The United Nations has confirmed that talks with Iran over its nuclear programme will resume in Vienna next month.
Gill Tudor, spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the meeting would take place on 14-15 May at the Iranian embassy in Vienna.
"The purpose is to continue the negotiations started early this year," Tudor told Reuters. The UN negotiations follow a resumption of talks between Iran and United States, Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain, which took place in Turkey earlier this month. Representatives of the seven countries are due to meet again in Baghdad on 23 May.
The IAEA last year issued a report detailing alleged Iranian research and development activities that were relevant to nuclear weapons, lending independent weight to Western suspicions. The IAEA wants Iran to address the questions raised in the report. Iran continues to insist that its nuclear programme is peaceful.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh told the Iranian news agency, IRNA, that Tehran's decision to resume talks "shows the peaceful nature of all of its nuclear activities, while showing that claims against Iran are baseless".
IAEA inspectors have demanded access to a military complex where the agency suspects secret atomic work has been carried out. Iran has said the inspectors will be allowed to visit the Parchin military site, but it would require agreement on guidelines for the inspection.
Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/28/iran-nucleat-talks-resume?newsfeed=true
2. EU’s Van Rompuy Says Iran Nuclear Talks Give ’Reason to Hope’
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European Union President Herman Van Rompuy said the resumption of international talks over Iran’s nuclear program gave a “reason to hope” that the country is serious about addressing the issue.
Stressing the EU’s “deep concern over Iran’s nuclear program,” Van Rompuy said today in Brussels that the April 14 talks “in Istanbul give us reason to hope that Iran will engage in a sustained process of serious dialog on the nuclear issue.” He said the 27-nation bloc has introduced “robust restrictive measures which are important in convincing Iran to return to meaningful negotiations.”
World powers broke a 15-month stalemate on the nuclear conflict during the April 14 discussions. The talks between Iran and the five permanent United Nations Security Council members - - the U.S., the U.K., China, Russia and France -- plus Germany are set to resume on May 23 in Baghdad.
Van Rompuy also said the EU “remains deeply concerned about the fragile situation in Syria with systematic and widespread violations of human rights by the regime and reports of heavy weaponry in civilian areas.” He urged the Syrian government “to allow the effective operation and deployment of the fully fledged observer mission without delay.”
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-27/eu-s-van-rompuy-says-iran-nuclear-talks-give-reason-to-hope-.html
3. Iran Talks Breakthrough Has One-in-Three Chance, Carnegie Says
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The chances of a breakthrough in talks over Iran’s disputed nuclear program are now as high as one in three, said Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Things are moving,” Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, the Russian branch of the Washington-based research group, said in an interview today. Iran’s ambassador in Moscow, Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi, said April 25 that his country is considering a Russian proposal to halt the expansion of its nuclear program to avert new sanctions.
“The Russian proposal is a good proposal from most points of view, it doesn’t constrain the Iranian scientific research,” said Trenin. “They realize that trying to move to weapons grade will cost them too much.”
Russia, one of the six world powers negotiating with Iran, says the deal would be the first in a series of mutual concessions designed to end in an accord that would remove suspicions about Iranian intent regarding atomic weapons.
Under the proposal, Iran would stop building centrifuges, machines used to enrich uranium, and mothball ones that haven’t been put into use yet.
Iran and the five permanent United Nations Security Council members -- the U.S., the U.K., China, Russia and France -- plus Germany met in Istanbul this month for the first talks in 15 months. The next round, in Baghdad, is scheduled for May 23.
Agreement on the Russian proposal might be hard to reach before July 1, when the European Union is planning to impose an embargo on oil from Iran, said Trenin. The EU might delay the ban to win “a little bit more room for maneuver,” he said.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-27/iran-talks-breakthrough-has-one-in-three-chance-carnegie-says.html
4. U.S. May Allow Iran Limited Uranium Enrichment: Report
Palash R. Ghosh
International Business Times
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The United States government may agree to allow limited uranium enrichment by Iran for the country’s nascent nuclear program, as long as Tehran undertakes measures to scale back its ambitions of building an atomic bomb.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, officials of the U.S. government said they may permit Iran to enrich uranium up to the 5 percent concentration, provided the Iranians submit to unrestricted inspections of their nuclear sites and agree to tough oversight and safeguarding rules.
Since February 2010, Iranian nuclear scientists have been enriching modest amounts of uranium up to 20 percent purity, while the majority of its stockpile is purified at lower concentrations. (At the 90 percent enrichment level, uranium can be used as a bomb fuel).
In the event the U.S. follows through with its new concession, allies in western Europe and especially Israel would likely be outraged. On the other hand, the Times noted, western officials likely feel that there is no way to stop Iran’s enrichment program -- so, by permitting them to purify uranium at low concentrations, a compromise may be reached between all parties.
Iran and six other world powers, including the U.S., will resume nuclear negotiations in Baghdad, Iraq on May 23.
Meanwhile, Israel continued beating the war drums with respect to Iran. Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, again declared that Iranian leaders were not "rational in the Western sense of the word” -- refuting recent statements by the chief of the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. General Benny Gantz.
Barak reiterated his fears that Iran was seeking to build a nuclear bomb and plans to destroying Israel with it.
The defense minister also expressed his skepticism over nuclear talks with Iran and the efficacy of western sanctions.
"The sanctions today are harsher that in the past," he said.
"But the truth must be told. The chance that, at this level of pressure, Iran will meet the international demand to stop the program irrevocably -- that chance appears to be low."
Available at: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/334430/20120427/iran-u-s-israel-nuclear-weapons-iraq.htm
1. North Korea’s Nuclear Test: Satellite Image Shows Work In Progress
International Business Times
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An analysis of the latest satellite images of North Korea's nuclear test site appears to show that frantic activities involving a chain of mining carts are underway, amid rumors that the reclusive Asian nation may be planning to conduct a nuclear test, following its failed rocket launch April 13.
South Korean intelligence, in a report early this month, said that the North was digging a new tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear site which was interpreted as a sign of a covert nuclear weapons program.
The latest analysis of the satellite imagery was obtained from a private satellite operator captured between March 8 and April 18. The analysis estimates that 282,500 cubic feet of rubble have been excavated at the site, where the North conducted its failed previous tests, the Associated Press reported.
"While it's very clear from looking at these photos that the North has stepped up preparations for a nuclear test over the past few months, it's unclear exactly when the blast will occur," said Joel Wit, editor of the institute's website.
It remains to be seen whether the nuclear device to be tested has already been placed in the chamber that was being dug up.
Speculation is rife that North Korea was nearing completion of preparations to test a nuclear device for the third time after two attempts in 2006 and 2009, an unnamed source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing told Reuters.
Observers have said that North Korea may have developed the capabilities to test a nuclear weapon using highly enriched uranium, which has raised concerns in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.
The source didn't specify whether uranium or a limited supply of plutonium would be used in the test.
Pyongyang drew heavy international criticism when it decided to test a long-range missile April 13, reportedly aimed at boosting its defense to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US. North's ambitious attempt to launch the Unha-3 rocket failed when it broke apart shortly after takeoff.
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking to reporters on Tuesday during a trip to Brasilia, said he had no specific information on whether North Korea would go ahead with a test, Reuters reported.
"But I again would strongly urge them not to engage in any kind of provocation - be it nuclear testing or any other act - that would provide greater instability in a dangerous part of the world," he said.
A senior North Korean military officer recently claimed that Pyongyang was equipped with "powerful modern weapons" capable of "defeating" the US. "The Korean People's Army is armed with powerful modern weapons... that can defeat the imperialists (US) at a single blow," Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho told in a meeting attended by party and military officials Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. The chief didn't disclose any further details about the weapons.
Meanwhile, Beijing has shifted its stance regarding Pyongyang's widely panned rocket launch. China's senior-most diplomat showered praise on Kim Jong-Un and promised to strengthen ties with North Korea during a meeting with Kim Yong-il, the Korean Workers' Party director of international affairs, Sunday.
"The traditional friendship between China and North Korea is a precious treasure for our two parties, two countries and our peoples," Dai told Kim Yong-il, who visited Beijing. "China is willing to work with North Korea to take friendly cooperation to new heights."
Available at: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/334540/20120428/north-korea-nuclear-weapon-pyongyang-defense.htm
2. Could North Korea Test "Uranium Bomb" for First Time?
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North Korea, believed to be preparing for a third nuclear test, would probably be able to make and explode a uranium device for the first time after earlier relying on plutonium, a former chief U.N. inspector said.
If it were to do so, that would show North Korea had developed the technology to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU), putting it in a position to build up larger stocks of weapons-grade material. "This assumes that the North Koreans have succeeded in producing HEU, in sufficient quantities as well, and have a bomb design," Olli Heinonen said in a paper he sent to Reuters on Friday (tinyurl.com/c8x8etv)
A uranium enrichment facility of the type seen by a U.S. expert in late 2010 could be easily modified to produce HEU, said Heinonen, who headed safeguards inspections worldwide for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) until 2010.
North Korea, which tested plutonium devices in 2006 and 2009, has almost completed preparations for a third nuclear test, according to a senior source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing. With only limited plutonium stocks, North Korea admitted two years ago that it was working on enriching uranium.
The smuggling network of Pakistani nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan, which sold nuclear secrets to North Korea and others, had design drawings of a uranium device developed in the mid-1990s, Heinonen said.
And in any case, he said, "due to the fact that they were able to make a plutonium device, they should also be able to make a uranium one." Siegfried Hecker, the U.S. expert who saw the North's enrichment facility, believes the country has 24-42 kg (53 to 95 pounds) of plutonium, enough for four to eight bombs.
But the North's plutonium-based programme at its Yongbyon complex was suspended under a now-defunct 2005 international disarmament deal.
"North Korea's plutonium stockpile is only sufficient to produce a handful of weapons and, given the dilapidated state of its plutonium production infrastructure, producing more would be slow-going and very noticeable," James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said. In contrast, the enrichment programme appears capable of "significantly expanding North Korea's arsenal," he added.
It is easier to design a bomb with uranium than plutonium, but harder to make a warhead with HEU to mount on a missile.
With IAEA inspectors thrown out, nuclear experts find it hard to assess how far North Korea has progressed in its uranium enrichment programme.
If commissioning of the enrichment site had been successful, North Korea would now have at least 3.5 tonnes of low-enriched uranium, Heinonen said, with a fissile concentration still well below the 90 percent level required for bombs.
To produce weapons-grade material, it could install 1,000 more enrichment machines to convert an annual production of 1.8 tonnes of low-enriched uranium to 40 kg of HEU, he said.
"This is an amount sufficient to generate the necessary fissile material for one to two additional nuclear bombs per year," Heinonen, now a senior fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said.
For North Korea, a test would showcase its technological skills, helping to impress a hardline military at home and buyers of North Korean weapons, one of its few viable exports. It would come as Kim Jong-un, the third of his line to rule North Korea, seeks to cement his grip on power.
North Korea has yet to show, however, that it can make a bomb small enough to fit on a missile. A test-launch on April 13 of a long-range missile also failed.
Available at: http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/04/27/nuclear-nkorea-enrichment-idINDEE83Q0DM20120427
3. North Korea Poised to Rattle Region With Nuclear Blast
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Political pressure, a high-stakes bargaining strategy and technical challenges may push North Korea’s new leader to order the country’s third nuclear test any time now.
North Korea has been escalating its threats against South Korea and the U.S. in the past month as new leader Kim Jong Un celebrates the centennial of the birth of the country’s founder, his late grandfather Kim Il Sung.
Jasper Kim, founder and chief executive officer of Asia-Pacific Global Research Group, talks about North Korea's third-generation dictator Kim Jong Un and the nation's failed rocket launch. North Korea won’t be bullied by its nuclear-armed enemies, Kim Jong Un said in his first public address at a military parade yesterday as South Korea warned that his regime may conduct an atomic test. Jasper Kim speaks from Seoul with Rishaad Salamat on Bloomberg Television's "On the Move Asia."
Those celebrations and the need to bolster the younger Kim’s standing -- particularly in the aftermath of a failed April 13 rocket launch -- are two reasons that North Korea watchers such as David Albright expect the Pyongyang regime to try to conduct an underground nuclear explosion. If it does so, the North would stoke tensions with South Korea, the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council, which has forbidden the regime from conducting nuclear and missile tests.
“It could happen any day now,” said Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. His organization has posted satellite images on its website that it says show North Korea’s preparations at the Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site used twice in the past.
A nuclear test would make Kim “look more powerful and successful,” Albright said. “He needs this to keep the military feeling secure and the elites energized, and it certainly scares the South Koreans. North Korea knows that well.”
The regime risks a double failure if a nuclear test is unsuccessful. That prospect isn’t necessarily daunting, Albright said. “They can still say, ‘Look, we’re on the path to thermo- nuclear weapons,’” he said.
While South Korea sees no evidence that a nuclear test is imminent, it recently submitted a list of North Korean organizations to be included in the Security Council’s expanded sanctions, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung Jae told reporters today in Seoul, without giving details.
North Korea is already under UN sanctions for its two past nuclear tests, and the Council censured Kim’s government after this month’s launch of a rocket that disintegrated shortly after takeoff. That debacle prompted a rare public admission of failure to the outside world and raised questions about whether Kim can secure his grip on the military and government as he confronts global condemnation and an economy that struggles to feed its own people.
Banning Garrett, director of the Asia Program and Strategic Foresight Initiative at the Atlantic Council, a Washington policy group, said the failed launch would feed a sense of insecurity and paranoia that provokes North Korean leaders’ often outlandish threats.
“It’s a half-century-old technology and they can’t even master that,” Garrett said of the missile launch. The point of Pyongyang’s posturing and its nuclear program, Garret said, is deterrence. “They feel threatened and paranoid and so they maintain this façade,” Garrett said.
Regime officials have recently threatened their neighbor to the south as well as the U.S. On April 23, a military squad threatened to “soon” turn South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and his government to “ashes in three or four minutes.” At a ceremony yesterday to mark the 80th anniversary of the country’s 1.2 millionong military, Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho said the army has “powerful modern weapons” capable of defeating its enemies.
“We are able to continuously corner the U.S. and forcefully retaliate to the enemy’s provocative schemes for war,” Ri said, according to a transcript of his remarks from South Korea’s Unification Ministry.
“Cornering” the U.S. is one element in North Korea’s calculations, said Sung-Yoon Lee, an assistant professor of Korean Studies at Tufts University, outside Boston.
After North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, the administration of President George W. Bush reacted by lifting financial sanctions, beginning diplomatic talks in December 2006 and the so-called six-party talks with Russia, China, South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, in February 2007.
The U.S. also resumed food and energy aid and removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2008.
“That was actually a very good move for the North Koreans,” Lee said of the test, speaking in a telephone interview. The North Koreans “painted the Bush administration into a corner, especially as it was dealing with the war in Iraq and having political problems.”
They conducted a second test in 2009, after President Barack Obama took office. “The Obama administration did not bite” then, Lee said.
In July 2011, the Obama administration began to engage North Korea and reached an agreement with Pyongyang this year. The North would halt tests of long-range missiles and nuclear devices, and the U.S. would provide food aid. That deal collapsed in the wake of the failed April 13 rocket launch, which the U.S. said amounted to a test of missile technology. The U.S. retracted the planned food aid. That failure may provide a further impetus for North Korea to test an atomic device, Albright said. “There’s a pattern, when something doesn’t work right that’s fundamental to their view of nuclear deterrence, they can get very reactive and you see it now,” Albright said.
With the failed missile test, “people made fun of them, the military gets angry and starts to feel people don’t fear North Korea,” he said. “One way to deal with that is a nuclear test.”
There are also technical reasons, according to Albright and Lee. “On one level, it’s a perfectly rational act,” said Lee, who said it has been three years since Pyongyang last tested a nuclear device.
Albright’s organization estimates North Korea has six to 18 nuclear weapons with about three kilograms of plutonium in each. Efforts to create bomb designs with greater potential impact would be a factor for conducting a test.
The Pyongyang government has hinted at efforts to develop a thermo-nuclear device and may also be working on a device that wraps highly enriched uranium around a plutonium core to generate a much higher yield than its existing bombs, said Albright, a physicist and former weapons inspector.
George Lopez, a former member of the UN panel of experts for enforcing sanctions on North Korea, said he believes the North Koreans are planning a uranium test.
“Technically, I’m betting that this test will be a uranium test, not a plutonium test,” he said today. The technical reason to conduct the test would be to evaluate uranium enrichment quality and the detonation process, he said.
A South Korean intelligence report warned earlier this month that recent activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear testing site is consistent with preparations for previous atomic device detonations. South Korean Deputy Defense Minister Lim Kwan Bin warned shortly after the North’s failed rocket launch that chances of a nuclear test are “very high.”
Lee said that Pyongyang has a fondness for taking provocative action on or near significant dates. The first nuclear test took place on Oct. 9, 2006, the day before the Workers’ Party Founding Day. The second test, in 2009, took place on the U.S. federal holiday of Memorial Day, which honors all Americans who have died in wars.
Lee said the third test may occur on this year’s Memorial Day, which falls on May 28. “You’re thinking that’s too predictable, but they are predictable,” Lee said. “When American officials are enjoying a little break, or preoccupied, they like to pull officials back into the office.”
Other possible dates include June 25, the day that marks the start of the Korean War, and July 27, when the armistice ending the war was signed, Lee said.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-26/north-korea-poised-to-rattle-region-with-nuclear-blast.html
The decision to raise the military's level of alert is based on specific intelligence, a security official in the Russian Far East command told Kyodo News. A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Tokyo declined to comment on the reports.
Any nuclear test by North Korea would trigger further international condemnation, particularly as it comes hard on the heels of Pyongyang going ahead with the launch of what it claims was a rocket designed to put a satellite into orbit.
The United Nations Security Council issued a unanimous criticism of the launch, pointing out that it was identical to a test-fire of a long-range missile and violated previous Security Council resolutions.
Russian authorities have expressed displeasure at the timing of the anticipated nuclear test by the North, which would be the regime's third after blasts in October 2006 and May 2009. The Russian far east city of Vladivostok is around 60 miles from the border with the North and is scheduled to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in September.
Pyongyang is showing no signs of bowing to the international pressure, however, and on Wednesday used the 80th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean army to declare that it is armed with "powerful, modern weapons" that are capable of defeating the "imperialists" – meaning the United States – in "a single blow."
A former Japanese politician has returned from a visit to Pyongyang, during which he held talks with Kim Yong-il, secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, during which he was told that North Korea has been watching events in the Arab world in the last year and, as a result, has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons.
Antonio Inoki said in Tokyo that Mr Kim pointed out that Libya halted its efforts to develop nuclear weapons under pressure from the rest of the world.
"We will not make the same mistakes," Mr Inoki claims he was told.
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/9228805/Russia-expects-North-Korea-nuclear-test.html
1. China Nuclear Company in Talks to Bid for Horizon, Express Says
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State Nuclear Power Technology Corp, a nuclear company backed by the Chinese government, is in talks to fund a bid for Horizon Nuclear Power, the venture set up by German power makers RWE AG (RWE) and EON AG to build nuclear reactors in the U.K., the Sunday Express said, citing unidentified sources at Whitehall.
The Chinese company is in talks to join forces with Japan’s Toshiba Corp (6502), the owner of nuclear maker Westinghouse, for the bid, which would exceed $10 billion, according to the newspaper. Russian company Rosatom Corp also expressed an interest in Horizon, the newspaper said.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-29/china-nuclear-company-in-talks-to-bid-for-horizon-express-says.html
2. Hillary’s India Trip Would Focus on Non-Proliferation
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would discuss non-proliferation issues among other things during her trip to India next month, a U.S. official said on Saturday.
“The Secretary will be in India, both in Delhi and in Calcutta. She’ll have a chance in the context of our bilateral dialogue to talk about the full range of issues, including non-proliferation issues,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters.
She was responding to questions on missile tests by the two South Asian neighbours this month.
The U.S. had then called for restraint by the nuclear powered nations.
Responding to a question on the civilian nuclear deal, Ms. Nuland said India has to take some more steps in this regard.
“I think you know where we are on this, that we are looking for some more steps on the Indian side,” she said.
Ms. Clinton will visit India early next month as part of a three-nation Asia tour to consult with the Indian leadership on key regional and global issues including Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Myanmar.
Ms. Clinton’s sudden decision to visit India came as a surprise as a stopover in New Delhi was not on her initial Asia itinerary that was primarily meant to attend the fourth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing on May 3-4.
She will be visiting Bangladesh and India from May 5 to May 8.
Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article3363552.ece
3. Russia to Build Two more Nuclear Reactors in China,
The Times of India
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Russia and China have firmed up their nuclear cooperation, with Moscow set to build two more high-power reactors in this country's Tianwan atomic plant.
Russia had earlier helped China build two reactors in the Tianwan nuclear plant in Jiangsu province, which went into operation in 2007, Sergey Sergeevich Razov, Moscow's envoy here, said.
The two reactors, with combined capacity of 2,000 mw, are using Russia's VVER 1000 nuclear model.
Russia is going to build two more reactors in Tianwan once China lifts its suspension of new atomic power plants imposed after the nuclear disaster in Japan last year, state- run 'China Daily' reported today.
The two countries have been in discussion for a series of potential cooperative projects.
"We've already started preparation for continuous cooperation in the Tianwan Nuclear Station and hopefully, will start the work in the second half of this year," Razov was quoted as saying.
According to the National Energy Administration, China has 15 nuclear reactors in operation and 26 more under construction.
China completed a 25-mw experimental fast reactor in 2009, a fourth-generation model that represents the country's latest nuclear technology.
The design was based on Russia's technical specifications and the project was constructed by Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corp, Russia's national nuclear energy developer.
After the completion of the experimental project, China invited Russia to build the first 800-mw commercial fast reactor.
Meanwhile, the TENEX, Russia's equipment and technology export body, is working with a Chinese partner on nuclear fuel recycling. The company is providing technology and equipment for a project in China that enriches uranium through gas centrifugation.
"China and Russia have great potential for cooperation in the nuclear waste sector, because Russia is very advanced in this field," Xiao Xinjian, an industry expert with the Energy Research Institute affiliated with China's National Development and Reform Commission, said.
Russia has proposed to China that they jointly exploit three uranium deposits on Russian territory Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Rosatom, during a visit to Beijing in 2010, had said.
Another field for possible cooperation would be offshore nuclear power plants.
China is interested in a floating nuclear plant that could be used to power offshore oil and gas facilities, industry experts said.
Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/Russia-to-build-two-more-nuclear-reactors-in-China/articleshow/12909671.cms
4. South Korea, U.S. Will Work to Meet North Korea Nuclear Threat
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South Korea and the U.S. pledged to work together to meet the threat of North Korea developing weapons of mass destruction amid indications the country may be planning a third nuclear test.
The countries reaffirmed their commitment to coping with additional North Korean provocative actions and threats, such as the firing of a long-distance missile and a nuclear weapon test, South Korea’s National Defense Ministry said in an e-mailed statement today after a meeting earlier this week in Washington of the so-called Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue.
It was the first round of talks between the defense authorities since North Korea launched a rocket April 13 that disintegrated shortly after takeoff. North Korea has escalated threats against South Korea and the U.S. in recent weeks as the new leader Kim Jong Un celebrates the centennial of the birth of the country’s founder, his late grandfather Kim Il Sung.
U.S. satellite pictures from April 18 may show further activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington said today on its website called “38 North.”
The imagery “supports the contention that preparations are continuing and that the North Koreans are preceding as if the test go-ahead decision has already been made,” the report said. The pictures don’t “give any indication of when that detonation may take place.”
North Korean watchers, such as David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, expect the regime in Pyongyang will try to conduct an underground nuclear explosion, a move that would stoke tensions with South Korea, the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council.
North Korea is already under UN sanctions for its two past nuclear tests, and the Security Council censured Kim’s government after this month’s rocket launch. That firing prompted a rare public admission of failure to the outside world and raised questions about whether Kim can secure his grip on the military and government as he confronts global condemnation and an economy that struggles to feed its own people.
Kim, who inherited power on the death of his father Kim Jong Il in December, observed a combined arms exercise to mark the 80th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said today, without specifying the date of the exercise.
South Korea and the U.S. also said they will strengthen cooperation in space and cyber-technology, the South Korean Defense Ministry said in its report on the talks in Washington held on April 26-27.
Available at: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-04-27/south-korea-u-dot-s-dot-will-work-to-meet-north-korea-nuclear-threat
European states are to get extra time to carry out further tests on nuclear plants, to ensure they can withstand natural and man-made disasters, Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said, before any laws to improve nuclear safety are proposed.
The Commission had previously said the tests, which follow last year's Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan, should be completed around the middle of the year.
But Oettinger said on Thursday more reactors needed to be assessed and it was more important to be thorough than fast, meaning a final report would be delayed for several months to the autumn.
So far, 38 nuclear reactors have been visited out of the total of 147 in the European Union. The commissioner did not specify how many more needed to be inspected, but said it was important to have "a complete overview", taking into account all types of reactor.
After that, the Commission might agree to legislative proposals to improve nuclear safety.
"We will bring our proposals of what should be harmonised after the stress test report. Maybe that will be in December, or the first few months of 2013," he told reporters.
The "stress tests", which are voluntary, are meant to establish whether nuclear plants can withstand natural disasters, aircraft crashes, management failures and whether adequate systems are in place to deal with power disruptions.
"EU citizens have the right to know and understand how safe the nuclear power plants are they live close to. Soundness is more important than timing," Oettinger said in a separate statement.
One lesson of the Fukushima tragedy was that two natural disasters could hit at the same time and knock out the electrical supply system of a plant completely, meaning that it could not be cooled down.
The EU embarked on the tests among the 14 member states that operate nuclear plants as a first stage of its response.
EU member Lithuania, which is decommissioning its nuclear units, is also taking part and from outside the 27-member bloc, Switzerland and Ukraine joined the test regime.
The 38 EU reactors that have been inspected so far include units at Heysham in Britain, Tricastin in France, Forsmark in Sweden, Grafenrheinfeld in Germany and Ignalina in Lithuania.
Although the stress tests have not been completed, a report from the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) will be presented to ministers in June. It has been endorsed by EU states, with the exception of Austria, which is a vocal opponent of nuclear power. It banned atomic plants in 1974.
"Our demand is clear, European nuclear plants have to retrofit or shut down," the Austria Press Agency quoted Austrian Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich as saying.
Green groups have also questioned whether the EU is doing enough and Germany said last year that it would phase out all its atomic plants by 2022, while Italy voted to ban nuclear power for decades.
"Not a single risky nuclear plant will be closed down because of this joke test," Reinhard Uhrig of campaign group Global 2000 said.
Andrej Stritar, chairman of ENSREG, said the review concluded that all countries had taken "significant steps" to improve the safety of their plants.
"It has also demonstrated the benefit of sharing between national regulators the results of the stress tests and ideas for strengthening safety and robustness of plants," he said in a statement.
1. Two Bids to Build Jordan Nuclear Plant Shortlisted
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The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) has announced that it has shortlisted two offers presented by Russian Atomstroyexport and a French-Japanese consortia to build the Kingdom's nuclear reactor.
In a press statement on Sunday, the commission said it has completed evaluation of the viable technology options, with a decision to continue discussions with the best two qualified suppliers, Russian Atomstroyexport and French-Japanese consortium ATMEA.
During the last two years, the commission conducted a thorough systematic evaluation of three technologies with the objective to select the most appropriate technology for implementation in Jordan, the commission said, affirming that the evaluation took into account the highest safety requirements, including lessons from the Fukushima event.
The commission's in-depth review and evaluation of the technologies of the two Russian and Japanese-French concsortia concluded that those technologies are the best in meeting requirements and needs of Jordan.
The JAEC noted that Jordan has been facing tremendous energy supply challenges, which triggered a program to investigate the feasibility of diversifying its energy supplies through the introduction of nuclear power.
The commission will continue discussions with the best two qualified suppliers to resolve certain outstanding technical issues, including the site selection process.
Chairman of the JAEC Khaled Touqan commented on the outcome saying "while there remains significant work yet to be done with respect the project, JAEC is proud of the progress made thus far, which marks a significant milestone for ... Jordan in its pursuit of a safe, secure, reliable and economically competitive enegy source."
Available at: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=16466
2. TEPCO Submits 10-Year Restructuring Plan to Gov't
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Tokyo Electric Power Co. and a state-backed bailout fund submitted to the government Friday a restructuring plan to help the company overcome its financial plight following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, such as through the injection of 1 trillion yen in public funds and electricity rate hikes.
The so-called comprehensive special business plan will become official once Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano gives his approval, possibly in early May, paving the way for the de facto nationalization of Japan's largest utility known as TEPCO.
The content of the document will be announced after gaining approval, TEPCO and the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund said.
In addition to promising to cut more than 3 trillion yen in costs through fiscal 2020 to finance compensation payments related to the nuclear accident, TEPCO will seek to increase profits by raising household electricity rates by about 10 percent for three years from July and restarting its idled nuclear reactors in Niigata Prefecture from fiscal 2013.
The utility is seeking to swing into the black in the business year through March 2014, but it is uncertain whether controversial measures such as rate hikes and restarting reactors can be carried out as planned.
TEPCO President Toshio Nishizawa, speaking to reporters after holding talks with the fund to finalize the plan, said, "I'm aware that the hurdle (we have to overcome) is extremely high...and the company will work as one toward that end."
In a symbolic move to mark a fresh start for the company, TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and Nishizawa are likely to step down at the company's annual shareholders' meeting in late June. More than half of the board of directors will be invited from outside the company to enhance management oversight.
The government has already decided to appoint Kazuhiko Shimokobe, a lawyer and head of the bailout fund's decision-making board, as the next TEPCO chairman, and the focus of attention is now shifting to who will be promoted from inside the company to succeed Nishizawa.
The new management lineup will be unveiled when the company announces its financial results for fiscal 2011 likely in May, according to Nishizawa.
Shimokobe separately told reporters he plans to set up a management reform task force that he and the new president will directly take control of. He wants it to be joined by reform-minded mid-level and younger employees and, if necessary, seek cooperation from experts outside.
"This is effectively the last chance to renew TEPCO. We're going to do this work with speed," Shimokobe said.
TEPCO and the fund had initially expected to finalize the restructuring plan by the end of March, but the move was delayed because the government had difficulty in choosing the next chairman to lead the company's reform process.
In addition to trillions of yen in compensation payments, the once blue-chip company faces a heavy financial burden amid increasing fuel costs for thermal power generation to make up for halted nuclear power generation following the Fukushima accident.
It is also looking at massive costs for the decades-long process of scrapping the Fukushima Daiichi plant's four reactors, three of which suffered meltdowns following the huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. In late March, TEPCO made a request for the capital injection to the fund, saying the company might fall into negative net worth without the 1 trillion yen of taxpayers' money.
In return for the aid, the government is expected to acquire a majority stake in the company, which would enable the state to choose board members, and make sure it can boost the stake to more than two-thirds for stronger control if necessary, according to sources close to the matter.
TEPCO has so far won approval to get 1.58 trillion yen of financial assistance from the fund, but the aid is limited to the use of paying ballooning compensation, and TEPCO remains in a tough business situation due to such challenges as growing fuel costs.
Available at: http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20120428p2g00m0dm030000c.html
One of the world's oldest nuclear reactors shut down for good in Britain on Wednesday evening, five days earlier than originally planned after an operational issue forced it to disconnect from the grid, operator Magnox said on Thursday.
The 41-year old reactor 2 at Wylfa nuclear power plant on Anglesey in Wales stopped producing electricity at around 6.00 p.m. British time on Wednesday, cutting 620 megawatts of power capacity from Britain's system.
The reactor was initially scheduled to stop operating on April 30, but after it shut down following an operational issue on Wednesday, operator Magnox decided not to bring it back online.
"Today was a significant milestone in Wylfa's history. Although it is the end of an era, we must now focus our efforts on safe generation with Reactor 1," said Stuart Law, Wylfa site director.
Britain's Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) is assessing whether partially used fuel from the now defunct reactor 2 can be transferred to reactor 1, which uses the same type of fuel and is equally old, to allow it to continue operating until 2014.
The Wylfa nuclear units use a specific type of nuclear fuel that is no longer being produced.
The ONR is expected to make a decision on the matter this summer, Magnox said.
Magnox also shut down its Oldbury reactor in late February, at 44 years the oldest operating nuclear reactor in the world at the time.
Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/04/26/uk-britain-nuclear-wylfa-idUKBRE83P0Z420120426
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