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Nuclear News - 9/10/2012
PGS Nuclear News, September 10, 2012
Compiled By: Pia Ulrich

A.  Iran
    1. "Frustrated" IAEA Wants Immediate Access to Iran Site, Fredrik Dahl, Reuters (9/10/2012)
    2. Germany Urges Iran to Make "Substantial" Nuclear Offers, Jeffrey Heller, Reuters (9/9/2012)
B.  North Korea
    1. Lee, Clinton Agree on Importance of Cooperation with Japan over N. Korea Issues, Chang Jae-soon , Yonhap News Agency (9/9/2012)
C.  Nuclear Energy
    1. Japan Energy Deadlock Deepens; Government Fails to Announce Policy Mix, Linda Sieg, Reuters (9/10/2012)
    2. EDF Considers Nuclear Plant Reprieve, The Telegraph (9/9/2012)
    3. Two-Year Hiatus in US Licensing, World Nuclear News (9/7/2012)
    4. Oldest French Reactor to Close by 2017, UPI (9/7/2012)
    5. Ex-Im Bank Backs $2 Bln Loan for UAE Nuclear Plant, Reuters (9/7/2012)
D.  Nuclear Safety & Security
    1. New Nuclear Plant Safety Code to Look at Extreme Events, even Missile Attacks, Mihika Bahu, The Indian Express (9/10/2012)
    2. Global Help Urged to Avert Reactor 4 Pool Fire, U.S. Expert Appalled by Tepco's Attitude over 'Sleeping Dragon' Risk, Eric Johnston, The Japan Times (9/8/2012)
    3. Nuclear Safety Boosted to Help Avert another Fukushima -Expert, Fredrik Dahl, Reuters (9/7/2012)
    4. Government Rewrites Rulebook for Nuclear Disasters, The Asahi Shimbun (9/7/2012)
    5. NRC Assessment Finds 96 U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Meet Performance Standards, Power Engineering (9/6/2012)
E.  Links of Interest
    1. Moscow Hosts 2012 Nonproliferation Conference, Press TV (9/9/2012)
    2. Questionable Start for NRC, The Japan Times (9/8/2012)
    3. Experts Warn of Nuclear Testing Risks Despite Moratorium, as General Assembly Marks International Day, United Nations General Assembly (9/6/2012)

A.  Iran

"Frustrated" IAEA Wants Immediate Access to Iran Site
Fredrik Dahl
(for personal use only)

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog pressed Iran on Monday to grant his inspectors immediate access to the Parchin military site, where they believe Tehran may have conducted explosives tests relevant to the development of nuclear weapons.

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said it was "frustrating" that the IAEA and Iran had made no real progress in talks that began in January aimed at allaying concern about suspected atom bomb research.

Western powers may seize on his statement to a closed-door session of the IAEA's 35-nation governing board to strengthen their case for further international pressure on Iran, one of the world's largest oil producers.

Saying Tehran must address the substance of the U.N. agency's questions, Amano later told a news conference he was committed to intensifying the dialogue with the Islamic state but that no date had been set yet for a new meeting.

"We need to stop going around in circles discussing process ... Iran has the obligation to fully cooperate with us."

Asked about Iran's demand for access to documents which form the basis for the IAEA's suspicions about possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme, Amano said he was ready to provide them "when appropriate".

He made his comments one day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel and the United States were in discussions on setting a "red line" for Iran's nuclear programme, which Tehran says is peaceful.

Israel, believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, sees the possibility of Iran developing an atomic bomb as a threat to its existence and has said it may use military means if diplomacy and sanctions fail.

European Union heavyweights Britain, France and Germany called last week for new sanctions and Canada has unexpectedly severed ties with Iran.

Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tehran would "continue" to cooperate with the U.N. agency but that its national security must be taken into consideration.

He told reporters that discussions were under way this week about the possibility of having another meeting with the IAEA.

Iran says its nuclear programme is aimed at producing electricity, not making nuclear bombs.

At the week-long IAEA board meeting, the United States and its Western allies want to isolate Iran further by adopting a resolution rebuking it for stonewalling the IAEA's investigation into its nuclear activities.

But it is unclear whether China and Russia - who are also part of a group of six world powers trying to find a diplomatic solution to the long-running nuclear dispute - would agree to such a move, diplomats say. Beijing and Moscow have criticised unilateral Western steps to punish Iran.

Russia last week starkly warned Israel and the United States against attacking Iran and said it saw no evidence that Tehran's nuclear programme was aimed at developing weapons.

In contrast, the IAEA has voiced mounting concern that Iran has been conducting research and development relevant to the assembly of a nuclear warhead.

Amano said "activities" that had taken place at the Parchin facility - a reference to suspected clean-up work there - would have an "adverse impact" on the IAEA's investigation, if and when it was allowed to go there. Iran has so far refused access.

Western diplomats cite satellite images as evidence that Iran has for several months carried out apparent "sanitisation" work at Parchin to remove any evidence of illicit activity.

Despite this, Amano said his inspectors had "powerful tools" at their disposal to discover any traces or other evidence.

Iran told the agency in a letter last month that the allegation of nuclear-linked work at Parchin, located southeast of the capital Tehran, was "baseless", Amano said.

"However, the activities observed further strengthen our assessment that it is necessary to have access to the location at Parchin without further delay in order to obtain the required clarifications," he said.

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Germany Urges Iran to Make "Substantial" Nuclear Offers
Jeffrey Heller
(for personal use only)

Germany's foreign minister on Sunday urged Iran to make "substantial offers" to restart nuclear talks with world powers and told Israel allowing the Islamic Republic to get the bomb was "not an option".

Guido Westerwelle's comments, made during a visit to Jerusalem, followed weeks of rhetoric in Israel over a possible go-it-alone strike against Iran's nuclear facilities and calls by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for world powers to set a "red line" for Tehran.

Westerwelle, whose country, together with France, Britain, Russia, China and the United States, has held three rounds of inconclusive talks with Iran this year, said there was still time for a diplomatic solution but warned Iran not to try to acquire nuclear weapons.

"Nuclear arms in the hands of the Iranian government is not an option and we will not accept this," he said as he met Netanyahu.

Germany and other countries want Iran to open up its nuclear facilities to international scrutiny and to provide proof that its civilian nuclear program does not have a military dimension.

"We share the concern in Israel about the nuclear program in Iran," Westerwelle told reporters in earlier talks with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday.

"But it is serious, and it's crucial, and this means that talks for the sake of talks is not what we are seeking," he added.

"And therefore we call on the government in Iran to come back to the table with substantial offers, which is very necessary and very crucial at this time."

At a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Cyprus on Friday, Germany, Britain and France called for new EU sanctions against Iran.

The ministers did not say what further measures the EU could take. The 27-nation bloc banned imports of Iranian oil and isolated its banking system in the last round of sanctions that came into full force in July.

The sanctions appear to have contributed to a collapse in the Iranian currency which plunged to an all-time low on Sunday. Central Bank Governor Mahmoud Bahmani said: "We are fighting with the world in an economic sense."

"The conditions we are in are war conditions," Bahmani added, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency.

The sanctions are aimed at forcing Iran to curb nuclear activities that the West believes are aimed at developing a nuclear weapons capability, an allegation Tehran denies.

Iran says its nuclear work is for peaceful energy purposes and that it will not bend to pressure from the West.

Israel, believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, views the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear bomb as a threat to its existence and has said it may use military means if diplomacy and sanctions fail.

Addressing his Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu hailed Canada's decision on Friday to cut diplomatic relations with Iran over its nuclear activities.

"I call on the entire international community, or at least on its responsible members, to follow in Canada's determined path and set Iran moral and practical red lines, lines that will stop its race to achieve nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said.

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B.  North Korea

Lee, Clinton Agree on Importance of Cooperation with Japan over N. Korea Issues
Chang Jae-soon
Yonhap News Agency
(for personal use only)

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed Sunday on the importance of cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo in dealing with North Korea and its nuclear programs, Seoul's presidential spokesman said.

Lee and Clinton held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Russia's Vladivostok amid heightened tensions between South Korea and Japan over the sovereignty issue of the South's easternmost islets of Dokdo.

Clinton attended the annual forum on behalf of President Barack Obama.

The top American diplomat told Lee that cooperation between South Korea, the United States and Japan is more important than at any other time in dealing with the North in the wake of the leadership change in Pyongyang, according to Seoul's presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha.

Clinton also underscored China's role in handling Pyongyang.

She expressed hope for future-oriented relations between Seoul and Tokyo, and Lee said he also believes trilateral cooperation is important for resolving the North Korean nuclear standoff, the spokesman said.South Korea and Japan have experienced one of the worst chills in their relations as Japan strongly protested Lee's unprecedented visit on Aug. 10 to the South's easternmost islets of Dokdo.

Japan has long laid claims to Dokdo, which lies closer to South Korea in the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, in the country's school textbooks, government reports and other ways, stoking enmity in South Korea against its former colonial ruler.

South Koreans see those claims as amounting to denying Korea's rights because the country regained independence from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule and reclaimed sovereignty over its territory, which includes Dokdo and many other islands around the Korean Peninsula.

On Saturday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and his Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba held a meeting in Vladivostok and agreed to dispassionately handle tensions between the two countries so as to calm the situation at an early date.

The agreement suggests neither side wants tensions to rise further.

Clinton said North Korea's "young leader" appears to be strengthening his grip on power, but despite talk of economic change in the North and superficial signs, Washington does not consider them substantial changes, according to the spokesman.

U.S. officials attending the meeting also said that Washington believes North Korea should carry out reform to improve the lives of its people and give up its nuclear programs, but reform without denuclearization cannot be an alternative, the spokesman said.

Clinton credited Lee for strengthening the Seoul-Washington alliance, saying it will be a big legacy of his presidency. She also praised Lee's leadership over the landmark free trade agreement between the two countries, cooperation on North Korea and other issues, according to the spokesman.

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C.  Nuclear Energy

Japan Energy Deadlock Deepens; Government Fails to Announce Policy Mix
Linda Sieg
(for personal use only)

Deadlock in Japan between anti-nuclear activists and advocates of atomic power deepened on Monday as the government failed to produce an expected proposal to reduce the role of nuclear power in the country's energy porfolio after the Fukushima disaster.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's government had been widely expected to announce a decision on energy policy and a reduction of the share of nuclear power to 15 percent or less by 2030.

A government source, however, said the announcement was unlikely to take place.

The government has been drafting a new energy policy since the Fukushima plant was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years. The government had to scrap plans to boost nuclear's share of electricity supply to more than 50 percent from nearly 30 percent before the crisis.

The issue could become a focal point of a general election expected within months that Noda's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is likely to lose and the government has wavered over whether to set a timetable for abandoning atomic energy.

"They must feel very threatened by having a policy put in place, even by a party that's expected to suffer a major defeat in the next election," said Andrew DeWit, a professor at Rikkyo University, referring to pro-nuclear power interests.

"I guess they worry that the next government might not want to or be able to roll this back."

Noda, registering on Monday for re-election as leader of his Democratic Party, said in his platform that Japan should aim to abandon nuclear power, but gave no timetable for doing so.

Noda faces three rivals, but is expected to be re-elected as head of his party, which proposed last week that Japan should move towards ending reliance on nuclear power by the 2030s.

Noda also said Japan should build no new nuclear reactors and strictly apply a law limiting to 40 years the lifespan of existing units. That would bring atomic power's share to around 15 percent of electricity by 2030 and zero by mid-century.

The Fukushima disaster prompted the shutdown of all 50 reactors in Japan for safety checks.

Noda's decision to approve the restart of two reactors to avoid possible power shortages sparked outrage among anti-nuclear activists. Japan ended voluntary targets to cut power use for the summer last week with no shortages reported.

Signs the government was leaning toward a plan to exit nuclear power by a specific date have triggered a fierce counter-offensive by pro-atomic interests.

Japan's nine regional nuclear utilities and business lobbies argue that abandoning nuclear power in favour of fossil fuels and renewable sources such as solar and wind power will boost electricity prices. That, they say, would make industry uncompetitive, complicate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and threaten the utilities' financial viability.

Anti-nuclear advocates counter that predictions of damage to the world's third-biggest economy are exaggerated and that a policy shift will create new chances for corporate profits in areas such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The push to set a timeline for exiting nuclear power has also run into opposition from the northern prefecture of Aomori, home to a plant to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

The recycling plant in the village of Rokkasho has yet to begin operating due to technical glitches nearly 20 years after construction began. The prefecture is threatening to send back stored waste if the government abandons the recycling programme.

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EDF Considers Nuclear Plant Reprieve
The Telegraph
(for personal use only)

Hunterston B in North Ayrshire and Hinkley Point B in Somerset are the first two of the French-owned company’s eight UK nuclear reactors due to close, with all but one due to stop generating by 2023.

The planned closures have been a key driver for the Government’s overhaul of the energy sector, which aims for a new generation of nuclear plants by 2025 to help meet demand.

But with EDF’s own plans for new nuclear plants at Hinkley Point and Sizewell in Suffolk delayed and uncertain, and the Horizon venture that planned to put two more plants up for sale, any reprieve in closure dates is likely to be welcomed by ministers.

John Musk, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said: “I don’t think the Government would want to shut down the existing reactors, safety case aside, until the replacement ones were coming online.”

EDF had long said it was aiming to extend the life of its seven oldest nuclear plants by an average of five years, and earlier this year upped that to seven. But it is now nearing the deadline where it must decide on the specific life extensions of Hunterston B and Hinkley Point B.

It must tell the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority by 2013 if it wishes to close them.
An EDF spokesman declined to comment on extensions but confirmed the average seven-year life extension target could “arise from different outcomes for individual stations”.

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Ex-Im Bank Backs $2 Bln Loan for UAE Nuclear Plant
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The U.S. Export-Import Bank said on Friday it authorized a $2 billion direct loan to Barakah One Co of the United Arab Emirates to purchase U.S. equipment and construction services to build one of the world's largest nuclear power plants.

The credit line is expected to support approximately 5,000 jobs across 17 U.S. states and has the support of the White House's National Security Council as well as the departments of State and Energy, Ex-Im Bank said.

"In addition to bolstering American jobs, Ex-Im Bank will make history by backing the construction of the first nuclear power plant on the Arabian peninsula," Fred Hochberg, president of the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, said in a statement.

The move comes as the United States and other Western powers continue to heap sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, which they believe is aimed at developing atomic weapons and Tehran says is for peaceful energy purposes.

Ex-Im said the loan is the largest in its history to the UAE and also represents the first new nuclear power plant it has helped finance since the late 1990s.

At the end of the 2011 budget year, Ex-Im had about $3.7 billion of credit exposure in the UAE.

Westinghouse Electric Co LLC, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based group company of Toshiba Corp, is the largest exporter involved in the transaction and will provide the reactor coolant pumps, reactor components, controls, engineering services, and training, Ex-Im said.

"This work will create and sustain U.S. jobs in California, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and other states home to Westinghouse sub-suppliers. Within Westinghouse alone, the Barakah project will allow us to maintain about 600 U.S. jobs," Ric Perez, president and chief operating officer of Westinghouse, said in a statement.

Barakah One plans to erect four nuclear reactor power-generating units on a coastal strip approximately 220 kilometers (137 miles) from the city of Abu Dhabi.

Reactors supplied by the Korea Electric Power Corp will come online at one-year intervals beginning 2017 and produce 5,600 megawatts gross electricity.

The United States and UAE signed a civilian nuclear cooperation pact in 2009 and followed that a year later with a formal arrangement between the two countries' nuclear regulators.

The UAE also has entered into a number of treaties and conventions pertaining to the nuclear sector and has signed bilateral agreements on the same subject with South Korea, France, and Japan, among others, Ex-Im said.

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Oldest French Reactor to Close by 2017
(for personal use only)

France's energy minister said the government intends to close the Fessenheim nuclear reactor, the country's oldest, by 2017.

Speaking on the radio station France Info, Delphine Batho said, "Fessenheim will be closed as soon as possible, in socially and technically responsible conditions. Nuclear plants are being phased out across the world."

France is the world's most nuclear energy-dependent country, operating 58 reactors, but its reliance on nuclear power has been called into question since Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011.

The Fessenheim reactor in eastern France, in use since 1977, is considered vulnerable to seismic activity and potential flooding, Radio France Internationale said Friday.

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Two-Year Hiatus in US Licensing
World Nuclear News
(for personal use only)

Approval of four new reactors could be delayed as the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission reconsiders its confidence in long term waste management arrangements over the next 24 months.

The NRC has to develop an environmental impact statement on the storing of used nuclear fuel at power plant sites for extended periods, which will form part of a new 'waste confidence rule' fundamental to power plant licensing. The previous rule was invalidated in June by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which said the NRC should have considered the possiblity that a permanent waste disposal facility might never actually be built, as well as more factors relating to potential water leaks or fires at storage pools.

The NRC will "proceed directly" on the task, it said, noting that staff could draw on a history of similar work. Nevertheless, the NRC said it might take 24 months to develop the statement. In the meantime the lack of a robust position afforded by a waste confidence rule means that the NRC cannot issue final licenses to new nuclear power plants. This may mean postponed approval for construction and operating licenses for two reactors at Levy in Florida and another two at Lee in South Carolina, which were both expected in late 2013.

In theory the licensing hiatus also applies to final NRC decisions on licence extensions, of which applications are under consideration regarding 13 reactors. While final decisions schedules may be affected pending new waste confidence, the continued operation of the reactors should not. NRC rules say that a reactor may continue operating if its owner submitted a sufficient application to the NRC with at least five years of the original licence remaining.

For the NRC to grant a new licence to a nuclear facility it must have confidence that there will be suitable storage and disposal facilities for the wastes produced by the plant during its operation. This comes down to the generic waste confidence rule which in part relies on an environmental impact assessment.

This became a live issue to US nuclear power sector in 2009 when President Barack Obama scrapped the Yucca Mountain disposal project with the help of the men he appointed to lead the NRC and the Department of Energy, Gregory Jaczko and Stephen Chu respectively. With no long term disposal plan, the NRC had to revise its waste confidence rule in 2010, deciding that storage at nuclear power plants sites would be acceptable for up to 60 years after the end of power generation. This was quickly challenged by campaigners, leading to the court decision in June.

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D.  Nuclear Safety & Security

New Nuclear Plant Safety Code to Look at Extreme Events, even Missile Attacks
Mihika Bahu
The Indian Express
(for personal use only)

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board’s (AERB’s) new safety code on siting of nuclear plants will beef up norms to identify and tackle extreme events such as airplane crashes and even missile attacks.

Keeping in view the Fukushima disaster in Japan in March last year, the board is revisiting the whole process of identifying and analysing common cause failure (CCF) or any extreme external event such as flooding, airplane crash or missile attack at nuclear plant sites, and simultaneously reviewing design features that can combat these.

“We have several multi-unit sites and many more will come up in future. Identification of common cause failure, and safety analysis in the event of a severe accident is under consideration in the draft siting code. We started revision of our safety code prior to Fukushima, but are looking into all accident aspects while preparing the new safety code on siting,” said R Bhattacharya, AERB secretary.

Some important provisions being considered include an emergency preparedness programme, accounting for common-cause-failure accidents and possible site isolation beyond design basis accidents, and a need for additional margins, assessment of “cliff edge effects” in respect of meteorological and hydrological events and revisit of return periods of natural events like earthquakes and flooding. India’s report on action taken for its nuclear plants to the “Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS)” in August 2012 stated that the revised code is scheduled to be ready next year.

A review committee set up by AERB post the Fukushima disaster had said in its report that despite all safety features provided, the remote possibility of partial or total melting of fuel in the reactor core after an accident - graded as severe accident- must also be taken into consideration.

Assessment of seismicity and related hazards constitutes the major part of siting criteria for nuclear plants, and so the AERB has initiated a revision of its safety guide on seismic studies and design basis ground motion for nuclear plants. “We are looking at development of guidelines for considering extreme natural events and their consequential effects, including design provisions for enhancing safety margins beyond design basis,” said Bhattacharya.

The AERB safety committee had said there is a lack of sufficient and relevant data on site tectonics, and there were some uncertainties, too. Subsequently, the committee had recommended that all possible sources of data be consulted for arriving at the ‘safe shutdown earthquake’ level and preparing a tectonic map of the site. It had said all mapped faults must be considered as “capable” and a procedure needs to be arrived at to ascertain whether the fault is active or capable, or not. These recommendations are being deliberated while revising the guide.

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Global Help Urged to Avert Reactor 4 Pool Fire, U.S. Expert Appalled by Tepco's Attitude over 'Sleeping Dragon' Risk
Eric Johnston
The Japan Times
(for personal use only)

The risk of a fire starting in reactor 4's spent-fuel pool at the Fukushima No. 1 plant continues to alarm scientists and government officials around the world, prompting a leading U.S. nuclear expert to urge Japan to tap global expertise to avert a catastrophe.

During a trip to Japan in late August and early September, Gundersen met with Diet members, lawyers and citizens' groups to discuss conditions at the wrecked power station and told an audience in Kyoto on Monday that fears over the spent-fuel pool in reactor 4 remain high.

"The spent-nuclear-fuel pool at Fukushima No. 1's unit 4 remains a sleeping dragon. The situation and possibility of a fuel pool fire in reactor 4 in the days (immediately) after the (March 2011) quake was the reason the U.S. government recommended that the evacuation zone be (set at) 80 km," said Gundersen, who served as an expert witness during the federal investigation into the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster in Pennsylvania.

This evacuation recommendation was based on studies the U.S. conducted more than a decade earlier at New York's Brookhaven National Laboratory, which is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy and researches atomic energy.

"In 1997, the laboratory did a study showing that if a nuclear-fuel pool were to boil dry, it would release enough radiation to cause the permanent evacuation of those living within an 80 km radius (of the complex).

"The Fukushima plant's reactor 4 (pool) has 1,500 fuel bundles. That's more cesium than was released into the atmosphere from all of the nuclear bombs ever exploded, (which total) more than 700 over a period of 30 years. That's also why the U.S. recommended an evacuation with an 80 km radius," Gundersen explained.

But even today, concerns persist among experts worldwide that reactor 4's pool is still at risk of boiling dry. If this were to occur, it would necessitate a massive and immediate evacuation of the surrounding area.

Nuclear fuel rods are extremely thin and clad with zircaloy, a zirconium alloy that contains a tiny amount of tin and other metals. But zircaloy burns if it is exposed to air, as shown in a test conducted at the Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico just two weeks before the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated the Tohoku region.

The facility is wholly owned by Sandia Corp., a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., and undertakes research for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.

"Last week, I showed slides of the Sandia lab experiments to some Diet members. Afterward, Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials presented their plan to empty the nuclear fuel from the reactor pool," Gundersen said.

"I told Tepco that while I realized they hoped and believed that there will always be water in the nuclear fuel pool, I had to ask whether or not they had (already prepared and stationed) any chemicals to put out a nuclear fuel pool fire in the event they were wrong.

"Tepco's response was that there was nothing in the fuel pool that could burn, a statement I find appalling."

In July, Tepco announced it had removed two unused nuclear fuel assemblies from reactor 4's pool, the first of more than 1,500 that will have to be retrieved. If everything goes according to plan, the utility will begin extracting the remaining assemblies, used to store spent fuel rods, from December 2013 and complete the task within three years.

But the state of the fuel pool and the lack of preparations to deal with a possible fire has drawn intense criticism not just from experts like Gundersen but also from some senior officials in the U.S.

Sen. Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources who visited Fukushima Prefecture in April, sent a letter to Japan's ambassador in Washington upon his return urging Tokyo to tap the expertise and knowhow of the United States and other countries to complete the cleanup work more quickly.

"Tepco's Dec. 21 remediation road map proposes to take up to 10 years to complete spent-fuel removal from all of the pools on the (Fukushima No. 1) site," Wyden wrote.

"Given the compromised nature of these structures due to the events of March 11, this schedule carries extraordinary and continuing risk if further severe seismic events were to occur.

"Many nations possess expertise in nuclear energy technology and its full breadth should be made available to Japan in dealing with" the Fukushima disaster, the letter said.

Later that month, 72 domestic antinuclear groups, along with former Ambassador to Switzerland Mitsuhei Murata and ex-U.N. diplomat Akio Matsumura, called on the United Nations to establish a nuclear security summit to specifically focus on the spent-fuel pool at reactor 4 and to also establish an independent assessment team to investigate the matter.

However, Gundersen said he is still awaiting signs from the Japanese government or Tepco officials indicating they're ready to canvass a broad range of experts around the world over how best to deal with not only the unit 4 situation, but the larger question of what to do with the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

"Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Tepco claim they are getting outside expertise from the International Atomic Energy Agency, but Article II of the IAEA's charter states its mission is to promote nuclear power. There is a real need for experts who think outside the box," Gundersen said.

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Government Rewrites Rulebook for Nuclear Disasters
The Asahi Shimbun
(for personal use only)

The central government is drastically overhauling preparations for nuclear accidents, mandating sweeping new measures including requiring power plants to have more remote-controlled rescue tools and defining a broader evacuation zone for local residents.

Local authorities will be required to plan to evacuate residents over a 30-kilometer radius, expanded from the current 8-10 km, which in the case of one nuclear plant would require commandeering enough vehicles to move almost a million people. Meanwhile power-plant operators will be ordered to prepare rescue crews and logistics bases that can operate even in a radiation release.

The measures were detailed Sept. 6 in an overhauled Basic Disaster Management Plan, produced by the Central Disaster Management Council. The plan calls on plant operators, and central and local governments to rewrite their crisis manuals, and is the latest document to illustrate a fundamental rethink under way in the nation's disaster policy.

Several official inquiries and independent investigations by journalists into the March 2011 meltdowns and radiation release at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant faulted the operator, regulator and central government alike, alleging the early rescue effort suffered from insufficient equipment and the evacuation of residents from poor planning.

Until the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami, the central government and electric power companies never considered the possibility of a severe accident at a nuclear power plant because of a mistaken belief in the infallibility of existing safety measures. The new plan considers the impact of another complex disaster involving an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident.

The council has no power to enforce the changes, but the document will form the basis of new standards mandated by the new nuclear regulatory agency, which is due to be inaugurated in the near future.

Local governments within a 30-km radius of nuclear plants will need to compile new evacuation plans, perhaps coordinating with neighboring prefectures in order to secure temporary homes for evacuees. Local governments will be encouraged to sign support agreements to help each other in that event. The central government will be expected to help local authorities reach such agreements.

The new plan states clearly for the first time that the new nuclear regulatory agency should swiftly release radiation data, which it would acquire from the science ministry's System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or SPEEDI.

That data was not immediately released after last year's Fukushima nuclear accident, giving evacuees little help in deciding where to move to.

At the same time, SPEEDI will in the future be used differently, to obtain a clearer picture of an accident as it happens.

In the event of an accident, all residents within 5 km would immediately evacuate, without waiting for data from SPEEDI.

Other changes in the basic plan arose from failure by the prime minister's office and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to share information as the Fukushima disaster unfolded.

Under the new plan, once an accident occurs, the chairman of the nuclear regulatory agency and other officials will immediately go to the prime minister's office to form a crisis secretariat that then serves as a clearinghouse for information.

Electric power companies will be asked to construct an emergency response center at each nuclear plant, as well as a support base in a location where on-site workers can receive deliveries of equipment and materials from outside.

The utilities will also be asked to form an accident response center at company headquarters and give free access to nuclear regulatory agency staff, who would then coordinate communications with other agencies and monitor the company's activity, such as its compliance with regulatory agency orders.

Plant operators will also be asked to install heavy machinery that can be operated by remote control. They will also need to form nuclear-accident rescue squads that can function regardless of the high radiation levels that make such work difficult and dangerous.

The companies will also have to conduct training exercises to deal with possible major accidents and will be required to report on the exercise results. If those results show failings, the nuclear regulatory agency will be able to order improvements.

Meanwhile, the utilities' share of the burden will be matched, if not exceeded, by what local governments will need to do.

For example, the Ibaraki prefectural government will need to prepare to evacuate close to 1 million residents in the event of an accident at the Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant, operated by Japan Atomic Power Co.

The new 30-km radius around that plant will include 14 municipalities, with a total population of about 940,000. One of the cities is Mito, the prefectural capital, which lies about 20 km from the plant. In a severe accident at the Tokai No. 2 plant, the prefectural government office itself could be rendered unusable.

Prefectural government officials plan to use cars and buses to evacuate residents. But even if they could round up all 7,000 or so buses in the prefecture, those vehicles would be able to transport only 240,000 people at a time.

A prefectural government official in charge of safety measures for nuclear accidents said more information is needed. The central government, the official said, should issue technical guidelines on what kind of accident requires which evacuation.

Other prefectures will need to depend upon the goodwill of neighboring prefectures to help house their evacuees.

Within a 30-km radius of the Shimane nuclear plant lie four cities, with a total population of about 396,000. However, across Shimane Prefecture, municipalities can house only 160,000 evacuees at most.

For that reason, the Shimane prefectural government asked four nearby prefectures to accept evacuees in the event of an accident. It obtained consent from Tottori, Hiroshima and Okayama prefectural governments, and in February came up with a list of 71 municipalities that could host evacuees.

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Nuclear Safety Boosted to Help Avert another Fukushima -Expert
Fredrik Dahl
(for personal use only)

Many countries have taken concrete steps to improve safety at nuclear power plants to help prevent extreme natural hazards such as earthquakes from causing another Fukushima-style disaster, the chairman of an expert meeting said on Friday.

Speaking after a four-day conference at the Vienna headquarters of the United Nations' atomic agency, Antonio Godoy, an Argentinean seismic expert, said the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan had prompted real change in the industry.

"Physical upgrades have been implemented in a number of nuclear installations worldwide," he told a news conference. "Many member states took immediate action to remedy, to enhance safety."

However, environmental group Greenpeace, which opposes nuclear energy on safety grounds, dismissed the upbeat assessment.

"It is painting a situation which doesn't exist," Jan Beranek, head of Greenpeace's nuclear campaign, told Reuters by phone.

"The U.S., Japan and Europe have not made virtually any physical changes at the power plants so far," he said.

The September 4-7 meeting of 120 participants from 35 countries was called to explore the lessons learnt from last year's reactor crisis in Japan, the first time a combination of extreme external hazards caused a nuclear plant accident.

A summary of the talks said there was a need to ensure that the "siting and design of nuclear plants should include sufficient protection against complex combinations of extreme external events."

Meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami sent radiation spewing over large areas, forcing more than 160,0000 people to flee. In the following months, all of Japan's remaining reactors were shut for safety checks. Two reactors resumed operation in July.

The worst such accident since the 1986 Chernobyl reactor explosion, Fukushima also cast a question mark over the future of nuclear energy elsewhere in the world. In Europe, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium decided to move away from nuclear power to increase their reliance on renewable energy.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said it believes, however, that global use of nuclear energy could increase by as much as 100 percent by 2030 on the back of growth in Asia, including in China and India.

A Japanese government-appointed inquiry suggested in July that safety steps taken at other reactors in Japan may not be enough to cope with a big, complex catastrophe caused by both human error and natural causes in a "disaster-prone nation".

Godoy did not single out any countries but said more than ten had reported "significant progress" during the Vienna meeting, including enhancements at plants to better protect them against extreme natural events.

"In many plants, upgrades to systems, to structures and components are being done," he said.

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NRC Assessment Finds 96 U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Meet Performance Standards
Power Engineering
(for personal use only)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued mid-cycle assessment letters to the 104 operating commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S., with 96 plants in the two highest performance categories as of June.

Of the 96 highest-performing reactors, 62 fully met all safety and security performance objectives and were inspected by NRC using the normal inspection program. Thirty-four reactors were assessed as needing to resolve one or two items of low safety significance. This represents an increase from the previous assessment cycle.

The plants requiring additional inspection are: Braidwood 2 in Illinois; Browns Ferry 2 and 3 and Farley 1 and 2 in Alabama; Brunswick 1 and 2 in North Carolina; Callaway in Missouri; Calvert Cliffs 1 and 2 in Maryland; Crystal River 3 and Turkey Point 3 and 4 in Florida; Fermi 2 in Ohio; Limerick 2 and Susquehanna 1 in Pennsylvania; Millstone 2 in Connecticut; North Anna 1 and 2 in Virginia; Palo Verde 1, 2 and 3 in Arizona; Pilgrim in Massachusetts; Point Beach 1 and 2 in Wisconsin; Prairie Island 1 and 2 in Minnesota; River Bend and Waterford in Louisiana; San Onofre 2 and 3 in California; Seabrook in New Hampshire; Watts Bar in Tennessee and Wolf Creek in Kansas. Since the reporting period ended, Callaway, Calvert 1 and 2, Crystal River 3, Limerick 2, Waterford, and Watts Bar have resolved their issues and are now at the highest performing level.

Six nuclear reactors were in the third performance category with a degraded level of performance. For these power plants, regulatory oversight includes more NRC inspections, senior management attention and oversight focused on the cause of the degraded performance. These plants were: Hope Creek and Salem 1 and 2 in New Jersey, Palisades in Michigan, Perry 1 in Ohio and St. Lucie 2 in Florida.

One reactor, Browns Ferry 1 in Alabama, is in the fourth performance category and requires increased oversight after a low-pressure coolant injection valve failed to open during refueling in 2010. That finding will include additional inspections to confirm the plant’s performance issues are being addressed.

Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska is in an extended shutdown with significant performance issues and is currently under a special NRC oversight program. Therefore the plant will not receive a mid-cycle assessment letter.

In addition to regular inspections, the NRC is currently conducting extra inspections to assess all plants’ preparedness to deal with earthquakes and floods. These additional inspections are part of the NRC’s post-Fukushima actions. Mid-cycle construction assessments for new reactors at the Vogtle and Summer sites and at Watts Bar 2 are also on the NRC website.

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E.  Links of Interest

Moscow Hosts 2012 Nonproliferation Conference
Press TV
(for personal use only)

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Questionable Start for NRC
The Japan Times
(for personal use only)

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Experts Warn of Nuclear Testing Risks Despite Moratorium, as General Assembly Marks International Day
United Nations General Assembly
(for personal use only)

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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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