1. U.N. Nuclear Inspectors in "Acute Dilemma" if Iran Faces Attack
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Would Israel discreetly warn U.N. nuclear chief Yukiya Amano so that he could withdraw his inspectors before any air raid on Iran, as the United States did in a dramatic night-time phone call to his predecessor just before the 2003 war in Iraq?
With persistent speculation that Israel might soon attack Iran's nuclear sites and his own increasingly tense relations with Tehran, the potential dangers facing Amano's staff on the ground are likely a big worry for the veteran Japanese diplomat.
If unlucky, they run the risk of being at a site targeted by Israeli missiles and may also face Iranian anger and likely expulsion afterwards. Their departure would greatly diminish the world's knowledge about the Islamic state's nuclear programme.
The U.N. atomic agency could face an "acute dilemma" as it is obliged to continue to carry out its inspection mandate in Iran while also protecting its personnel from harm, disarmament and non-proliferation expert Trevor Findlay said.
"It also must be careful not to be seen to be facilitating an Israeli attack by withdrawing its staff in anticipation, either after an Israeli warning or simply by guessing when Israel might attack," said Findlay, of Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Iranian officials have stepped up their criticism of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), saying it might have been infiltrated by "terrorists" and accusing it of passing nuclear secrets to Israel.
Though dismissed by Western diplomats as a way to distract attention from mounting suspicions about Iran's nuclear aims, such allegations are likely to increase concern at the IAEA's Vienna headquarters about the inspectors' safety.
The IAEA is believed to have experts constantly deployed in Iran, providing a unique insight into its nuclear advances.
While there may only be a few of them at any given time, they are tasked with inspecting uranium enrichment sites that would be prime targets in any military onslaught. Their exact numbers, schedule and whereabouts are kept secret.
"The risk to IAEA inspectors if they are present on a nuclear site when it is undergoing an air strike is obvious," Pierre Goldschmidt, a former chief U.N. nuclear inspector, said.
"I can only speculate that Israel would indeed warn the IAEA beforehand as the Americans did before the Iraq war in March 2003," he said, referring to a U.S. envoy's call to Mohamed ElBaradei, who headed the IAEA at the time.
But this could also alert Iran, and Israel would likely want to keep its operation secret as long as possible, in contrast to a well-publicized U.S. military buildup in the Gulf in preparation for the invasion of Iraq.
Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence and, frustrated by the failure of diplomacy and sanctions to rein in Tehran's nuclear activity, has ramped up threats to attack its arch-enemy. Iran says it is enriching uranium only for peaceful energy purposes, not for nuclear bombs.
"Logic dictates that when you launch a military action, you don't announce it in advance, because then you lose any element of surprise," Uzi Eilam, a retired Israeli brigadier-general and a former director of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said.
Israel would have to consider that if "they informed the IAEA of their plans, a subsequent exodus of IAEA personnel from Iran might signal to Iran that an attack was imminent," nuclear proliferation expert Mark Hibbs said.
Eilam suggested, however, that Israel might time any strike with the safety of inspectors in mind. He said Israel chose a Sunday to bomb an Iraqi reactor in 1981 to make it less likely that French engineers still working there would be hit.
The IAEA carries out regular inspections of 16 declared nuclear facilities in Iran, including likely Israeli targets such as the underground Natanz and Fordow enrichment plants.
Scheduled visits take place in daytime during regular work hours, former IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen said. But there are also "unannounced inspections" at Natanz and Fordow of about 1-2 days per month, he said.
Refined uranium can be used to fuel power plants but also provide the explosive core of a bomb if processed further.
The IAEA would do everything possible to get its personnel out of Iran prior to any Israeli attack but it must be careful in how it does it, Hibbs, of Carnegie Endowment, said.
If it later emerged that Amano had been warned but chose not to pass that on to Iran, Tehran might conclude that "the IAEA was party to an invasion," he added. Any IAEA staff then still in the country "would be at severe risk".
But Israel also faces a dilemma as it would want to avoid the "international opprobrium" that would come from killing IAEA inspectors, Findlay said.
"A discreet word to the IAEA Director-General hours prior to an attack would ensure that inspectors at Iranian facilities could remove themselves to Tehran or elsewhere quickly."
Goldschmidt said he did not believe the IAEA - whose main brief is to ensure that nuclear material around the world is not diverted for military purposes - would remove inspectors from Iran unless there was a "clear signal" that it should.
But if tension escalated, the IAEA might ask its inspectors whether they were volunteers to be in Iran, as was done when they were sent to inspect the research reactor in Vinca during NATO's 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia.
In the case of Iraq almost a decade ago, IAEA inspectors were withdrawn immediately after the U.S. warning without coming to any harm, "notwithstanding the tense relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and the inspectors", Findlay said.
Heinonen said Iran was responsible for the inspectors' safety under its nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA, but "one cannot exclude the possibility that some individuals may express their anger and frustrations on the inspectors".
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/27/us-nuclear-iran-inspectors-idUSBRE88Q0VG20120927
2. EU Considers Sanctions Against Iranian Banks, Energy Sector
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European governments are considering a new round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme that could be implemented in October and substantially curtail trade with the Islamic Republic and hit its banking industry, diplomats say.
The push comes at a time when tensions between Iran and Israel are rising, threatening to engulf the Middle East in a new war, and diplomatic efforts to resolve the decade-long dispute over Iran's nuclear work have foundered.
In response, governments in Europe and the United States are making a new push to persuade Tehran to scale back the enrichment of uranium, believed to be part of Tehran's programme to build a nuclear bomb. Iran denies any military intentions and says it seeks to increase energy supplies with nuclear power.
Foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain asked their EU counterparts to agree on new measures by their next policy meeting on Oct. 15, in a joint letter sent in recent days.
"We must let Iran know that we have not exhausted our options," Laurent Fabius, Guido Westerwelle and William Hague wrote in the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
The three ministers listed energy, finance, trade and transportation as the sectors to target.
European diplomats said several proposals for specific measures have circulated in Brussels in recent days, including moves to close loopholes in sanctions against the Iranian central bank agreed this year. No decisions have yet been taken.
More commercial banks could also be added to the lists of companies targeted by EU asset freezes, several diplomats said, without identifying any institutions. Sanctions imposed by Washington target roughly a dozen more banks than EU measures, which could be expanded to add these.
A number of shipping companies are also being considered as new sanction targets, diplomats said.
It was not clear if the European Union would target Iran's state-owned National Iranian Oil Company, one of the world's largest oil exporters, which the U.S. government officially linked to Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Monday.
European governments have already taken major steps to put pressure on Iran, such as an oil embargo, to get it to comply with international demands that it abandon enrichment of uranium, believed to be part of programme to build nuclear weapons.
But experts say the current sanctions leave plenty of leeway for Iranian firms to operate in Europe, partly because European sanctions tend to pick specific targets rather than impose sweeping bans.
Transactions with the Iranian central bank, which settles most trade payments, are allowed if they are linked to legitimate trade, for example.
Targeting specific companies accused of financing Tehran's nuclear proliferation activities also means that firms can evade sanctions by spinning off new ones.
Britain is pushing for a ban on trade with Iran in any energy-related sector, which could help close such loopholes.
"The Iranians spin out new companies and the Europeans play catch-up. It would be more effective to have a blanket ban," said Mark Dubowitz, head of the non-profit Foundation for Defense of Democracies in the United States, which pushes for tough sanctions on Iran.
Diplomats said talks between the EU's 27 members are at a preliminary stage, meaning new proposals are expected. But discussions will likely be heated, with many capitals concerned about the impact of any new sanctions on economies battered by a three-year debt crisis.
"The debate should intensify in the coming week," one EU diplomat said. "There are various suggestions and nothing has been agreed."Available at: http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/09/26/eu-iran-sanctions-idINL5E8KPAX720120926
Iran appears to be making headway in building a research reactor that could yield potential nuclear weapon material, adding to Western concerns about Tehran's atomic aims, experts and diplomats say.
The West's worries about Iran are focused largely on underground uranium enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow, but it is also pressing ahead with construction of a heavy-water reactor near the town of Arak, which analysts say could produce plutonium for nuclear arms if the spent fuel is reprocessed.
Iran now plans to bring Arak on line in the third quarter of 2013, moving up its timetable from 2014, according to the latest U.N. information, although there is uncertainty whether it will be able to meet that target date.
Iran, rejecting Western allegations it seeks to develop a capability to assemble atomic arms, says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and that the reactor will produce isotopes for medical and agricultural use.
"There is no reason to seriously doubt Iran's resolve to complete this project on time and begin operating the reactor," said Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank.
Most of what is needed is "dual-use, off-the-shelf equipment that Iran can buy all over the world using the procurement network it has set up" for its nuclear program, he said.
A U.N. report last month on Iran's nuclear program, which made headlines because it showed a doubling of the uranium enrichment capability at Fordow, suggested Tehran was also carrying out new work at Arak.
The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said cooling and moderator circuit piping was being installed when inspectors visited the Arak facility in early August.
"They are certainly continuing to make progress on the reactor," one Vienna-based diplomat said. "As long as we still don't trust Iran's nuclear intentions, even the elimination of its enrichment capability will not eliminate all the danger."
Israel, believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed state, sees Iran's nuclear program as a serious threat and has ramped up threats of attacking its arch enemy. If it does, the nuclear sites at Natanz, Fordow and Arak in central Iran are likely to be among the targets.
U.S. President Barack Obama this week warned Iran he would do what it takes to prevent it from getting nuclear weapons.
The European Union this month said it was "deeply worried" Iran had not suspended activity at the Arak facility, which like other nuclear sites is monitored by U.N. inspectors to ensure there is no diversion of nuclear materials.
In August, German prosecutors said police had arrested four men suspected of delivering valves for the heavy-water reactor, breaking an embargo on such exports to Iran.
If operated optimally, the heavy-water plant would produce about 9 kilograms of plutonium annually, or enough for about two nuclear bombs each year, said the Institute for Science and International Security, a U.S.-based think-tank.
"Before it could use any of the plutonium in a nuclear weapon, however, it would first have to separate the plutonium from the irradiated fuel," it added on its web site.
Iran has announced it has no plans to reprocess the spent fuel, the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank said in report last year.
But Mark Fitzpatrick, director of its non-proliferation and disarmament program, said "similarly sized reactors ostensibly built for research" have been used by India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan to make plutonium for weapons.
Given Iran's "record of delays with other major nuclear facilities and the sanctions and export controls that have impeded access to foreign parts, it is very doubtful that the 2013 deadline will be met", he said.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/26/us-nuclear-iran-reactor-idUSBRE88P0PJ20120926
1. N. Korea's Nuclear Standoff Tops Agenda at Security Forum in China
Yonhap News Agency
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Long-standing tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons program will top the agenda of an annual security conference that brings together all key regional players committed to resolving the communist country's nuclear drive, a diplomatic source said Wednesday.
The Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD) will draw government officials and civilian experts from South Korea, North Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia in this eastern Chinese port city of Dalian on Thursday and Friday.
Organized by the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, the NEACD has served as an opportunity for informal dialogue between North Korea and its nuclear negotiation partners. Last year's meeting was held in Hawaii, but North Korean officials did not attend.
"This week's forum is expected to reaffirm existing stances over North Korea's nuclear issue," the source said on condition of anonymity.
Lee Do-hoon, South Korea's deputy chief envoy to the six-party talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons program, will attend the forum. Other nations are expected to send their deputy chief nuclear envoys to the conference.
Choe Son-hui, a deputy director in North Korea's foreign ministry, arrived in the Chinese city on Wednesday. She is expected to participate in the forum, according to Seoul's foreign ministry sources.
Choe, the adopted daughter of the communist nation's Premier Choe Yong-rim, serves as the North's vice representative of the six-party talks.
She was accompanied by several other officials, including Han Song-ryol, Pyongyang's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, the sources added.
Formal six-party talks between the six nations were last held in late 2008 and diplomatic efforts to resume negotiations have been frozen since April, when North Korea defiantly launched a long-range rocket that failed moments after lift-off.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2012/09/26/29/0301000000AEN20120926003351315F.HTML
1. Lawmakers Seek to Delay Nuclear Relicensing Requests
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Applications to relicense aging nuclear reactors would be delayed until the power plants are closer to retirement age and safety conditions are better known, under legislation introduced on Wednesday by two U.S. congressmen.
U.S. Representatives John Tierney and Edward Markey, both Massachusetts Democrats, said their proposal - the Nuclear Reactor Safety First Act - would provide "greater certainty" over the safety of older nuclear plants, according to a release.
The proposal would prevent the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from granting a renewal of a nuclear facility operating license to a plant that applies more than 10 years before the current license is set to expire.
Of the 13 reactors currently seeking license extensions at the NRC, nine have licenses that do not expire for more than a decade.
The proposed legislation, if adopted, would have little immediate impact as the NRC has suspended issuing final decisions to renew licenses or grant new reactor licenses while it decides how to move forward with the controversial question of spent nuclear fuel, a delay some industry sources expect to last at least two years.
U.S. reactors were licensed to operate for 40 years and are allowed to apply to the NRC for a 20-year license extension.
Tierney and Markey cited problems at NextEra Energy Inc's 22-year-old Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire as an example of a plant where problems with concrete degradation were identified during the license renewal process.
Seabrook's license won't expire until March 2030.
In May, the NRC sent a letter to NextEra confirming the company's plan to address the concrete degradation problem at Seabrook.
"It seems crazy that the NRC would even consider relicensing aging nuclear plants more than a decade before its license expires," said Tierney in the release. "As these facilities age, safety concerns inevitably arise."
The bill would ensure that licensees are evaluated for renewal within a reasonable time frame and not 20 years before a license expires, Tierney said.
The NRC's relicensing review process usually takes about three years but can take longer when public hearings are held. The longest relicensing review took six years.
A spokesman for NextEra said the current 20-year time frame for filing license renewal applications is appropriate.
"This time frame provides certainty for companies like ours to make major investments in plant upgrades and improvements that benefit the long-term health and safety of the plant," said Michael Waldron of NextEra.
Markey, a nuclear industry critic, said the legislation would ensure that "the effects of aging on America's nuclear power plants are more well-known before granting any license extensions."
"Allowing the NRC to give a 60-year-long clean bill of health to reactors that are in their nuclear adolescence, especially one with documented safety issues such as Seabrook, is like allowing a doctor to assure a 20-year-old smoker they will never get lung cancer," said Markey.
The nuclear industry's trade group said the proposal would unnecessarily constrain nuclear owners' plans to provide affordable power without enhancing safety.
"Operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. are kept safe regardless of their age," said Tony Pietrangelo, senior vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington DC. "Nuclear plants must continuously meet strict safety standards, no matter how long they have been operating."
The NRC has approved license extensions for 73 of the nation's 104 reactors. No relicensing requests have been denied.
The NRC is currently reviewing licenses extensions for reactors operated by Exelon, Entergy Corp, Duke Energy, PG&E Corp, FirstEnergy and others.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/26/us-utilities-nuclear-idUSBRE88P1ID20120926
2. Nuclear Energy Capacity Growth Slowing after Fukushima-IAEA
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The U.N. atomic agency cut its forecast for nuclear energy growth for a second year as the industry continued to feel the effect of the Fukushima disaster in Japan and said most of the expansion would be in Asia.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said its projection for global nuclear generating capacity by 2030 was down between one and nine percent compared with last year.
Against expectations before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the projections are between eight and 16 percent lower.
The IAEA said on its website that overall capacity would grow between 25 and 100 percent by 2030, depending on a wide range of factors such as global economic growth.
"Continuing growth in nuclear power following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident is expected, however at a rate lower than estimated a year ago," the IAEA said.
Most of the expansion is expected to take place in Asia, including China and South Korea, it said.
Since the meltdowns at Fukushima which sent radiation spewing over large areas, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium have decided to move away from nuclear power.
The IAEA said global nuclear power capacity was expected to grow to between 456 gigawatts and 740 GW by 2030 compared with 370 GW now.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/26/nuclear-energy-growth-idUSL5E8KQ41E20120926
3. China Nuclear Reactor Program to Resume in Fourth Quarter: Report
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China's ambitious reactor building program is set to resume in the fourth quarter following a suspension imposed after Japan's March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, official media reported on Wednesday.
The Shanghai Securities News, citing government sources, said new safety regulations were about to be published, paving the way for China to launch new projects for the first time since an earthquake and tsunami left the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex in northeast Japan on the verge of meltdown.
Following the disaster, the Chinese government suspended construction at all nuclear power projects and ended all new project approvals pending a nationwide safety inspection, and it also promised to "adjust and improve" its plans for the sector.
Before the disaster, Beijing had been expected to set a new 2020 nuclear capacity target of more than 80 gigawatts, but that target is now expected to be scaled back. China's current total nuclear installed capacity stands at 12.57 gigawatts.
Shanghai Securities News said China's Ministry of Environmental Protection had already started accelerating the approval process for the nuclear sector.
It also said the second phase of the Sino-Russian Tianwan nuclear project in Jiangsu province on the eastern coast was certain to start construction in December.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/26/us-china-nuclear-idUSBRE88P02W20120926
Nearly 90 kilograms of high-enriched uranium (HEU) fuel has been returned to Russia from Poland's only operating research reactor, which is now running on low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel.
A total of 27 kilograms of fresh HEU fuel and 61.9 kilograms of used HEU fuel have been shipped from Poland's Maria reactor to Russia in a secure operation under the supervision of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. The return of the fuel to its country of origin, and the conversion of the reactor to LEU fuel, has been carried out under the auspices of the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI).
Maria, a 30 MWt pool-type research reactor, is located at Swierk near the town of Otwock. It has operated since 1974, and carries out a variety of research functions as well as manufacturing radioisotopes for medicinal, research and industrial use. Like many of the world's research reactors, Maria - named in honour of Polish-born Marie Curie - was originally built to run on HEU fuel enriched to over 20% uranium-235. However, HEU fuel presents a possible proliferation risk, as uranium at 20% enrichment could potentially be used to make a crude nuclear weapon. The GTRI is the latest evolution of international efforts seeking to reduce this risk by converting research reactors to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel and repatriating spent and unused HEU fuel to its country of origin - either the USA or Russia - for secure storage and ultimately disposal.
The NNSA worked with Poland's National Centre for Nuclear Research (NCBJ) to complete the conversion of Maria to LEU fuel by providing technical, analytical and licensing support. The HEU that has been returned from Poland to Russia will be downblended to LEU fuel for use in civilian nuclear power plants. LEU is not suitable for making a nuclear weapon, and so is not seen as a proliferation risk.
NNSA deputy administrator Anne Harrington described the conversion of the reactor to LEU fuel and the removal of nearly 90 kilograms of HEU as "significant achievements" in the administration's efforts to ensure HEU "cannot fall into the wrong hands."
The consignment of spent and fresh HEU fuel is the second to be returned from Poland to Russia under GTRI. Over 450 kilograms of used and fresh fuel from Maria and the shut down Ewa research reactor was returned to Russia in 2010 in a major operation involving five separate shipments.
Maria can now join NNSA's list of 82 reactors around the world that have either converted to LEU fuel or are verified as shut down.
Available at: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-Non-proliferation_milestone_for_Polish_reactor-2709127.html
A nuclear power partnership of General Electric Co. and Tokyo-based Hitachi Ltd. received federal approval Tuesday to build the first plant to enrich uranium for use in commercial reactors using a classified laser technology.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a license to General Electric-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC to build and operate a uranium enrichment plant near Wilmington deploying the laser technology instead of costlier centrifuges.
Nuclear weapons control advocates fear that allowing companies to use the cheaper and easier technology could increase the risk it falls into the wrong hands.
"We think the approval of the license was done without due consideration of proliferation," said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist in the global security program of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "We're already grappling with how to cope with Iran's nuclear enrichment capability" and the laser technology "could make the problem of global proliferation intractable and uncontrollable."
GE Hitachi said it hasn't yet decided whether the project will be profitable enough to launch construction of the $1 billion plant. Part of the evaluation will be weighing whether markets for enriched uranium will hold for years into the future, spokesman Christopher White said.
But the company assured its hold on the classified technology proposed by the Australian company Silex Systems is secure.
"The company has worked with the NRC, the U.S. departments of State and Energy and independent non-proliferation experts for several years to ensure the security of this technology and has met — and in many cases exceeded — all regulations pertaining to safeguarding this technology," GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy said in a statement.
The NRC license allows GE Hitachi to enrich uranium to 8 percent by weight. Uranium is enriched to 90 percent purity to build atomic bombs.
The United States and five other world powers have imposed sanctions on Iran because it has enriched uranium to 20 percent, a level that could be turned into weapons-grade material much more quickly than power-plant fuel.
The technology could enhance America's energy security because a majority of enriched uranium made to fuel the country's 104 operating nuclear reactors comes from foreign or government-aided sources, the company said.
"It could provide a steady supply of uranium enriched right here in the U.S. to the country's nuclear reactors," Global Laser Enrichment chief executive officer Chris Monetta said. "These reactors provide approximately 20 percent of the nation's electricity today and will continue to be an important part of the energy mix for decades to come."
The NRC said it would conduct inspections during the plant's construction and operation and hold a public meeting in Wilmington before construction begins to explain its oversight plans.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jYXlG9mgQplwMHp1q-H6C7WL5ywQ?docId=a592ea76387c474abe905d793e05e706
Newly signed contracts have seen one of Areva's largest ever uranium orders, which will help to secure over 20 years' fuel supply for EDF's reactors.
According to a joint statement from the two French companies, Areva will supply more than 30,000 tonnes of natural uranium to EDF for the period from 2014-2035. The companies have divulged no details on the value of the contracts, which follow on from a long-term partnership agreement announced in January.
The chiefs of both companies declared their delight: Areva CEO Luc Oursel said they were proof of the trust placed in his company by "EDF, our leading customer and partner", while EDF chairman and CEO Henri Proglio said the deals represented an essential contribution to the company's security of supply and demonstrated "the unity of the French nuclear sector."
Since December 2011 Areva has been pursuing a long-term action plan to turn the company around from mounting losses following on from difficulties with reactor construction projects in Finland and France, the downgrading of its uranium assets in Namibia and the market effects of the Fukushima accident. Dubbed 'Action 16', the plan has already led to higher than expected first-half earnings for 2012 and a revision to the company's 2012 forecast.
French energy policy has relied on its nuclear power stations since an energy transition in the 1970s built up the sector to provide some 75% of the country's electricity. However, May 2012 saw Francois Hollande voted in as President of France with a campaign manifesto proposing to reduce nuclear's share of the country's energy mix and pledging to close the oldest nuclear power plant at Fessenheim. Hollande recently confirmed that Fessenheim will close at the end of 2016, and a national debate is to be launched later this year to discuss a new French energy transition, presumably away from nuclear power this time. The findings from the debate will inform a new energy policy bill expected in mid-2013.
Available at: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Fuel_deal_by_French_nuclear_giants-2509127.html
1. Dumped Russian Nuclear Sub Shows No Radioactive Leaks, but still Presents Chain Reaction Dangers, Research Says
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A group of 16 Russian and Norwegian researchers who sailed to take measurements surrounding a Russian nuclear submarine that was scuttled for nuclear waste off the coast of the former Soviet nuclear test archipelago Novaya Zemlya in the Kara Sea have found no radioactive leaks, Norwegian radiation authorities said today.
Per Strand, a director at the Norwegian Radiation Protection agency told Bellona, however, that the primary purpose of the expedition, which returned today, was to inspect the possibility of an uncontrolled chain reaction aboard the K-27 Russian nuclear submarine, which was sunk in 50 meters of water in Novaya Zemlya’s Stepovogo Bay in the Kara Sea as nuclear waste in 1981.
“The Russian side indicated there might be a hypothetical possibility that spent nuclear fuel in the reactor in extreme situations could cause an uncontrolled chain reaction, which can lead to heat and radioactivity releases,” Strand said in a telephone interview from Kirkeness.
The K-27, was dumped by the Soviet Navy in 1981, with spent nuclear fuel packed in its reactors, after a 1968 reactor leak aboard the killed nine sailors. The navy tried to repair it before deciding to seal the nuclear units and sinking the sub.
The researchers also examined some 2000 containers of various kinds of radioactive waste that were dumped in Stepovogo Bay, but found no increase in radiation since the site was last inspected in 1994. In fact, according to Hilde Elise Heldal, levels of cesium-137 are slightly lower than they were the last time they were measured 18 years ago, but are still higher than background radiation, she told th Barents Observer.
"We measured less than 5 Becquerel per kilogram of Cesium-137 in the sediments near the submarine,"she said.
Authorities in Russia and their counterparts in Norway, which lies about 965 kilometers to the west of the sunken sub, need to make a decision about a safe disposal of the K-27, which was the top priority of the expedition, Strand said.
Strand said that the joint research team aboard the Ivan Petrov research vessel took sediment, plant and sea life samples.
They also used a mini submarine to take photos of the K-27’s condition. Though emphasizing that all data collected is preliminary, Strand said it would “contribute to making decisions about whether the submarine needs to be lifted out of the water” for safer storage. No experts that could assess the feasibility of lifting the vessel were along on the expedition.
“For now, the first priority will be the development of environmental impact studies based on the information we have collected to judge the feasibility of lifting the submarine,” he said.
Norway’s number one focus for the moment, said Strand, will be developing an effective system of countermeasures should a chain reaction occur aboard the K-27.
The dilema for salvage experts at the moment is weather lifing the submarine might not cause jostling, which also could trigger radiation leaks or a chain reaction.
The joint expedition – the first of its kind in 18 years – was launched after Russian authorities gradually released in August to the NRPA a catalogue of nuclear waste dumped at sea by Soviet and Russian authorities over a period of decades ending in the early 1990s.
Included in the radioactive materials dumped into the Kara Sea were 19 ships containing radioactive waste; 14 nuclear reactors, including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel; 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery; 17,000 containers of radioactive waste, and the K-27 nuclear submarine.
But neither Strand nor Bellona’s Igor Kudrik, an expert on Russian Naval nuclear waste issues, believe this is a complete accounting of the waste.
Indeed, acknowledged Bellona President Frederic Hauge, a precise accounting from the Russian side could hardly be expected given Russia’s own ignorance of the extent of the dumped radioactive waste.
That the expedition focused nearly exclusively on the integrity of the K-27 when there are so many other objects to check, underscores that the concern of a chain reaction aboard the scuttled submarine is very real, said Kudrik.
“The focus on K-27 shows that the concern for the possibility of chain reaction developing in the reactors of the submarine is well-founded,” he said.
“The Russians dismantled several reactors with liquid metal coolant of the same type as those aboard the K-27 – which were stored on shore – and gained a knowledge that rang the alarm bells,” said Kudrik, adding, “further steps should include analyses of the probability of such a worst case scenario, and an evaluation of whether it is possible to lift the submarine.”
The K-27 was the only sub of its class ever produced by the Soviet Navy, and was powered by two lead and bismuth cooled reactors, which solidified when the reactors were switched of. This presents special difficulties for removing the highly enriched uranium fuel within the, as the fuel rods are now apart of the metal of the reactor itself, which means they cannot be removed by conventional means.
The perceived advantage to liquid cooled reactors were that they reduced the size of the reactor unit that needed to be placed aboard the submarine.
Liquid metal cooled reactors later made their appearance in Soviet project 705 Alfa Class attack subs, the first of which was commisioned in 1971. The last of the seven Alfa Class subs was commissioned in 1981. All Alfas were takne out of service by 1990.
Preeminent Russian environmentalists Alexei Yablokov, who published research on radioactive waste near Novaya Zemlya in 1992 as former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s chief environmental advisor, urged that the submarine be lifted Tuesday.
“K-27 is a dangerous object and there are plans to lift it from the sea bottom for proper disposal,” Yablokov said in remarks to the Bloomberg news agency today. “Technically it’s possible.”
Financing from the French Commissariat for Atomic Energy to provide decommissioning equipment for the liquid metal cooled reactors about the Alfa subs – the K-27s cousins – was installed at the Gremikha former naval base on the eastern portion of the Kola Peninsula.
Last year, the last of the Alfa reactor cores was removed and taken away for storage, the Barent’s Observer reported, opening the possibility that the French financed equipment could be used to removed theK-27s damaged core.
But anonymous sources at Gremikha warned that time is crucial as the reactor-core removal equipment is ageing, said the paper.
Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for the state run nuclear corporation Rosatom, which oversees Russia’s nuclear industry, wasn’t available to comment following calls to his office and mobile phones. Anatoly Zakharchev, the head of the submarine decommissioning unit at Rosatom, was also unavailable for immediate comment.
Preliminary analysis presented today suggested the enormous nuclear waste finds should not – in their current condition – impede Arctic oil exploration provided companies steer clear of the shallows surrounding Novaya Zemlya.
Norway’s Statoil and Eni SpA of Italy have set up joint ventures with Russian oil giant Rosneft to explore in the Russian area of the Barents Sea, a larger body of water next to the Kara Sea, where the Soviet Union also dumped waste. The partners are targeting about 15 billion and 26 billion barrels of oil and gas resources respectively.
Statoil spokesman Bård Petersen told Bellona today in a telephone interview that,” barring any new revelations regarding the radioactive sources, I do not think they will pose difficulties in the progress of our exploratory progress” with Rosneft.
He did say, however, that Statoil would monitor the discoveries made by the joint Norwegian-Russian expedition.
Bellona’s Kudrik said the financial responsibility for cleaning up the radioactive dump at the bottom of the Kara Sea rests with the Russian government. But he suggested big oil should assist in accelerating the process by lending its offshore expertise.
“Oil companies should make sure that the area is swiped clean of nuclear waste before they start any oil exploration activity,” said Kurdrik. “In the worst-case scenario – that is, an uncontrolled chain reaction in the reactors of K-27 – radiation will spread in the Kara Sea and create major difficulties for any industrial activity.”
When the NRPA last month received the extensive list of radioactive hazards litering the floor of the Kara Sea, many in Norway viewed the disclosures in the documents as a veiled cry from Russia for international aid.
In his remarks to Bellona, the NRPA's Strand did not rule out the possibility that Norway may again be called upon to provide financial assistance should research based on the results of the expedition show that lifting the K-27 is feasible. Norway has thus far invested some $200 million in Russian nuclear remediation projects.
Norwegian Foriegn Minister Torgeir Larsen two weeks ago told the Barents Observer that his ministry was open to providing Russian with "inter-survey and risk assements" associated with lifting the vessel, but consigned that responsibility to the Russian side.
Available at: http://www.bellona.org/articles/articles_2012/submarine_research_trip
2. New Nuclear Watchdog to Dump Reactor Stress Tests
The Japan Times
(for personal use only)
Japan's new nuclear watchdog plans to disregard the stress tests used by its predecessor for the reactor reactivation process because it plans to create fresh criteria for the task, Nuclear Regulation Authority chief Shunichi Tanaka said Monday.
"We will not use 'stress tests' as our judgment criteria," Tanaka said in an interview, referring to the two-stage safety examination that the government slapped together to push through reactor restarts in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in March last year, fearing summer power outages.
Utilities seeking to restart reactors have already submitted the results of their first-phase stress tests to the NRA's predecessor, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. NISA was to check the results.
Of the nation's 50 viable commercial reactors, results on 30 have been submitted. In July, Kansai Electric Power Co.'s two reactors at the Oi power plant in Fukui Prefecture became the first to be reactivated since the crisis.
But Tanaka's remarks mean the utilities will have to go back to square one to restart their reactors.
Tanaka emphasized that he has "no intention" to decide on whether the stress test results so far submitted are proper.
The NRA, launched earlier this month as part of efforts to improve regulation in light of the Fukushima crisis, plans to formulate new safety standards within 10 months.
Available at: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120925c1.html
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