1. Iran May Consider Halt To 20% Uranium Enrichment, Press TV Says
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An Iranian parliament lawmaker said his country is willing to consider the temporary suspension of 20-percent uranium enrichment as part of a negotiated accord, state-run Press TV news channel reported.
In return the so-called P5+1 -- U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany -- must agree to meet the country’s needs for 20-percent enriched uranium, said Mohammad-Hassan Asferi, a member of the Parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, according to Press TV.
Iran would be willing to suspend its 20-percent enrichment activity for a specific period if western powers meet its enrichment needs during this time, Asferi said, adding that permanent suspension is “by no means acceptable.”
Iran would also expect sanctions to be lifted and the nuclear dossier to be pulled out of the UN Security Council and referred back to the International Atomic Energy Agency, he said, according to Press TV.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-08/iran-may-consider-halt-to-20-uranium-enrichment-press-tv-says.html
2. Iran Blames France, Germany for Atom Scientist Hits
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Iran's spy chief accused German and French intelligence agencies on Friday of involvement in assassinations of its nuclear scientists, sticking to a hard official line as sanctions imposed over its disputed atomic ambitions bite harder.
The Islamic Republic has previously accused Israel, the United States and Britain of plotting the killings to set back its uranium enrichment programme, which Western powers suspect is being used to develop nuclear weapons capability.
Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi spread the blame to France and Germany, after days of hawkish rhetoric and missile tests by Tehran that helped push benchmark Brent crude oil prices above $100 for the first time since June.
"In these two networks (involved in the assassinations) we saw connections with the information services in Germany, France, Britain, Israel, the United States and regional intelligence agencies," the state news agency IRNA quoted Moslehi as saying. He did not name the other countries.
At least four scientists associated with Iran's nuclear programme have been assassinated since 2010, most recently in January this year.
Iran denies Western accusations of a covert agenda to develop a nuclear weapon, insisting it wants to stockpile enriched uranium solely to generate more electricity for a rapid growing population and radio isotopes for medical treatment.
Talks between world powers and Iran to resolve the standoff have so far failed to secure a breakthrough.
Oliver Thraenert, head of the think-tank unit of the Zurich-based Center for Security Studies, said that by accusing Western states of involvement in the assassinations, Moslehi could be signalling his opposition to any deal with them on the nuclear issue.
"It might be the case that behind these allegations is an internal fight about whether Iran should seek a compromise with the Western countries," Thraenert said.
"If you accuse a nation like Germany or France of being behind these assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists of course it is obvious that you cannot strike a deal with those countries," he said.
Away from the international stage, Iran's nuclear programme has become a domestic political football, with hardliners criticising rivals for allegedly capitulating to the West.
In a poll conducted by the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (IRINN) earlier this week, more than two thirds of respondents opted for "the suspension of uranium enrichment in exchange for the gradual lifting of sanctions," in answer to the question: "Which way do you prefer to confront the unilateral sanctions of the West against Iran?"
Nearly 20 percent favoured closing the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation and another 18 said Iran should resist the sanctions in order to safeguard its nuclear rights.
The number of respondents was not known. Analysing the results, IRINN said the poll "by no means can reflect the views of all or even the majority of the revolutionary people of Iran".
A European Union ban on the import, purchase or shipping of Iranian oil took effect on July 1 as part of widening international sanctions aimed at prodding Tehran into curbing enrichment and opening up to U.N. nuclear inspections.
Toughened U.S. sanctions on Iran took effect on June 28. Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/07/06/uk-iran-nuclear-blame-idUKBRE8650NI20120706
3. Iran Submarine Plan May Fuel Western Nuclear Worries
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Iran's announcement that it plans to build its first nuclear-powered submarine is stoking speculation it could serve as a pretext for the Islamic state to produce highly enriched uranium and move closer to potential atom bomb material.
Western experts doubt that Iran - which is under a U.N. arms embargo - has the capability any time soon to make the kind of sophisticated underwater vessel that only the world's most powerful states currently have.
But they say Iran could use the plan to justify more sensitive atomic activity, because nuclear submarines can be fuelled by uranium refined to a level that would also be suitable for the explosive core of a nuclear warhead.
"Such submarines often use HEU (highly enriched uranium)," former chief U.N. nuclear inspector Olli Heinonen said, adding Iran was unlikely to be able source the fuel abroad because of the international dispute over its nuclear program.
It could then "cite the lack of foreign fuel suppliers as further justification for continuing on its uranium enrichment path", Heinonen, now at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said.
Any move by Iran to enrich to a higher purity would alarm the United States and its allies, which suspect it is seeking to develop the capability to make nuclear bombs and want it to curb its nuclear program. Tehran denies any atomic arms ambitions.
It would also likely further complicate diplomatic efforts to resolve the decade-old row over Tehran's nuclear program and may add to fears of a military confrontation.
Several rounds of talks between Iran and six world powers this year have so far failed to make significant progress, especially over their demand that the Islamic Republic scale back its controversial enrichment work.
"Iran is using this submarine announcement to create bargaining leverage," Shashank Joshi, a senior fellow and Middle East specialist at the Royal United Services Institute, said.
"It can negotiate away these 'plans' for concessions, or use the plans as a useful pretext for its enrichment activity."
Iranian deputy navy commander Abbas Zamini was last month quoted as saying that "preliminary steps in making an atomic submarine have started".
He did not say how such a vessel would be fuelled, but experts said it may require high-grade uranium.
Iran now refines uranium to reach a 3.5 percent concentration of the fissile isotope U-235 - suitable for nuclear power plants - as well as 20 percent, which it says is for a medical research reactor in Tehran.
Nuclear weapons need a fissile purity of 90 percent, about the same level as is used to fuel U.S. nuclear submarines.
"This is a bald excuse to enrich uranium above 20 percent," Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank in London, said.
A Western diplomat agreed that it could provide another possible justification for making highly enriched uranium, adding Iran could also use medical isotope production as an excuse.
"What it all means to me is that they could enrich above 20 percent, or even just say they intend to, and then point to some or all of these 'justifications'," the envoy said.
Iran says its nuclear program is for purely peaceful energy and medical purposes and that it is its right to process uranium for reactor fuel under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a global pact to prevent the spread of atomic arms.
An Iranian lawmaker this week said parliament planned to ask the government to equip Iran's naval and research fleet with "non-fossil" engines, Press TV state television reported in an apparent reference to nuclear fuel.
While nuclear submarines generally run on highly refined uranium, merchant vessels can also operate on low-enriched fuel, Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said.
The six powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia - want Iran to halt 20 percent enrichment. If Iran not only rejected this demand but also started enriching to even higher levels, it would risk dramatically raising the stakes in the dispute.
The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, sparking fears of a possible escalation into a new Middle East war.
The submarine statement and this week's missile tests by the Islamic Republic signaled Iranian defiance at a time when the West is stepping up the sanctions pressure on the major crude producer with a European Union oil embargo.
"I see this as an effort to demonstrate Iranian resolve at a time when sanctions are getting unprecedentedly tight," Joshi, of the Royal United Services Institute, said.
It is difficult and very expensive to make atomic submarines. "There is no way that Iran could build a nuclear-powered submarine," Fitzpatrick said.
Such submarines - which the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain have - can be at sea without refueling and stay under water for much longer periods than those using diesel, experts said.
Naval reactors deliver a lot of power from a small volume and therefore run on highly enriched uranium but the level varies from 20 percent or less to as much as 93 percent in the latest U.S. submarines, the World Nuclear Association, a London-based industry body, said on its website.
Iran's announcement is another statement "that they are capable of producing the most-advanced and prestigious military technology and, as usual, there is little truth in what is being claimed", military expert Pieter Wezeman, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute think tank, said.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/05/us-iran-nuclear-submarines-idUSBRE8640PC20120705
1. N. Korea Dismisses Reports of Order to Make Nuclear Bombs
Yonhap News Agency
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North Korea on Friday dismissed as "groundless" Japanese media reports that the North's late leader Kim Jong-il had issued an order to mass-produce nuclear bombs by using highly enriched uranium.
"It is a politically-motivated plot to create a fresh atmosphere for ratcheting up international pressure on the (North) as the story is a totally groundless and sheer fabrication," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary.
The commentary claims the media reports prove that Japan's hostile policy toward the North has reached an extreme phase.
The North's reaction came four days after the Tokyo Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun reported that Kim said a uranium enrichment plant Pyongyang disclosed to a visiting U.S. scientist in 2010 was not designed for civilian industry.
Kim told officials that it is natural for uranium enrichment to be used in making atomic bombs, the newspapers said, citing leaked internal documents from the North's Workers' Party.
Uranium, if highly enriched, can be used to make weapons, providing Pyongyang with a second way of building atomic bombs after its existing plutonium-based program. North Korea conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
The North has insisted that it is producing low enriched uranium to solve its acute electricity problem. Nighttime satellite photos of the Korean Peninsula show a pitch-black North neighboring a brightly illuminated South Korea.
Kim died in December and was succeeded by his youngest son Jong-un.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2012/07/06/45/0401000000AEN20120706006500315F.HTML
2. Decaying Concrete Raising Concerns at Canada’s Aging Nuclear Plants
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Decaying concrete at nuclear power plants is the latest concern for nuclear safety authorities.
At Quebec’s sole atomic power station, Gentilly-2, eroding concrete has prompted federal licensing officials to suggest that any provincial attempt to refurbish and re-license the 30-year-old plant must satisfy federal concerns over the aging concrete’s ability to stand up to another two or three decades of service.
The move comes as economic pressures force nuclear utilities to consider refurbishing their nuclear plants and operating them well past their 25- to 30-year initial lives.
With Gentilly-2 at the end of its service life, the Quebec government is under pressure to decide soon whether to order a refit or shut down the plant permanently.
Refurbishment estimates range from $2 billion to $3 billion. A shutdown is pegged at $1.6 billion.
Of particular concern for any “life extension” is the dome-shaped containment building that encloses the 675-megawatt CANDU 6 reactor. The metre-thick, steel-reinforced concrete structure serves as the final physical barrier against radioactive contamination escaping into the atmosphere around Becancour, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River across from Trois-Rivieres and an hour’s drive northeast of Montreal.
“Special attention is needed for the containment structure in the longer term since it has been identified that containment concrete suffers from” a common type of concrete decay called alkali-silica reaction (ASR), says a 2010 report by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) in Ottawa.
Despite those long-term concerns, the CNSC last year renewed the plant’s operating licence until 2016.
“There is no impact on the safety of any of Canada’s nuclear facilities,” the federal nuclear watchdog agency said in a brief written statement this week. “These facilities are licensed by the Commission because they continue to be safe.”
Meanwhile, concrete degradation has surfaced in the reactor containment buildings of three U.S. nuclear power stations. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently warned operators there that design strengths and assumptions used in original containment building design plans “may no longer hold true,” if ASR and its telltale cracks and fissures are present.
ASR can take years to develop and its chemistry is well understood. But its effect on the structural behaviour of nuclear reactor containment and other buildings is not. The issue is especially relevant to Gentilly-2, which sits on a seismic fault line.
“The potential mechanical consequences of the chemical reaction, in terms of ultimate resistance of structural elements and overall structural behaviour, are unknown,” according to the CNSC.
The agency says it is in the process of commissioning an independent research project to establish an aging-concrete regulatory standard for Canada’s fleet of nuclear power plants in general and “in particular for Gentilly-2 with the goal to have regulatory program in place to assess Gentilly-2 refurbishment program and to support licensing of Gentilly-2 life extension.”
Already, nuclear power plant operators in Canada are required to implement “aging management programs,” including for concrete containment buildings. The Canadian Standards Association also sets standards for concrete containment buildings, one of which calls for in-service examination and testing requirements.
The Charest government, accused of dithering on the fate of Gentilly-2, obviously has been watching developments in neighbouring New Brunswick, where the provincial power utility is mired in the refurbishment of the Point Lepreau nuclear generation station.
Originally scheduled to take 18 months and cost $1.4 billion, the project is expected to finish this fall, three years late and $1 billion over budget.
And that’s without having to meet any new regulatory standard for the life-extension of aging concrete.
Hydro-Quebec has been pushing for a Gentilly-2 refit since 2008. The utility told federal regulators in 2010 that the containment building’s concrete decay “does not pose any safety problems until the refurbishment outage,” which was then planned to begin this year. The building is equipped with embedded structural monitoring equipment.
A utility spokesman was unavailable to detail the extent of the ASR degradation at Gentilly-2, but previous Hydro-Quebec statements to the CNSC have characterized the situation as manageable.
ASR occurs when certain forms of silica in the bulk material in concrete, such as crushed rock and sand, react in the presence of water with such chemicals as sodium or potassium, which are commonly found in the cement paste. The reaction produces a gel that forms in the pores of the concrete and then expands, causing stress and cracking. Over time, those cracks can join together to form larger fissures and compromise the concrete’s structural integrity.
Hydro-Quebec has told the CNSC the reaction is present in all of its concrete structures, including power dams, and that it has developed the expertise to the combat the problem. ASR also is common in bridges, roads and airport runways.
Available at: http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/07/08/decaying-concrete-raising-concerns-at-canadas-aging-nuclear-plants/
Classing Fukushima as serious an incident as Chernobyl shows the international scale for nuclear accidents is "not up to the job" for warning the public over such disasters, MPs have said.
Last year's crisis at the Japanese reactor following a magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami was classed as a level 7 accident because of the amount of radioactive material released - putting it on a par with the Chernobyl disaster.
But many times less radioactive material was released than at Chernobyl, and nobody died or received a life-threatening dose of radiation from Fukushima, the Science and Technology Committee said.
It called for the International Atomic Energy Agency to review the international nuclear and radiological event scale to show orders of magnitude and make it understandable to the public.
The committee's report into the risks of energy generation also said the UK Government's position as an advocate of nuclear power made it difficult for the public to trust it as an impartial source of information on the technology.
The committee said independent regulators should take a bigger role in communicating the risks of nuclear power and other new energy technologies such as "fracking" for shale gas or capturing and storing carbon from power stations so that people could trust what they were being told.
And it suggested that letting communities be involved in ownership of energy projects such as onshore wind farms in their area by offering them shares in projects could build trust and acceptance of those schemes.
The committee's chairman Andrew Miller said: "The public must be able to trust the information it receives on the risks of nuclear power and other energy technologies - such as fracking or carbon capture and storage.
"Developing the public profile of independent regulators as trusted and authoritative sources may be one way of increasing public trust and understanding of such risks."
The report also said regulators and other suppliers of information should emphasise to the public that exceeding recommended minimal radiation exposure levels may not pose any risk and safety thresholds may allow for much higher exposure to occur without any significant danger to health or the environment.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5hs7qiy6jyIRVq7HOjhleSBSDk9vg?docId=N0060161341714933319A
4. International Inspectors Find Inadequate Safety at Kori Nuclear Plant
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An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission report contends that a February blackout at the Kori No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in Busan was largely attributable to the lax safety culture of Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) employees and violations of operation and servicing procedure.
The revelation of the report comes amid an ongoing controversy over whether to bring the problem-prone reactor back online.
In the report, which was posted July 6 on the KHNP website, the IAEA inspectors pointed to procedural violations and inadequate safety owing to employee arrogance, as well as an authoritarian reporting system, as factors in the outage and subsequent cover-up. The inspection of the reactor was conducted between June 4 and 11 by eight experts, including team leader Miroslav Lipar.
In particular, the report said the incident was not the result of a simple mistake, but the product of “overconfidence of [the] worker due to long experience with” the generation protection test, which led to violations of procedure and safety regulations.
On June 5, the mission surveyed plants workers on questions of safety. Only 23.2% responded in the affirmative when asked whether “safety culture is regarded as the most overriding priority in performing any activity,” while just 19.5% agreed that they worked in a “business environment that placed importance on . . . safety.”
Other factors mentioned by the mission included concerns about the public image of nuclear power plant safety, the need to maintain an incident-free image, and an organizational culture that discouraged objections to orders and authority.
Seoul National University nuclear engineering professor Suh Kune-yull said, “The blackout and cover-up at Kori No. 1 was the product of several issues coming together.”
Suh added, “I think the IAEA hit on overall problems of management at South Korea’s nuclear power plants, including Kori No. 1.”
On July 4, the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission granted permission to put the Kori plant back on line. Residents and civic groups protested the decision, arguing that Kori has an extensive history of breakdowns and safety issues and can’t be considered secure.
Available at: http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_international/541471.html
1. 4 Nuke States Postpone Signing SEANWFZ Protocol Next Week
Xinhua News Agency
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Four out of the five recognized nuclear-weapon states (P5) will not be ready to sign on the protocol to the treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting next week, a Cambodian senior official said Sunday.
The four countries are France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, Kao Kim Hourn, secretary of state at Cambodia's foreign ministry, said in a press briefing after the meeting of the SEANWFZ Commission, which was attended by ASEAN foreign ministers and chaired by Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong.
"They (the four countries) have introduced the text of reservation and position reservation to the SEANWFZ commission very late; therefore, the commission has not had more time to review them, and the commission decided that the signing will be postponed so that we will have more time to review the text of reservation and position of reservation," said Kao Kim Hourn. "We do hope that the signing by the four countries can take part during the 21st ASEAN Summit in November this year."
The postponement was made just a week after Cambodia's foreign ministry announced on June 29 that the P5 would sign the protocol during ASEAN Foreign Minsiters' meeting here on July 12.
China, one of the P5, will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with ASEAN on the protocol and treaty to the SEANWFZ on July 10 as scheduled, according to a press release on Sunday.
The MoU will clarify the understanding among the States Parties and China on the application of the treaty and the protocol, it said.
ASEAN leaders signed the SEANWFZ Treaty in Bangkok, Thailand on December 15, 1995 and it took effect two years later. The negotiations between the ASEAN and the P5 on the protocol have been ongoing since May 2001.
The ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Available at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-07/08/c_131702340.htm
2. Areva Looks To China As France Rethinks Nuclear Power
Francois de Beaupuy and Caroline Connan
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Areva SA (AREVA) Chief Executive Officer Luc Oursel is seeking fresh talks to sell nuclear reactors to China, halted in the wake of last year’s nuclear accident in Japan and amid questions about the new French government’s energy stance.
The Chinese “aren’t worried but they are legitimately asking questions about the continuity of the French nuclear commitment,” Oursel said yesterday in an interview in Aix-en- Provence, France.
Luc Oursel, chief executive officer of Areva SA, the world’s largest builder of nuclear reactors, discusses the outlook for sales to China after talks were halted in the wake of last year’s nuclear accident in Japan. Oursel spoke yesterday in Aix-en-Provence, France, with Bloomberg Television's Caroline Connan.
French President Francois Hollande, who took office in May, pledged to cut the nuclear-power portion of France’s electricity production to 50 percent by 2025 from about 75 percent now, and to invest in renewable energies.
Hollande wants to allow the completion of a nuclear reactor currently built with the technology of Paris-based Areva in Flamanville, and to shut the country’s oldest nuclear plant by the end of his five-year term.
Once the Chinese unveil a new energy plan, “I expect the negotiations to restart and to be closed very quickly because it’s a replication of former negotiations” for Areva reactors being built in Taishan, China, he said. “In India, they are very skilled negotiators, so you never know when it ends.”
Areva, the world’s largest builder of nuclear reactors, has been seeking business in countries such as China and India, where economic growth has spurred demand for diversified energy sources. Demand is also building up in Europe, Oursel said.
“Never have we worked on so many tenders in Europe at the same time,” he said, citing Finland, the Czech Republic, Poland and Sweden.
China and India are committed to their nuclear power programs, and Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, “is launching a nuclear program in 2013 to accompany the growth in its industry, create jobs,” and cut the use of oil as a fuel for its power plants, he said.
“There is no nuclear winter,” the Areva CEO said. The installed base in nuclear power will probably grow by about 50 percent by 2030 as countries in Europe and Asia seek to cut reliance on fossil fuels and cap rising power prices, he said.
The meltdown of a nuclear facility in Japan last year after an earthquake, construction delays at an atomic facility in Finland, and a 2007 investment in African uranium mines that soured led to a record loss for Areva in 2011. Oursel has pledged to slash costs, pare investments, and sell non-core assets to restore profits at the company.
“We will present very soon the first-half results for 2012, and I’m sure that people will appreciate that our strategic plan is properly deployed and implemented,” he said.
He blamed most of the 47 percent drop in Areva’s shares this year on the fact that an investor “decided to withdraw very quickly,” while Areva’s free float is very limited.
Only about 4 percent of Areva shares trade, while the French government and state-controlled entities own 89 percent and the Kuwait Investment Authority holds 4.8 percent. The stock currently trades at about 10 euros.
“The level of the shares is absolutely not justified by the performance of the company and the implementation of the strategic action plan,” the Areva chief said.
In the immediate term, the industry’s main issue is finding long-term infrastructure funding, the executive said, which “isn’t easy” given that “the banking system is a bit breathless about such commitments,” Oursel said yesterday at a conference organized by Le Cercle des Economistes. Also, “excessive deregulation of the electricity market is currently deterring all investment,” he said.
The industry “will need labor resources, technologies and research and development,” Oursel said. “All stop-and-start policies, or steep acceleration or slowdown in the field of energy inevitably leads to failures. Continuity is what’s needed.”
In that, Oursel is drawing some comfort from Hollande’s recent pronouncements.
“With the very clear position expressed by Francois Hollande on the fact that nuclear will remain the biggest component of the energy mix, and that construction will continue in Flamanville, the answers are in place to maintain the confidence that France is really today the reference in term of nuclear industry organization,” he said.
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-07/areva-looks-to-china-as-france-rethinks-nuclear-power.html
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