust in Government Remains Low
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Taken alone, each of these stories would constitute major breaking news.
A year on after the catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, they are still just part of the daily information ticker tape coming from the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl – and testament to a disaster that is still very much in progress.
They also bear witness to what mistakes were made, what lessons remain unlearned, and the sobering truth that nuclear debacles are measured as much by what happened as in trying to predict what cataclysms – human health, massive population displacement, food supply contamination, domestic and world economic tremors, and willful ignorance – are still to come.
Yet, one year after Japan's nuclear crisis began, researchers say that a strong, evidence-based understanding of the accident, and the risks the reactors continue to pose, is within reach.
But outside observers, and even some critics in Japan, are increasingly worried that the loss of public trust, together with politicians' desperation to regain it, could undermine rational decision-making about clean up and resettlement – putting at risk more than 100,000 people who were evacuated.
Tokyo Electric Company, or TEPCO, has projected that within 10 years the Fukushima Daiichi site will be cleaned up.
But Bellona’s nuclear physicist and general manager Nils Bøhmer said he was “very skeptical” that will be the case.
An area estimated to be the size of Tokyo will have to be completely rehabilitated. The evacuees from a zone that is still radioactive despite the fact that the plant’s reactors have been brought under control will likely be left to themselves to decide whether returning home is worth the risk. Thousands of tons of radioactive debris will have to be removed with as-yet-to-be-developed technology.
Added to that, a quarter of a century later, Chernobyl continues to pose radiation hazards onsite and topsoil in Belarus, which took the brunt of the radiation after Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor exploded, is still contaminated.
The crisis began a year ago on March 11, 2011, when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake on the Pacific floor sent a massive wall of water rolling towards the Japanese coastline. The three operating reactors of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors automatically shut down in the moments after the quake, but 41 minutes later the tsunami burst through the plant's defenses – including a sea wall that was determined to be to low – and inundated the reactor buildings.
Water flooded emergency generators leaving the plant without power for cooling systems. One month earlier, regulators had inspected these generators and found them to be suffering from saltwater corrosion – and they agreed with industry officials to keep mum. With no cooling, radioactive decay continued to heat the reactor cores. In the control room, workers struggled to run crucial instruments, using flashlights and car batteries scavenged from nearby vehicles and to search for emergency procedure manuals, TEPCO admitted in its own report on the accident.
Over the following three days, the last line of emergency systems failed and the three reactors melted down. The process released hydrogen gas, which eventually triggered explosions in the reactor buildings. Volatile radioactive chemicals, notably iodine-131 and caesium-137, began to belch into the air and sea.
Japan initially declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency that the accident scored a “5” on the seven point International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), putting it equal to the Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979. Later, it upwardly revised its disaster to a “7,” making it the only nuclear accident in history on par with Chernobyl.
When reactor No.4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded in 1986, the Soviet government imposed a strict information blackout. The situation at Fukushima was somewhat different: Within hours the government struggled to keep up with new information on radiation readings.
They were joined by TEPCO and a host of domestic and international researchers – often working at cross-purposes.
Most notably, it was discovered that Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency, TEPCO and their watchdog, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), had been working in collusion to keep a lot of information out of the public's reach. Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan acknowledged his government had suppressed and mishandled information.
The saturation of information – true, false, misleading and contradictory – gradually led to extreme mistrust among the public: As radioisotopes spread from the plant, the government was repeatedly forced to raise its recommended safety limits for radiation exposure to citizens and workers – otherwise, it would have been legally required to evacuate the site immediately.
As a result, some in Japan believe that the government is corrupt; others think it is incompetent. Prime Minister Kan stepped down over his handling of the crisis, saying poignantly that his government should have been more open and organized in its public information policies.
New Prime Minister Yoshikiko Noda has promised to shut down Japan’s nuclear industry in the next 40 years.
The accident itself spurred several other countries to reassess their own energy strategies, most notably Germany, which will shut down all 17 of its nuclear reactors by 2022. The Swiss government followed suit, announcing it hoped to shut down its five nuclear reactors by 2034. Belgium plans to do the same, and Italy voted in a summer referendum not to begin a nuclear program at all.
The prevailing feeling among the Japanese public remains that “what the government says always changes,” a former Japanese government official told Bellona in a recent email interview.
Sorting through the informational debris is Malcolm Crick, secretary of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) in Vienna.
The committee will deliver its preliminary findings in May, and Crick says they should give a general picure of how much radioactivity was released, where it went, and how much workers and the general public received, said Nature Magazine.
In other words, and despite reports on radiation levels from Norway, the International Atomic Energy Agency, TEPCO and the Japanese government, we still just don’t know how much radiation was released and what impact it may have.
“The Fukushima accident was a real eye-opener for the world in several aspects,” said Bellona’s Bøhmer.
“First of all the accident reminded us about the real danger with nuclear reactors – that the unthinkable can and will happen. The accident also shows that even in as technologically advanced a country as Japan, there were several flaws in everything from lack of independent oversight of nuclear operators to flaws in emergency control.” In the immediate aftermath of the accident, operators could do little more than flush the overheated reactors with seawater using fire engines, helicopter drops and improvised pumps. Today, the situation at the plant has improved. Corrosive salt water has been replaced with fresh water, which is passed through a filtration system to remove radioactive cesium before being recycled back into the cores, Nature Magazine reported.
The system seems to be working. Late last year, temperatures at all three reactors dropped below 100°C, leading officials to announce that the plants had achieved “cold shutdown.” Sensors in the bottoms of the reactor vessels show units 1, 2 and 3 to be in the range of 25-60ºC, World Nuclear News (WNN) reported.
The spent fuel storage ponds – which were another major cause of concern in the days following the accident as it could not be established if the water in the ponds had boiled away, exposing the spent fuel rods in storage – are also cool. Cold weather has presented more of a problem to TEPCO in recent weeks, reported WNN. The company is trying to insulate cooling equipment to prevent minor pipe-breaks.
Technicians are now turning their attention to major projects like relocating spent fuel from the ponds and the ultimate removal of the melted remains of the reactor cores, said WNN. The most damaged of the exploded reactor buildings are those housing reactor Nos 3 and 4, where excess debris presents special problems.
TEPCO intends to remotely evaluate the damage to the spent fuel storage pool above reactor No. 4. A recent inspection revealed that some four meters of water remains in the pond. Prevailing opinion is that none of the spent nuclear fuel there is damaged, reported WNN.
All of this radioactive waste will have to be stored onsite at least temporarily, so technicians have been working to repair some broken systems at the plant’s common fuel pond, which holds historic fuel from all six reactors.
The most difficult of the cleanup efforts onsite will be removing the destroyed reactor cores of reactor Nos 1,2 and 3.
“This is a delicate operation because fuel has been melted and has to be taken out by non-standard methods that will also have to protect the workers,” said Bøhmer.
“In such an operation you could lose fuel, causing dangers of chain reactions,” he said. Removing the melted fuel demands decontamination within the buildings of reactor Nos 1, 2 and 3 as well as certain repairs to the primary containment vessels.
In short, dangers remain. The plant continues to leak cesium into the sea, according to Fukushima Diary, an activist site established by Iori Mochizuki, a 27-year-old civil engineer. Fukushima Diary further reported that the leaks of cesium tainted water are being underplayed by TEPCO, and that Japan’s Meteorological Research Institute indicates the levels are far higher than those being reported by the utility.
So even now, a year later, information supplied by the government and the utility is questionable.
Meanwhile, Japan has developed a “stress test” to assess the safety of its other nuclear plants. But for now, just two of the country's 54 reactors are running, Reuters reported. In an effort to win back the trust of its citizens, the government is planning one of the most extensive and costly cleanup operations ever – an effort some experts view as unrealistic. Last autumn, plans were announced to bring radiation doses from the accident to below 1 millisievert per year in as much of the evacuation zone as possible, which spans a 20-kilometer radius around the plant.
But that goal is based on an international standard for doses received during the normal operation of a nuclear plant, not following an accident.
Veterans of the Chernobyl accident say the best cleanup method is to literally turn over the first meter of topsoil for hundreds of square kilometers surrounding the plant. But the terrain surrounding the plant is mountainous and wooded, and flipping the topsoil would involve killing the ecosystem, Wolfgang Weiss, a physicist at Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection in Munich and chair of UNSCEAR, told Nature Magazine. Grassroots cleanup efforts have begun in various areas near the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Groups are removing the top few centimeters of radioactive soil from contaminated rice fields.
But with no central facility in which to place contaminated soil, such cleanup operations are just creating another localized waste problem.
“People are not allowed to transport the waste, so they put everything in holes on their property,” said Weiss.
But Yoichi Tao, an activist with a background in high-energy physics and teaching position at Kogakuin University in Tokyo who advises grassroots cleanup crews, told Nature Magazine that non-government affiliations attempts at bringing local problems to heel go further in the public’s mind.
“Since March 11, people haven't trusted scientists who receive funding from the government,” Tao said. “They trust people who act without government funding and who work together with them.”
Another aspect of government control that will fall under question is the practice of prolonging the engineered lifespans of reactors that have reached their 30 to 40 year limits – as happened with reactor No 1 at Fukushima Daiichi two weeks before the tsunami, noted Bøhmer.
Should the practice of granting old reactors license extentions be discontinued, that, in turn, can do much to put nuclear power out of business in the long run, he said. “The accident will also put more focus on safety when building new reactors, which will result in an even higher building cost for new nuclear reactors,” said Bøhmer “These two factors, in combination with less public support for nuclear power, would result in a decline of nuclear power generation in the decades to come.”
Available at: http://www.bellona.org/articles/articles_2012/fukushima_anniversary
1. N. Korea to Soon Accept IAEA Monitors: Pyongyang Envoy
The Mainichi Daily News
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A visiting senior North Korean nuclear envoy said Monday his country will soon accept inspectors from the international nuclear watchdog to monitor Pyongyang's nuclear activities in line with a recent bilateral agreement with the United States.
Ri Yong Ho, North Korea's chief envoy to the six-party talks on the country's nuclear program, told reporters that Pyongyang's acceptance of monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency "will take place shortly," without giving a specific time frame. The envoy said North Korea is making preparations toward the implementation of the agreement struck in February, under which Pyongyang is supposed to suspend nuclear tests, long-range missile launches and uranium enrichment activities in exchange for food aid from Washington, and allow the IAEA to monitor the moratorium.
Ri, who came to the United States to attend private seminars in New York held Wednesday through Saturday, indicated that improvement in the Pyongyang-Washington relationship, by replacing the present armistice agreement to end the 1950-1953 Korean War with a peace treaty, is a prerequisite for his country's nuclear abandonment.
He said he told seminar participants that the termination of the hostile relationship between the United States and North Korea "is a starting point to resolve all other pending problems."
Ri also said North Korea has no intention at present to hold dialogue with South Korea, as Seoul has shown no will to abide by agreements with Pyongyang over economic cooperation and other projects reached during the past two inter-Korean summits - in 2000 and 2007.
Available at: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/international/news/20120313p2g00m0in109000c.html
2. S. Korea Cautious on N. Korea's Recent Nuclear Deal with U.S.
Yonhap News Agency
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North Korea's recent nuclear deal with the United States is a good indicator of Pyongyang's current movement, but it is still too early to "conclusively assess" it, South Korea's point man on North Korea said.
North Korea has agreed to freeze its uranium-enrichment facilities and temporarily halt its nuclear and long-range missile tests in exchange for 240,000 tons of U.S. food aid.
The North has also agreed to allow the return of monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon.
Pyongyang and Washington announced the deal late last month after their first high-level talks in Beijing on Pyongyang's nuclear programs since the December death of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il.
"It is still too early to conclusively assess that. But it is a good signal that the government in the North is willing to move," Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said in an interview posted on the Spiegel's Web site.
Yu held the interview with the German weekly magazine during his recent trip to Germany and the European Union.
The nuclear accord raised hope that the six-party talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs could be resumed.
The North quit the disarmament-for-aid talks in April 2009 and conducted a second nuclear test a month later. The talks also involve South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Still, Yu sounded a cautious note on whether North Korea will follow through with its latest commitment.
"If the announced steps are indeed implemented, then it will achieve the precondition for new talks -- also with an expanded number of parties, as we have always demanded," Yu said. "Now we will have to see how dependable this announcement really is."
The North has a track record of making commitments in return for economic concessions and then abandoning talks and reneging on its commitments.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2012/03/12/24/0401000000AEN20120312004800315F.HTML
3. N. Korea Nuclear Program is Threat to E. Asia: IAEA Chief
The Mainichi Daily News
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The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Saturday that the nuclear weapons program in North Korea threatens the safety of East Asia.
North Korea's nuclear program is "a threat to East Asia," IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in an interview with Kyodo News and indicated the nuclear agency will make utmost efforts to resolve the issue.
Amano said that North Korea's nuclear program poses a greater risk to the world than Iran, which is currently the focus of heightened global concerns for its own suspected attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
"The problem (with North Korea) is serious and its impact on the world is larger" than Iran, said Amano, citing the fact that Pyongyang has already conducted two nuclear tests. Amano said he is seeking the return of his agency's nuclear inspectors to monitor North Korea's nuclear complex in Yongbyon, after Pyongyang agreed to accept IAEA monitors in a bilateral agreement reached with the United States in late February.
But Amano declined to clarify when the agency will meet with North Korean officials to discuss the issue, saying the IAEA is "currently assessing the situation."
The IAEA's knowledge of North Korea is "limited" and it has had "absolutely no idea about the current situation in Yongbyon" since April 2009, when North Korea expelled the agency's inspectors from the city, he said.
"It will still take a considerable time" for the return of IAEA inspectors to Yongbyon as the agency needs to talk with North Korea and the United States to determine what activities the IAEA inspectors would be allowed to engage in after their return, Amano said.
Available at: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/international/news/20120311p2g00m0in015000c.html
1. Australia Passes Controversial Nuclear Waste Bill
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The Australian government has passed legislation that will create the country's first nuclear waste dump, despite fierce opposition from environmental and Aboriginal groups.
The passage of the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 through the Senate paves the way for a highly controversial plan to store nuclear waste in Muckaty Station, a remote Aboriginal community in the arid central region of the Northern Territory.
The ruling Labor party received support from the conservative coalition opposition to approve the bill, despite an ongoing federal court case over the legality of using the Muckaty site to store radioactive material.
Currently, nuclear waste from the medical and mining industries is stored in more than 100 "temporary" sites in universities, hospitals, offices and laboratories across Australia. Anti-nuclear protesters disrupted proceedings in the Senate as the legislation was debated earlier on Tuesday, with the group heckling lawmakers from the public gallery over their support for the bill.
A recent medical study warned that transporting nuclear waste over long distances to such an isolated location, which is 75 miles north of the Tennant Creek township, could endanger public health.
"The site is in an earthquake zone, it floods regularly, there are very long transport corridors, there are no jobs being applied and it's opposed from people on the ground, on the front line from Tennant (Creek) all the way up to the NT government and people around the country," said senator Scott Ludlam of the Greens, which successfully added an amendment to the bill that bans the importing of foreign nuclear waste to the site. Aboriginal groups launched legal action after claiming that traditional owners of the land around Muckaty do not approve of the dump, despite the government maintaining that the local Ngapa indigenous community supports the plan.
Under Australian Native Title law, indigenous groups recognised as the traditional owners of land must be consulted and compensated for any major new infrastructure.
Although the Australian government insists that it has not decided on a site for the dump, Muckaty is the only option under consideration and the Northern Territory government has already been offered AUS$10m if it accepts the facility.
Finding a location for a national nuclear waste dump has proved a major headache for successive Australian governments, with former prime minister John Howard rebuffed in his attempt to situate the facility in South Australia in 2004.
The Northern Territory government has complained that it is being strong-armed into taking the dump due to it being a "constitutional weak link" and not having the same rights as full Australian states.
Nuclear power remains a highly contentious issue in Australia, which, despite having the largest uranium deposits in the world, has steadfastly refused to shift its largely coal-fired energy generation to nuclear.
Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/13/australia-nuclear-waste-aboriginal
2. Merkel Defends Germany's Nuclear Power Deadline
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
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Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany defended over the weekend her government's decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022 and replace it with renewable energy sources, dismissing critics who said the government would never make the deadline. Ms. Merkel made the decision nearly a year ago after a devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, caused a meltdown at a nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan. The accident heightened anxieties about nuclear safety around the world, and set off new soul-searching about the wisdom of relying on nuclear power.
Weeks after the tsunami, Ms. Merkel's government had already taken the nation's oldest eight reactors off line; it decided in June that the remaining nine would follow over the next 11 years. But members of the opposition and environmental organizations say the government has not moved quickly enough to meet Germany's target of drawing 35 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Last year, the total was 20 percent.
The critics directed much of their fire at the nation's distribution grid, which they said was incapable of transporting enough renewable energy from wind farms in the north to the industrial heartland in the south. They doubted the problems with the grid could be addressed by 2022.
"After deciding to exit nuclear energy, it seems as if Ms. Merkel's coalition stopped its work," said Sigmar Gabriel, a former environment minister and the leader of the opposition Social Democrats. "There is great danger that this project will fail, with devastating economic and social consequences."
Ms. Merkel conceded in her weekly podcast that, "of course, we need a lot of new investment" for the plan to be carried out. But she insisted that her decision was the right choice.
Legislation to expand the energy grid will be given "absolute priority" and passed in June, she said.
But even German business groups, normally allies of the chancellor, say more needs to be done. "For the energy transformation to succeed, a lot more needs to happen," said Markus Kerber, the head of the Association of German Industry. He stressed that a critical factor would be integrating the new power sources, whether wind or solar, into the existing network.
Germany also has support from its southern neighbor Austria, which voted against pursuing atomic energy in 1974 and has been a vocal opponent ever since. Werner Faymann, the Austrian chancellor, said in an interview published on Monday that he expected to see a push beginning this year in at least six European Union countries to phase out nuclear energy.
"The goal is a Europe-wide exit from nuclear energy," Mr. Faymann told the newspaper Österreich. "I expect the petition drive will start in at least six EU countries in autumn." But not all European Union countries are as eager to end their reliance on nuclear power as Germany is. Britain and France, as well as new members like Poland and the Czech Republic, remain committed to nuclear power as energy prices rise.
So far, the switch from nuclear to renewable energy has widespread support among the German public. In a recent survey by the Wahlen research group for the public broadcaster ZDF, 76 percent of Germans said they supported the move, with the majority saying the tempo was either "just right" or "too slow." The survey questioned about 1,250 Germans and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Available at: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/world/merkel-defends-germanys-nuclear-power-deadline-226579/
3. Polish Nuclear Dreams Threaten Ties with Germany
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Determined to develop its nuclear industry to meet its booming energy needs, Poland is tired of lectures from its environmentally conscious neighbor Germany. After all, Poles argue, the Germans have benefitted from nuclear power for decades. The differing energy philosophies threaten to strain ties between the two countries.
The street that will lead into Poland's radiant future is dilapidated. Rusty steel mesh protrudes from the concrete, and deep puddles have formed where some of the concrete slabs have sagged into the ground. But such adverse conditions can hardly shake Krzysztof Krzemiski's enthusiasm.
Krzemiski is the mayor of Reda, a small city in northwestern Poland. He maneuvers his gray Volkswagen Passat around the potholes and stops in front of a rickety chain-link fence. Behind it are massive walls from an earlier era, now overgrown with grayish-green vegetation.
It was here, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Gdansk, on Lake Zarnowiec, that Poland's communist regime once poured the foundations for a nuclear power plant. Krzemiski was the head of a work brigade at the time. "It was my first job as an engineer," he says. It was "a nice time, very demanding and challenging."
But it all ended with the fall of communism, when the country's new, democratic leaders halted construction on the plant. "We shut down the site in 1989," says Krzemiski. "A few concrete and steel parts were sold for next to nothing, and the reactor went to Finland." Now, more than 20 years later, the situation has fundamentally changed. Poland, no longer the dirt-poor supplicant of the post-communist era, has transformed itself into an increasingly influential member of the European Union. The economy is booming, and Poland needs electricity -- a lot of electricity. For that reason, Krzemiski believes that the dream of his youth will become a reality after all, and that a reactor will finally be built on Lake Zarnowiec. "Coal is running out, the wind isn't very strong in Poland and the sun rarely shines," he says. "We need nuclear energy."
Poland's nuclear dream is practically destined to cause friction with its neighbor to the west. Rarely in the last 1,000 years have Poland and Germany been on such good terms as they are today. But in response to Poland's decision to build nuclear power plants, lawmakers of all political stripes in the state parliaments of the eastern German states of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (both of which border Poland), as well as in the city-state of Berlin, have passed motions appealing to the Poles to follow Germany's lead and do without nuclear energy.
But even in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, which turned public opinion in Germany massively against atomic power, Warsaw remains undeterred in its determination to develop nuclear energy. "If someone doesn't want to build nuclear power plants, that's their problem," says Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Last week, Economics Minister Waldemar Pawlak told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the decision had already been made. The state-owned energy company PGE is expected to build two reactors, and one of them will most likely be in Mayor Krzemiski's jurisdiction, on Lake Zarnowiec.
The disagreement over nuclear power isn't the only energy dispute that pits Polish producers against German politicians. They are also at odds over shale gas discoveries. Geologists have found enormous natural gas reserves locked into the rock deep underneath the hilly, forested landscapes of Pomerania and Kashubia in northwestern Poland. Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski already envisions his country as the Norway of Eastern Europe.
But, once again, it is primarily German environmentalists who are curbing the euphoria over the natural gas find. Jo Leinen, a member of the European Parliament for the center-left Social Democrats and an environmental expert, is calling for tighter regulation of the special process used to extract the natural gas, known as fracking. The process involves the injection of chemicals into layers of rock, with the risk that the substances could potentially leach into ground water.
As Poland's former ambassador to Germany, Janusz Reiter is adept at gauging the mood in German-Polish relations. He fears that a dispute over nuclear power and shale gas could revive old stereotypes on both sides. "Energy is a highly emotional political issue," he says. "For many German environmentalists, the survival of humanity is at stake."
The Poles, for their part, can be touchy when they feel that someone is trying to tell them what to do -- especially if they are German. They are also worried about the fruits of the painful transformation process, and they are afraid that without nuclear power they will never attain the standard of living Western Europeans take for granted.
The offices of the nuclear energy division of the Polish Economy Ministry are on Three Crosses Square in Warsaw. Director Zbigniew Kubacki receives SPIEGEL in a drab conference room. The only wall decoration consists of a map showing Poland surrounded by users of nuclear power. The Scandinavians produce nuclear energy, and so do the Baltic countries, the Czechs, the Ukrainians and, for the time being, the Germans. The Slovaks and even the Belarusians plan to build new reactors soon. Only Poland, says Kubacki, is lagging behind once again.
Kubacki points out that the country's energy consumption is growing by 4 percent a year, in parallel with its economy. Brown coal, also known as lignite, currently provides about 90 percent of Poland's energy. "But we have European obligations," says Kubacki. "We have to reduce CO2 emissions and diversify the energy mix."
Of course, Kubacki adds, Warsaw will promote renewable energy, no matter how costly. But green energy sources are not nearly enough to satisfy the country's energy needs. Kubacki insists that Poland will buy state-of-the-art reactors and adhere to the highest safety standards. But he also admits that no one in Poland knows what to do with nuclear waste, which remains radioactive for thousands of years. He also admits that according to surveys, support for nuclear energy among Poles dropped below 50 percent after Fukushima.
Nevertheless, he says, "there is no way to avoid nuclear energy." But even though he puts it diplomatically, Kubacki's message is clear: The Germans should tone down their criticism. After all, as he sees it, one reason they are so well off today is that they have been using nuclear energy for the last 50 years.
On some days, Kubacki receives up to 2,500 protest emails from Germany. Environmental initiatives based in Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania provide templates for such correspondence on their websites.
"We take all objections seriously," Kubacki says politely. It sounds more like an accusation. Many Poles fear that despite their tremendous economic successes, the Germans will continue to treat them as backward country bumpkins who are proving to be obstinate on the subject of nuclear energy.
The Poles become especially irate when the Germans and the Russians join forces, as they did almost seven years ago, when Berlin and Moscow agreed to build a natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Poland.
Then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder didn't even feel it was necessary to consult Warsaw. For many Poles, the notion that Germans now want to prevent them from developing their own natural gas reserves is the height of audacity.
Henryk Doering, the mayor of the village of Krokowa north of Gdansk, no longer understands the Germans, even though he normally holds them in high regard. Despite the resistance of local nationalists, he has preserved German inscriptions on the village school building, which date back to the time when the region was part of Germany. "Our German past is part of our history," he says.
But ever since the shale gas was discovered, he has refused to tolerate the objections coming from environmentalists across the border. The state-owned gas company has already done two test drillings in his community, and gas was found both times. "We hope to see production on an industrial scale here within two years," he says.
Poland currently buys two thirds of its natural gas from the state-owned Russian gas company Gazprom, which charges Russia's former ally higher prices than its business partners in the West. Warsaw currently pays Russia $500 (€375) for 1,000 cubic meters of gas, while the rest of Europe pays only $300. Poland has filed a lawsuit against Russia in an international court of arbitration in Stockholm.
"The Russians still treat us like renegade subjects," says Doering, but his resentment isn't just directed against Russia.
The village mayor turns toward the Baltic Sea, where the German-Russian pipeline is located. He makes an offensive gesture, slapping his left hand against the crook of his right arm and quickly raising his lower arm with his hand balled into a fist. "Once we start pumping our shale gas, you can all get lost."
Available at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,820756,00.html
The leaders of the three Baltic states on Thursday urged energy companies to reach an agreement on a new nuclear power plant seen as crucial in ensuring the region's independence from Russian energy supplies.
The project was originally announced six years ago in hopes to quickly replace a Soviet-era, Chernobyl-style nuclear plant in Lithuania that was shut down in 2009 due to safety concerns. But the euro5 billion ($6.5 billion) project has run into several obstacles, particularly disagreements over how to divide the plant's output.
The U.S.-Japanese consortium Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy was brought on board last year as a strategic partner, and prime ministers from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia urged all sides to complete negotiations by June.
"The energy companies have indicated what amounts of energy they expect from the nuclear power plant," Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius told a press conference. "This makes me believe that further negotiations will be smooth and rapid." The prime ministers also said they would seek European Union funding and ask Poland to consider to rejoining the project.
Poland had been a participant to negotiations for years but withdrew in December to focus on constructing its first nuclear power plant.
The Baltic leaders refused to comment how the output of the project 1,300 megawatt plant would be divvied up, but Estonia's Andrus Ansip said Estonia expected some 300 megawatts.
Success of the new plant, which would be built next to the shuttered Chernobyl-type facility in Visaginas in northeast Lithuania, is also crucial given that Russia and Belarus are both building large nuclear power stations right across the border from Lithuania.
Lithuanian officials have slammed the neighbors' projects are environmentally unsound and have threatened to place on ban on exporting output from these plants to the Lithuanian market.
Russia hopes to complete its first reactor in the Kaliningrad region in 2016, while Belarus' plant, which Russia will build, will likely be launched in 2017. Lithuania's facility is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
Eighty percent of the world's nuclear power plants are more than 20 years old, raising safety concerns, a draft U.N. report says a year after Japan's Fukushima disaster. Many operators have begun programs, or expressed their intention, to run reactors beyond their planned design lifetimes, said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) document which has not yet been made public.
"There are growing expectations that older nuclear reactors should meet enhanced safety objectives, closer to that of recent or future reactor designs," the Vienna-based U.N. agency's annual Nuclear Safety Review said.
"There is a concern about the ability of the ageing nuclear fleet to fulfill these expectations." The Fukushima tragedy was triggered on March 11, 2011, when an earthquake unleashed a tsunami that left 19,000 people dead or missing. It also smashed into the coastal power plant causing a series of catastrophic failures at the facility.
Images of the stricken plant shook public confidence in nuclear power and forced the nuclear industry to launch a campaign to defend its safety record.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told Reuters last week that nuclear power is now safer than it was a year ago. The report said the "operational level of NPP (nuclear power plant) safety around the world remains high".
It cited steady improvements in terms of unplanned reactor shutdowns in recent years. But the 56-page IAEA document also highlighted an ageing nuclear fleet, with eighty percent of the 435 facilities more than two decades old at the end of last year.
This "could impact safety and their ability to meet member states' energy requirements in an economical and efficient manner", said the report, which has been submitted to IAEA member states but not yet finalized.
Operators and regulators opting for so-called long term operation "must thoroughly analyze the safety aspects related to the ageing of 'irreplaceable' key components", it added. About 70 percent of the world's 254 research reactors have been in operation for more than 30 years "with many of them exceeding their original design life," it said.
The document was debated by the IAEA's 35-nation governing board last week, almost exactly a year after the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years.
Last year's tsunami overwhelmed Fukushima on Japan's northeast coast, knocking out critical power supplies that resulted in a nuclear meltdown and the release of radiation. The reactors were stabilized by December, but high radiation levels hamper a cleanup that is expected to take decades.
The crisis sparked a rethink about nuclear power and countries such as Germany, Italy and Switzerland have decided to phase out their reactors.
But other states, for example fast-growing China and India, continue to look to nuclear energy to meet their growing energy needs, the IAEA report said, adding that some "are even accelerating their nuclear energy programs".
France is building its first "advanced" reactor and Russia is seeking to double its nuclear energy output by 2020, it said.
"All countries that are using nuclear power are much more serious about nuclear safety," Amano said last week. But environmental group Greenpeace said no "real lessons" appeared to have been learnt from Fukushima. A vailable at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/13/us-nuclear-safety-iaea-idUSBRE82C0IQ20120313
2. U.S. Implements New Fukushima Nuclear Safety Policy
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Regulators on Friday told the owners of the nation's nuclear reactors to implement new safety rules based on the lessons learned from the earthquake and tsunami that crippled Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant a year ago.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said it authorized its staff to issue three immediately effective orders implementing some of the more urgent recommendations. The NRC gave the plants until December 31, 2016, to complete modifications and requirements for the three orders.
Since an earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima reactor last March, nuclear regulators around the world have carefully studied the causes of the accident and tightened scrutiny of reactor operations.
"The Commission has taken a significant step forward on our post-Fukushima efforts," NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said in the release.
Two of the orders apply to every U.S. nuclear power plant, including those under construction and to Southern Co's recently licensed new Vogtle reactors in Georgia. The first order requires the plants to better protect safety equipment installed after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and to obtain sufficient equipment to support all reactors at a given site simultaneously.
The second order requires the plants to install enhanced equipment for monitoring water levels in each reactor's spent fuel pool.
The third order applies only to U.S. boiling-water reactors that have "Mark I" or "Mark II" containment structures, which are similar to the damaged reactors at Fukushima.
The NRC said these boiling water reactors must improve venting systems (or for the Mark II plants, install new systems) that helps prevent or mitigate core damage in the event of a serious accident.
Of the nation's 104 operating nuclear power reactors, 31 have the Mark I or Mark II type of containment, which was designed by U.S. multinational conglomerate General Electric. In addition, the NRC said it will require all reactors to reanalyze their earthquake and flooding risks and assess how their communications and equipment would perform during a prolonged loss of electrical power.
The reactors at Fukushima responded as designed by shutting down after the earthquake cut offsite power to the plant.
But the tsunami that hit an hour or so after the earthquake, damaged the plant's backup diesel generators, which ultimately left the plant with no power supply. Without power, known in the industry as a station blackout, the plant could not run the water pumps needed to keep the fuel in the reactors cool, which led to fuel meltdowns and radiation releases.
The biggest nuclear power operators in the United States include Exelon Corp, Entergy Corp, Dominion Resources Inc, Duke Energy, Progress Energy, NextEra Energy, Southern and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/09/us-utilites-nrc-fukushima-idUSBRE8281AC20120309
1. How the UK is Handing Control of its Energy Future to France
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Aside from the pro-nuclear zealots, most protagonists in favour of nuclear power rely on "there is no alternative" advocacy – because of climate change, energy security, the "lights going out", we need nuclear, the argument runs. Such thinking is alive and well within the coalition government to the extent that ministers are no longer prepared to listen to contrary evidence.
As a result, UK energy policy is being manipulated and subverted to make it possible for French nuclear power companies (EDF and Areva) to start building four new reactors in the UK – two at Hinkley Point in Somerset and two at Sizewell in Suffolk.
Along with three other former directors of Friends of the Earth, with experience going right back to the 1970s, I am very familiar with the record of the nuclear industry in pulling the wool over the eyes of both senior officials and ministers. A recent report reveals how the government's own analysis shows that the UK could achieve all its energy objectives without new nuclear – through investment in energy efficiency, renewables, combined heat and power, and grid upgrades.
The authors reserve judgment in their conclusion about how it is that the evidence has been so comprehensively fiddled – "We don't like conspiracy theories, but either it's a monumental series of mistakes, or the nuclear lobby has got control of the Whitehall machine" – but personally I am in no doubt that it's the latter. As a result, we are about to hand over control of Britain's future energy policy and climate security to the French government – as I demonstrate with Charles Secrett, Tom Burker and Tony Juniper in a note to the prime minister today.
It is our belief that the two German operators here in the UK (RWE and E.ON) are incapable of building new nuclear power stations now that the German government has opted for early closure of its remaining reactors. Centrica, which has an option of 20% in any new build at Hinkley and Sizewell, has a weak balance sheet and is already under intense scrutiny from its investors. That leaves EDF, which is 85% owned by the French state. EDF will only build those reactors if the risks involved are borne by British households and businesses rather than by themselves – in other words, if they are guaranteed a high enough price for the electricity those reactors will generate to compensate them for the huge risks involved in building the reactors.
And EDF, along with its partner Areva, certainly know about those risks. They have two on the go at the moment in Finland and France. Both are massively over budget and running around four years late. The four previous reactors they've built took an average of 17.5 years from the start of construction to delivery of the first electricity.
This kind of experience with the European pressurised reactor led François Rousseley, the former head of EDF, to recommend that the EPR be abandoned. This advice was endorsed by a recent report by the French National Audit Office which also found the EPR to be too complex and expensive.
It's a total mess. To make it possible for the French to build reactors of the wrong kind, that we don't need, that we can't afford, and that will massively distort energy policy in the UK for the next 40 years, the coalition government is about to rig the market (through its electricity market reform) to favour nuclear at the expense of every other alternative. Our analysis shows that huge amounts of direct and indirect subsidy will be made available to the nuclear industry to facilitate this high-risk strategy. The coalition government's continuing pledge that there will be no subsidies for the nuclear industry is palpably dishonest, and the Lib Dems (who once had sufficient integrity not to fall prey to the seductive deceits of the nuclear industry) will pay a heavy price for this betrayal.
As my colleague Tom Burke said: "It is shocking that the government is willing to turn over control of our energy and climate security to France in pursuit of a nuclear mirage. British householders and businesses will be compelled to pay for a French nuclear loser." And it's equally shocking to me that a number of leading environmentalists have added their support to this disastrous policy. As the truth of what's really going on becomes clearer, let's hope they have the decency to rethink their bizarre pro-nuclear advocacy.
Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/13/uk-energy-future-france
2. Japan, Ukraine to Conclude Cooperation Pact on Nuclear Accidents
The Mainichi Daily News
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Japan and Ukraine have almost agreed to enhance cooperation in coping with nuclear accidents after they experienced two of the world's worst nuclear disasters, government sources said Thursday.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Ukraine's Minister of Emergency Situations Viktor Baloha are expected to sign a treaty when Baloha visits Japan in mid-April, according to the sources.
Japan hopes to gain Ukraine's data and knowledge about soil contamination and health hazards by the release of radioactive substances following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and to use them to cope with the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Under the pact, the two countries will share information on effects on human health and the environment of nuclear disasters, promote exchanges of researchers and engineers in the field of nuclear power, and hold academic workshops on handling nuclear disasters. The pact is also expected to call for establishing a joint committee between the two countries for an effective framework of cooperation.
Available at: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20120309p2g00m0dm026000c.html
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