Iran increased its output of enriched uranium that world powers are concerned may eventually be used for a nuclear weapon, according to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.
While the United Nations agency verified that Iran hasn’t diverted its declared nuclear material for weapons use, the inspectors reiterated past statements that they can’t give assurances that Iran isn’t concealing nuclear activities.
Iran increased its stockpile of 20 percent medium-enriched uranium by a third, to 145 kilograms (320 pounds), from 109 kilograms in February, the IAEA said today in an 11-page report. Iran had tripled its production of the material in the three months ending Feb. 24 from 73.7 kilograms in November.
IAEA inspectors reported they found the presence of particles of 27 percent-enriched uranium at Iran’s Fordo facility. The particles were a result of “technical reasons beyond the operator’s control,” Iran told the Vienna-based agency, which is looking into the matter. Uranium enriched over 20 percent is considered highly enriched, though most nuclear bombs use the heavy metal purified to 90 percent levels.
The report is the first since IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano returned from Iran on May 21 with a commitment from the Islamic republic’s government to improve cooperation with inspectors. While the Persian Gulf nation insists that its atomic work is peaceful, it has been under IAEA scrutiny since 2003 over evidence that it seeks nuclear-weapon capabilities.
The uranium particles enriched to 27 percent could be the result of a transient condition that can occur when the material is fed into centrifuges, according to two senior international officials familiar with the investigation. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.
David Albright, a physicist and former weapons inspector, said the presence of the 27 percent particles is probably a glitch that resulted from Iran using a more efficient enrichment process. The IAEA has previously found uranium particles enriched to even higher levels at Iran’s Natanz facility. Those samples were the result of outside contamination, according to the agency.
Still, Iran’s use of better processes to amass larger quantities of both low- and medium-enriched uranium is troubling, according to Albright, who is founder of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. Iran now has 146 kilograms of 20 percent uranium, sufficient to produce many years of fuel for its medical-research reactor, he said.
“Ultimately, that will give them a greater capability to break out quickly and produce weapons-grade uranium if they decided to do so,” Albright said in an interview today. He estimates that by early next year, Iran may have enough 20 percent uranium to convert into weapons-grade uranium for one bomb. Albright said the differences that remain to be resolved before implementing an agreement between Iran and the IAEA’s Amano over greater access to sites in Iran are “not small,” and he’s not optimistic that expanded inspections will start soon.
Even if the IAEA is granted wider inspections under the agreement it intends to sign with Iran, clearing the country’s program will take years, according to the officials. The top priority continues to be winning access to Iran’s Parchin military complex, where satellite photos have shown images of possible attempts to sanitize a suspected facility, they said.
“Actions speak louder than the words, and you have to worry that this country is intent on getting nuclear weapons despite what the Supreme Leader may say,” Albright said, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s religious edict that nuclear weapons are against Islam.
In its report, the IAEA said while the agency continued to verify over the last three months that Iran hadn’t diverted its declared nuclear material for use in weapons, it was “unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.”
The agency said it couldn’t therefore definitively “conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
The report will be released formally on June 4 when the IAEA’s 35-member board of governors convenes in Vienna.
The IAEA found Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to less than 5 percent grew to 6,232 kilograms from 5,451 kilograms reported in February.
The number of centrifuges, fast-spinning machines that purify the heavy metal, installed at Iran’s fuel-fabrication plant in Natanz, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of Tehran, rose to 9,330 compared with 9,156 in February.
Machines at the Fordo facility, which was built clandestinely into the side of a mountain, rose to more than 500 from 300 in the previous report. That enrichment facility has drawn particular attention from Israel because it would be difficult to destroy with an airstrike.
Iran has already used one third of its 20 percent stockpile to make fuel plates for its Tehran research reactor, which is used to produce medical isotopes for cancer treatment. Turning the uranium into metal renders it more difficult to enrich it into weapons material, according to the officials.
About 630 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, if further purified, could yield the 15 to 22 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium an expert needs to produce a bomb, according to the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center, a non-governmental observer to the IAEA that’s funded by European governments.
Iran and six world powers agreed yesterday to hold a new round of talks about the Persian Gulf nation’s nuclear program next month in Moscow, after failing to bridge differences during two days of negotiations in Baghdad. It will mark the third attempt in three months to answer international worries that Iran’s atomic energy program may be a cover for secret weapons work, and to address Iran’s concerns about sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
Iran on Tuesday warned Western countries that pressuring Tehran with sanctions while engaging in nuclear talks would jeopardise chances of reaching an agreement.
"This approach of pressure concurrent with negotiations will never work. These countries should not enter negotiations with such illusions and misinterpretations," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference.
"They have their own wrong conceptions and this will stop them from coming to a speedy and constructive agreement," he said in the conference broadcast by state network Press TV. Western countries have stepped up sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme which Washington and its allies suspect is a cover for developing the capability to make an atomic bomb.
Tehran says it is only interested in using nuclear power for generating electricity and other peaceful projects.
Fresh U.S. legislation that targets Iran's oil industry is to come into force on June 28, days after the next meeting between Iran and world powers in Moscow.
European Union states are to impose a total ban on shipments of Iranian crude oil in July. European diplomats say this tactic will not change until Tehran takes tangible steps to curb its nuclear activity. At the last talks between Iran and the powers, in Baghdad, Tehran pushed for the lifting of sanctions on its oil and banking sectors as a sign of goodwill.
But hours after the Baghdad talks concluded, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the dual-track approach of sanctions and negotiations would remain in place, saying there was "still a lot of work to do".
One of the Iranian negotiators' key demands in Baghdad was a clear statement from world powers of its right to engage all steps in the nuclear fuel cycle - from producing and preparing fuel to loading it and managing its disposal or reprocessing.
"Our rights for possessing the nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes ... needs to be recognised and we will never do away with these rights," Mehmanparast told reporters.
Iran was looking forward to constructive talks in Moscow, he added, saying both sides needed to bring their viewpoints closer together to cooperate on all issues.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/29/iran-nuclear-sanctions-idUSL5E8GT2J920120529
3. Iran Not Ready for Visit to Suspect Nuclear Site
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The U.N. nuclear watchdog has not yet given good enough reasons to visit an Iranian site where it suspects there may have been experiments for developing nuclear weapons, Iranian media said. The Parchin complex is at the centre of Western suspicions that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons capability despite Tehran's repeated denials of any such ambition. A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week said satellite images showed "extensive activities" at Parchin. Iranian officials have refused access to the complex, southeast of Tehran, saying it is a military site. "The reasons and document have still not been presented by the agency to convince us to give permission for this visit," the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, was quoted as saying by Fars news agency on Saturday.
Six world powers failed to convince Iran last week to halt its most sensitive nuclear work, but they will meet again in Moscow next month to try to end a stand-off that has raised fears of a new war that could threaten global oil supplies.
Last November, an IAEA report found Iran had built a large containment vessel in 2000 at Parchin in which to conduct tests that the agency said were "strong indicators of possible weapon development". In last week's report, the IAEA did not elaborate on what activities it believed were happening there, but Western diplomats suspect Iran is trying to remove any potentially incriminating evidence. Tehran rejects this charge.
After a visit to Tehran last week, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said he was close to an agreement with Iran on inspection visits to nuclear facilities but some differences remained.
The U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security think-tank has said there is concern Iran may be trying to cleanse the building at Parchin - possibly by grinding down surfaces, collecting the dust and washing the area thoroughly.
Referring to the Baghdad talks with world powers, Abbasi-Davani dismissed pressure for an end to high-grade uranium enrichment as "predictable".
Iran has begun enriching uranium to 20 percent fissile purity, saying it is needed for a medical research reactor, but worrying Western countries who see it as a big step towards the 90 percent purity needed for weapons-grade uranium.
"There is no reason for us to give up enriching uranium to 20 percent because we produce this fuel only to meet our needs, no more and no less," the ISNA news agency quoted Abbasi-Davani as saying. Tehran says it has a sovereign right to enrich uranium, but has sometimes indicated it may be flexible when it comes to higher grade uranium enrichment.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on Sunday that Western powers had made the talks "impossible" by demanding Iran stop nuclear activities.
"They always make absurd demands, and by setting the condition to stop activities, they made the talks impossible," the semi-official Mehr agency quoted Mehmanparast as saying.
Iran has expanded enrichment at its Fordow nuclear facility, buried deep beneath rock and soil to protect it from air strikes.
Last week's IAEA report said nuclear engineers had installed 50 percent more enrichment centrifuges at Fordow. Although not yet being fed with uranium, the new machines could be used to further boost Iran's output of uranium enriched to 20 percent.
Iran intends to build the second reactor at the Bushehr nuclear power plant with a capacity of 1,000 MW, according to a statement by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization head Fereydoun Abbasi, Mehr news agency reported on Sunday.
The construction of the second Bushehr nuclear power plant will begin in 2013, Mehr reported, without giving any further details.
Media reports say Iran has invited inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to visit the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which was built with the assistance of Russia, in 2013.
“We have already received an invitation [from Iran] and next year our mission will be in Bushehr,” Miroslav Lipar, head of the agency’s Operational Safety Section, said on Friday
The plant's General Designer Valery Limarenko said in mid-May Bushehr will start commercial energy production by the end of 2012.
Under a bilateral agreement approved by the IAEA, Russia will operate the plant, supply its fuel and take away all the spent fuel for the next two or three years, but will eventually hand over full control to Iran.
The construction of Bushehr took more than three decades and has been plagued by delays. Russia signed a contract with Iran in February 1998 to complete the plant, which German companies first began back in 1975.
Concerns have been growing in Israel and the West that Iran is seeking to build an atomic bomb, although Tehran insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
1. Czechs To Generate 50% Nuclear Power By 2030, Hospodarske Says
Ladka Bauerova and Elizabeth Konstantinova
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The Czech Republic plans to generate 50 percent of its electricity output by nuclear reactors in 2030, Hospodarske Noviny reported, citing a report commissioned by the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
The plan is counting on the completion of two new reactors at CEZ AS (CEZ)’s Temelin nuclear power station as well as one new unit at the Dukovany station, the newspaper said, citing the report, which will serve as a basis for the government’s updated national energy strategy plan. Renewable energy sources probably won’t make up more than 15 percent of the country’s power output, according to the report.
2. Obama Intends to Nominate Allison Macfarlane to Head-Up NRC
Nuclear Engineering International
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President Barack Obama has announced his intent to nominate Allison Macfarlane to become a commissioner of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and to serve as its chairman.
Macfarlane is an associate professor of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University (GMU), a position she has held since 2006. Dr. Macfarlane served as a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future from March 2010 to January 2012. Dr. Macfarlane worked as a research associate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 2004 to 2006 and 2000 to 2003, and as an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology from 2003 to 2004.
Commenting on the announcement the US Nuclear Energy Institute’s president and chief executive officer, Marvin Fertel,said:
“The nuclear energy industry congratulates Professor Macfarlane on her selection by the president. She has been an active contributor to policy debates in the nuclear energy field for many years.”
He also went on to encourage the speedy confirmation of Macfalane by the Senate.
“Given the importance of having a fully functioning, five-member commission to carry out the NRC’s safety mission, the nuclear energy industry urges the administration to submit her confirmation paperwork as expeditiously as possible," Fertel said.
"It would not serve the public interest to have her nomination linger with the term of Commissioner Kristine Svinicki set to expire at the end of June. We urge the Senate to confirm both Commissioner Svinicki and Professor Macfarlane expeditiously.”
1. Japan Starts Atomic Watchdog Debate, Reactor Decision Nears
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Japan's parliament began a debate on Tuesday about plans for a new nuclear watchdog, raising hopes of a compromise after months of political bickering that has postponed a tightening of industry oversight after the Fukushima crisis.
The push to create a nuclear regulatory agency is part of Tokyo's efforts to allay public concerns about safety as it nears a decision on restarting some of its idled reactors, all of which have been shut down in the 14 months since Fukushima.
The Fukushima disaster cast a spotlight on cozy ties between regulators, politicians and utilities - known as Japan's "nuclear village" - that critics say was a major factor in failure to avert the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
Some local governments have cited the establishment of a new watchdog as a precondition for restarting offline reactors, while Tokyo has been reluctant to override objections for fear of a backlash.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had hoped to have a new regulatory agency up and running by April 1 but debate was delayed by infighting in a divided parliament, where the opposition controls the upper house and can block bills.
"There are some gaps ... between the government's bill and the one submitted by the (opposition) Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito party but we share the awareness that it is necessary to set up a new nuclear regulator as soon as possible," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said.
"I assume some revisions may be needed for the bill, but after constructive discussions, I hope we can introduce a new organization and system soon," he told a news conference.
Both the government and opposition proposals would split the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) from the trade and industry ministry, which has long promoted nuclear power.
The government wants to put the new watchdog under the wing of the environment ministry, while the opposition proposes a more legally independent body.
Who staffs the new agency, however, will be more vital in ensuring tighter oversight and restoring public trust in regulators and utilities than the legal framework, experts said.
"The people need to be neutral and have special skills and knowledge and it is quite difficult to choose such people," said Hiroshi Takahashi, a fellow at Fujitsu Research Institute.
Nuclear power supplied nearly a third of Japan's electricity before Fukushima, but all 50 reactors are now offline for checks. The government is keen to restart two in western Japan before a potential summer power crunch.
"It takes some time to restart the reactors, so this is not something we can debate endlessly," Noda said in an interview with Japanese media on Monday.
Kansai Electric Power Co. operating the two reactors has said it would take six weeks to reconnect them to the grid and the government has asked businesses and consumers in its service area to cut summer electricity usage by 15 percent from 2010 levels if the reactors are not restarted.
Analysts said prospects that Noda will soon decide to restart the two reactors were increasing, interpreting this as a sign that the "nuclear village" is alive and well.
"I think it is foolhardy and way too hasty," said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University's Japan campus. "That suggests the 'nuclear village' is still powerful."
2. Fukushima Radiation Seen in Tuna off California
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Low levels of nuclear radiation from the tsunami-damaged Fukushima power plant have turned up in bluefin tuna off the California coast, suggesting that these fish carried radioactive compounds across the Pacific Ocean faster than wind or water can.
Small amounts of cesium-137 and cesium-134 were detected in 15 tuna caught near San Diego in August 2011, about four months after these chemicals were released into the water off Japan's east coast, scientists reported on Monday.
That is months earlier than wind and water currents brought debris from the plant to waters off Alaska and the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
The amount of radioactive cesium in the fish is not thought to be damaging to people if consumed, the researchers said in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Without making a definitive judgment on the safety of the fish, lead author Daniel Madigan of Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station noted that the amount of radioactive material detected was far less than the Japanese safety limit.
"I wouldn't tell anyone what's safe to eat or what's not safe to eat," Madigan said in a telephone interview. "It's become clear that some people feel that any amount of radioactivity, in their minds, is bad and they'd like to avoid it. But compared to what's there naturally ... and what's established as safety limits, it's not a large amount at all."
He said the scientists found elevated levels of two radioactive isotopes of the element cesium: cesium 137, which was present in the eastern Pacific before the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in the spring of 2011; and cesium 134, which is produced only by human activities and was not present before the earthquake and tsunami hit the Japanese plant.
Because cesium 134 is generated only by human activities - nuclear power plants and weapons - and there was none in the Pacific for several years before the Fukushima accident, they reckoned that any cesium 134 they found in tuna off California had to come from Fukushima.
There was about five times the background amount of cesium 137 in the bluefin tuna they tested, but that is still a tiny quantity, Madigan said: 5 becquerels instead of 1 becquerel. (It takes 37 billion becquerels to equal 1 curie; for context, a pound of uranium-238 has 0.00015 curies of radioactivity, so one becquerel would be a truly miniscule proportion.)
The researchers figured that the elevated levels of cesium 137 and all of the cesium 134 they detected came from Fukushima because of the way bluefin tuna migrate across the Pacific.
Bluefin tuna spawn only in the western Pacific, off the coasts of Japan and the Philippines. As young fish, some migrate east to the California coast, where upwelling ocean water brings lots of food for them and their prey. They get to these waters as juveniles or adolescents, and remain there, fattening up.
Judging by the size of the bluefin tuna they sampled - they averaged about 15 pounds (6 kg) - the researchers knew these were young fish that had left Japanese water about a month after the accident.
Most of the radiation was released over a few days in April 2011, and unlike some other compounds, radioactive cesium does not quickly sink to the sea bottom but remains dispersed in the water column, from the surface to the ocean floor.
Fish can swim right through it, ingesting it through their gills, by taking in seawater or by eating organisms that have already taken it in, Madigan said.
Bluefin tuna typically have low levels of naturally occurring radioactive material, such as potassium 40, which was present in the world's oceans long before human beings walked the Earth.
Compared to these natural levels of radioactivity, the amount contributed by Fukushima raised the level about 3 percent, Madigan said.
He said there were probably much higher levels of cesium 134 present in bluefin tuna off Japan soon after the accident, as much as 40 to 50 percent higher than normal. Cesium 134 decays quickly, with a half-life of two years. Bluefin tuna excrete it on a daily basis and it also gets diluted in their bodies as they grow.
3. TEPCO Eyes Trial Removal of Unused Fuel from Fukushima No. 4 Fuel Pool
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Tokyo Electric Power Co. is considering removing two unused nuclear fuel assemblies stored in the spent fuel pool of the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi power plant's No. 4 reactor unit around July, officials said Sunday.
The operation would serve as a trial for the removal of a huge amount of fuel left in the pool, a key priority in dealing with the plant because the upper part of the building housing the reactor and the pool was blown off by a hydrogen explosion in the early days of last year's nuclear crisis.
As unused fuel is not generating heat from nuclear fission, it is less dangerous to handle than spent fuel. The utility known as TEPCO is hoping to determine the extent of damage to the unused fuel assemblies and ways to store them.
At the time the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, 2011, triggering the nuclear crisis, the No. 4 reactor's fuel was in the spent fuel pool due to maintenance work. The pool contains 1,535 fuel assemblies, including 204 unused ones.
TEPCO plans to start removing the fuel in the pool by the end of 2013 as part of the process to decommission the plant's Nos. 1 to 4 reactors that were severely affected by the disaster.
While concerns remain that the pool is in a vulnerable state, TEPCO said in its latest inspection that it has confirmed that it is not tilting and is capable of safely storing the nuclear fuel inside.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. has revealed that the damaged containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was the main source of radiation contamination in Iitate and neighboring areas in northeastern Fukushima Prefecture.
The damaged No. 2 reactor's containment vessel released an estimated 160,000 terabecquerels of radioactive substances on March 15, causing the soil in Iitate and surrounding areas to become heavily contaminated, TEPCO said Thursday. One terabecquerel is equal to 1 trillion becquerels.
The amount of radioactive material that leaked into the environment from the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors in the five days following the March 11 disaster is estimated at 900,000 terabecquerels, 1.2 to 1.9 times the estimates released by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency in February, TEPCO said.
TEPCO's estimates covered the period from March 12 to March 31. Radioactive emissions after the beginning of April were considered less than 1 percent of those in March and were not included in the latest estimates, the utility said.
TEPCO arrived at the estimate by reverse calculating data such as radiation readings taken at the crippled nuclear plant. Radiation sources were also determined by examining changes in reactor steam pressure, the company said.
There is a high probability that pressure inside the No. 2 reactor's containment vessel rose to 1.5 times the designated maximum in the early hours of March 15, causing damage to seams and other parts of the vessel, it said.
A southeasterly wind later that afternoon, followed by rain in the evening, contributed to the heavy soil contamination in and around Iitate, the company said.
Radioactive emissions from the nuclear power plant registered a maximum level of 180,000 terabecquerels the next day. However, it is considered to have diffused into the atmosphere as there was no rainfall that day, TEPCO said.
Pressure inside the No. 3 reactor's containment vessel declined by more than one-third on March 15 and 16, indicating a massive amount of radioactive steam may have leaked out of the damaged vessel during the two days, the utility's report said.
The amount of radioactive material discharged as a result of the hydrogen explosion at the No. 1 reactor building on March 12 and at the No. 3 reactor building on March 14 was relatively small at 5,000 terabecquerels and 1,000 terabecquerels, respectively, the report said.
Radioactive emissions from steam venting operations carried out to relieve pressure within the No. 1 and No. 3 containment vessels were also relatively small at a total of about 1,400 terabecquerels, it said.
Keiji Miyazaki, a professor emeritus of Osaka University specializing in atomic dynamics, said TEPCO's findings "demonstrated anew the severe damage to containment vessels, which are the last defense against radioactive material leaking into the environment."
A breakdown of radioactive emissions showed that short-lived iodine-131 stood at 500,000 terabecquerels, while cesium amounted to 400,000 terabecquerels in iodine equivalents, the report said.
Emissions from the Nos. 2 and 3 reactors accounted for about 40 percent and 20 percent, respectively, of the total, according to the report.
TEPCO said there were no significant leaks from No. 4 reactor, which had been halted for regular maintenance at the time of the disaster, as spent nuclear fuel stored in its fuel pool was not subject to any serious damage from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The figures released by TEPCO were higher than NISA's estimates of 480,000 to 770,000 terabecquerels and the Nuclear Safety Commission's estimate of 570,000 terabecquerels.
The differences between the estimates, however, should not be considered large enough to disrupt or alter ongoing decontamination work, TEPCO noted.
The total amount discharged from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is one-sixth of the estimated 5.2 million tera-becquerels emitted in the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the utility said. Earlier, TEPCO told local municipalities that the total amount of discharged radioactive material was an estimated 760,000 terabecquerels. The figure was later found to be inconsistent with data taken in the course of the company's investigations and revised to the current figure.
Available at: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120525005103.htm
5. Japan Eyes Smaller Nuclear Role but No Exit Strategy
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Japan is leaning toward a policy of halving nuclear power's share of electricity supply from pre-Fukushima levels to about 15 percent by 2030, but will likely stop short of pledging the long-term exit strategy that many voters favour, experts said.
That would be a victory of sorts for a nuclear industry that has been under fire since a huge earthquake and tsunami devasted the Fukushima atomic plant in March 2011, triggering meltdowns in the world's worst radiation accident in a quarter century.
With discussions on shaping future energy policy extending over months, the government has already pledged to reduce the role of nuclear power and in principle to decommission reactors after they have been running for 40 years. That formula would yield a share of around 15 percent by 2030 if strictly followed.
"It is government policy to set the limit on nuclear reactors' operation at 40 years," Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, told reporters on Friday.
"Fifteen percent (by 2030) would be in line with that," Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying after a meeting of expert advisers to the government the night before.
Nuclear power provided about 30 percent of Japan's electricity needs before the Fukushima disaster, while a 2010 energy policy, ditched after the crisis, had set a target of more than 50 percent for 2030.
Some experts and lawmakers also want to set a target to exit nuclear power by 2050, if not earlier, but are meeting fierce resistance from those who want to throw the industry a lifeline.
"It is highly likely that the cabinet will make a final decision not to make it (a 2050 target) clear," said Hiroshi Takahashi, a fellow at the Fujitsu Reseach Institute and a member of the expert panel advising on energy mix policy.
"In my view, that is a mediocre option, but it may be good for both sides. Those in favour of a phase out will say 'We're trying' and those in favour of nuclear power will say 'Let's see, there might be radical innovations in the next 20-30 years.'"
A draft proposal of five energy mix options, with nuclear's share ranging from zero to 35 percent, was presented at the panel's meeting on Thursday. But the draft dropped a variation that would have set a 15 percent target for nuclear power by 2030 while having that share fall to zero two decades later.
"They (the secretariat) did not want to make it clear that this is an option because they don't want to phase out the nuclear industry," Takahashi said.
The panel's secretariat is run by the government's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, under the jurisdiction of the trade and industry ministry -- long a promoter of nuclear power.
"If you look at major economies, their nuclear policies have changed drastically in the past 20 years and there are so many uncertain factors to look at by 2050," said a former industry ministry official with deep knowledge of the debate. "I'm very cautious about that (setting a 2050 target)."
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, his ratings already below 30 percent as he battles a divided parliament and fractious ruling party, is being buffetted by conflicting pressures from voters worried about safety and business groups arguing higher power rates will increase pressure to move their production offshore.
Japan's biggest business lobby, Keidanren, has voiced worries that a rise in electricity costs due to a phase out of nuclear power could prompt companies to relocate overseas, costing jobs and growth.
A Reuters survey, however, showed that nearly three-quarters of Japanese companies support abandoning nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, although a majority set the condition that alternative energy resources must be secured.
The survey suggests big companies are less wedded to nuclear power than Keidanren's position suggests.
Key cabinet ministers are expected to make a decision on Japan's energy mix in August after a period of public comment.
What happens during Japan's hot summer months, however, is likely to have an impact.
All 50 nuclear reactors have been taken off line for maintenance in the months since the Fukushima accident and none has been restarted due to public worries about safety.
The government has therefore asked businesses and consumers in western Japan, where forecasts of power gaps are most acute, to cut summer usage by 15 percent from 2010 levels.
If businesses and consumers manage without major glitches, support for an early exit from nuclear power will likely grow.
"This summer will be the showdown for both pro- and anti-nuclear camps," said Shoichi Kondo, a ruling Democratic Party lawmaker and founding member of a non-partisan group advocating an exit from nuclear power.
1. IAEA Begins Inspecting S. Korea's Wolseong Nuclear Power Plant
Xinhua News Agency
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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Tuesday began a safety inspection of the No. 1 reactor at the Wolseong nuclear power plant in Gyeongju, about 370 km southeast of Seoul, amid lingering concerns over nuclear plant safety in South Korea.
Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. said a peer review team of seven experts from the UN atomic agency will carry out the inspection of the No. 1 reactor through June 7.
The state-run company added that the inspection is being conducted at its request to objectively examine the safety of nuclear power plants in the country after the Fukushima nuclear power disaster in Japan last year.
The Wolseong No. 1 reactor, which began commercial operation in 1983, is the second oldest in the country. Its design life runs out in November this year, but the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission is assessing the possibility of an extension.
Pakistan on Tuesday successfully testfired a short range nuclear capable missile, the military said.
The indigenously developed Short Range Surface to Surface Multi Tube Missile Hatf IX (NASR), with a range of 60 km, can carry nuclear warheads of appropriate yield, with high accuracy, and possesses shoot and scoot attributes, an army statement said.
This quick response system addresses the need to deter evolving threats, specially at shorter ranges, it said.
"The successful test has also been warmly appreciated by the president, prime minister of Pakistan and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, who have congratulated scientists and engineers on their outstanding success," the statement said.
Pakistan, which carried out nuclear tests in 1998, has developed several series of nuclear capable missiles and routinely conducts tests.
Director General of the Strategic Plans Division Lieutenant General Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, terming the NASR missile as a weapon of peace, said that the test was a major development which will consolidate Pakistan's deterrence capability at all levels of the threat spectrum, thereby ensuring peace in the region.
Senior officials who witnessed the test included Chairman of the National Engineering and Scientific Commission Irfan Burney, and Commander of the Army Strategic Forces Command Lieutenant General Tariq Nadeem Gilani, as well as senior officers from the Strategic forces and scientists and engineers of strategic organizations.
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