1. Iran May Prepare to Boost Nuclear Work: Diplomats
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A U.N. watchdog report is expected to show that Iran has installed more uranium enrichment centrifuges at an underground site, potentially boosting the output capacity of nuclear work major powers want it to stop, Western diplomatic sources say.
Two sources said Iran may have placed in position nearly 350 machines since February - in addition to the almost 700 already operating at the Fordow facility for higher-grade enrichment - but that they were not yet being used to refine uranium.
If confirmed in the next quarterly report on Iran's nuclear programme by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), expected on Friday, this is likely to be seen as a sign of continued defiance by the Islamic state of international demands that it suspend such activity.
Getting Tehran to halt its enrichment of uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent - which it started two years ago and has since sharply expanded - was a key priority for world powers in their talks with Iran in Baghdad which continued for a second day on Thursday.
Progress in Iran's nuclear programme is closely watched by the West and Israel as it could determine how much time Iran would need to build nuclear bombs, should it decide to do so. Iran says its programme is entirely peaceful.
Nuclear bombs require uranium enriched to 90 percent, but much of the effort required to get there is already achieved once uranium reaches 20 percent concentration, shortening the time needed for any nuclear weapons "break-out".
Olli Heinonen, until 2010 head of IAEA safeguards inspections worldwide, said Iran would likely have a stockpile of more than 250 kg of uranium refined to the 20 percent level by the end of this year. "Iran would be able to turn the stock to highly enriched uranium components of a nuclear weapon in a couple of months time," Heinonen, now at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, wrote in a paper.
Fordow, buried beneath an estimated 80 meters (265 feet) of rock and soil, gives Iran better protection against any Israeli or U.S. military strikes, and the transfer of nuclear work to the site is of particular concern for the West.
The last IAEA report, published in February, said Iran had trebled output of 20 percent uranium since late 2011 after launching production at Fordow near the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Qom. The stockpile was estimated at nearly 120 kg.
The new report is not expected to show Iran further increasing the production rate. But the installation of possibly hundreds more centrifuges could set the stage for that in future. Such machines spin at supersonic speed to raise the concentration of the fissile isotope of uranium.
Typically 174 centrifuges are needed for one production unit, but Iran has for its higher-grade enrichment work been using sets of two interconnected cascades, each set containing 348 such machines, to increase efficiency.
It is operating two of those units at Fordow, as well as one at an above-ground site at Natanz in central Iran, and one more may now be nearing completion at Fordow, the sources said. "Unless the Iranians feed it (with low-enriched uranium) at the last minute, it is installed but not yet fed, so maybe not quite ready yet," one diplomat said of the new unit.
Iran has suggested it would close down the production of 20 percent enriched uranium at Natanz - where the work started in 2010 - once Fordow was up and running. But Western diplomats believe it has yet to do so.
Iran's mission to the IAEA, the Vienna-based U.N. agency, was not immediately available for comment. Iran has steadily increased uranium enrichment since 2007 and now has enough of the 3.5 and 20 percent material for some four bombs if refined further, experts say.
The lower-grade uranium is the usual level required for nuclear power plants. Iran says it is producing 20 percent uranium to make fuel for a medical research reactor.
Tehran denies Western accusations of a nuclear weapons agenda and says it has a sovereign right to peaceful nuclear technology, repeatedly rejecting U.N. resolutions calling for a suspension of all uranium enrichment.
But it has at times appeared more flexible when it comes to the refinement of uranium to 20 percent and experts say that initially getting Iran to stop this work could open a way to ease the deadlock.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/24/us-nuclear-iran-fordow-idUSBRE84N0J720120524
2. Iran Nuclear Talks Show Progress Without Pledges, EU Says
Jonathan Tirone and Nayla Razzouk
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World powers and Iran unexpectedly reconvened a meeting on the second day of talks in Baghdad after negotiators said progress was made without binding pledges to ensure the Persian Gulf nation’s nuclear work is peaceful.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Iran’s top negotiator Saeed Jalili delayed a scheduled press conference to reconvene a meeting of all seven countries at the talks, her spokesman, Michael Mann, told reporters. The sides may meet again in Geneva in three weeks, Iran’s state-run Mehr news agency said without citing anyone.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, right, poses with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, before a meeting in Baghdad. Photographer: Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images “There is progress, there is an atmosphere of optimism after the Western powers responded to our requests,” Taleb Mahdi, a member of Iran’s delegation, said in an interview.
Chinese, French, German, Russian, British and U.S. negotiators -- the so-called P5+1 group -- have been meeting with Iran since yesterday to try to overcome disagreements over how to ensure the Islamic republic’s atomic work is peaceful and forestall possible military strikes.
A Western official told reporters that Jalili met with delegates from Russia and China before it was decided to resume negotiations.
Iran and the P5+1 yesterday had the most detailed discussions since the latest round of negotiations began in February, according to a senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the talks’ sensitivity. While many differences remained, some discord was expected and didn’t derail the negotiation process, the official said.
“If there wasn’t progress, we wouldn’t still be holding the talks,” Mann told reporters in the Iraqi capital. “Progress has been made.”
The meeting was held in a bid to prevent possible military strikes against Iran, a prospect Israel hasn’t ruled out. While the Islamic republic, the target of a probe by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency since 2003, denies it wants to make nuclear weapons, it has refused to fully cooperate with inspectors and has been hit with international sanctions.
“There’s been no progress in this round of talks,” Mahdi said in an interview in Baghdad today before Mann spoke to journalists. The P5+1 offer calls on Iran to end all uranium enrichment, Mahdi said. UN Security Council resolutions oblige Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment program until inspectors verify that its work is peaceful.
Iraqi State Minister Ali al-Dabbagh said that while negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 are “challenging and sensitive, it can’t be said that they aren’t promising,” the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
The P5+1 is pressing Iran to immediately halt production of uranium enriched to 20 percent, according to U.S. and European diplomats at the talks. Uranium enriched to that purity brings Iran closer to the 90 percent level used in most atomic weapons.
Iran may be willing to suspend production of higher- enriched material provided it receives guarantees that it can keep enriching to lower levels, Hossein Mousavian, Iran’s former spokesman for nuclear negotiations, wrote in yesterday’s Financial Times. He cited current Iranian officials.
The Baghdad talks broke up just before midnight yesterday, a day after IAEA inspectors bridged an impasse with Iranian authorities over wider access to suspected atomic sites, including the Parchin military complex. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said he expected the accord to be signed “quite soon.” Negotiators held detailed discussions on concrete steps yesterday, according to a senior U.S. official who briefed reporters afterward and characterized the meetings as the beginning of a process rather than the end. Sanctions are putting pressure on Iran, part of a dual-track policy that also includes engagement, the official said, adding that the U.S. is prepared to impose additional sanctions if necessary.
“It could take some time before we see that there is really an agreement,” Olli Heinonen, the IAEA’s former chief Iran inspector and now a visiting professor at Harvard University, said on Bloomberg Television’s “Last Word” yesterday. “We have an ample amount of time, at least until the end of this year, to solve this problem.”
The Persian Gulf nation, which the IAEA said tripled its output of higher-enriched uranium in February, could build an atomic weapon in months if its leadership chose to do so, Heinonen said. The IAEA is expected to issue its quarterly report on Iranian uranium production this week.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday reiterated Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s decree that nuclear weapons are forbidden under the Islamic republic’s laws. “Iran believes the annihilation of all weapons of mass destruction is a sacred goal and that the security and health of humans depend on it,” state-run Press TV cited Ahmadinejad as saying.
Iran’s state-run Fars news agency reported today that the possible removal of sanctions had been discussed during the talks. Fars didn’t say where it got the information.
Before the Baghdad meeting, U.S. and EU diplomats ruled out suspending any of the dozens of financial, trade, insurance and energy-related sanctions imposed on Iran since November. The governments said they were willing to offer limited confidence- building measures such as nuclear-safety assistance, research- reactor fuel, airplane parts and help fighting drug smugglers in return for concessions.
The announcement that Iran, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, had agreed to wider UN inspections helped send oil prices lower this week.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-24/iran-nuclear-talksuggle-on-research-program-concerns.html
3. Russia Says Iran Ready to Discuss Nuclear Gestures
Steve Gutterman, Associated Press
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Russia said on Wednesday Iran appears ready to agree specific steps to end a standoff over its nuclear program but warned that additional U.S. sanctions would undermine efforts to ensure Tehran does not develop atomic weapons.
Speaking in Moscow as a meeting between Iran and six global powers began in Baghdad, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said expert-level talks had indicated Tehran, often accused by Western states of playing for time, was now prepared for serious negotiations.
"We got the clear impression from these preliminary contacts that the Iranian side is ready to seek agreement on concrete actions within the framework of an approach based on the principles of gradual, reciprocal steps," Lavrov said.
Russia advocates a "step-by-step" approach under which Iran would take measures to ease concerns it is seeking nuclear weapons in exchange for relief from sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council as well as by Western nations, primarily the United States and European Union. Russia has emphasized that Iran will only cooperate if it is given a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel - the removal of all sanctions if it proves there is no military element to its nuclear program.
"There will be no instantaneous solution," Lavrov said. "This will be a process, but it is necessary to start it and clearly outline the next steps. I hope the Baghdad meeting makes a contribution on such agreements."
Russia approved four rounds of sanctions in the U.N. Security Council, where it has veto power, but opposes any more extensive and punishing sanctions against Iran.
Lavrov suggested U.S. President Barack Obama should veto additional punitive economic measures approved by the U.S. Senate on Monday if they reach his desk for signature.
The proposed U.S. sanctions "are aimed not at combating possible risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction but in essence at the economic strangulation of Iran," he said at a briefing after talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart.
"I hope this excess by the American lawmakers will be met with a ... responsible approach by the U.S. administration and the U.S. president," said Lavrov, warning the sanctions would undermine unity among the nations leading diplomacy with Iran - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
The U.S. lawmakers' push for new sanctions "does not help maintain unity in our actions, because it clearly jeopardizes the agenda that has been jointly worked out and makes it a hostage of unilateral actions by the United States," he said.
Russia has warned the United States and Israel against attacking Iran and its argument against further sanctions is that too much pressure is counter-productive.
But analysts say Russia, which built Iran's first nuclear power plant in a project long opposed by the West, uses its ties with Tehran as a lever of influence on the nuclear issue.
The Russian company that built the Bushehr plant, Atomstroyexport, said the start of the process of bringing the Bushehr reactor up to full power-generating capacity had been postponed from Wednesday until the end of the month for technical reasons, the Interfax news agency reported.
Previous delays in construction and operations at the plant, which began providing power to Iran's grid last year, have angered Iran because they stretched out for several decades.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/23/us-iran-nuclear-russia-idUSBRE84M0IG20120523
Israel expressed deep suspicion on Tuesday about an expected deal between the U.N. nuclear agency and Iran, suggesting Tehran's aim was to wriggle out of sanctions rather than make real concessions ahead of wider atomic talks with world powers.
"Iran has proven over the years its lack of credibility, its dishonesty. Telling the truth is not its strong side and therefore we have to be suspicious of them all the time and examine the agreement that is being formulated," Civil Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said on Israel Radio.
He and other cabinet members spoke after the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he expected to sign an agreement with Tehran soon to unblock an IAEA investigation into suspicions Iran has worked on designing nuclear arms.
Iran meets six world powers in Baghdad on Wednesday to discuss what the West and Israel suspect is its drive to develop the means to make atom bombs.
Tehran has returned to talks, after a hiatus of more than a year, under tighter western sanctions and constant Israeli and U.S. threats of military strikes on Iran, which says its often secretive projects are for purely peaceful ends.
"It appears that the Iranians are trying to reach a 'technical agreement' which will create the impression of progress in the talks, in order to remove some of the pressure before the talks tomorrow in Baghdad (and) put off the intensification of sanctions," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement. Asked whether war on Iran was still a possibility given apparent progress on the diplomatic track, Vilnai said: "One shouldn't get confused for even a moment - everything is on the table."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that "the leading nations of the world must show force and clarity, and not weakness" in their dealings with Iran.
Netanyahu has demanded that Iran stop all uranium enrichment, remove enriched material and dismantle its underground, bunkered nuclear facility near the city of Qom.
Widely assumed to be the only Middle Eastern country with a nuclear arsenal, Israel is determined to stop hostile neighbors acquiring weapons that it fears could be used to wipe out the Jewish state. Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official, predicted that Iran would take a conciliatory tack at the Baghdad talks while not abandoning its goal of becoming a nuclear power.
"They will be willing to show what appears to be flexibility as long as it doesn't affect their strategic direction, meaning that they will be able to develop nuclear weapons if that decision is made," Gilad told Army Radio.
"Today they have enough uranium, raw material, for the bomb, they have the missiles that can carry them and they have the knowledge to assemble a warhead on a missile," he said.
"They have not yet decided to do this because they are worried about the response."
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/22/us-nuclear-iran-israel-idUSBRE84L0WV20120522
1. Seoul Warns Pyongyang of 'Grave Consequences' From Nuclear Test
Yonhap News Agency
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South Korea on Thursday warned North Korea of "grave consequences" and new international sanctions if the North goes ahead with a nuclear test, with Seoul officials assuming that Pyongyang is technically ready to conduct a third nuclear test.
Officials and analysts believe that the North may soon set off a nuclear device following its failed launch of a long-range rocket on April 13. Pyongyang's two previous rocket launches in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests.
The U.N. Security Council tightened sanctions against North Korea over the failed launch, strongly condemning it as a violation of U.N. resolutions that ban the North from testing ballistic missile technology and warning of additional actions if Pyongyang conducts another missile or nuclear test. "If North Korea goes ahead with a nuclear test, it will be a clear breach of the April 19 presidential statement by the U.N. Security Council and therefore the Security Council will have to take new actions," foreign ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said.
Should North Korea go ahead with a nuclear test, Cho said it "will bring about grave consequences that do not help North Korea at all."
South Korea has stepped up monitoring of activities at the North's nuclear test site, but it is difficult to figure out whether a test is imminent, Cho said.
In a telephone interview with Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday, a senior government official said that North Korea appears to have finished preparations and is "technically ready" to set off a nuclear device.
Also on Thursday, defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok echoed a similar view, saying the North's nuclear test is just a matter of time and Pyongyang is waiting to make a "political choice." "Our judgment is that North Korea can conduct a nuclear test at any time and a political choice is left" before testing, Kim said.
South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have pressed North Korea to back down on a nuclear test, but the North vowed to boost its nuclear deterrent as long as the U.S. sticks to what it calls a "hostile policy" against the communist regime.
"We had access to nuclear deterrence for self-defense because of the hostile policy of the U.S. to stifle the DPRK (North Korea) by force and we will expand and bolster it nonstop as long as this hostile policy goes on," the North's foreign ministry said in a report Tuesday by the Korean Central News Agency.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2012/05/24/20/0401000000AEN20120524004000315F.HTML
2. N. Korea Denies Nuclear Test Plan As It Upgrades Rocket Site
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North Korea denied planning a nuclear weapons test while a report indicated it’s upgrading a rocket launch site, conflicting signs that underscore the challenge of gauging the intentions of new leader Kim Jong Un.
The totalitarian regime is building a new launch pad for firing larger long-range rockets at its Musudan-ri site in the northeast, according to a U.S. university monitoring project on North Korea. The report came after North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said last month’s botched long-range rocket launch was intended “for peaceful purposes and we never anticipated military measures like a nuclear test.” Kim has shown no sign of abandoning his country’s nuclear ambitions five months after succeeding his late father Kim Jong Il. U.S. and South Korean officials have said Kim’s government may soon detonate an atomic weapon to rebound from the embarrassment of the failed rocket launch.
“With these preparations, North Korea is just trying to show that it has power but won’t use it right now,” said Paik Hak Soon, senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute in Seoul. “The only way to be effective is to maintain a believable appearance of power without exercising it.”
Construction at Musudan-ri began last summer and is in its “early stages,” the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington said on its website, citing satellite images taken April 29. The new facility resembles a recently completed Iranian missile center, hinting at a possible connection with Tehran, the report said.
The U.S. must end its “hostile policy,” otherwise North Korea will “expand and bolster” its nuclear program, the spokesman said, according to yesterday’s KCNA report. South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung Jae said the statement left the North’s intentions unclear.
“Until now North Korea’s words and actions have differed, so we take note of yesterday’s statement and will monitor to see how things progress from here,” Cho said.
In Beijing, Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea policy, yesterday said he was “at a bit of a loss to imagine what they’re referring to when they talk about hostile policies.”
Davies, who spoke to reporters after meeting officials including his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei, said he raised the issue of sanctions on North Korea and “the importance of reinforcing them and taking them very seriously.’
The regime has also resumed building a light-water reactor at Yongbyon, its main nuclear enrichment facility about 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of the capital Pyongyang, Hardy said, citing aerial imagery published in early April. Such a reactor could supply fissile material for atomic weapons.
Satellite imagery from April 30 shows that the government is close to completing a containment building for a new experimental light water reactor, according to a separate report from the Johns Hopkins’ website.
Davies, who flies to Tokyo today, said May 21 in Seoul after meeting his South Korean and Japanese counterparts that the totalitarian government would face a ‘‘swift” response to further nuclear or missile tests.
North Korea on April 13 launched a long-range rocket that it said would put a satellite into orbit. The projectile disintegrated minutes after liftoff.
“That was a miscalculation on their part,” Davies said in Beijing yesterday. “They missed an opportunity to demonstrate their seriousness of purpose.”
North Korea fired rockets from the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground at Musudan-ri ahead of underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. Last month’s long-range rocket was launched from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on the northwestern coast.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-22/north-korea-denies-it-had-plans-to-conduct-nuclear-weapons-test.html
3. North Korea to Boost Nuclear Deterrent After U.S. Pressure
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North Korea intensified its war of words against the United States on Tuesday, vowing to strengthen its nuclear deterrent after Washington warned Pyongyang of further sanctions if it did not abandon its atomic program.
Last week, world leaders meeting in the United States said North Korea needed to adhere to international norms on nuclear issues and that it would face deeper isolation if it "continues down the path of provocation".
The North's foreign ministry spokesman served notice via the official KCNA news agency on Tuesday that it would "bolster its nuclear deterrent as long as the United States was continuing with its hostile policies" and that it planned "countermeasures" following pressure from Washington.
Under new leader Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang tried but failed to launch a long range rocket called Unha in April, breaking an agreement with the United States that would have traded food aid for access to its nuclear facilities, among other things.
Many experts now believe the reclusive North is preparing for a third nuclear test, and could even use highly enriched - or weapons-grade - uranium for the first time.
U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said on Tuesday that North Korea appeared to be making rapid progress in upgrading its Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground at a site also known as Musudan-ri.
Satellite images "strongly suggest that this new pad is designed to launch rockets larger than the recently tested Unha, either more capable, liquid-fueled space launch vehicles or missiles with intercontinental ranges," the Washington-based institute said on its website, 38 North.
Experts say North Korea already possesses enough fissile material from plutonium for at least six nuclear bombs.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies told reporters in Seoul on Monday that Pyongyang could expect "a swift and sure" reaction by the international community if it undertook further hostile actions.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing on Tuesday after meeting Chinese officials, Davies said he had yet to study the North Korean statement.
"I guess I would sum it up by saying it sounds to me like more of the same. I don't know that it adds or detracts from what we already know about the North Korean point of view about what's happening at the moment," he said.
China is North Korea's sole significant economic and diplomatic supporter and even it has put pressure on Pyongyang to back down on plans for a nuclear test.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, was skeptical that the latest rhetoric from Pyongyang signaled a nuclear test was imminent. "North Korea is simply saying: 'Don't agitate or provoke us'," he said.
Recent satellite imagery published by IHS Jane's Defence Weekly, a specialist defense publication, showed there had been more work at the site of earlier nuclear tests that could indicate the North was preparing for its third nuclear test.
The Janes analysis showed mining carts and excavation equipment as well more debris from inside a tunnel that could be used for another test.
"A third nuclear test by North Korea would be the latest move in restarting its nuclear weapons program, which it agreed to mothball in a February 29 deal with the U.S.," said Janes analyst James Hardy.
Since the death of Kim Jong-il in December, Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, has shown he will continue with his father's hardline "military first" policy.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/22/us-korea-north-nuclear-idUSBRE84L18M20120522
1. Germany Beefs Up Monitoring of Nuclear Shutdown
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The German government will more closely oversee the country's move from nuclear power to renewable energy, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday — a mammoth 10-year project for Europe's biggest economy that has been going slowly so far.
Merkel said she will be meeting with all of Germany's 16 state governors twice a year to take stock of the transformation's progress and shortcomings, stressing that everything must be done to avoid blackouts and ensure affordable energy.
Critics, including Germany's main industry lobby group, have faulted the government for a lack of coordination and demanded better, permanent oversight for one of Merkel's most challenging projects. In a major policy shift, Merkel announced that the government is drafting laws which would pay utilities not just for the electricity their gas- or coal-fired power plants produce but simply for having them available in times when renewable energy sources aren't sufficient.
Merkel, who spoke after meeting with state governors, said Germany's energy switchover was "a great task" and added that "we want it to succeed."
Merkel's center-right government decided to speed up shutting down Germany's nuclear reactors following Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster last year. But its progress since on putting in place the infrastructure to cope with a massive increase in renewable energy hasn't always lived up to expectations.
Merkel last week fired her environment minister, who had just led her party to a disastrous state election defeat. She declared then that a "new beginning" was needed at the ministry to master the energy switchover.
Wind, solar and other renewable energy sources currently account for some 20 percent of Germany's electricity production and are set to produce a third of it within a decade, reaching 80 percent by 2050.
One technological challenge is to ensure the electricity grid's stability, avoiding blackouts.
Currently, energy from renewable sources has priority over power produced by fossil fuel plants, leaving those often operating below their capacity. However, those conventional gas- or coal-fired plants are crucial to keep the country's power supply functioning because they can produce electricity even when there's no sun or wind.
Utilities have complained that their conventional plants' profitability is too low because they are forced to operate below capacity, which might eventually force them to shut down the plants for good.
That has now prompted the government to make plans for a so-called capacity market — essentially, paying utilities for keeping their production capacity from conventional power plants ready to jump in when renewable energies do not suffice.
"We have to harmonize the expansion of renewable energies with the necessity of conventional power plants that are also needed," Merkel said. The BDEW lobby group of German utilities welcomed the government's move. "It is reassuring that there is unanimity on the importance of conventional power plants," it said in a statement.
Germany switched off permanently the eight oldest of its 17 nuclear power plants last year following the Fukushima disaster. The country was still a net exporter of electricity in 2011, and its greenhouse gas emissions decreased 2 percent last year from 2010 despite its increased reliance on coal- and gas-fired plants.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iVaK22_l4wjSZ6VyAMacW5hwk2Cg?docId=fa8dfe7531394279a8350fd01829f4f7
2. New Power Station Build at Sellafield Moves Step Closer
Times and Star
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Ministers yesterday outlined a draft Energy Bill designed to bridge a looming energy gap created as old nuclear power plants close.
It introduces long-term contracts that pay private investors a steady return over the lifetime of new low-carbon generators.
The aim is to overcome the high cost of building nuclear power stations and offshore windfarms.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: “Leaving the electricity market as it is would not be in the national interest.
“If we don’t secure investment in our energy infrastructure, we could see the lights going out, consumers hit by spiralling energy prices and dangerous climate change.
“These reforms will ensure we can keep the lights on, bills down and the air clean.”
He predicted that new build could create 250,000 jobs in the energy sector.
The NuGen consortium’s plans for a nuclear power station at Sellafield are forecast to create 5,000 construction jobs, 800 in permanent operation and an extra 1,000 every time a reactor needs refuelling.
Copeland Labour MP Jamie Reed supports the Government’s proposals.
He said: “If it is the case that nuclear-power generators are to receive long term stability with regard to electricity pricing, this is very welcome.
“I have consistently called for this. The nuclear industry needs stability.”
He added: “I hope this will bring forward investments in nuclear from the market and I believe that it will.
“These investments are absolutely key to west Cumbria’s future, there can be no doubt about that whatsoever.”
Household energy bills are likely to rise but ministers believe the increase will be slower if the measures in the draft Bill are implemented.
They say that, instead of increasing by £200 by 2030, the average household bill would rise by only £100.
Environmental groups claim the draft Bill is skewed in favour of nuclear power, rather than renewables.
The changes come as it emerged that electricity firm EDF is in talks with the regulator about extending the life of its existing nuclear power stations to meet short-term energy needs.
n Meanwhile, the Government has awarded contracts worth £350m to design a new generation of nuclear submarines.
Most of the work will go to BAE Systems securing 1,000 jobs at Barrow shipyard.
The first Successor submarine is due to be delivered in 2028, replacing the Vanguard Class vessels that carry Trident nuclear missiles.
Available at: http://www.timesandstar.co.uk/new-power-station-build-at-sellafield-moves-step-closer-1.956945?referrerPath=home
3. EDF To Decide On Whether To Extend U.K. Reactors’ Lives By 2013
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Electricite de France SA, Europe’s largest nuclear-reactor operator, will decide whether to extend the lives of its U.K. Hunterston B and Hinkley B plants by 2013 as the government plans to boost clean-energy power generation.
The decision will hinge on the commercial viability of the plants and successful reviews by Britain’s nuclear watchdog, a spokeswoman at EDF said today in response to queries.
“Extending the lives of our nuclear power stations makes absolute sense in terms of filling a short-term energy need while the country rightly continues toward aggressive decarbonization targets,” EDF said in an e-mailed statement. “Life extension helps with the very short-term risk but doesn’t change the need or urgency of the new nuclear program.”
The U.K. today proposed an electricity-market overhaul to increase investment in low-carbon power generation, including nuclear power. The draft law includes price guarantees first outlined last July that are designed to shield producers from swings in market prices and spur investors to build capacity.
All of the country’s nuclear reactors are due to close by 2035, leaving it short of more than 10,000 megawatts of base- load generation. EDF said this year it may extend the lives of its 14 advanced gas-cooled reactors as much as seven years on average and the life of Sizewell B plant by 20 years. The U.K.’s Office for Nuclear Regulation completes 10-year safety reviews of all of the U.K.’s nuclear installation in the country. If plants are considered safe, they can continue operating as long as the owner deems them commercially viable.
EDF owns eight out of nine of the U.K.’s operating nuclear plants.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-22/edf-to-decide-on-whether-to-extend-u-k-reactors-lives-by-2013.html
1. Fukushima’s Estimated Radiation Leak Doubles Versus Government
Tsuyoshi Inajima, Yuji Okada and Kanoko Matsuyama
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Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant may have released twice as many radioactive particles than Japan’s government estimated, the utility said in a report today.
The Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant may have emitted about 900,000 terabecquerels of the iodine equivalent of radioactive iodine 131 and cesium 137 into the air at the height of the disaster, the utility known as Tepco said today in a statement. The amount is about 2 times more than the 480,000 terabecquerels estimated in February by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency or NISA, the utility said.
The total radiation release at the Chernobyl accident was estimated to be about 5.2 million terabecquerels.
Several domestic and international studies have argued estimates by Japan’s nuclear regulator were too low on the radiation release from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, which had three reactor core meltdowns after it was hit by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year.
The operator of the plant provided its first estimate on the atmospheric radiation release more than 15 months after the disaster, which forced about 160,000 people to evacuate and left about 132 square kilometers as a no-go zone, some of it uninhabitable for decades.
Reports on how much radiation was emitted from the Dai-Ichi plant will continue to be published, with the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation set to release a paper in May 2013. That report by the group known as UNSCEAR will be the the first global and independent assessment of the Fukushima nuclear accident.
The UNSCEAR report will be key as it will be arrived at by international consensus, not just Japanese authorities, said Hidenori Yonehara, director of the Regulatory Science Research Program at the National Institute of Radiation Sciences, in March this year. His research group is one of the Japanese agencies helping UNSCEAR.
UNSCEAR, which was the international body recognized as the authority on radiation fallout from the Chernobyl reactor explosion in 1986, aims to give an analysis of radiation dosages among citizens and forecast health risks in the coming decades, Chairman Wolfgang Weiss said by telephone from Vienna in March this year.
It will give an estimate of the total radiation release from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station and publish a study showing how children’s health is affected by radiation, he said.
About 60 industry officials and scientists from 18 countries, including those who investigated the Chernobyl accident, met for the first time in October to start on the report, Weiss said. The committee is working with five other UN agencies, including the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, and Japanese counterparts.
The World Health Organization yesterday released a report estimating residents of Fukushima prefecture outside of the no- go zones were exposed to relatively low doses of radiation between 1 millisievert to 10 millisieverts. In prefectures neighboring Fukushima, the dose is estimated between 0.1 millisieverts to 10 millisieverts and the rest of Japan may have got as much as 1 millisieverts, it said.
Cumulative exposure to 100 millisieverts raises the risk of death from cancer by 0.5 percent, according to Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences.
“I think it is very important that an international and neutral scientific body with the credibility of the WHO publish its first estimates of the potential doses received by those people living in the most-affected regions, as well as in Japan or the rest of the world,” said Evan Douple, Associate Chief of Research at the Hiroshima Radiation Effects Research Foundation.
“Although it relied heavily on information from the government of Japan, the body of experts incorporated some additional sources of information so as to confirm the early estimates and previously suggested appraisals that the levels of exposure doses were quite low to a large percentage of the exposed population,” said Douple.
The estimate released today by Tepco on the atmospheric release covers a period between March 12 and 31 as the emissions after April are estimated to be less than 1 percent of the amount leaked in March, the utility said.
Tepco said about 11,000 terabecquerels of iodine 131 and 3,600 terabecquerels of cesium 137 may have leaked into the sea from the plant between March 26 and Sept. 30.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-24/fukushima-s-estimated-radiation-leak-doubles-versus-government.html
2. Water Inside Fukushima No. 1 Reactor May Be Only 40 cm Deep
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An analysis by the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization has shown that the level of the water filling the crippled No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant may be far lower than estimated by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., officials of the organization said Tuesday.
The organization of nuclear experts estimated that the water in the primary containment vessel is only 40 centimeters deep. The utility known as TEPCO has estimated the water level to be about 1.9 meters.
Not disputed is the fact coolant water injected into the reactor is leaking as a result of the accident at the plant. JNES officials noted there are "uncertainties" in their analysis.
TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said Tuesday the company hopes to insert an endoscope into the reactor by the end of the year to determine the actual water level.
Matsumoto declined to comment about the analysis by JNES, but said that what is important is that the nuclear fuel, which has melted through the pressure vessel and accumulated at the bottom of the outer primary container, is covered with water and kept cool.
"We believe that the fuel inside is being cooled," he added, referring to the reactor's temperature data.
JNES analyzed the water level based on the assumption that the primary container is filled with steam, which is created when water cools the fuel, and nitrogen, which is inserted to prevent hydrogen explosions. It assumed gas is leaking from the container's upper part and the coolant water from the lower part.
JNES thinks that the water injected into the reactor may be leaking from a hole located in a section connecting the primary container and the suppression pool, leaving the container with water just 40 cm in depth.
The hole is believed to be about 2 cm in diameter.
TEPCO has already inserted an endoscope into the crippled No. 2 reactor and found the water level at a lower-than-expected 60 cm deep.
The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors have suffered meltdowns in the wake of the accident, triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
Available at: http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20120523p2g00m0dm065000c.html
Spikes in radiation caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster were below cancer-causing levels in almost all of Japan, but infants in one town appear to be at a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
In a preliminary report, independent experts said that people in two locations in Fukushima prefecture may have received a radiation dose of 10-50 millisieverts (mSv) in the year after the accident at the power station operated by TEPCO.
Separately on Wednesday, a U.N. scientific body said that several TEPCO-related workers were "irradiated after contamination of their skin", but that no clinically observable health effects had been reported.
"Six workers have died since the accident but none of the deaths were linked to irradiation," said a statement issued in Vienna on the interim findings of a study by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation (UNSCEAR).
The 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 wrecked the plant, triggering nuclear meltdowns that contaminated food and water and forced mass evacuations.
Nearly 16,000 people were killed in the earthquake and the tsunami and 3,300 remain unaccounted for.
The areas estimated to have received the highest doses of radiation were Namie town in Futaba county and Iitate village in Soma county, northwest of the stricken plant, the report said.
Infants in Namie were thought to have received thyroid radiation doses of 100-200 mSv, it added. The thyroid is the most exposed organ as radioactive iodine concentrates there and children are deemed especially vulnerable.
"That would be one area because of the estimated high dose that we would have to keep an eye on," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told Reuters. "Below 100 mSv, the studies have not been conclusive."
Populations exposed to radiation typically stand a greater chance of contracting cancers of all kinds after receiving doses above 100 mSv, according to the United Nations agency. The threshold for acute radiation syndrome is about 1 Sv (1000 mSv).
The local government said in December that the highest exposure levels were in Iitate, where residents were allowed to take their time to leave. It is located 40 km (25 miles) northwest of the plant and outside the 20-km evacuation zone.
The average annual dose from natural background radiation is about 2.4 mSv globally, with a typical range of 1-10 mSv in various regions, according to the 124-page report.
In the rest of Fukushima prefecture, the effective dose was estimated to be within that band of 1-10 mSv, while effective doses in most of Japan were put at just 0.1-1 mSv.
In the rest of the world, doses were below 0.01 mSv or less, including neighboring Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, far eastern parts of Russia, and southeast Asia.
A dose of 0.01 mSv is equivalent to one tenth of the radiation received on a one-stop flight from New York to Tokyo, half the dose received during a chest X-ray, or equal to a dose received during a one-hour visit to one of Egypt's pyramids.
The report did not deal with radiation exposure suffered by emergency workers or people closest to the disaster site.
"Doses have not been estimated for the zone within 20 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi site because most people in the area were evacuated rapidly and an accurate estimation of dose to these individuals would require more precise data than were available," the report said.
The experts did not examine the short- and long-term health risks for the emergency response workers who worked on the site - that will be part of a wider WHO report due from a separate group of experts in July. That report will also assess the prospect for long-term increases in cancer cases.
The experts based their assessment on data available up to last September on the amount of radioactivity in air, soil, water and food supplies after the disaster.
Referring to the world's worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, the report said: "The experience of the Chernobyl accident was that about 30 percent of the lifetime dose was delivered during the first year and about 70 percent during the first 15 years.
"On the basis of environmental activity concentration data, it can be expected that the fraction of the lifetime dose beyond the first year will be lower for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident than for the Chernobyl accident," it said.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/23/us-fukushima-idUSBRE84M0IA20120523
Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said on Monday that he would resign, following a year of intense criticism over his abrasive management style.
A series of reports and congressional hearings have painted Jaczko as a bully who had reduced some senior female employees to tears - accusations that have overshadowed new rules he championed in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.
Jaczko, 41, has consistently dismissed and denied the reports. He said announcing his decision to step down more than a year before his term expired was "not at all" related to the accusations but rather publicly signals his intention not to pursue a second term as chairman.
"I just wanted to provide the best opportunity for a successor to be brought on board and to give the president and the Senate maximum opportunity to do that," Jaczko told Reuters, noting he will stay in his job until his replacement is confirmed by the Senate.
The White House plans to nominate a new chairman soon, a spokesman said. Jaczko said the negative headlines have not taken a toll on him or his family. "I've learned to separate and not take personally the kinds of things that people have said," he said.
"It's rare in life to have the opportunities I've had as chairman and I relish every moment of it. If that means being in the middle of some difficult issues with Congress, then that's just part of the job and something I will continue to deal with," he said.
Having cast himself as a reformer at an agency where change typically happens at a glacial pace, Jaczko was long an irritant for the nuclear power industry, which fears the new regulations could drive up costs at the same time that cheap natural gas heightens competition.
The head of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobby group, acknowledged in a statement that the industry had differences with Jaczko but wished him well and urged the White House to name a new chairman quickly.
Republicans, with an eye to elections in November, were quick to cheer the departure of Jaczko, a Democrat, and also want a replacement soon.
"The only thing surprising about his resignation is the fact that the Obama administration has remained silent for more than a year after allegations of Jaczko's offensive behavior surfaced," said Mitch McConnell, Republican leader in the U.S. Senate.
The selection of a replacement could happen in tandem with the reconfirmation of a Republican commissioner, Kristine Svinicki, whose term expires next month.
Jaczko's replacement likely will be someone more open to "consensus building," said Ed Batts, a partner at law firm DLA Piper.
"It would seem likely that his successor ... will be from a more conventional background, either a technocrat or academic, and perhaps less of a dynamic personality," Batts said.
Jaczko got his start in Washington as a young, socially conscious physicist helping his then-boss Harry Reid, now Senate majority leader, block a plan to store radioactive waste under Nevada's Yucca Mountain.
Jaczko, a Democrat, had served at the NRC for almost eight years, and was appointed to the chairman role by President Barack Obama.
"He was a decent guy but he was too direct," said Najmedin Meshkati, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California. "To run the NRC he needed to be much more diplomatic, much more circumspect."
The resignation comes as the nuclear agency overhauls safety rules for the nation's 104 nuclear plants, owned by companies such as Exelon and Entergy Corp.
It also recently approved licenses for the first new U.S. plants in more than 30 years, owned by Southern Co and Scana Corp.
Jaczko cast the lone dissenting vote against the new licenses, drawing ire from the industry and Republicans.
The four other commissioners at the NRC - two Democrats and two Republicans - took the unprecedented step last year of complaining to the White House about Jaczko.
Uncomfortable congressional hearings followed with the commissioners detailing their concerns and Republicans grilling Jaczko.
At the time, Bill Daley, then White House chief of staff, expressed his support for Jaczko and urged the commissioners to get along, perhaps with help from a mediator.
But the rancor did not fade. Republicans helped revive the story when the White House was slow to renominate Svinicki this spring. House Republicans had a hearing planned for next week expected to focus on Jaczko's tactics.
The inner turmoil at the NRC first attracted public scrutiny a year ago when the agency's inspector general, an internal watchdog, released a report that described Jaczko as someone who often lost his temper and used threats and intimidation to try to get his way.
The NRC's inspector general is expected to release a follow-up report about Jaczko's leadership style soon, although the timing and content of the report is not clear.
Jaczko told Reuters he had not seen the report and said he would not see it until it is final. Jaczko's defenders said the accusations have been amplified by opponents to distract the agency from its reforms.
"These attempts to make a slender, balding particle physicist appear to be careening about the NRC like Mike Tyson with Evander Holyfield's ear in his teeth were always complete nonsense," said PeterBradford, an adjunct professor at Vermont Law School and a former NRC commissioner.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/22/us-usa-nuclear-jaczko-idUSBRE84K0RE20120522
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