1. U.S. Institute Says Sees "New Activity" at Iran Site
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A U.S. security institute says commercial satellite imagery shows new activity at an Iranian military site which raises concern that the Islamic state may be "washing" a building the United Nations' nuclear agency wants to inspect.
Iran dismissed the report, as it has previously rejected allegations about the Parchin complex, where the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) suspects nuclear weapons-relevant research may have taken place.
"They are joking with our nation," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA). It is not possible to "wash" nuclear activities, he added.
Iran has yet to allow the IAEA to visit the facility southeast of Tehran, despite repeated requests. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano reiterated last week that the agency had recently noticed some "activities" there. He gave no details but Western diplomats suspect Iran may be cleaning the site before any inspection. Tehran denies this.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a Washington-based think-tank specializing in nuclear proliferation, said it had acquired commercial satellite imagery from April 9 which back up the IAEA's concern.
"The new activity seen in the satellite image occurred outside a building suspected to contain an explosive chamber used to carry out nuclear weapons related experiments," it said on its website in a May 8 report including the satellite image.
Iran's mission to the IAEA has previously dismissed allegations aired about Parchin as "childish" and "ridiculous".
The images showed items lined up outside a building and what appeared to be a stream of water, ISIS said.
"The items visible outside the building could be associated with the removal of equipment from the building or with cleansing it," it said.
"The stream of water that appears to emanate from the building raises concerns that Iran may have been washing inside the building, or perhaps washing the items outside the building," ISIS said. Previous satellite images from recent months did not show any similar activity at the building, indicating it is not a regular occurrence, it added.
The IAEA has said that gaining access to Parchin is a priority when it holds a new round of talks with Iran in Vienna next week after two previous meetings in Tehran failed to make any notable progress. But Western diplomats said they would be surprised if Tehran granted the request. Iran has suggested a broader agreement on future cooperation with the IAEA must be reached before it will consider letting inspectors into the site.
Western powers suspect Iran is seeking to develop the capability to make nuclear bombs. Iran, one of the world's largest oil producers, says its program is peaceful.
An IAEA report late last year revealed a trove of intelligence pointing to research activities in Iran of use in developing the means and technologies needed to assemble nuclear weapons, should it decide to do so.
One finding in the report was information that Iran in 2000 had built a large containment chamber at Parchin in which to conduct high-explosives tests that the IAEA said are "strong indicators of possible weapon development".
A senior U.S. official said on Tuesday that Iran must cooperate with the IAEA's investigation and provide access to relevant sites, personnel and documents.
"Iran continues to delay and obstruct that process," Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation, told a meeting in Vienna.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/09/us-nuclear-iran-parchin-idUSBRE8480JX20120509
World powers should focus on scrapping nuclear weapons and abiding by their own non-proliferation commitments rather than speculating about Iran's peaceful atomic work, the Iranian foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
The broadside by the ministry's spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast appeared to be a response to a U.S. call the previous day for Iran to take "urgent practical steps" to build confidence ahead of nuclear talks with six major powers in Baghdad on May 23.
"Some countries say they are concerned that Iran's activities might be diverted towards non-peaceful purposes in the future," he said. "When they are talking about future speculation, how can they not be concerned about scrapping nuclear weapons at the present time?"
Indirectly rebuking some of the nations involved in nuclear negotiations with Iran - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - Mehmanparast spoke of their own "contravention and clear violation" of the rules.
"Some of these countries have nuclear-capable submarines they have delivered to the Zionist regime," he said, alluding to Germany's sale of Dolphin-class submarines to Israel, which some analysts say can carry nuclear warheads.
"All of these countries need to feel committed to the contents of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT)."
U.S. officials have previously suggested Iran should build confidence by accepting more intrusive U.N. inspections, curbing its uranium enrichment work and closing a nuclear site near Qom.
Iranian officials have said the Baghdad meeting should lead to the lifting of sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies against Iran's energy and banking sectors.
The United States suspects Iran of seeking to develop a capacity to build nuclear weapons and has refused to rule out military action if negotiations fail. Iran denies this and maintains it has the right to enrich uranium and develop a peaceful nuclear programme as a member of the NPT.
Last week, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tehran would never suspend enrichment, which can have both civilian and military purposes, and saw no reason to close the Fordow underground site which it has used to expand higher-grade enrichment. The IAEA and Iran will hold talks in Vienna on May 14-15 after two meetings earlier this year failed to make headway.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog wants Iran to address questions raised in an IAEA report in November on suspected Iranian research and development activities relevant to nuclear weapons.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/08/iran-nuclear-idUSL5E8G85IG20120508
3. EU Tells Defiant Iran it "Must" Suspend Atom Activity
Fredrik Dahl and Justyna Pawlak
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The European Union told Iran on Monday it must suspend uranium enrichment, a few days after the Islamic state ruled out doing just that, as Tehran and the West engaged in diplomatic shadow-boxing ahead of nuclear talks this month.
The United States called on Iran to take "urgent practical steps" to build confidence during negotiations with world powers on Tehran's nuclear programme, which Washington and its allies suspect is a bid to develop an atomic bomb capability.
Iran, attending an international conference in Vienna alongside its Western foes, for its part accused the United States of supporting Israel's atomic activities. The Jewish state is widely assumed to hold the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.
Iran and the six major powers resumed discussions last month in Istanbul after a gap of more than a year - a chance to ease escalating tension and avert the threat of a new Middle East war - and both sides described the atmosphere as positive.
The next meeting between the powers - the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany - and Iran is to take place on May 23 in the Iraqi capital. Iranian officials say they are "optimistic" about making progress.
But with Iran seeking an end to sanctions and Western states reluctant to prematurely ease the pressure they credit with bringing Tehran to the negotiating table, diplomats are already playing down the chances of a settlement in Baghdad.
"A lot of people are talking the Baghdad talks up. We are also hopeful. But it is important to remain realistic," one European diplomat said. "This will be a start, not an end."
Western officials fear Iran may be hardening its demand for relief from sanctions which have been tightened over the past year to target its oil exports, and say this round of talks will at best serve as a stepping stone towards a final deal.
They want to see Iran take firm action to allay their concerns over its nuclear programme and curb its processing of uranium before considering relaxing punitive steps on Tehran. With an EU embargo on Iranian crude due to start in full on July 1, Tehran is likely to push hard on the sanctions issue.
But, a diplomat said: "I fear the Iranians misunderstand the nature of European decision-making. The embargo is a decision that's already taken."
At the meeting in Vienna to discuss the 189-nation nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), U.S. envoy Robert Wood expressed concern over what he called "Iran's persistent failure" to comply with its obligations under the pact.
"We seek a sustained process that produces concrete results, and call on Iran to take urgent practical steps to build confidence and lead to compliance with all its international obligations," Wood told delegates.
The West wants verifiable assurances from Tehran that it is not seeking to develop atomic arms - for example, by accepting much more intrusive U.N. inspections and limiting its enrichment capacity. Israel and the United States have not ruled out military action to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons if diplomacy fails to resolve the long-running row.
Iran denies having a weapons agenda, saying it is enriching uranium solely for peaceful energy purposes, not for bombs.
Iran "is strongly committed to the objective of preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons under its NPT obligations," Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said in a speech.
Soltanieh told Reuters last week that Iran would "never" suspend enrichment, which can have both civilian and military purposes, and saw no reason to close the Fordow underground site which it has used to expand higher-grade nuclear activity.
The U.N. Security Council has demanded in a series of resolutions since 2006 that Iran suspend all enrichment.
Many analysts say a negotiated solution will require compromises on both sides: Iran would be allowed to continue some lower-level enrichment if it accepts much more intrusive U.N. nuclear inspections to make sure it has no weapons aims.
But the EU, which includes European heavyweights France, Germany and Britain, showed no sign of backing down on the suspension demand in its statement to the Vienna meeting.
"Iran must suspend its enrichment activities and heavy water related projects, including research and development," Gyorgyi Martin Zanathy, head of the EU delegation, said.
Daniel Keohane of FRIDE, a European think-tank, said the best outcome in Baghdad would be a "fleshing out of issues" that would be a part of a deal but the "danger is that the Iranian position can harden" in the meantime.
The week before the broader political negotiations take place in Baghdad, the U.N. nuclear agency and Iran will hold a new round of discussions in Vienna on May 14-15 after two meetings earlier this year failed to make any headway.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants Iran to address questions raised in a report it issued last November detailing what it said were suspected Iranian research and development activities relevant to making nuclear weapons.
Iran has dismissed the allegations as fabricated.
Wood, the U.S. envoy to the U.N. agency, said: "We are concerned that Iran has not agreed to grant the IAEA access to all relevant sites, information, documents and persons necessary to resolve questions about its nuclear programme."
Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/05/07/uk-nuclear-iran-usa-idUKBRE8460Q320120507
4. Iran to Set Date for Launching Nuclear Power Plant
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Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the Islamic republic will set a date for the official launch of Bushehr nuclear power plant, the semi- official ISNA news agency reported Monday. Iran plans to hold a ceremony to announce the official activities of Bushehr power plant,
Mehmanparast said, but the exact date of the ceremony has not been determined yet, according to ISNA.
The Russian contractor of the plant, Atomstroyexport, said Thursday in a statement that the plant will start to reach its full capacity from May 23 as scheduled.
According to Atomstroyexport, Bushehr, the first nuclear power plant in Iran, has successfully reached 90 percent of its nominal capacity in routine trials in early May.
Mehmanparast expressed hope that officials from various countries, particularly from Russia, would attend the ceremony.
In April, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Fereidoon Abbasi said the country's national grid received 940 megawatts of electricity from Bushehr nuclear power plant.
Iran held a ceremony in September 2011 to mark the preliminary launch of the delayed Bushehr project. The construction of the 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant halted when the United States imposed a hi-tech embargo on Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Russia signed a contract with Iran in 1998 to complete the construction. However, the project was postponed several times due to technical and financial challenges as well as pressure from the United States.
Available at: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2012-05/07/content_15230022.htm
1. N. Korea Vows to Bolster Nuclear Deterrent at Any Cost
Yonhap News Agency
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North Korea said Thursday that it will further strengthen its nuclear deterrent and other defense capabilities, the latest snub to international calls to give up nuclear and missile programs.
"Our military and people will thoroughly safeguard our dignity and sovereignty by further boosting defense capabilities, including nuclear deterrent, at any cost," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a comment carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency. North Korea has long used the term, "nuclear deterrent," to refer to its nuclear arsenal.
The committee said the North won't be fooled by "temptations" of hostile forces that the North could receive benefits in return for abandoning nuclear programs and suspending missile launches.
The North also rejected suggestion that other countries could launch North Korea's rocket on the North's behalf.
The committee lashed out at South Korea over its recent accusations that the North wasted about $850 million in the failed rocket launch last month. South Korea said the impoverished country should have used the money to buy much-needed food for its 24 million people.
The North claimed the launch was meant to put a satellite into orbit, but South Korea and the United States said it was a cover for testing the North's ballistic missile technology.
The long-range rocket exploded soon after lift-off on April 13 and the U.N. Security Council swiftly condemned the launch.
On Sunday, the North also vowed to continue to push strongly forward with its nuclear and rocket programs.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2012/05/10/89/0401000000AEN20120510005300315F.HTML
1. Experts Urge Britain to Bury Plutonium rather than Recycling
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Four U.S. nuclear experts urged Britain to bury plutonium rather than recycling for fuel for nuclear reactors as it is more cost-effective, according to the British science journal Nature's Thursday edition.
Citing an estimate in 2000 that recycling plutonium from spent fuel to make mixed oxide fuel adds $750 million each year to the cost of electric power generation in France, the four said, ''Britain should seriously evaluate the less costly and less risky method of direct plutonium disposal, and take the opportunity to lead the world towards a better solution for reducing stockpiles.''
The four are Frank von Hippel, a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University and co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, Rodney Ewing, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan, Richard Garwin, a physicist and IBM fellow emeritus at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in New York, and Allison Macfarlane, an associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University in Virginia.
''In evaluating methods for plutonium disposal, Britain should also consider the experience of the United States,'' the four experts said.
While the cost of disposing of its 34 tons of plutonium has soared to more than $13 billion, the value of fuel produced is likely to offset costs by only $1 billion to $2 billion, the article said.
In Britain, a reprocessing facility that built in Sellafield at the cost of $2.3 billion was shut down in August 2011 due partly to design flaws, they said, adding Britain, which holds the world's largest stockpile of separated civilian plutonium, should follow a path ''in which plutonium is treated unambiguously as the dangerous weapons material that it is.''
Available at: http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20120510p2g00m0in010000c.html
2. CEZ to Launch Tender for Partner in Temelin Deal
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Czech power group CEZ said on Wednesday it had decided to launch a tender to select a potential strategic partner for an expansion of its Temelin nuclear plant.
The 70-percent state owned power producer CEZ, the biggest listed central European company, has opened a multi-billion dollar tender to build two new units at Temelin, the biggest-ever procurement deal in the country.
CEZ had previously indicated it may look for a financial partner as well as some form of government guarantees for the new plant.
The company said the partnership would probably be formed after a contract with a supplier is signed, which is expected to happen in 2013.
"The initial market analyses show that it is possible to invite more than 10 energy companies, most of which are based in Europe, which either have already shown interest or may become interested in negotiations about such partnership," CEZ said in a statement.
In contrast to countries such as neighbouring Germany that are pulling out of nuclear energy in light of the disaster at Japan's Fukushima a year ago, the Czech Republic aims to enlarge the existing Temelin site in the south of the country.
But doubts have been hanging over the financial viability of the plan due to an uncertain energy market in Europe.
Industry and Trade Minister Martin Kuba has told Reuters the government was willing to discuss setting minimum purchase prices for power from the new units, estimated to cost more than $10 billion.
"CEZ is prepared to fund the project using its own resources and available debt capacities; however, there are many other interesting investment opportunities, which the CEZ Group might reach if a strategic partner joins the consortium," CEZ Chief Executive Officer Daniel Benes said was quoted as saying in the statement.
The statement added the tender for a supplier was progressing according to schedule and the result of that tender will influence the decisions on the form of the potential strategic partnership, CEZ said.
"Therefore, the process of the selection of a strategic partner will not finish until the winner of the Temelín public contract tender is known."
Three qualified bidders - Toshiba Corp unit Westinghouse, France's Areva and Russia's Atomstroyexport - are due to submit their bids in July.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/09/cez-temelin-idUSL5E8G98IH20120509
3. Lithuania Nuclear Power Plant to Cost up to 7 Bln Euros
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Lithuania's government gave its final approval to several plans aimed at reducing its dependency on Russian energy sources on Wednesday, including a new nuclear power plant which it said could cost up to 7 billion euros ($9.10 billion).
The government of centre-right Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said it had given its approval to laws which underpin plans for the nuclear power plant, a liquiefied natural gas terminal and power grid synchronisation with western Europe involving new cables to Sweden and Poland.
"This day is a big step towards energy independence," Kubilius told reporters after a cabinet meeting which approved the draft laws, which still need parliament backing.
The Baltic states get all their gas from Gazprom and Lithuania sees the LNG terminal as aimed at ending that monopoly. Lithuania was also self-sufficient in electricity until it had to shut down its Soviet-era Ignalina nuclear power plant in 2009. It wants to get that generating capacity back.
Lithuania has already initialled an outline plan for the nuclear power plant with Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy with aim to build it by 2020-2022 for about 5 billion euros. The plant is aimed at having one 1,350 MW ABWR reactor.
However, the Finance Ministry said in a statement the end cost for the project could be 6.8 billion euros.
Aound 4 billion euros would be borrowed and the rest would come from the countries backing the project, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as well as Hitachi.
Under the agreement backed by the government, Lithuania would have 38 percent of the plant, Estonia 22 percent, Latvia 20 percent and Hitachi 20 percent.
Poland was originally part of the project, but dropped out. Energy Minister Arvydas Sekmokas said the door remained open for Poland to re-join.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/09/lithuania-russia-energy-idUSL5E8G9AI620120509
4. Nuclear Revival in U.K. Planned as Cameron Spurs Profits
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Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is drawing up a law to make building atomic reactors more profitable.
The U.K. is aiming to revive the nuclear industry after Germany’s largest utilities scrapped a project in March because the investment would take too long to pay off. Yesterday, the government announced measures including long-term contracts that give power producers guarantees to help them attract as much as 60 billion pounds ($97 billion) in finance for nuclear plants.
The proposals follow months of upheaval in the U.K. energy industry including the withdrawal of EON AG (EOAN), RWE AG (RWE) and SSE Plc (SSE) from nuclear projects, the prospect of delays to a plant planned by Electricite de France SA and the resignation of Energy Secretary Chris Huhne. The government said the Energy Market Reform bill will become law next year, allowing utilities to take advantage of its provisions from 2014.
“Electricity market reform is about keeping the lights on,” said John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, the U.K.’s largest business lobby. “Business investment in low carbon will only happen when the detailed market framework is in place. Today’s announcements are an important stepping stone.”
The bill calls for so-called feed-in tariffs with contracts for difference, a mechanism that smooths out rises and drops in power prices. That plan hasn’t prevented utilities backing out of nuclear projects. RWE and EON, Germany’s two largest utilities, dropped plans to build a nuclear plant in the U.K. in March, saying they couldn’t justify the capital expenditure involved.
Their joint Horizon Nuclear Power venture has sites in Wales and the west of England and had planned to start construction of the first reactor by 2015. Their withdrawal came six months after SSE said it would sell its 25 percent stake in U.K. nuclear venture NuGeneration Ltd.
About half of Britain’s coal-fired plants are scheduled to close by 201,6 and all the nation’s nuclear stations are due to shut by 2035. Britain gets about 20 percent of its power from 10 nuclear stations. All except one reactor are owned by EDF and Centrica Plc. (CNA)
The cost of a new generation of reactors may reach 60 billion pounds if all the proposed plants get built, according to the U.K.’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Center.
“We’re not in danger of capacity shortages in the next two to three years,” Tim Yeo, a Conservative lawmaker and chairman of the cross-party Energy and Climate Change Committee, said in an interview last week. “The problem comes in the 20-teens if we haven’t started building.”
Electricite de France SA, the company furthest along in its plans to build a new nuclear plant, is unlikely to complete a reactor before 2020, according to U.K. energy markets regulator Chief Executive Officer Alistair Buchanan, two years later than originally planned. EDF has said it will make a final investment decision on its project at Hinkley Point in southwest England by the end of this year.
“As an investor, I’m closer than ever to making a decision at the end of this year to go ahead,” Chief Executive Officer Vincent de Rivaz of EDF’s U.K. unit, said at a conference in London last week. EDF’s first-of-a-kind EPR reactor at Flamanville, France, will cost about 6 billion euros ($7.8 billion), almost double the orginal budget. The tsunami and reactor meltdown at Fukushima have also weighed on costs, Citigroup analysts including Peter Atherton said in a May 8 note to investors.
“If construction costs are indeed anything like seven billion pounds per reactor, then an already very challenging program maybe reaching the point of impossibility in our view,” the analysts said. SSE’s former partners Iberdrola and GDF Suez (GSZ) SA are still part of the NuGeneration venture. The role of nuclear power was championed by former Energy Secretary Huhne, who put aside his long-standing opposition to the energy source when he took office in May 2010. Huhne resigned in February after he was charged with lying about a driving offense.
His departure left his successor Ed Davey to oversee the proposed energy bill. The minister also faces public outcry that the government’s energy plans are driving up household bills.
U.K. families may pay as much as 65 billion pounds ($100.5 billion) a year for energy by 2020, more than quadruple he figure in 2000, according to Deutsche Bank AG. They will spend more than 1,500 pounds a year in 2006 prices by the end of the decade, Deutsche Bank analyst Martin Brough said in report in October.
“There needs to be that sense of momentum,” said Bill Easton, director of U.K. power and utilities at Ernst & Young LP. “There’s been a lot of concern about the timeline. It’s all about creating certainty to invest in low carbon generation.”
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-09/nuclear-revival-in-u-k-planned-as-cameron-spurs-profits.html
1. Japan to Take Over Tepco after Fukushima Disaster
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Tokyo Electric Power Co, Japan's biggest utility and owner of the devastated Fukushima nuclear plant, will be taken over by the government after the country's trade minister on Wednesday approved a $12.5 billion capital injection.
In what is effectively a nationalisation, the government will help avert the collapse of once-powerful Tepco, the supplier of power to almost 45 million people in and around Tokyo.
The injection of 1 trillion yen ($12.5 billion) brings total government support for the company to at least 3.5 trillion yen since the meltdowns at Fukushima in March last year, triggered by an earthquake and a tsunami.
The eventual cost of the nuclear disaster, including compensation and clean-up costs, has been estimated at more than $100 billion.
"Without the state funds, (Tepco) cannot provide a stable supply of electricity and pay for compensation and decommissioning costs," Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano told a news conference after granting approval to the utility's 10-year turnaround plan, which paves the way for state control.
"Even though the firm will be under so-called state control, I want the company to do your best to step out of this situation soon," Edano told Tepco President Toshio Nishizawa, referring to the government's intention to own Tepco only until it recovers.
The government will get more than half of Tepco's voting rights, allowing it to choose board members, according to the plan.
It will also take convertible stock that, when converted, will increase its control to more than two-thirds, enabling it to make unilteral decisions on major management issues including mergers. The takeover must first be approved by a general shareholders' meeting in June.
The utility, saddled with trillions of yen in compensation and clean-up costs from the radiation crisis as well as surging fuel costs to cover for lost nuclear power capacity, has been facing insolvency risks since the disaster.
In addition to taxpayers' money, major creditors will provide the firm with an additional 1 trillion yen in credit, and a government-backed bailout body will aid Tepco with an additional 850 billion yen for compensation, the plan said.
Tepco also said it plans to hike electricity rates for three years for households by 10 percent and for corporate customers by about 17 percent.
The takeover allows the government to push through reforms at the utility, which downplayed the risks of earthquakes and tsunamis at its nuclear stations and covered up safety lapses.
Tepco will sell or lease some of its thermal power plants, a move Edano suggested could be an initial step towards loosening the grip of Japan's 10 regional monopoly utilities including Tepco by opening markets to some competition.
Tepco vowed to cut 3.3 trillion yen in costs over 10 years and said it aims to turn profitable in the 2013/14 business year, forecasting a net profit of 106.7 billion yen.
But this goal depends on some uncertain factors.
The household electricity rate hike, unpopular among the public, must first be approved by the government.
Tepco also aims to start bringing back on line seven reactors at its Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant from 2013/14.
But Japan has been unable to restart any of its 50 nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster due to mounting public worries, and the local authorities at Kashiwazaki Kariwa are not an exception.
Furthermore, the government has yet to decide what role nuclear power will play in Japan's future energy policy.
"The only thing we can do is to try to seek the public's understanding. If we can't realise this, then the impact would be big on our revenues and expenditures ... But we do not have a plan B or a C now," Tepco President Nishizawa said.
Tepco lodged a formal request for government support last month after months of dragging its feet as it sought to avoid losing control.
Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata will be replaced by a member of the bailout body, and a new president was chosen this week from within Tepco to replace Nishizawa in June.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/09/tepco-idUSL4E8G977620120509
2. Japan Gov't Proposes Postponing Decision on Nuclear Fuel Cycle Policy
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The government proposed Tuesday to a subpanel of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission carrying over a policy decision on the country's nuclear fuel cycle or temporarily suspending the operation of the used nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northeastern Japan, officials said.
The secretariat of the five-member commission, which supervises the country's nuclear policy, filed the proposal as the outlook for the operation of existing reactors and development of fast breeder reactors has become unclear following the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
The subpanel, which aims to compile options for the nuclear fuel cycle policy as an input for the government's basic energy strategy to be adopted around summer, will deepen discussions on the country's nuclear policies on the basis of the proposal, the officials said.
Under the proposal, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.'s used fuel reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, on the northern tip of Japan's largest main island of Honshu, will be limited to test operations or be suspended.
Available at: http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20120508p2g00m0dm126000c.html
Talks on ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons looked in doubt on Tuesday as the Western official organizing them said he had yet to secure the needed attendance of all countries in the region.
The statement by Finnish diplomat Jaakko Laajava at a meeting in Vienna was a sign of the difficulties involved in getting Israel, its arch foe Iran and other Middle East nations to sit around a table this year to discuss the divisive issue.
Laajava, whose appointment was announced by the United Nations last October, did not say which countries were still leaving their attendance unclear, but both Iran and Israel are believed to be among them.
Underlining the deep divisions on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, Iran and Arab states used the Vienna meeting on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to repeat their criticism of Israel over its assumed atomic arsenal.
Egypt, which originally proposed talks on creating a nuclear arms-free Middle East, said such a conference would represent a crossroads for Arab states and warned that "its failure would invite them to revise" their nuclear policies.
It did not elaborate, but the wording may be interpreted as a veiled warning regarding Arab states' commitment to the NPT, a pact designed to prevent the spread of atomic arms.
Israel is not a member of the voluntary 1970 pact so was not represented in Vienna but the United States warned that "continued efforts to single out Israel ... will make a (Middle East) conference increasingly less likely".
Egypt's plan for an international meeting in 2012 to lay the groundwork for the possible creation of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was agreed at an NPT review conference two years ago.
In his first public briefing on the issue since he took up the job, Laajava told delegates in Vienna he had held a series of meetings with regional states and they shared the goal of establishing such a zone, but they differed on how to do so.
"Unfortunately, while much has de facto been already achieved in these consultations in terms of identifying common ground, I cannot yet report that the conference will be attended by all states of the region," he said.
Laajava said Finland was prepared to host the meeting any time during 2012, suggesting December was a possibility.
Iran and Arab states see Israel's assumed atomic arsenal as a major threat to peace and stability in the Middle East.
Israel - widely believed to be the only regional state with such arms and the only one outside the NPT - and the United States regard Iran as the region's main proliferation threat, accusing Tehran of seeking to develop such weapons.
The Jewish state has said it would sign the NPT and renounce nuclear weapons only as part of a broader Middle East peace deal with Arab states and Iran that guaranteed its security.
Israel does not rule out taking part in the planned conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said last week, but added it was "awaiting clarification on some issues".
Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary for international security and non-proliferation, told the meeting in Vienna that a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was an achievable, but long-term, goal.
However "a comprehensive and durable peace and full compliance by all countries in the region with their non-proliferation obligations" was needed for this to happen, he said.
Mark Fitzpatrick, a director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank, said the rationale for creating a zone in the Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction was stronger than ever.
It could "be an answer to the Iranian nuclear crisis that threatens to spark regional proliferation and engulf the Middle East in another war" and "remove the sense of double standards over Israel's nuclear program", Fitzpatrick said in a report.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/08/us-nuclear-mideast-idUSBRE84712G20120508
2. Nuclear Regulators Must Be Independent-EU Energy Chief
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Nuclear regulators across Europe need to be independent in the same way central banks have to be beyond influence and a draft EU law expected late this year should address that, Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said on Tuesday.
Oettinger said he would not "name and shame" which European Union states were less independent than others, but said there was a need "to put independence into the system". "We have a lot of different member states. In some, they are completely independent. They receive no instruction, but in other member states, I think it could be improved," he told a news conference.
"I want the best possible level of independence. That's what we're going to propose at an EU level. It's a bit like the independence of national banks. We had legislation and now we have the highest possible level of independence."
Oettinger was speaking after a public meeting on stress tests, which were carried out across Europe following the nuclear disaster in Japan last year. The aim, through a series of inspections, including "peer reviews" by inspectors from other member states, was to ensure all nuclear plants can withstand natural and man-made disasters.
One lesson of the Fukushima tragedy was that two natural disasters could hit at once and knock out the electrical supply system of a plant completely, causing a failure for a plant to cool down. Last month the commissioner announced European states would get extra time to carry out further inspections, meaning a Commission report would be delivered in the autumn, rather than around the middle of the year as previously expected.
The commissioner did not specify how many more inspections were needed, but said then only 38 nuclear rectors out of the EU total of 147 had been visited and it was important to have "a complete overview", taking into account all types of reactor.
EU treaties mean that the energy mix is the responsibility of national governments, so the European Commission cannot dictate that they should not use nuclear power and the tests were voluntary. All 14 member states that operate nuclear plants took part, however. In addition, EU member Lithuania, which is decommissioning its nuclear units, joined in, as did non-EU countries Switzerland and Ukraine. After the stress test process is complete, the Commission is expected to propose revisions to its nuclear safety law around the end of the year.
The European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) adopted a report in April on the results of the stress tests, concluding all countries had taken "significant steps" to improve safety. It was endorsed by EU states, with the exception of Austria, which is a vocal opponent of nuclear power. It banned atomic plants in 1974. Non-governmental campaign groups have also questioned the effectiveness of the stress test process. Andrej Stritar, chairman of ENSREG, said the body was drawing up an action plan. More inspections would prove the process was transparent, he said, but did not expect new insights. "I don't expect the final report will be changed," he said on Tuesday. Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/08/eu-nuclear-idUSL5E8G81R620120508
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