1. China Pushes N.Korea to Drop Nuclear Test Plan - Sources
Benjamin Kang Lim
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China has been quietly and gently pressuring North Korea to scrap plans for a third nuclear test, said two sources with knowledge of closed-door discussions between the countries, but there is no indication how the North will react.
If North Korea goes ahead with the test, China would consider taking some retaliatory steps, but they would not be substantive, a source with ties to Pyongyang and Beijing told Reuters. North Korea has almost completed preparations for the test, Reuters reported in late April, a step that would further isolate the impoverished state after last month's failed rocket launch that the United States says was a ballistic missile test.
"China is unhappy ... and urged North Korea not to conduct a nuclear test near Changbai Mountain," said the source, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
China feared a radiation leak and damage to the environment from a blast, the source added. "China also complained about the environmental damage to the area after the first two tests."
When North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, it caused environmental damage to the mountain straddling the border with China. North Korea ceded part of the mountain to China in 1963. It was unclear if the secretive North Korean government, typically unwilling to bow to outside pressure, would defer or drop the plans. China is the closest thing to an ally that North Korea has. "The impact on China's northeast would be huge," the source said of a third test.
Chinese officials have discussed whether threats of diplomatic action would be effective, but any action might be restricted to some economic measures to signal China's displeasure and would not affect vital food aid for North Korea, the source said.
A Western diplomat, who also asked not to be identified, confirmed that China has put pressure on North Korea to abandon the test.
Major diplomatic repercussions were unlikely, however, said Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing. Instead, Jin, who has knowledge of how China deals with North Korea, said China may use financial levers to influence its neighbour.
"If closed-door negotiations fail to produce results, economic aid could be cut," Jin said, adding that imports of mineral resources and unspecified "special local products" could also be reduced. China's exports to North Korea rose 20.6 percent last year to $2.28 billion from 2010, while imports plunged 81.4 percent to $147.4 million, according to Chinese customs figures.
China would also likely back another U.N. resolution slapping further sanctions on North Korea, including trade, said Jin.
China condemned North Korea's first nuclear test in October 2006, carried out in defiance of China's public pleas, and it supported a U.N. resolution that authorised sanctions. It backed sanctions again after the North's second test in May 2009.
Despite pressuring North Korea to cancel plans for a third test, China would want to avoid serious diplomatic measures, such as recalling its ambassador, said Jin.
"China does not want unnecessary external trouble ahead of the 18th congress. A major change in policy is not likely," he said, referring to the Communist Party's five-yearly conclave later this year when a broad leadership change is widely expected.
The sources declined to speculate whether China would cut oil supplies to North Korea. In 2003, China briefly cut off fuel to North Korea after a missile test, but it cited technical problems. The United States wants China to do more to rein in North Korea but China has little leverage over it and is unlikely to pull the plug on food aid due to fears of instability in its northeast, said the Western diplomat and Jin.
"China can't stop food aid. If that stops, it would endanger the regime," the envoy said of North Korea's leadership.
The main factor keeping China from using harsh measures to restrain North Korea is the fear of a destabilising exodus of refugees into northeast China, preceded or followed by collapse of the North Korean regime.
"Experience has shown that sanctions have little impact on North Korean decision-making. And, of course, the comprehensive sanctions regime will be sabotaged by China, for whom a nuclear North Korea is a lesser evil than an unstable and or collapsing North Korea," said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kookmin University.
In addition, in the face of rising tension over disputed islands in the South China Sea, the last thing China needs is the United States using a North Korean nuclear test as an excuse to step up its military presence in the region, said a source with ties to China's top leadership, requesting anonymity. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Beijing for two days of meetings this month, said the United States was willing to work with North Korea if it changed its ways.
North Korea hopes the United States would sign a peace treaty and recognise it - the North's long-standing demands - if it put off the nuclear test, the source with ties to Pyongyang and Beijing said. The 1950-53 Korean War, in which China helped North Korea against the United States and South Korea, ended in a truce.
The threat of a nuclear test comes as Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s and the third member of his family to rule North Korea, seeks to cement his grip on power.
His father, Kim Jong-il, died in December after 17 years of rule that included mismanagement that resulted in the starving to death of an estimated 1 million people in the 1990s.
The untested Kim Jong-un has reaffirmed his father's "military first" policies that have stunted economic growth, dashing slim hopes of an opening to the outside world.
North Korean media recently upped its criticism of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who cut off aid to the North when he took power in 2008, calling him a "rat" and a "bastard" and threatening to turn the South Korean capital to ashes.
Available at: http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/05/16/korea-north-china-nuclear-test-idINDEE84F08620120516
2. N. Korea Warned Amid Fears of Nuclear Bomb Test
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China, Japan and South Korea warned North Korea Sunday they will not tolerate further nuclear tests, the South Korean president said, amid fears that Pyongyang is preparing a third atomic blast.
Lee Myung-Bak made the remark after talks in Beijing with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that also saw the trio decide to start free-trade area negotiations before the end of this year.
"Our three countries agreed that we will not accept further nuclear tests or further provocations from North Korea," Lee told reporters after meeting with his two counterparts for 90 minutes.
The Northeast Asian leaders had been expected to put Pyongyang's nuclear and rocket programmes high on the agenda for Sunday's summit.
Fears of a third North Korean nuclear test have grown after a failed rocket launch by Pyongyang last month that the United States and its allies said was a disguised ballistic missile test banned under UN resolutions. Satellite photos have recently shown work in progress at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
Noda called on the three countries to strengthen co-operation in order to "further prevent provocations" by North Korea in future.
Wen warned earlier Sunday that the region faced many "unstable" factors that made the situation hard to predict. "The various parties need to use their wisdom, keep patient, and display goodwill to the greatest extent so as to ease confrontation and return to the right track of dialogue and negotiations," the Chinese premier said.
China, long the North's key ally, has been an advocate of seeking to put a stop to the isolated regime's nuclear ambitions via multilateral talks.
The three leaders also agreed to start talks this year on a free-trade area, saying it would boost the economies of the entire region.
The issue has been on the trilateral agenda for the past decade, beginning with an agreement among the three in late 2002 to launch a feasibility study on a free-trade area.
Wen said closer regional economic integration, in response to a slow global recovery and an overall rise in trade protectionism, would help unlock new growth potential.
"Northeast Asia is the most economically vibrant region in the world. So there is huge potential for our three countries to have closer trade and investment cooperation," he told reporters.
"The establishment of a free-trade area will unleash the economic vitality of our region and give a strong boost to economic integration in East Asia."
China, Japan and South Korea combined would have the world's largest economy -- ahead of the European Union -- when measured by purchasing power parity, which takes into account differences in living costs across nations. "Today, as we look at the global financial crisis, some countries are still pursuing protectionist ideas and have expanded them," South Korea's Lee said.
"I'm worried about this. By comparison, I believe the agreement between the three countries is an important thing." In Sunday's meeting, the three nations also signed an investment agreement concluded earlier this year after 13 rounds of negotiations stretching over five years.
"To further facilitate mutual investment, it is important to have a legal framework. It will help our businesses and mutual investment," Lee said.
Later in the day, Wen met Noda for bilateral talks, with both sides pledging to push ties between the world's second- and third-largest economies further.
"Both sides must seize the opportunity, increase mutual trust... and push forward the healthy and stable development of relations between the two countries," Wen told his Japanese visitor.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iTYvLwFSRjvsEe5TnmoSopmrH9Fw?docId=CNG.a82fa1d6f82deea024bea54c40646347.2e1
1. Iran Nuclear Concession Would Test Big Power Unity
William Maclean and Fredrik Dahl
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Facing an imminent toughening of sanctions, Iran is hinting at a readiness to give some ground in its long nuclear stand-off with world powers, but any flexibility could split their ranks and lead to protracted uncertainty about how to respond.
The stakes are high, for the longer the impasse goes on, the closer Iran will get to the technological threshold of capability to develop atomic bombs, raising the odds of last-ditch Israeli military strikes on its arch-foe and the risk of a new Middle East war a troubled global economy cannot afford.
A succession of optimistic statements by Iranian officials and academics has raised speculation that Tehran may offer concessions to its six main negotiating partners in talks scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad, a move that could ease regional tensions and soothe fears of a fresh spike in oil prices.
Such an offer would also be closely studied by Israel, which has threatened to use force to destroy nuclear installations the Islamic Republic says are purely civilian in nature but the West suspects are geared to gaining a weapons capability.
Any talk of a diplomatic breakthrough, though, is almost certainly premature.
Whatever concrete gestures are tabled by Iran would test anew the cohesiveness of joint Western, Russian and Chinese efforts to prevent an Iranian atom bomb capability, and might simply lead to months of inconclusive consultations among its interlocutors about how to answer Tehran's move, analysts say.
Differences in how best to match an Iranian offer - for example by suspending some sanctions in return for Iran shelving enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, a level that worries U.N. nuclear experts - could snag efforts to turn any such initiative into meaningful movement towards negotiations.
"Don't expect a ‘Kumbaya' (celebratory) moment. It's going to be a poker play" between Iran and the major powers, French analyst Bruno Tertrais said. "I would be surprised if what happens in Baghdad was more than an agreement on interim steps."
There is "no doubt " that Iran's policy would be to split the six, known as the P5+1, says Dennis Ross, until November a chief Middle East strategy adviser at the White House.
"I also have no doubt that they probably will put something on the table that they think will be attractive to some of the members of the P5+1," Ross told an audience at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.
He said one such move could be Iranian assurances on a halt to stockpiling of 20 percent enriched uranium.
That level, well beyond the 5 percent of fissile purity suitable for running civilian nuclear power plants, is intended only to replenish the fuel stocks of a medical isotope reactor, Iran says. But it also moves Iran farther down the road towards the highly enriched grade of uranium usable in bombs.
One Western government assessment is that it would take Iran two to three years to manufacture a usable nuclear weapon in the event that authorities in Tehran decided to attempt that task.
Analysts and some diplomats have said Iran and the global powers must compromise for any chance of a long-term settlement, suggesting Tehran could be allowed to continue limited low-level enrichment if it accepts more intrusive U.N. inspections.
But Iran has often managed to limit its diplomatic and economic isolation by sowing rifts among the six states spearheading international efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program, leading to a watering-down of U.N. sanctions.
Western analysts are on alert for any new such gambit now.
A united front among Russia, China, the United States, France, Germany and Britain is the most powerful leverage the outside world has in ensuring Iranian compliance with international safeguards intended to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Western analysts say.
And yet that unity has always been fragile.
Russia and China, which both have strong trade ties to Iran, have supported four rounds of U.N. sanctions imposed since 2006 on Iran over its refusal to suspend enrichment-related activity and grant unfettered U.N. inspections to resolve suspicions of military dimensions to its nuclear program.
But Moscow and Beijing criticized the United States and the European Union last year for meting out extra unilateral sanctions against Iran. Russia has made clear its opposition to any further U.N. Security Council measures against Tehran.
"I think P5+1 will have significant problems whenever it comes to Iran actually moving and how they respond," a European diplomat told Reuters. "At this moment in time it is easy and nothing has been promised by Iran ... but I think it will become very difficult and very tense on the P5+1 side once they have to start reacting to an Iranian step."
Mark Fitzpatrick of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies said an Iranian demand for an easing of sanctions in return for its concessions "will present an early test of P5+1 unity. For the West, any lifting of sanctions would require significant limitations on the enrichment program."
There is little debate about what may be encouraging Iran to indicate new flexibility: Iran, analysts say, wishes to stave off the planned July 1 start to a European Union ban on imports of Iranian oil, a significant measure since the EU takes a fifth of the country's petroleum shipments.
But there is plenty of speculation about the extent to which Russia and China are prepared to reward any Iranian shift.
Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute said divergence between Russia and China and its other partners would likely emerge on the price the world should demand for dropping the insistence, enshrined in the Security Council resolutions, that Iran cease any enrichment whatsoever.
He said the United States would want to see the dismantling of an enrichment plant buried deep under a mountain at Fordow south of Tehran, the Iranian nuclear site best sheltered from any possible air strike.
"The Russians and Chinese may recognize that this is unlikely, and may accept Iranian offers short of this," he said.
"So we should expect to see Iran attempt to split the Russians and Chinese from the others by offering something concrete and significant, but short of dismantlement."
Tehran has ruled out closing the bunkered Fordow site.
Diplomats and analysts say an agreement is still far off, but the signs are growing that Iran's leaders are changing their approach and preparing public opinion for a potential shift.
Tehran's former chief nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, now a visiting scholar at Princeton University in the United States, said last month Iran and major nations had a "historic opportunity" to settle their decade-old nuclear dispute.
On May 2, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadehhe said in a speech in Vienna: "We continue to be optimistic about upcoming negotiations."
In April, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran was "ready to resolve all issues very quickly and simply".
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/16/us-nuclear-iran-iaea-idUSBRE84E0BE20120516
Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog ended two days of talks on Tuesday by agreeing to meet again next week, just two days before Tehran resumes negotiations with world powers concerned it may be seeking to develop atomic bomb capability.
While both sides were upbeat about the discussions, which will continue on Monday, there was no word on whether the U.N. agency had made progress towards one of its main aims - to secure access to a suspect military site near Tehran.
"We had a good exchange of views and we will meet again on Monday," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts told reporters at the Iranian diplomatic mission in Vienna where the meeting took place.
Standing next to him, Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh was more positive. "We had fruitful discussions in a very conducive environment. We have had progress," he said.
Neither side gave details about the content of the talks and they did not say if they discussed Iran allowing U.N. inspectors to visit the Parchin military site where the watchdog suspects nuclear bomb-relevant research has been carried out.
Western diplomats, watching the meeting for any sign Iran is ready to make concrete concessions ahead of the encounter in Baghdad next week, were not convinced.
"It is too early to say whether progress was made. There are apparently some serious sticking points," said one, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The onus remains on Iran to address the agency's - and international community's - concerns about its nuclear program."
The IAEA had hoped to secure agreement on access to Iranian sites, documents and officials involved in suspected development work that could be put to use producing nuclear explosives. Two previous rounds of talks in Tehran this year with U.N. inspectors failed to make any notable progress, especially on their request to go to Parchin.
Iran and the powers involved in nuclear diplomacy - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - revived negotiations in Istanbul last month after a 15-month hiatus during which the West cranked up sanctions to unprecedented levels - targeting Iran's oil trade and banks.
The resumption of diplomacy offers a chance to defuse that tension as well as worries about a new Middle East war.
Israel, widely believed to hold the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has, like the United States, not ruled out military action to stop Iran's nuclear progress if it deems diplomacy has failed.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Iran had yet to show it was "willing to take concrete action to address concerns about possible military dimensions of its nuclear program, which is what we will look for in Baghdad."
A step-by-step process "should start with steps by Iran to build confidence in its nuclear activities," he told parliament.
The IAEA, the U.N. agency tasked with preventing the spread of nuclear arms, said before the meeting that its priority was to visit Parchin where Iran may have conducted high-explosives tests relevant for developing atomic arms capability.
"The primary focus of our discussions was how to clarify issues related to possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," Nackaerts said.
The parties considered options for taking the "agency verification process forward in a structured way," he said.
Iran, which rejects Western accusations it is seeking nuclear weapons, has resisted previous requests by the IAEA to go to the Parchin complex, southeast of Tehran.
An IAEA report last November found that Iran had built a large containment vessel there in 2000 to conduct tests that the U.N. agency said were "strong indicators of possible (nuclear) weapon development".
Western diplomats say they suspect Iran is cleaning the Parchin site to remove incriminating evidence. One envoy told Reuters he had seen satellite imagery showing vehicles near the place the IAEA wants to see, and an apparent stream of water coming from the building.
Iran's Foreign Ministry has dismissed the allegations, saying nuclear activities cannot be washed away. A Vienna-based expert who declined to be identified said it would be difficult, but not impossible, to clean possible traces of uranium or substitute materials from a site.
A Western priority is for Iran to halt the higher-grade uranium enrichment work it started two years ago and has since expanded, potentially shortening the time needed to build a bomb.
Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants, which is Iran's stated goal, or provide material for bombs if processed further, which the West suspects is the country's ultimate intention.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/15/us-nuclear-iran-iaea-idUSBRE84E0BE20120515
3. U.S. Nuclear Expert: Iran Official Linked to Past Program
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Communications from the 1990s suggest Iran's current foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, had knowledge of a program to procure goods for an alleged clandestine nuclear program when he was head of a university, a U.S. nuclear expert said on Tuesday.
David Albright, founder of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), said among 1,600 telexes and other material he has obtained and is studying was a letter signed by Salehi as head of Sharif University in 1991.
The letter served as an end-user guarantee to a European supplier of materials that could have a dual purpose for use in a nuclear program. Tehran-based Sharif University, however, was acting essentially as a front for Iran's military procurement network, Albright said.
"Salehi knew about or was involved in efforts to create an alleged parallel military nuclear program that is of great interest to the IAEA now," Albright told Reuters, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog.
"And the intention of that program was probably to make nuclear weapons, including producing highly enriched uranium," Albright said.
While senior IAEA officials have in the past told Reuters they suspected Salehi and Sharif University played a role in such procurement activities, the telexes appear to be the first public evidence supporting those suspicions.
ISIS planned to publish its findings and some of the documents about procurement activities of Iran's Physics Research Center in the late 1980s and early 1990s on its website this week.
The Iranian U.N. mission did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The findings come as Iran and the IAEA ended two days of talks and were to meet again next week, just days before negotiations between Iran and world powers in Baghdad.
The West is concerned Iran's nuclear program may be aimed at developing nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
U.S. intelligence agencies have said Iran halted its efforts to construct a nuclear device in the fall of 2003, while continuing with research and uranium enrichment.
The IAEA in its November 2011 report said the Physics Research Center was established at Lavizan, a complex near a military installation in Tehran. It was completely razed in late 2003 and early 2004.
The IAEA has been looking into the Physics Research Center, which acted as an umbrella organization under Iran's defense ministry and coordinated various nuclear activities.
Senior IAEA officials have told Reuters the agency has known for many years that Salehi and Sharif University played a central role in Iran's illicit nuclear-technology procurement activities while Salehi was head of the university in the 1990s.
ISIS said the Physics Research Center had used Sharif University "as a front" for buying certain goods overseas and hid "the true end use from overseas suppliers by providing an educational rationale for the purchases."
The telexes showed that while the initial order came from the university's purchasing department, when finalizing payments, the Physics Research Center and its chief, Sayyed Abbas Shahmoradi-Zavareh, appeared in financial-related telexes as the responsible party.
ISIS said it has a copy of a letter signed by Salehi as head of Sharif University in 1991 that, along with associated telexes, demonstrated he was aware of the Physics Research Center purchases of dual-use goods.
ISIS withheld the name of the company and the type of goods.
The letter certified that the goods would be used for university teaching or research and not for making weapons or ammunition.
One telex said Shahmoradi received from Sharif University the "full authority to make final decision" on purchasing, ISIS said, so "Salehi, as head of the university, must have granted that authority to Shahmoradi."
ISIS also linked Salehi to the Physics Research Center by saying that when he was head of the university two packages could not be delivered to Shahmoradi at the university and the deliverer was told to redeliver them to the purchasing manager at the university or Salehi.
Telexes implied that Salehi knew of the procurement of whole body counters, used to measure radiation, and had a connection to Shahmoradi, ISIS said.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/15/us-iran-nuclear-usa-idUSBRE84E1O720120515
4. U.N. Nuclear Agency to Push Iran on Military Site Access
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The United Nations nuclear watchdog signaled on Monday it would press Iran for access to a military installation where it suspects Iran has built a chamber for high-explosive tests that could serve to develop atomic bombs.
The Vienna talks will test Iran's readiness to address U.N. inspectors' suspicions of military dimensions to its nuclear program, ahead of broader-ranging talks on the program's future in Baghdad next week between Tehran and six world powers.
Iran, which rejects Western accusations it seeks nuclear arms, has so far resisted requests by the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the extensive Parchin complex southeast of Tehran. The issue was expected to be raised during a high-level May 14-15 meeting in Vienna between Iran and the IAEA.
"It is important now ... that Iran let us have access to people, documents, information and sites," IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts told reporters as he arrived for the talks at an Iranian diplomatic mission in Austria's capital.
His team of senior IAEA officials and experts left the building after about five hours, declining any comment to media waiting outside. The meeting will resume on Tuesday.
Iranian state television said: "The first round of talks has been evaluated as positive." It did not elaborate.
An IAEA report last November found that Iran had built a large containment vessel in 2000 at the Parchin site in which to conduct tests that the U.N. agency said were "strong indicators of possible (nuclear) weapon development".
It said a building was constructed "around a large cylindrical object". An earth berm between the building containing the cylinder and a neighboring building indicated the probable use of high explosives in the chamber.
The IAEA said it had obtained satellite images that were consistent with this information. The vessel was designed to contain the detonation of up to 70 kg of high explosives.
Israel - widely believed to hold the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal - and the United States have not ruled out military action to prevent Iran from obtaining atomic bombs if negotiations fail to achieve this goal peacefully.
Western diplomats say they suspect Iran is now cleaning the Parchin site to remove incriminating evidence. A U.S. security institute said last week that satellite imagery showed activity there which it said raised concern that Iran may be "washing" the building the IAEA wants to see.
A Western diplomat told Reuters he had seen other images also suggesting a clean-up operation at Parchin, including a stream of water apparently coming from the building.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman has dismissed the allegations, saying nuclear activities cannot be washed away.
But the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), the Washington-based think-tank which published the satellite image last week, said this was incorrect.
"The concern is that washing could be incorporated into an effort to cleanse the building. The process could involve grinding down the surfaces inside the building, collecting the dust and then washing the area thoroughly. This could be followed with new building materials and paint," it said.
A senior Iranian lawmaker, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, did not rule out a possible IAEA visit to Parchin. "Naturally, agreements are always reached behind the negotiating table and parliament will respect any agreement reached by Iranian representatives," he told ISNA news agency when asked about the U.N. body's request.
Nackaerts, head of the IAEA's nuclear inspections worldwide, said Tehran must now engage on substance with the agency in its nuclear investigation, after years of stonewalling.
Two previous rounds of talks in Tehran this year with U.N. inspectors failed to make any notable progress, especially on their request to go to Parchin.
"The aim ... is to reach agreement on an approach to resolve all outstanding issues with Iran," Nackaerts said. "In particular, clarification of the possible military dimensions remains our priority."
Nackaerts did not name any sites, but IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said earlier this month that gaining access to Parchin would be the priority for the IAEA in the talks.
"Some IAEA officials see Tehran's refusal of access as a challenge to the IAEA's primacy in setting the agenda for inspections, and for that reason the IAEA will continue to request access to that site as a matter of principle," said Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Western diplomats will be watching the discussions for any sign that Iran is now ready to make concrete concessions, saying this would send a positive message ahead of the Baghdad talks.
Iran and the powers involved in nuclear diplomacy - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - revived negotiations in Istanbul last month after a 15-month hiatus and both sides say they hope for progress in Baghdad.
The resumption of diplomacy offers a chance to defuse tension that has led the United States and the European Union to try to block Iran's oil exports through sanctions, and increased worries about a new Middle East war.
The West suspects Iran is seeking to develop the capability to make nuclear bombs, although intelligence officials believe Tehran has not made a decision whether to actually build them.
The Islamic Republic, one of the world's largest oil producers, says its atomic program is a peaceful quest to generate more electricity for a rapidly growing population.
Iran "will not retreat even one iota from its fundamental rights," Iranian media quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying, showing traditional defiance in the face of Western demands on Iran to curb the nuclear program.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the European Union wanted to see "concrete steps and proposals" from Iran.
"Without that, of course we have sanctions we have imposed. They will not only be enforced but, over time, intensified," he told reporters before a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
Iran has suggested that a broader agreement with the IAEA - which regularly monitors Iran's declared nuclear sites - on how to address outstanding questions should be reached before it would consider letting inspectors into Parchin.
Western diplomats see this as a stalling tactic and do not expect Iran suddenly to allow access to Parchin.
A Western priority is for Iran to halt the higher-grade uranium enrichment work it started two years ago and has since expanded, potentially shortening the time needed to build a bomb. Iran wants the Baghdad meeting to yield a deal on an easing of sanctions, something the West will be reluctant to consider before seeing substantive concessions.
Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants, which are Iran's stated goal, or provide material for bombs if processed further, which the West suspects is the country's ultimate intention.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/14/us-nuclear-iran-talks-idUSBRE84D0A220120514?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&rpc=71
1. Warnings over Fault Below Nuke Reactors in Fukui Were Ignored
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The possibility that a fault right below the nuclear reactor buildings at the Tsuruga Power Station in Fukui Prefecture may move in conjunction with nearby active faults has been repeatedly pointed out since 2008, but the government regulator and the plant's operator failed until recently to take any measures.
The Japan Atomic Power Co. (JAPC), the operator of the Tsuruga nuclear power plant, only released its plan on May 14 this year to survey the area to examine the possibility that the fracture zones -- a type of fault -- right below the plant's nuclear reactor buildings could in fact be active faults. The planned survey -- scheduled to be completed by November -- was approved by the government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) later the same day.
If the fracture zones are recognized as active faults that had moved sometime after around 120,000 to 130,000 years ago, the Tsuruga nuclear plant is likely to be decommissioned. It has been confirmed that there are 150 to 160 fracture zones on the premises of the plant in Tsuruga. On April 24, NISA surveyed three fracture zones, including two running below the building housing the plant's No. 2 reactor, raising the possibility that they could move in tandem with an active fault called the Urasoko Fault, located some 150 meters northeast of the No. 2 reactor.
On May 14, NISA held a meeting of experts to discuss the issue and approved JAPC's plan to report the survey results by November. While JAPC is poised to underscore its claim that the fracture zones are "not active faults" by conducting boring surveys at five locations at the nuclear plant, the plant cannot be reactivated unless the operator can provide evidence supporting these assertions.
Yuichi Sugiyama, the head of a research team at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), which surveyed fault lines at the Tsuruga nuclear plant, said at the NISA meeting on May 14, "The possibility that the fracture zones are active faults cannot be ruled out at the moment. We should obtain reliable survey results, even if it takes time."
The presence of the fracture zones below the Tsuruga nuclear plant was mentioned in the application for permission to construct the No. 1 reactor, which was approved in 1966. However, it was determined at the time that the fracture zones were small-scale "dormant faults" from extremely old times, and they were not taken into consideration for the plant's seismic-resistant design. The presence of the Urasoko active fault -- located some 250 meters away from the No. 1 reactor -- had not been known by that time.
It was in 1991 that the presence of the Urasoko Fault came to surface. While it had initially been thought that the fault was about 3 kilometers long, several faults were later discovered to exist along its extension. Experts pointed out the risk of the faults moving together, but JAPC only acknowledged in March 2008 that they were active faults about 25 kilometers long.
Several experts had also earlier pointed out the possibility that the fracture zones at the Tsuruga nuclear complex could move in conjunction with the Urasoko Fault and could have a critical impact on the nuclear reactors. However, JAPC submitted a report to NISA in 2008, insisting that the fracture zones' activity period dates back to earlier times and that they would not move in tandem with the Urasoko Fault.
Mitsuhisa Watanabe, professor at Toyo University and a specialist in active faults, was skeptical about the JAPC report at the time. "Old fracture zones are consolidated and become stiff, but the report does not use such expressions as 'stiff' at all." The distribution of the fracture zones at the Tsuruga plant also convinced him that they were apparently linked to the Urasoko Fault. Watanabe has thus repeatedly pointed out the possibility of the faults moving together during academic meetings and other occasions since 2008.
However, JAPC and NISA failed to take immediate action. Even after an opinion was voiced demanding an in-depth examination of the issue during a council meeting at NISA in September 2010, the agency did not conduct an on-the-spot survey at the Tsuruga power station. It was only after the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in March last year that NISA finally moved ahead to conduct a field survey at the Tsuruga plant, in April this year.
During the survey, the fracture zones at the Tsuruga plant were found to be soft when scraped with sickles and extend linearly on the land surface. All four experts who took part in the survey agreed that the fracture zones "cannot be determined to be old faults." Masaru Kobayashi, director at NISA's seismic safety office, said remorsefully, "I should've ordered a survey much earlier."
Says professor Watanabe, "Why did they fail to conduct the survey for such a long time on something that can be so easily understood by visiting the spot? It's not academic research but an argument for safety. The plant should be decommissioned right away."
Available at: http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20120515p2a00m0na010000c.html
2. Japan Assembly Agrees to Restart Reactors, Hurdles Remain
Linda Sieg and Yoko Kubota
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The local assembly in a Japanese town that hosts a nuclear plant agreed on Monday it was necessary to restart two off-line reactors, its chairman said, the first such nod since all the country's stations were halted after the Fukushima crisis.
But further discussion lies ahead before reactors No. 3 and No. 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co's Ohi plant in western Japan can be reconnected to the grid.
With power shortages looming in the region when demand peaks this summer, the central government has been trying to win approval from towns and prefectures that host reactors. All 50 reactors are off-line since the last one shut down for maintenance on May 5.
Businesses and consumers in Kansai region, served by Kansai Electric Power Co, could be asked to cut electricity use by 20 percent this summer compared to 2010 levels, according to a government draft document released on Monday.
The government will consider whether to issue a mandatory power cut order for corporate users in Kansai, which includes the vast Osaka metropolitan area, or impose rolling blackouts in several regions, the document also showed.
It will reach a conclusion in about a week.
Mandatory restrictions were imposed in some regions last year after the Fukushima crisis, the worst since the 1986 Chernobyl explosion, with three reactors suffering meltdowns after the plant was hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami.
Kansai Electric's service region, which relied on nuclear power for more than 40 percent of its generation before the Fukushima crisis, may see a 14.9 percent shortage in August, a government panel concluded on Saturday.
But if four other utilities can cooperate on power conservation, this may help make up for shortfalls in Kansai and reduce its power saving goal to 15 percent, the document said. "We want to avoid issuing a mandatory power saving order, but we need to think of various measures in the case of an emergency," a government official told reporters.
The central government last month said the two reactors in Ohi, Fukui prefecture, 360 km (225 miles) west of Tokyo, were safe to restart.
Officials must still win over a wary public - including residents of regions close enough to be at risk from a nuclear accident but too distant to reap economic rewards. Delays in setting up a new nuclear regulatory agency due to disputes in parliament have further spooked voters.
Kinya Shintani, chairman of Ohi town assembly, said the local economy had been affected by the shutdowns.
"Largely understanding the necessity of nuclear power and taking into consideration residents' opinions as well as the impact on consumers' livelihoods and the economy, we decided to agree to a restart," he said in a statement.
Ohi received about 2.5 billion yen ($31 million) in subsidies in the financial year to March 2010 related to Kansai Electric's four reactors. Many jobs also depend in some way on the plant.
The central government has no legal obligation to win local approval, but is unlikely to proceed with restarts without the agreement of the host town and prefectural government. It is uncertain, however, that authorities would override opposition from nearby prefectures with public opinion divided. A weekend survey by the pro-nuclear power Yomiuri newspaper showed that 45 percent of respondents backed restarting reactors deemed safe and an equal number were opposed.
Some critics say the government is making undue haste to get reactors up and running because surviving peak summer demand without nuclear power would make it hard to convince the public that atomic energy is vital.
Environmental group Greenpeace said the government's "reckless push" to get reactors back in service "has left many communities thinking they have to choose between risks to their health and safety, and risks to their jobs and prosperity.
Tokyo Electric Power Co, Japan's biggest utility and the owner of the Fukushima pant, posted on Monday an annual loss of almost $10 billion as compensation claims for the radiation disaster soar and fuel costs grew after idling all its atomic plants.
Nuclear power produced nearly 30 percent of Japan's electricity before the crisis. The government is working on a energy mix policy it hopes to unveil this summer, replacing a programme that had aimed to boost the share of atomic power to more than 50 percent by 2030.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/14/japan-nuclear-idUSL4E8GE73E20120514
1. Ghana Adds Nuclear Power to Boost Energy Export Plans
The Africa Report
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Ghana is exploring a nuclear energy programme in its power mix strategy, as it strives to become a major net exporter of energy in the West Africa sub region, the country's deputy energy minister has said.
Alhaji Inusah Fuseini said the government has targeted the utilisation of nuclear power to supply adequate, reliable and affordable
The intervention is geared towards increasing the in the country, currently at 2000 megawatts, to 5000 megawatts by 2015.
To meet the target, Fuseini speaking at a five-day international conference in Accra on "Cooperation and Networking for Nuclear Power Programme in Africa" on Monday, said the government would also leverage on the use of its available energy sources such as gas, large scale hydro and the renewable.
"In the long term, particularly 10 years and beyond, our energy needs are expected to far exceed the above set target as our commercial and industrial activities increase," he said.
The conference is organised under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the African Regional (AFRA) in collaboration with the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC). It is aimed at strengthening collaboration and networking among member countries in order to maximize the use of available African infrastructure and expertise in nuclear power and related fields.
Fuseini said the utilisation of nuclear power involves careful planning to address major issues such as financing, siting, safety and human resource development.
Currently, he said, within the energy ministry, a nuclear power unit had been set up in collaboration with GAEC to deal with issues associated with the planning and implementation of the nuclear power programme.
The ministry is also taking steps to establish and inaugurate Nuclear Energy Programme Implementation Organisation (NEPIO) that will coordinate the activities of all stakeholder institutions involved with the planning of the nuclear power project as recommended by the IAEA.
The Ghana Atomic Energy Commission deputy director, Dr Kwame Aboh noted that nuclear power reactors construction worldwide had been on the increase. He said a total of 67 reactors were under construction, most of which are centered in Asia.
Opponents of nuclear power over the years have focused on and expressed concerns on the deficiencies in areas such as the inadequate human resource base, environmental safety and high construction cost of nuclear power plants.
But Aboh said Africa, in the era of competing development needs could overcome most of the concerns if it ensured better coordination and development of the required high level nuclear power personnel through appropriate educational programmes.
Dr Vincent Nkong-Njock of the IAEA stressed the need for political and technical leadership in the development of nuclear power and the importance of sustaining cooperation and networking among African member countries to harmonise inter-country nuclear power programmes.
Available at: http://www.theafricareport.com/index.php/20120515501811584/west-africa/ghana-adds-nuclear-power-to-boost-energy-export-plans-501811584.html
2. New UK Nuclear Plants Threatened by EU State Aid Rules
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The Government’s energy strategy hinges on contracts to guarantee investors the price they will receive for power generated by new plants.
But Charles Hendry, the energy minister, said on Tuesday that the Government could not provide the direct Treasury-backed guarantees investors want, because of EU state aid rules.
Ministers are yet to explain exactly who will act as the counterparty instead of the Treasury, but industry figures warned the Energy Select Committee that alternatives would be less credit-worthy and so would push up costs.
Volker Beckers, chief executive of RWE npower, said the counterparty was “crucial”. When the contracts for difference (CfD) – the power price guarantee framework – were proposed last year, companies expected they would be “backed by government”, and that effectively the Treasury would ultimately be “signing the cheque”. “Now we are miles away from that point,” he said.
Investors could no longer count on a “AAA-backed contract” and that “inevitably has an impact” on the cost of capital, he said.
RWE and E.ON pulled out of a UK nuclear joint venture in March, citing financial difficulties in Germany, and are seeking a buyer.
A consortium led by EDF will decide this year whether to build new reactors in Somerset and is negotiating with ministers over its CfD.
Mr Hendry told MPs that, instead of Treasury-backed guarantees, the proposed CfD system would be “delivered” by National Grid – but if a future government reneged on agreed power prices, the energy companies could then sue the Government for costs.
“EDF says that there are other ways in which it would be cheaper for them but we are yet to be persuaded that that would be permissible under state aid rules,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
Tim Yeo, energy committee chairman, said the proposal was “bound to push up the cost of capital and, at worst, may deter investment”. He urged ministers to raise the issue of state aid with the European Commission “urgently”.
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/9268237/New-UK-nuclear-plants-threatened-by-EU-state-aid-rules.html
3. UK Nuclear New Build Units Unlikely to Buy Horizon
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Britain's Energy Minister said on Tuesday that RWE and E.ON's British nuclear joint venture, Horizon, was likely to be bought by new investors, not the existing UK nuclear new build groups.
Britain's nuclear future was thrown into doubt in March when RWE and E.ON, under pressure from their home country's decision to phase out nuclear power, announced the sale of Horizon, while the government is pushing through an electricity market reform that seeks to attract new nuclear investment.
"We would not expect it to be one of the other two nuclear consortia to take over Horizon. I think this would be new investors who come forward," the minister, Charles Hendry, told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.
He added that the government had approached sovereign wealth funds for investment.
Horizon, based in Gloucester, plans to build at least 6 gigawatts (GW) of new nuclear power capacity at sites in Oldbury, central England, and Wylfa, north Wales, an investment RWE and E.ON had estimated at 15 billion pounds.
The two other consortia have proposed building new nuclear plants in Britain are France's EDF together with Britain's Centrica and France's GDF Suez in partnership with Spain's Iberdrola.
"We have quite actively sought investment (in Horizon) from sovereign wealth funds, in different parts of the world because of their desire to invest in low carbon technologies," Hendry told the committee.
Five groups are currently eyeing the purchase of Horizon, including U.S., Chinese and Middle Eastern investors, a senior industry source told Reuters two weeks ago.
Volker Beckers, CEO of the German utility's UK arm RWE npower, told the same committee on Tuesday that the companies were now in conversation with potential buyers and that an information memorandum had been agreed with a sales advisor, but declined to disclose any names.
Hendry said the utilities had appointed Japanese bank Nomura as financial advisor for the Horizon sale.
Even though the choice of buyer is ultimately in the hands of the utilities, the UK government has a strong interest in helping to find a suitable candidate because much of its electricity market reform, due to be laid before Parliament on May 22, rests on the assumption that nuclear will form part of the future energy mix.
The proposals aim to reward producers of low-carbon energy, including nuclear, by guaranteeing a minimum electricity price.
The government is looking for an investor that meets Britain's nuclear safety and security requirements and who can offer a benefit to the UK more generally, Hendry said.
"What we're looking for is a consortium where there is real proven expertise," he said. Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/15/britain-nuclear-horizon-idUSL5E8GFB8020120515
Following the successful completion on 27 April of the last of 74 tests in its start-up program, Kalinin 4 has now moved to the final stage of its commissioning program, trial commercial operation. A start-up management team led by Mikhail Kanyshev, director of the Kalinin plant, has examined a record issued by a working committee on the completion of work in the energy start-up phase and the preparedness of the reactor to enter trial commercial operation. The team concluded on 9 May that it is appropriate "to consider unit 4 as accepted for pilot operation, and to start conducting work in accordance with the staged program." This decision was supported by the findings of an inspection of the reactor by Russia's Federal Service for Ecological Technological and Nuclear Supervision (Rostekhnadzor).
During trial commercial operation, Kalinin 4's capacity will gradually be increased to its full rated thermal power of 3200 MW, producing 1000 MW of electricity for the grid, during which a series of tests will be conducted to confirm the design parameters of the unit's reliability and safety. Once these tests are completed, the reactor will subjected to a commissioning test, during which it will be run at full power for 72 hours. The unit is scheduled to begin full commercial operation on 30 September 2012.
Kalinin 4 - constructed by Nizhny Novgorod-based Atomenergoproekt (AEP) - has had a long gestation period, having been approved under the Soviet system in 1985. Construction began in August 1986 but stalled in 1991 while the plant was only 20% complete. The project then spent a decade on hold before a return to full construction began in late 2007. This was then accelerated somewhat by the use of pre-existing heavy components that had originally been intended for the then stalled Belene project in Bulgaria. Fuel was loaded into the reactor in October 2011 and first criticality was achieved the following month.
Kalinin 4 is a 950 MWe V-320 model VVER-1000 - the same as unit 3, which was approved in 1985 and eventually completed in 2004. Units 1 and 2 at the site are V-338 model VVER-1000s which began commercial operation in 1985 and 1987, respectively. The Kalinin plant is situated in the western Tver region near the town of Udomlya.
Completion of the containment dome now allows work to progress on installing the main reactor island equipment, such as the reactor pressure vessel, steam generators and main circulation pipework.
The dome forms part of the unit's double-walled containment structure - a major component for protecting the reactor and preventing the release of radioactive materials into the environment in the event of a serious accident.
Two AES-2006 VVER-1200 pressurized water reactors are being built as the second phase of the Novovoronezh site in western Russia. Construction of unit 1 began in June 2008. The reactors are scheduled to begin operating in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
Available at: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Milestones_at_new_Russian_reactors-1405124.html
5. RWE to Apply to Tear Down Idled Biblis Nuclear Plant
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German utility RWE will apply to the authorities in the coming months to break up two idled nuclear power reactor blocks at the Biblis site, the first step in a lengthy process likely to take many years, the company said on Friday.
"RWE Power (the generation arm) will in the coming months prepare an application...for direct break-up of the Biblis power station, which will be submitted to the Hesse state authorities in the second half of the year," it said on its website.
"Preliminary assessments have shown that a break-up of the unit is preferable to safe enclosure," it said, adding it may take several years to get approval for the plan.
Declaring Biblis A and B blocks are to be torn down in a job that is likely to last a generation will create clarity for the Biblis community.
Some 1,000 jobs and 1,500 partner firms have relied on the nuclear station since the late 1970s and need to know what direction and timing the decommissioning procedure will take.
RWE's move may also set in motion a trend for six other sites subject to Germany's hasty exit from much of its nuclear capacity last summer since when no concrete decisions have been taken on the future course.
Nuclear plant operators were asked last summer to leave off-line permanently eight reactors or 41 percent of the previous total capacity, and to shut the remainder sooner than planned as part of a politically motivated strategy shift in the wake of the Fukushima atomic energy crisis in Japan.
When reactors are broken up, contaminated materials must be neutralised bit by bit and torn into small pieces for detectors to check and clear them of radioactivity. Nuclear fuel elements need to cool down for possibly 50 years before they are stored.
There is not yet a national repository where German utilities can store nuclear waste permanently, which is also slowing down the decision-making process.
RWE and other nuclear operators have turned to the courts to rule on whether the enforced closures are in line with the constitution while also arguing over a fuel element tax the government intends to levy despite the plant stoppages.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/11/rwe-nuclear-idUSL5E8GB74020120511
French nuclear power plant builder Areva said on Tuesday that it had decided to work together with Japan's Mitsubishi on a uranium exploration program in Australia.
Under the terms of the agreement, a Mitsubishi unit will cover an Areva mining subsidiary's expenditures up to a predetermined amount as it explores tens of thousands of square kilometers of Australia where little or no previous exploration has taken place, Areva said.
Once the threshold has been reached, Mitsubishi will have an option to buy 49 percent of exploration permits for Australian areas where no uranium has been identified.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/15/areva-mitsubishi-idUSWEA178720120515
Cameco Corp said on Monday it will pay $136 million to buy nuclear fuel broker Nukem Energy GmbH from private equity firm Advent International as Canada's top uranium miner looks to tie up more uranium supply.
Cameco will also assume Nukem's net debt of $164 million, although cash generated from ongoing activities is expected to reduce that balance before the deal closes, likely in the fourth quarter. Shares of Cameco, the world's largest publicly traded uranium producer, closed 2 percent lower at C$21.14 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Monday amid a broad selloff in mining stocks .
"This acquisition really strengthens our position in nuclear fuel markets," Cameco Chief Executive Tim Gitzel told Reuters. "It gives us some access to secondary and unconventional sources of supply, which will provide more options for us and our customers."
Secondary uranium includes highly enriched uranium (HEU), or weapons-grade uranium that has been downgraded for use in nuclear reactors. Russia currently supplies HEU material for the market under a deal that is set to expire at the end of 2013.
Cameco will gain the rights to some of that HEU material through the Nukem deal as well as access to offtake agreements for natural uranium mined in Uzbekistan.
Nukem - which has offices in Alzenau, Germany, and Danbury, Connecticut, and has been in business for 50 years - brokers and trades nuclear fuel products. The company sold 12 million pounds of uranium in 2011 and sales are expected to be in the 10 to 15 million pounds range in 2012.
Cameco expects the acquisition to have a positive impact on Cameco's earnings starting in 2013. After the deal closes, Nukem will continue to operate as an independent company. The agreement includes provisions to provide Advent with a share of Nukem's earnings until the end of 2014. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Cameco owns uranium projects in Canada, the United States, Kazakhstan and Australia. The company plans to produce 21.7 million pounds of uranium in 2012, with sales of 31 to 33 million pounds.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/14/cameco-nukem-idUSL1E8GE3W920120514
Scientists and engineers from 37 countries gathered Monday at a Salt Lake City conference to discuss how to extend the life of nuclear power plants worldwide.
The need to keep reactors operating safely was underscored by the tsunami that devastated a nuclear power plant in Japan last year, officials said at the opening of the conference.
"There is a need to urgently respond to public confidence" in nuclear power, said Alexander Bychkov, deputy director general for the International Atomic Energy Agency and head of its department of nuclear energy.
The organization's Utah conference is bringing together the best minds in nuclear plant safety. Nearly 300 were registered for the start Monday of the four-day conference. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter was on hand to invite conference-goers to a tour Friday of the Idaho National Laboratory, which is working to make new generations of reactors safer and more economical to operate.
"Nuclear must be an important part of our energy future," Otter said Monday. ""We need to deal with these difficult and challenging issues in a way that the public can embrace."
The lifecycle of a nuclear power plant is generally considered to be 40 years, but 71 of the 104 operating units in the U.S. have received license extensions to operate for 60 years, said Brian Holian, director of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's license renewal branch.
However, many components of a nuclear power plant need to be dug up or replaced. Holian projected images of corroded plumbing, blistered concrete and stressed electrical cables that could escalate dangers in the event of an accident.
"Aging management is a continuous program. It's not sufficient to just say you have a program and a book on the shelf," he said.
The International Atomic Energy is holding its first U.S. conference on aging nuclear power plants in Salt Lake City. Previous conferences were held in Budapest in 2002 and Shanghai in 2007.
The conference involves highly technical sessions for hours each day, along with panel discussions and an exhibition.
Bychkov said 354 of the world's 436 nuclear reactors are 20 years or older.
In the U.S., many were initially licensed to operate for 40 years, but 10 of them have already reached that milestone and continue to operate, Holian said.
Another 15 U.S. reactors approaching 40 and are seeking license extensions, he said.
Available at: http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-05/D9UOM9801.htm
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