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Nuclear News - 7/5/2012
PGS Nuclear News, July 5, 2012
Compiled By: Pia Ulrich

A.  Iran
    1. World Powers and Iran to Hold More Technical Talks, Justyna Pawlak, Reuters (7/4/2012)
    2. Iran Says Can Destroy US Bases "Minutes After Attack", Marcus George, Reuters (7/4/2012)
B.  North Korea
    1. NK Vows to Continue Space Program and Bolster Nuke Deterrence, Yonhap News Agency (7/2/2012)
C.  Nuclear Energy
    1. Reactor Restarts, but Japan's Energy Policy in Flux, Linda Sieg, Reuters (7/4/2012)
    2. RPT-Belgium Delays Closing one Nuclear Reactor for 10 Yrs, Reuters (7/4/2012)
    3. Fukushima Boosts China's Domestic Nuclear Reactor, Jeff McMahon, Forbes (7/2/2012)
D.  Nuclear Safety & Security
    1. Japan's Atomic Disaster Caused by "Collusion" : Panel Report, Risa Maeda and Linda Sieg, Reuters (7/5/2012)
    2. Laser Plant Offers Cheap Way to Make Nuclear Fuel, Sharon Weinberger, Nature (7/4/2012)
    3. US Edging Toward Decision on New Nuclear Arms Cuts, Robert Burns, Associated Press (7/3/2012)
E.  Nuclear Cooperation
    1. IAEA expert visits the PCPEMW, Bahrain News Agency, 7/4/2012, Bahrain News Agency (7/4/2012)
    2. Nigeria: IAEA Supports Nigeria's Nuclear Programme - Osaisai, Hamisu Muhammad, All Africa (7/4/2012)
    3. Westinghouse Enters U.S.-China Nuclear Collaboration, Mark Halper, Smart Planet (7/3/2012)
    4. Russia Takes First Step in Bid to Build UK Nuclear Plants, Alexander Yemelyanenkov, The Telegraph (7/2/2012)
F.  Links of Interest
    1. Saudis Are Buying Nuclear-Capable Missiles from China, DEBKA  (7/5/2012)
    2. British Support for Nuclear Power Remains Strong, Business Insider (7/4/2012)
    3. Russia Plans Largest Icebreaker, World Nuclear News (7/4/2012)
    4. Swiss Institute Finds Polonium in Arafat's Effects, Katharina Bart, Reuters (7/3/2012)

A.  Iran

Iran Says Can Destroy US Bases "Minutes After Attack"
Marcus George
(for personal use only)

Iran has threatened to destroy U.S. military bases across the Middle East and target Israel within minutes of being attacked, Iranian media reported on Wednesday, as Revolutionary Guards extended test-firing of ballistic missiles into a third day.

Israel has hinted it may attack Iran if diplomacy fails to secure a halt to its disputed nuclear energy programme. The United States also has mooted military action as a last-resort option but has frequently nudged the Israelis to give time for intensified economic sanctions to work against Iran.

"These bases are all in range of our missiles, and the occupied lands (Israel) are also good targets for us," Amir Ali Haji Zadeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards aerospace division, was quoted by Fars news agency as saying.

Haji Zadeh said 35 U.S. bases were within reach of Iran's ballistic missiles, the most advanced of which commanders have said could hit targets 2,000 km (1,300 miles) away.

"We have thought of measures to set up bases and deploy missiles to destroy all these bases in the early minutes after an attack," he added.

It was not clear where Haji Zadeh got his figures on U.S. bases in the region. U.S. military facilities in the Middle East are located in Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Turkey, and it has around 10 bases further afield in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Defence analysts are often sceptical about what they describe as exaggerated military assertions by Iran and say the country's military capability would be no match for sophisticated U.S. defence systems.

Iranian media reported that this week's three-day "Great Prophet 7" tests involved dozens of missiles and domestically-built drones that successfully destroyed simulated air bases.

Iran has upped its fiery anti-West rhetoric in response to the launch on Sunday of a total European Union embargo on buying Iranian crude oil - the latest calibrated increase in sanctions aimed at pushing Tehran into curbing nuclear activity.

Revolutionary Guards commanders have also threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which more than a third of the world's seaborne oil trade passes out of the Gulf, in response to the increasingly harsh sanctions.

Major powers have said they would tolerate no obstruction of commercial traffic through the Strait, and the United States maintains a formidable naval presence in the Gulf region.

Iran accused the West of disrupting global energy supplies and creating regional instability and says its forces can dominate the vital waterway to provide security.

"The policy of the Islamic Republic is based on maintaining security in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz for all ships and oil tankers," Iranian English-language state Press TV quoted the chairman of parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, as saying.

The United States and its allies accuse Iran of using its nuclear programme to covertly develop all the components required to produce nuclear weapons, accusations the Iranian officials have repeatedly denied.

The world's No. 5 oil exporter maintains that it is enriching uranium for nuclear fuel only to generate more energy for a rapidly growing population.

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World Powers and Iran to Hold More Technical Talks
Justyna Pawlak
(for personal use only)

World powers and Iran agreed at a low-level meeting in Istanbul to continue technical talks over Tehran's nuclear programme, European Union officials said on Wednesday, in hopes of salvaging diplomacy meant to resolve the decade-old dispute.

After three rounds of political negotiations failed to secure a breakthrough earlier this year, the six powers and Iran went into technical discussions aimed at clarifying aspects of Tehran's nuclear energy work.

Such technical talks, which began with a round in Istanbul on Tuesday, are intended to prepare ground for an eventual meeting of political negotiators who could, in time, reach an agreement.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who leads diplomatic efforts on behalf of the six - the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - said senior EU and Iranian negotiators would hold follow-up talks.

"In Istanbul... experts explored positions on a number of technical subjects," Michael Mann said in a statement. No date was yet set for the next round.

Tensions between the West and Iran have increased since high-level negotiations foundered in Moscow in June, with Tehran saying it had successfully tested medium-range missiles capable of hitting Israel as a response to threats of attack.

At the Moscow meeting, Iran refused to stop enriching uranium to levels close to weapons-grade and to ship any stockpile out of the country, unless Western governments ease punitive economic sanctions and acknowledge its right to enrich uranium under international law.

Iran rejects Western suspicions that its nuclear work has a military dimension, insisting it is for electricity generation and medical needs.

Extended economic sanctions went into effect this week, with the European Union imposing an embargo on Iranian crude oil on July 1 and Washington introducing other measures.

During the Istanbul technical talks, which ran into Wednesday morning after more than 12 hours, negotiators discussed issues such as Iran's formerly clandestine Fordow facility, where high-grade enrichment is taking place.

The six powers want the bunkered, underground facility closed, but there are disagreements with the Iranian side on how this could done or what exactly is going on in Fordow.

One Western diplomat said the two sides made some progress in bridging differences over various issues, but that no political talks were scheduled yet.

"The meeting was intended to get more clarity about each other's positions. I think that worked well," the diplomat said.

"In the late hours, a real discussion in a form of questions and answers developed. Our task was not to bring positions any closer, but to better understand it."

Experts say the technical talks underline the eagerness on both sides to keep the diplomatic engagement going and reduce the risk of the stand-off boiling over into a regional war.

"It doesn't really indicate that a deal is particularly close at all," said Middle East analyst David Hartwell of IHS Jane's. "But at the same time maybe both sides have concluded that, at least for the foreseeable future, it is better to keep talking than to sever contact altogether."

Israel, widely thought to be the only country in the Middle East with a nuclear weapons capacity, says it could strike Iran if diplomacy fails to secure a halt to its nuclear work.

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B.  North Korea

NK Vows to Continue Space Program and Bolster Nuke Deterrence
Yonhap News Agency
(for personal use only)

North Korea said Monday it will continue its space development efforts for "peaceful purposes," repeating its stance in defiance of the international community's call for an end to any action that could ratchet up ongoing tensions.

In an interview carried in English by the (North) Korean Central News Agency, a spokesperson from North Korea's Foreign Ministry also vowed the country would strengthen its nuclear deterrence against what it calls the "hostile policy" of the United States.

North Korea launched a long-range rocket in April, claiming it was to put a satellite into orbit. South Korea and the U.S. believe it was a cover for testing the North's ballistic missile technology.

The rocket launch effectively negated a Feb. 29 deal with the U.S. under which Pyongyang would freeze nuclear and missile tests in exchange for 240,000 tons of food aid.

"The U.S. violated the independent and legitimate right of the DPRK to launch satellites and is increasing its military pressure upon it and frantically stepping up the preparations for a war against it," the spokesperson said, using the acronym for the North's official name.

"This is a vivid expression of its hostile policy towards the DPRK which clearly proved the falsity of the commitment made by the U.S. in the February 29 DPRK-U.S. Agreement that it respects the former's sovereignty and does not antagonize it," he added.

He said the U.S. is using food aid to his country for its own political purpose, adding that Pyongyang "never accepts such food motivated by a sinister political aim."

"As already clarified more than once, it will steadily push forward the space development for peaceful purposes. The DPRK will also steadily bolster up its nuclear deterrence," he noted.

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C.  Nuclear Energy

Reactor Restarts, but Japan's Energy Policy in Flux
Linda Sieg
(for personal use only)

Buffeted by industry worries about high electricity costs on one side and public safety fears about nuclear power on the other, Japan's leaders are still struggling to craft a coherent energy policy more than a year after the Fukushima disaster.

Critics say Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, whose top priority is raising the sales tax to curb bulging public debt, is caving in to Japan's "nuclear village" - a powerful nexus of utilities, bureaucrats and businesses - by restarting the first of Japan's 50 reactors to come back on line since the crisis.

Kansai Electric Power Co's No. 3 unit at its Ohi plant, in western Japan, will resume supplying power to the grid as early as Thursday, and its No. 4 unit will also restart this month, as the government seeks to avoid a summer power crunch.

Many experts, though, say the nuclear interests are unlikely to win the longer-term battle given the hidden costs of atomic power exposed by Fukushima and a new set of forces pushing for a bigger role for renewable sources of energy such as solar power.

"They (the nuclear interests) are fighting with their backs to the wall ... and assuming that after one restart, the rest will fall into place," said Martin Schulz, a senior researcher at Fujitsu Research Institute. "But basically, there is very little they can do to turn the clock back."

Nuclear power supplied almost 30 percent of Japan's electricity before last year's disaster, when a huge earthquake and tsunami devastated Tokyo Electric's Fukushima plant causing meltdowns, spewing radiation and forcing evacuations.

In the months following the accident all the country's reactors that had been online were shut down for maintenance, with public safety fears preventing them from restarting.

The knock-on effect has posed the biggest challenge to Japan's energy policy since the 1970s "oil shocks" of rising fuel import prices that drove resource-poor Japan's big push into nuclear power, as well as huge gains in energy efficiency.

Prompted by the Fukushima disaster to scrap a 2010 plan that would have raised nuclear power's share to more than half by 2030, the government has begun seeking public comment on three medium-term energy mix options - with the choice for atomic generation set at either zero, 15 percent or 20-25 percent. Many see the 15 percent solution as the most likely scenario.

Noda, a former finance minister, has said the government aims to reduce reliance on nuclear power, but has also made clear his worry about the impact on the world's third-biggest economy of a complete withdrawal from atomic energy.

Japan has estimated it will spend about $34 billion more on fuel imports in 2012 than a year earlier since the bulk of its reactors will likely remain offline.

"Of course, it is better not to build any new power plants. But then we can only rely on fossil fuel and renewable energy," Noda said in a weekend speech.

"How popular can renewable energy become? ... If the share of fossil fuel rises, we will see a clash with the global warming problem. And what about the economic impact?"

The Ohi restarts, however, have sparked a series of increasingly large street protests, and surveys show about 70 percent of the public favors exiting nuclear power eventually.

"They want to restart as much capacity as they can but it depends how much public opposition and how much local government opposition there is," said Andrew Dewit, a professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo who studies energy policy.

In a sign of the competing forces, new incentives for renewable energy took effect on Sunday - the same day the Ohi reactor No. 3 was switched back on.

The feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme requires utilities to buy electricity from renewable sources at pre-set premiums for up to 20 years. Costs will be passed on to consumers through higher bills to boost renewables, which apart from large hydro-electric dams now account for a mere 1 percent of Japan's power supply.

Japan lags way behind internationally in renewables after neglecting the sector for years to concentrate on nuclear power.

Globally, renewable energy accounted for around 20 percent of electricity production in 2011, according to Renewable Energy Policy for the 21st Century, with around 15 percent of that coming from hydropower.

Experts say another key step would be to deregulate the electricity oligopoly dominated for decades by 10 regional utility fiefdoms, especially by "unbundling" their grip on power generation, transmission and distribution - a setup that hampers other suppliers from accessing the power grid.

"The grid is the most important and the first priority is access," said Tetsunari Iida, executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies.

A government advisory panel is in favor of such reforms, but how much progress can be made is far from clear.

"This is now the big debate and it will be a very messy discussion," said Fujitsu Research's Schulz.

Any decisions the unpopular Noda makes could at any rate be derailed if a new administration emerges from an election that must be held by September 2013 and could come sooner.

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, premier when the Fukushima disaster hit, became a harsh critic of nuclear power.

"It's very political. Kan was anti-nuclear but now Noda is accepting nuclear power," said Tatsuo Hatta, an economist and member of an expert panel that drafted options for Japan's energy mix.

"That could change," he added, if political forces such as a local party led by popular Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto - a fan of deregulation and a critic of utilities - play a part in any new government.

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RPT-Belgium Delays Closing one Nuclear Reactor for 10 Yrs
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Belgium decided on Wednesday to delay the closure of one of its oldest nuclear reactors due to concerns that it will not have enough alternative forms of energy in time.

The Belgian cabinet approved a plan to keep the Tihange 1 reactor, owned by GDF Suez unit Electrabel, open until 2025, 10 years longer than initially planned.

However, it overturned a proposal to delay the planned 2015 closure of two of GDF Suez' reactors at the Doel site in nothern Belgium.

A spokeswoman for GDF Suez did not want to comment immediately on the decision.

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Fukushima Boosts China's Domestic Nuclear Reactor
Jeff McMahon
(for personal use only)

Because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, China may free itself more quickly from reliance on imported nuclear-power technology, according to a Harvard scholar of global nuclear expansion.

The ill-fated Fukushima reactors were designed by General Electric, and China has announced plans to build more advanced reactors with Westinghouse—a subsidiary of Toshiba, Corp.—but the fleet of reactors in China’s ambitious nuclear future will likely be labeled “made in China.”

Since Fukushima, all three of China’s domestic reactor manufacturers have announced their own Gen III designs, according to Yun Zhou, a Chinese-educated scholar who observes the nuclear industry from Harvard University.

“It appears that the Fukushima disaster may lead China to adopt newer, third-generation (or Gen III) reactor designs created by Chinese firms,” Zhou writes in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “allowing China to wean itself from purely foreign reactor technology much more quickly than was expected pre-Fukushima.”

Gen III reactors like the Westinghouse AP1000 incorporate safety features developed since the proliferation of Gen II reactors like those at Fukushima and like many in the U.S.

China still plans to increase its nuclear capacity from about 12 gigawatts before Fukushima to 70 gigawatts by 2020, Zhou says.

Although Chinese officials initially said they would not change the country’s nuclear plan in the wake of Fukushima, they halted reactor construction and adopted new safety standards.

The safety standards will not be applied to reactors that were already under construction in China, but they indicate China is shifting to Gen III reactors in the future, according to Zhou.

“By halting nuclear construction projects and establishing new safety standards, China signaled that it knew the aggressive nuclear power development plans envisioned prior to Fukushima could no longer be followed. While operating reactors and those under construction were spared from major re-engineering

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D.  Nuclear Safety & Security

Japan's Atomic Disaster Caused by "Collusion" : Panel Report
Risa Maeda and Linda Sieg
(for personal use only)

Japan's Fukushima nuclear crisis was a preventable disaster resulting from "collusion" among the government, regulators and the plant operator, an expert panel said on Thursday, wrapping up an inquiry into the worst nuclear accident in 25 years.

Damage from the huge March 11, 2011, earthquake, and not just the ensuing tsunami, could not be ruled out as a cause of the accident, the panel added, a finding with serious potential implications as Japan seeks to bring idled reactors on line.

The panel criticized the response of Fukushima Daiichi plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, regulators and then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who quit last year after criticism of his handling of a natural disaster that became a man-made crisis.

"The ... Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco, and the lack of governance by said parties," the panel said in an English summary of a 641-page Japanese document.

The report - issued hours after a reactor began supplying electricity to the grid for the first time in two months - put an official imprimatur on criticism of the cozy ties that have bound a powerful nexus of interests known as the "nuclear village".

Regulators, it said, had been reluctant to adopt global safety standards that could have helped prevent the disaster in which reactors melted down, spewing radiation and forcing about 150,000 people from their homes, many of whom will never return.

"Across the board, the Commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power. We found a disregard for global trends and a disregard for public safety," the panel said.

The panel's finding that seismic damage may well have played a role could affect the restart of reactors that were taken offline, mostly for maintenance and safety checks, in the months since Fukushima. Japan is one of the world's most quake-prone countries.

"We have proved that it cannot be said that there would have been no crisis without the tsunami," Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist and panel member, said in the report.

The panel urged strict checks on all reactors against guidelines set in 2006, and said Japan's 21 oldest reactors, whose construction was approved before guidelines were set in 1981, may be at similar risk from a big quake as Fukushima Daiichi.

Experts have said that an active fault may lie under Kansai Electric Power Co's Ohi plant in western Japan, whose No. 3 unit began supplying electricity to the grid early on Thursday. Ohi's No. 4 unit will come on line later this month after the government approved the restarts to avoid a power shortage.

"This means that all of Japan's reactors are vulnerable and require retro-fitting, calling into question the hasty decision of the (Prime Minister Yoshihiko) Noda cabinet to restart reactors before getting the lessons of Fukushima," said Jeffrey Kingston, Asia studies director at Temple University in Tokyo.

The report by the experts - one of three panels looking into the Fukushima disaster - follows a six-month investigation involving more than 900 hours of hearings and interviews with more than 1,100 people, the first such inquiry of its kind.

Many of the shocking details of the disaster, including operator Tokyo Electric Power Co's (Tepco) failure to prepare for a big tsunami and the chaotic response by the utility and government, have already been made public.

In an effort to repair tattered public trust in the regulatory regime, the government will in a few months set up a more independent nuclear watchdog that will then draft new safety rules.

The report pointed to numerous missed opportunities to take steps to prevent the disaster, citing lobbying by the nuclear power companies as well as a "safety myth" mindset that permeated the industry and the regulatory regime as among the reasons for the failure to be prepared.

Resource-poor Japan has for decades promoted nuclear power as safe, cheap and clean. Atomic energy supplied nearly 30 percent of electricity needs before the disaster.

"As a result of inadequate oversight, the SA (Severe Accident) countermeasures implemented in Japan were practically ineffective compared to the countermeasures in place abroad, and actions were significantly delayed as a result," it said.

Tepco came under heavy criticism in the report, partly for putting cost-cutting steps ahead of safety as nuclear power became less profitable over the years. "While giving lip service to a policy of 'safety first', in actuality, safety suffered at the expense of other management priorities," the team said.

In a report on its internal investigation issued last month, Tepco denied responsibility, saying the big "unforeseen" tsunami was to blame - though it admitted that in hindsight it was insufficiently prepared.

Tepco, struggling under huge costs for compensation, cleanup and decommissioning, was effectively nationalized last month with a 1 trillion yen ($12.53 billion) injection of public funds.

The panel also said it had found no evidence to back up Kan's allegation that Tepco had planned to abandon the tsunami-ravaged plant as the crisis risked spinning out of control.

But fans of Kan, a former civic activist who angered the powerful nuclear industry when he became a harsh critic of atomic power after the disaster, questioned that finding.

"I think the crisis would have been far worse if Kan hadn't intervened," Temple University's Kingston said.

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Laser Plant Offers Cheap Way to Make Nuclear Fuel
Sharon Weinberger
(for personal use only)

A controversial uranium-enrichment technology is on the cusp of making it cheaper to create fuel for nuclear power plants. But some non-proliferation experts are concerned that the efficiency of the laser-based technology will smooth the path for bomb-makers too.

On 11 July, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will hold a final hearing on a proposal by General Electric (GE) of Fairfield, Connecticut, and Hitachi of Tokyo, Japan, to build the first commercial laser-enrichment plant. A decision on the plant, to be built in Wilmington, North Carolina, is anticipated in September and is widely expected to be favourable. But in a sign of the concerns that surround the technology, what is supposed to be the last public hurdle for the venture will be conducted in secret. “Although we would like to keep it as transparent as possible, the only practical thing to do with this mandatory review is to close this hearing in its entirety to the public,” says Paul Ryerson, one of the NRC’s administrative judges.

Separating the tiny fraction of uranium-235 from the uranium-238 that dominates natural uranium is the major hurdle to making fuel for commercial reactors and fissile material for weapons. Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation, or SILEX, a proprietary technique being developed by GE, promises to be much cheaper than either gaseous diffusion or gas centrifuging (see ‘Risky business’), two techniques currently in use that date back to the Manhattan Project. Although the exact details of SILEX are classified, the principles are well understood: a laser tuned to a specific frequency excites and ionizes the 235U in a gaseous form of uranium, so that the charged atoms can be siphoned off.

GE and Hitachi are thought to be first companies to have sufficient skill with the process to build a commercial facility.

But many scientists and non-proliferation experts are concerned that a viable commercial facility would encourage countries wishing to start bomb projects. The American Physical Society in College Park, Maryland, for example, has lodged a petition with the NRC, urging the commission to review proliferation risks for all licences. The society says that laser enrichment could be a “game changer” for those wanting to pursue proliferation, because it would fit into compact facilities — just one-quarter of the size of a centrifuge plant — and would therefore be difficult to detect through surveillance.

Scott Kemp, a nuclear expert at Princeton University in New Jersey, adds that many countries have a cadre of laser experts who could work on the technology. “That expertise does not exist for centrifuges, which are a bit esoteric,” he says.

Former NRC commissioners disagree on whether the licensing process weighs up the proliferation risks carefully enough. Dale Klein, who was a commissioner during the early days of the GE–Hitachi proposal, says that proliferation risks were carefully considered for such applications. He notes, for example, that input was sought from the US defence department. But Victor Gilinsky, another former commissioner, says that other agencies involved in assessing proliferation risks were not regularly consulted. Gilinsky sees a tension between the United States’ goal of safely commercializing nuclear-power technology and its efforts to control the proliferation of nuclear materials. “They are at cross purposes,” he says. “When there’s a conflict, generally speaking, the policy to spread nuclear technology overrides the non-proliferation policy.”

GE spokesman Michael Tetuan says that the planned safeguards for the facility, such as measures to protect classified information, exceed the government’s requirements. He also points to a report by an external panel, commissioned by GE but not made public, which concluded that laser enrichment poses no greater proliferation risk than the other enrichment methods.

Donald Kerr, a former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, who was a member of that panel, disagrees with the assessment that a laser facility would be smaller and more difficult to detect. The critics, he says, are relying on “marketing projects” from the 1980s that may have oversold the small footprint of the technology. “We had access to the actual information about the full-scale plant,” says Kerr. The proposed plant would occupy 0.5 square kilometres. Kerr also dismisses concerns about industrial espionage. “There’s never been an American A. Q. Khan,” he says, referring to the Pakistani nuclear scientist who stole industrial centrifuge secrets from the URENC4O plant in the Netherlands, notoriously creating a nuclear black market.

Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington DC, says that proliferation risks are harder to avoid than industrial espionage; the plant itself could simply spur other countries to follow suit and pursue their own research. “The most sensitive technology leak has already occurred,” says Sokolski. “And it’s that this stuff can work.”

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US Edging Toward Decision on New Nuclear Arms Cuts
Robert Burns
Associated Press
(for personal use only)

The Obama administration is edging toward decisions that would further shrink the U.S. nuclear arsenal, possibly to between 1,000 and 1,100 warheads, reflecting new thinking on the role of nuclear weapons in an age of terror, say current and former officials.

The reductions that are under consideration align with President Barack Obama's vision of trimming the nation's nuclear arsenal without harming national security in the short term, and in the longer term, eliminating nuclear weapons.

The White House has yet to announce any plan for reducing the number of nuclear weapons, beyond commitments made in the recently completed New Start treaty with Russia, which obliges both countries to reduce their number of deployed long-range nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550 by 2018. As of March 1, Russia had already dropped its total to 1,492 and the U.S. stood at 1,737.

Obama has been considering a range of options for additional cuts, including a low-end range that would leave between 300 and 400 warheads. Several current and former officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said there appeared to be a consensus building around the more modest reduction to 1,000 to 1,100 deployed strategic warheads.

Officials have said in recent days that a decision could be announced this month. But given Republican criticism of any proposed further cuts and the heating up of the presidential election campaign, the White House might put the decisions on hold until after November. The administration has indicated it would prefer to pursue further reductions as part of a negotiation with Russia, but some have suggested that reductions could be done unilaterally.

Any reductions are likely to stir opposition among Republicans in Congress, who believe Obama underestimates the importance of a stable nuclear deterrent, even though the cuts would likely save tens of billions of dollars.

"I just want to go on record as saying that there are many of us that are going to do everything we possibly can to make sure that this preposterous notion does not gain any real traction," Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said when The Associated Press first revealed the scope of possible cuts in February.

Beyond the argument over numbers is a more fundamental issue: What role do nuclear weapons have after the Cold War, now that the threat of all-out nuclear war with Moscow has abated? Do nuclear weapons deter belligerents such as al-Qaida, or other terrorist organizations? The administration considered these questions in an internal reassessment of nuclear weapons policy.

James Cartwright, the retired Marine Corps general who commanded U.S. nuclear forces from 2004-07, thinks the U.S. should acknowledge that a large nuclear force is of limited value in deterring today's major threats.

"No sensible argument has been put forward for using nuclear weapons to solve any of the major 21st century problems we face," including threats posed by rogue states, terrorism, cyber warfare or climate change, Cartwright and his colleagues at Global Zero wrote in a report in May. Global Zero is an organization that advocates a step-by-step process to achieve the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons.

The group argues that the U.S. could safely reduce its arsenal over the coming 10 years to 900 total nuclear weapons -- 450 deployed at any given time and a like number held in reserve. That compares with the current U.S. arsenal of about 5,000 weapons, of which 1,737 are deployed.

Advocates of cutting below 1,550 argue that nuclear weapons serve an increasingly narrow purpose, and that their large numbers undercut the credibility of demands that Iran and other nations forgo acquiring their own. Opponents argue that the U.S. should not risk losing its predominant position in the nuclear arena while North Korea, Iran and other are pursuing their own nuclear ambitions.

Obama himself has made clear in recent statements that he thinks the time is right to break with the past.

"The massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War is poorly suited to today's threats, including nuclear terrorism," he said March 26 in Seoul. He noted that last summer he ordered his national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of nuclear forces and policies, which was completed early this year.

"We can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need," Obama said.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said he interprets Obama's views as supportive of keeping only enough of them to deter existing nuclear powers like Russia and China -- not to deter attacks with other types of mass-casualty weapons like biological or chemical arms.

"Clearly we don't have to have 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons to deter a Russian or Chinese nuclear attack," Kimball said in an interview. "Russia today has fewer than 1,500 deployed strategic warheads, and in five years they're not going to have any more than that -- they'll probably have fewer."

Also at stake are important decisions about multi-billion dollar investments in developing replacements for the current U.S. fleet of strategic nuclear submarines, as well as nuclear ground-based missiles and nuclear-capable bombers. Cartwright's Global Zero report estimated that U.S. nuclear modernization programs could run upwards of $200 billion over the next 20 years -- some portion of which could be saved if steps are taken now to further shrink the arsenal.

Russia faces a similar set of decisions about nuclear modernization, although it has publicly expressed little interest in starting a new round of negotiations with the U.S. on additional nuclear reductions. One sticking point for Moscow is its concern that U.S. missile defenses — particularly those being placed in Europe — could eventually undermine the deterrent value of Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal. In a meeting with then-President Dmitry Medvedev in March, Obama was heard saying that if reelected in November he would have more flexibility to deal with the matter of missile defense.

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E.  Nuclear Cooperation

IAEA expert visits the PCPEMW, Bahrain News Agency, 7/4/2012
Bahrain News Agency
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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expert Dr. Jane Gerardo-Abaya, currently visiting the Kingdom of Bahrain, met with officials and specialists in the Kingdom, and discussed with them projects for technical cooperation between the IAEA and the Kingdom of Bahrain.

The IAEA expert visited the Public Commission for the Protection of the Environment, Marine Wealth and Wildlife(PCPEMW) and met with the Commission's general director Dr. Adel Al-Zayani and discussed with him the Kingdom of Bahrain's futuristic strategy pertaining to protection of from radiation and environmental safety.

A meeting was also held between the IAEA's expert and members of the Commission's radiation monitoring team during which the director for environmental control Mirza Khalaf briefed her on most significant rules and regulations as well as usages of radioactive substances in the Kingdom and mechanism of licensing and controlling them.

The expert briefed them on the IAEA's technical cooperation projects and mechanisms and a discussion was made of currently approved technical cooperation projects and other projects for which drafts documents have been submitted for the upcoming period.

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Nigeria: IAEA Supports Nigeria's Nuclear Programme - Osaisai
Hamisu Muhammad
All Africa
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Nigeria is receiving significant support from the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to develop its nuclear programme, the Country's nuclear energy chief, Dr Franklin Osaisai has said.

Osaisai said such assistance come through training and consultancy service to equip the country with the capacity to implement the programme successfully.

In an interview with Daily Trust, Dr Osaisai said the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission was complying with the entire rule in utilising nuclear for peaceful purposes.

According to him, on December 3, 2009, Nigeria attained milestone one and now began implementation of milestone two.

"The element of human resource development, building of the need infrastructure, putting the legal framework in place, the regulatory framework in place, building all that infrastructure are the major activity in that phase two", said Osaisai.

Meanwhile, the 2017 target to generate power through nuclear in Nigeria is no longer feasible, Franklin Osaisai has said.

He said the initial date to generate 1,000 from nuclear was 2017 but by the time the new strategy was fully developed, it shifted to 2020.

"It is going to take us 2020, it is no longer 2017; we are talking about 2020. But the important thing is that once you have got some important jobs to do, do it and ensure that you are moving from one phase to another."

The timelines gives you indications of what you intend to achieve but they are by no means sacrosanct. If we are able to follow the strategy approved by government in a meticulously manner, there is no doubt that by the year 2020 we should be able to do that," he said.

He said Nigeria is signatory to the nuclear non-proliferations treaty aimed at making the world safer.

The IAEA's main objective is to ensure that nuclear technology is utilise in a beneficial to the societies in peaceful manner, he emphasised.

Every country has the right to utilise nuclear technology. The IAEA also ensures that countries subscribe to non-proliferations.

"The most important thing is that when you belong to a club and there are certain rules that govern the activities, you have to live according to those rules, if not the people in the club would say, no, you are not playing the way we agreed," he added.

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Westinghouse Enters U.S.-China Nuclear Collaboration
Mark Halper
Smart Planet
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Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric Co. is playing a supporting role in the U.S. Department of Energy’s and China’s collaborative development of an alternative and potentially safer nuclear reactor - a project for which DOE has funded three U.S. universities, SmartPlanet has learned.

As I reported last week, DOE and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have been quietly working together on a reactor design that uses a molten salt coolant auguring safer, more efficient and lower cost reactors that operate at higher temperatures than conventional water-cooled reactors.

The Chinese also intend to use liquid thorium molten salt fuel in a molten salt cooled reactor. Some experts believe that the combination of a liquid thorium fuel and a molten salt-coolant would provide a reactor that is much more efficient than today’s reactors, and that cannot melt down. Supporters claim that thorium molten salt reactors would yield waste that lasts for only hundreds of years instead of uranium’s tens of thousands, and from which it is far more difficult to build a bomb.

The U.S. developed a thorium molten salt reactor in the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but abandoned it in favor of more weapons-prone uranium reactors during the Cold War, a story which author Richard Martin tells vividly in his new book, SuperFuel.

Following my report last week based on a purportedly leaked Chinese Academy of Sciences presentation, a DOE spokeswoman confirmed for me that DOE signed an agreement with CAS last December for “cooperation in nuclear energy sciences and technologies.”

Pete Lyons, assistant DOE secretary for nuclear energy, said in an email sent by the spokesperson that,

“These collaborations will strengthen cooperation between the U.S. and China around next generation nuclear technology, helping to advance mutually beneficial technological advancements and grow civilian nuclear power as a safe, reliable and clean source of energy for both countries.”

The agreement includes a collaboration on molten salt coolant systems, of which DOE supports a type known as a flouride salt cooled high temperature reactor (FHR) that uses solid fuel and a liquid salt coolant, the spokeswoman wrote.

The DOE has provided $7.5 million in funding to a team from MIT, the University of California Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin to help develop an FHR that could at first provide heat that would would feed industrial processes (rather than generating electricity), she added. Industries such as oil, steel, cement, chemicals and many others rely on high temperature processes, and derive their heat from fossil fuels.

Retired Westinghouse chief technology officer Regis Matzie heads the commercial advisory panel for the DOE-funded molten salt coolant project.

Nuclear advocates believe that small nuclear reactors represent a potential replacement as a CO2-free heat source. Molten salt enthusiasts say that molten salt could provide a particularly effective means for transferring heat, more so than water-cooled reactors.

Charles Forsberg, a research scientist in MIT’s department of nuclear science and engineering and the executive director of the MIT Nuclear Fuel Cycle Study, likens the potential for molten salt coolants - currently under development - to “steam before the age of steam.” Forsberg also leads the DOE university molten salt research team.

Westinghouse is advising the DOE molten salt team on how to commercialize the molten salt technology.

In a set of presentation slides about FHRs, Forsberg says that Westinghouse’s role is to guide the researchers “on how best to successfully complete their DOE contract in a manner that provides a viable path forward in pursuit of a commercially successful FHR.”

The company’s retired senior vice president and chief technology officer Regis Matzie chairs the team’s advisory panel.

Westinghouse’s involvement in molten salt wanders from its core business of building large, uranium-fueled, water-cooled electricity reactors around the world, including in China. Westinghouse’s most advanced water-cooled reactor is the “AP1000″, which deploys a safety feature known as a ”passive cooling” system that does not rely on generators to operate pumps in an emergency. The company is partnered with Japan’s Toshiba Corp in the nuclear business.

MIT's Charles Forsberg leads the DOE-funded molten salt research team.

I sent emails to several Westinghouse spokespeople asking for elaboration on their role in the DOE-CAS project. They did not reply by press time. No surprise there - I have sent Westinghouse several inquiries over recent months asking for comments and interviews regarding their interest in thorium and other alternative nuclear technologies, and they have never responded.

Nor is Westinghouse the only conventional nuclear company to refuse me. When I researched my report on alternative nuclear technology for Kachan & Co. last year, neither Areva nor General Electric Hitachi would discuss the subject.

The DOE-funded FHR research team also includes DOE labs Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

Through the collaboration with China, U.S. students could serve as interns at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, according to one member of the team.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee developed a thorium molten salt reactor in the 1960s that the U.S. rejected. Oak Ridge is now collaborating with China on molten salt technology.
The collaboration also includes the development of molten salts for use in solar energy systems that would use molten salts to absorb and store heat from the sun.

On the nuclear side, the DOE spokeswoman said that although DOE is supporting molten salt coolant research, it is not pursuing a molten salt fuel. It is not clear why not - especially considering that DOE’s partner, China, is pursuing a thorium molten salt-fueled reactor, and that the U.S. itself developed a thorium molten salt reactor many decades ago.

I’ve continued to ask DOE for an interview with assistant secretary Lyons. They’ve replied that Dr. Lyons is traveling and currently unavailable.

Some critics refute Lyons’ assertion that the collaboration is good for both countries. They claim that the U.S. is giving away the long term future of energy - thorium nuclear - for the short term financial gain of selling intellectual property.

“DOE is a sellout and needs to be investigated by Congress,” a SmartPlanet commenter from ThREE Consulting wrote in after my last story. St. Louis-based ThREE has interests in mining, rare earth minerals and thorium. Rare earth minerals like monazite typically contain thorium, and ThREE is worried that China, which has mined a lot of thorium via its dominance of the rare earth industry, could control the world market for thorium nuclear.

Outside of DOE, Western companies known to be developing liquid thorium reactors include Flibe Energy, Huntsville, Ala.; Thorenco, San Francisco; and Ottawa Valley Research, Ottawa. The reactors are intended both for electricity generation and as a source of industrial process heat. They can potentially provide byproducts useful for fertilizers and for medical applications, and can power water desalination.

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Russia Takes First Step in Bid to Build UK Nuclear Plants
Alexander Yemelyanenkov
The Telegraph
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Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy giant, is to apply for a licence in the hope of winning contracts to build power stations in North Wales and Gloucestershire.

Rosatom, the state atomic energy corporation, is holding consultations over its possible involvement in the British nuclear programme, according to deputy director general Kirill Komarov. He was speaking on the sidelines of Atomexpo-2012, a nuclear power trade fair in Moscow, attended by 1,300 company heads and specialists from 53 countries.

Analysts believe Rosatom plans to begin a trial in which nuclear fuel will be exported to western nuclear power plants using pressurised water reactors (PWRs). The pilot batch of square cross-section fuel assemblies (unlike the hexagonal fuel assemblies traditionally used in Russia and at nuclear plants of Russian design abroad) will be delivered as early as 2013 to Sweden’s Ringhals-3 plant.

On the Russian specialised atomic energy portal Nuclear.Ru, Mr Komarov said the UK government “has approved several sites as suitable for new nuclear build”, and that some have been acquired by international consortiums. The remaining sites, he says, are available to “carry out your own projects provided they meet the British requirements”.

Russian exporters might encounter some difficulties, however, because the UK’s licence requirements for nuclear projects are different to those of Europe. Russian technologies would need to be licensed according to British Standards for the UK to adopt them.

Jukka Laaksonen, vice-president of ZAO Rusatom Overseas (Rosatom’s subsidiary set up to promote Russian nuclear technology abroad) announced at Atomexpo-2012 that Rosatom would apply to the British and US supervisory agencies to have its VVER PWR reactor technologies certified with them.

According to Nuclear.Ru, he said Rosatom plans to complete standard generic design assessment procedures within five years, in order to obtain licences for the construction of VVER reactors in the UK.

It plans to apply later to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for certification of the VVER design. Approval by the British and American regulatory authorities will help promote VVER reactor technologies overseas, Mr Laaksonen believes.

Rosatom head Sergey Kiriyenko confirmed Rosatom’s interest in the British energy market, specifically in the Horizon Nuclear Power project. Established as a joint venture between German-owned RWE and E.ON, Horizon was granted exclusive rights to build new nuclear plants at Wylfa in North Wales and Oldbury-on-Severn in Gloucestershire.

Horizon had originally planned a combined capacity of 6,000 MWe (megawatt electrical) by 2025. However, following strategic reviews in March this year, the two parent companies withdrew from the project (worth an estimated £15bn), citing Germany’s intention to phase out its nuclear energy projects, high costs at Horizon and lengthy construction terms.

According to unofficial sources, Chinese atomic energy corporations have also been considering the possibility of buying into Horizon. Mr Kiriyenko said: “We are considering this possibility and we have serious partners. However, when we approach a new market, we have to be aware whether we will be helpful and efficient, whether they [will] welcome us and whether we are ready for this work ourselves.”

Rosatom has worked for the British market for a few years, supplying nuclear fuel, produced in association with France’s Areva, to Sizewell B in Suffolk. Russia also supplies enriched uranium to Britain, where it is processed into nuclear fuel. Rosatom’s subsidiary, Nukem Technologies, has long provided nuclear decommissioning services in the UK.

It is natural for Russia to wish to build on this experience and to reach a new level of bilateral relations in the atomic energy sector. The Russian nuclear administration believes that broader collaboration at the company level would benefit both countries. The first step in the process was made last year, when a memorandum of understanding between Rosatom and the Rolls-Royce group was signed in the presence of then President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister David Cameron.

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F.  Links of Interest

Saudis Are Buying Nuclear-Capable Missiles from China
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British Support for Nuclear Power Remains Strong
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Russia Plans Largest Icebreaker
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Swiss Institute Finds Polonium in Arafat's Effects
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DISCLAIMER: Nuclear News is presented for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to visit the websites from which the source material originates. Views presented in any given article are those of the individual author or source and not of Partnership for Global Security. Partnership for Global Security takes no responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in any article presented in Nuclear News.

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