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Nuclear News - 1/24/2013
PGS Nuclear News, January 24, 2013
Compiled By: Pia Ulrich

A.  North Korea
    1. N Korea Warns of Nuke Test, More Rocket Launches, Hyung-Jin Kim, Associated Press (1/24/2013)
    2. Russia Urges North Korea to Abide by Nuclear, Missile Rules, Reuters (1/23/2013)
B.  Iran
    1. Russia Urges Iran to Speed Up Nuclear Cooperation, AFP (1/23/2013)
    2. Iran Suggests Cairo for Nuclear Talks with Powers: ISNA, Reuters (1/23/2013)
    3. Iran Nuclear Power Plant Stokes Worries Closer to Home, too, Yeganeh Torbati, Reuters (1/23/2013)
C.  Nuclear Cooperation
    1. Rosatom Strengthens Positions on US Nuclear Market, Polina Chernitsa, Voice of Russia (1/22/2013)
D.  Nuclear Energy
    1. Japan Faces Nuclear Shutdown for Second Time Since Fukushima, Aaron Sheldrick, Reuters (1/24/2013)
    2. Unions Team Up for Fessenheim, World Nuclear News (1/23/2013)
    3. Environmental Approval for New Czech Reactors, World Nuclear News (1/23/2013)
    4. First Criticality for Hongyanhe Unit, World Nuclear News (1/22/2013)
E.  Nuclear Safety & Security
    1. France Orders Special Forces to Protect Niger Uranium: Source, Reuters (1/24/2013)
    2. Russia Explores Old Nuclear Waste Dumps in Arctic , Laurence Peter, BBC News (1/23/2013)
    3. Premier Chen Vows to Ensure Nuclear Safety, Taiwan Today (1/23/2013)
F.  Links of Interest
    1. Nuclear Plant Design Needs Blue Sky Approach, World Nuclear News (1/22/2013)
    2. Southern and SCE&G Seek Concrete Answers, World Nuclear News (1/21/2013)

A.  North Korea

N Korea Warns of Nuke Test, More Rocket Launches
Hyung-Jin Kim
Associated Press
(for personal use only)

North Korea's top governing body warned Thursday that the regime will conduct its third nuclear test in defiance of U.N. punishment, and made clear that its long-range rockets are designed to carry not only satellites but also warheads aimed at striking the United States.

The National Defense Commission, headed by the country's young leader, Kim Jong Un, denounced Tuesday's U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea's long-range rocket launch in December as a banned missile activity and expanding sanctions against the regime. The commission reaffirmed in its declaration that the launch was a peaceful bid to send a satellite into space, but also clearly indicated the country's rocket launches have a military purpose: to strike and attack the United States.

While experts say North Korea doesn't have the capability to hit the U.S. with its missiles, recent tests and rhetoric indicate the country is feverishly working toward that goal.

The commission pledged to keep launching satellites and rockets and to conduct a nuclear test as part of a "new phase" of combat with the United States, which it blames for leading the U.N. bid to punish Pyongyang. It said a nuclear test was part of "upcoming" action but did not say exactly when or where it would take place.

"We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the DPRK one after another and a nuclear test of higher level which will be carried out by it in the upcoming all-out action, a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century, will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people," the commission said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words, as it regards jungle law as the rule of its survival," the commission said.

It was a rare declaration by the powerful commission once led by late leader Kim Jong Il and now commanded by his son. The statement made clear Kim Jong Un's commitment to continue developing the country's nuclear and missile programs in defiance of the Security Council, even at risk of further international isolation.

North Korea's allusion to a "higher level" nuclear test most likely refers to a device made from highly enriched uranium, which is easier to miniaturize than the plutonium bombs it tested in 2006 and 2009, said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. Experts say the North Koreans must conduct further tests of its atomic devices and master the technique for making them smaller before they can be mounted as nuclear warheads onto long-range missiles.

The U.S. State Department had no immediate response to Thursday's statement. Shortly before the commission issued its declaration, U.S. envoy on North Korea Glyn Davies urged Pyongyang not to explode an atomic device.

"Whether North Korea tests or not, it's up to North Korea. We hope they don't do it. We call on them not to do it," he told reporters in Seoul after meeting with South Korean officials. "It will be a mistake and a missed opportunity if they were to do it."

Davies was in Seoul on a trip that includes his stops in China and Japan for talks on how to move forward on North Korea relations.

South Korea's top official on relations with the North said Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development is a "cataclysm for the Korean people," and poses a fundamental threat to regional and world peace. "The North Korean behavior is very disappointing," Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said in a lecture in Seoul, according to his office.

North Korea claims the right to build nuclear weapons as a defense against the United States, its Korean War foe.

The bitter three-year war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953, and left the Korean Peninsula divided by the world's most heavily fortified demilitarized zone. The U.S. leads the U.N. Command that governs the truce and stations more than 28,000 troops in ally South Korea, a presence that North Korea cites as a key reason for its drive to build nuclear weapons.

For years, North Korea's neighbors had been negotiating with Pyongyang on providing aid in return for disarmament. North Korea walked away from those talks in 2009 and on Wednesday reiterated that disarmament talks were out of the question.

North Korea is estimated to have stored up enough weaponized plutonium for four to eight bombs, according to scientist Siegfried Hecker, who visited the North's Nyongbyon nuclear complex in 2010.
In 2009, Pyongyang declared that it would begin enriching uranium, which would give North Korea a second way to make atomic weapons.

North Korea carried out underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, both times just weeks after being punished with U.N. sanctions for launching long-range rockets.

In October, an unidentified spokesman at the National Defense Commission claimed that the U.S. mainland was within missile range. And at a military parade last April, North Korea showed off what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Satellite photos taken last month at a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, in far northeast North Korea, showed continued activity that suggested a state of readiness even in winter, according to analysis by 38 North, a North Korea website affiliated with the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

Another nuclear test would bring North Korea a step closer to being able to launch a long-range missile tipped with a nuclear warhead, said Daniel Pinkston, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

"Their behavior indicates they want to acquire those capabilities," he said. "The ultimate goal is to have a robust nuclear deterrent."

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Russia Urges North Korea to Abide by Nuclear, Missile Rules
(for personal use only)

Russia urged North Korea on Wednesday to adhere to restrictions on its nuclear and missile programs, after the U.N. Security Council expanded existing sanctions against Pyongyang over a defiant rocket launch last month.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's remarks added to pressure on Pyongyang to abide by Security Council resolutions which banned Pyongyang from conducting further ballistic missile and nuclear tests.

"We hope our North Korean neighbors will heed the voice of the international community and return to the path of cooperation ... but for this it is necessary to stay within the bounds of the demands made in U.N. Security Council resolutions," Lavrov said.

The Security Council, in which Russia and China hold veto power, unanimously approved a new resolution on Tuesday that condemned violations of previous restrictions and expanded existing sanctions. North Korea responded by saying it would boost its military and nuclear capabilities.

Russia has often balanced criticism of the nuclear activities and missile launches of North Korea, a Soviet-era client state, with calls on the United States and South Korea to refrain from belligerent actions that Moscow says would be counterproductive. But Russia is upset by any defiance of council resolutions.

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B.  Iran

Iran Nuclear Power Plant Stokes Worries Closer to Home, too
Yeganeh Torbati
(for personal use only)

For the Iranian government, the Bushehr nuclear power plant is proof to a world worried about Tehran's intentions that its atomic programme is aimed only at securing a modern, clean energy source for its people.

But for villagers living next to the facility, as well as Arab capitals nearby, the plant poses a potential danger that is less geopolitical and more immediate: the risk of contamination.

"We are extremely worried about our health and the health of our families," residents of the coastal villages of Heleylah and Bandargah wrote in a statement published on a blog in 2010.

"According to international standards, the distance between a nuclear power plant and the nearest residence must be at least one kilometre ... but the distance between the village of Heleylah and this power plant is just six metres!"

Thousands of people live in the two villages 18 km (11 miles) south of the Gulf city of Bushehr, many of them making their living as service workers at the plant.

Residents living near Iran's nuclear-related sites told Reuters in interviews by phone and over the Internet that the government stifles debate on the pros and cons of the programme and where its sites should be located, and has not addressed their questions about what would happen in an emergency.

Iran's Arab neighbours are also nervous. Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates all occupy coastline across from Bushehr, and the plant is closer to five Arab Gulf capitals than it is to Tehran.

Kuwaiti emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah said at a December meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council that Iran should cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency to "ensure the safety of the region's states and its people from any effect of radioactivity".

Iran has repeatedly maintained there are no grounds for concern, a position backed up by Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, whose subsidiary Atomstroyexport built the plant and plans its formal handover to Iran this year.

But a few recent incidents, as well as a lack of transparency, continue to worry both neighbours and experts in global nuclear safety, particularly after the disaster at the Fukushima power plant in Japan, which was caused by an earthquake and tsunami.

Like Japan, Iran is on an earthquake fault line, although the risk of a tsunami in the Gulf is seen as slim.

"It is difficult to have confidence that Bushehr will meet the very high safety standards that should apply to every nuclear power plant in the world in the post-Fukushima era," Edwin Lyman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an e-mail to Reuters.

Iran is the only country operating a nuclear power plant that does not belong to the 75-nation Convention on Nuclear Safety, negotiated after the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl which contaminated wide areas and forced about 160,000 Ukrainians from their homes.

Inspectors from the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, visit the Bushehr plant occasionally to check the nuclear material kept there, but not to conduct safety inspections. The U.N. agency has wider powers when it comes to preventing the spread of nuclear arms than it has to ensure reactor safety in member states.

Western officials and the United Nations have urged Iran to join the safety forum, designed to boost safety through peer review and mutual oversight.

There are some indications of progress.

Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, wrote in a letter to the New York Times on January 15 that Iran has "started the internal legal procedures to accede to the Convention on Nuclear Safety".

In another step that could help allay concerns, Iran has officially requested the IAEA to send an international expert mission to review operational safety at Bushehr, according to a schedule posted on the UN agency's website. Such missions are voluntary for IAEA member states.

One problem is that Iran's nuclear regulatory authority, INRA, is not considered independent by the IAEA because it is contained within the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, Iran's nuclear agency, Lyman said.

"Given the overheated political context of Iran's nuclear facilities, the lack of a regulator independent of the agency for development and promotion of nuclear energy raises questions about its effectiveness," he said.

The United States and some other Western countries believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons and have imposed harsh financial and trade sanctions to try to stop it. Iran denies that is its intent.

But Bushehr is not considered a major weapons proliferation risk by Western states, who are focused on sites where Iran has enriched uranium beyond levels needed to fuel power plants.

An IAEA mission conducted a review of safety regulations at Bushehr in 2010 and recommended that Iran establish INRA as an independent authority, hire more expert technical staff and replace its current ad hoc regulations with a comprehensive national system.

The 1,000-megawatt Bushehr plant, which was connected to the national grid only in September 2011, has had a long and chequered history.

Germany's Siemens started construction in 1975 during the reign of the U.S.-backed Shah, but work stopped after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and it was damaged by air raids in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

After Russian engineers took over the project in the 1990s, the launch was further delayed by disagreements between Tehran and Moscow as well as technical problems. For example in February 2011, concerns that metal particles from the aging parts used in the reactor core may have contaminated the fuel prompted the fuel's removal.

In October 2012, fuel had to be unloaded again and the plant shut down. A Russian nuclear industry source told Reuters in November the shutdown was due to the discovery of stray bolts beneath the fuel cells. Experts said such debris can cause problems by damaging fuel rods, blocking coolant channels and causing overheating, or clogging pipes and pumps.

The plant is now back to 100 percent capacity, Iran said in January.

Iran, as well as officials of Rosatom and its subsidiaries, have repeatedly said the delays at Bushehr were in part due to the need to ensure safety.

"We have always taken every step to ensure safety and are prepared to continue to work with the operator to do everything that is necessary to ensure safety," Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov told Reuters.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in December the procedure was not of particular concern.

"They are taking necessary measures," he said on a visit to Washington. "Removing the fuel is already a measure to remedy the situation, and we have good communication on this issue."

Malcolm Grimston, a nuclear energy expert at Imperial College, London, agreed the Bushehr plant should not be a safety concern as long as proper inspections have been carried out.

But it was important that for any new plant, authorities "put quite a lot of effort into building communication links with local people and letting them understand the context in which the plant operates," he told Reuters.

The nuclear programme is highly politicised in Iran and few officials publicly question its validity.

When emergency official Gholamreza Masoumi spoke to the Mehr news agency in November about health problems among people near Isfahan's Uranium Conversion Facility and the importance of preparing agencies for a nuclear accident, his comments were taken down from the agency's website and denied by other officials.

"It's not totally clear (to us) if the plant has started or not. No one knows what's going on," said Saeed, 22, a college student from Heleylah who, like other Iranians interviewed, did not want his last name used so he could speak freely.

The Bushehr plant has brought some good to the people of Heleylah, Saeed said. Locals can find work as janitors, cooks and other service workers at the plant, and they have access to the hospital built on site.

But many residents feel stuck, said Hassan, 62, who was raised in Heleylah and now lives in the city of Bushehr.

The government has drawn up plans to move residents, but compensation has still not been agreed.

"The villagers want to go to a place where they won't have trouble finding work, and near the centre of the province," he said. "But because there is no appropriate place for them to go, and the government hasn't provided enough money for them to move, people are in limbo."

Saeed said although many in Heleylah would like to leave the area, only about 10 percent have done so.

"Those who could afford to leave, have left."

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Iran Suggests Cairo for Nuclear Talks with Powers: ISNA
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Iran has suggested that the next round of nuclear talks with world powers should take place in Cairo, the ISNA news agency reported on Wednesday, citing the Islamic state's foreign minister.

"When I was in Egypt ... it was suggested that the next meeting be held in Cairo," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying by ISNA on Wednesday. "This issue was welcomed by our dear friends in Egypt and Egypt will consult with the P5+1 for hosting this meeting."

The last round of negotiations between Iran and six world powers, known collectively as the P5+1, over Tehran's disputed nuclear program was held in June 2012 in Moscow. Iranian media last week cited Geneva, Istanbul and "some other cities" as possible locations for talks.

Both Iran and P5+1 - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia - say they want to resume talks.

However, the two sides' priorities diverge: the powers want to curb Iran's work to potentially develop atomic weapons, while Iran wants sanctions scrapped and their "rights" to enrich uranium formally recognized.

Three rounds of negotiations in 2012 failed to achieve a breakthrough in the decade-old dispute, which has the potential to trigger a new Middle East war. Iran denies it is pursuing weapons and says its program is purely peaceful.

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Russia Urges Iran to Speed Up Nuclear Cooperation
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Russia on Wednesday urged Iran to speed up its answers to the UN nuclear watchdog addressing suspicions that Tehran is operating an atomic weapons programme.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said world powers had questions "about what may be -- has been or is -- a military component to the nuclear programme.

"Iran has underscored its desire to fully agree this document (on clearing up the suspicions)," Lavrov told reporters. "We think that our Iranian colleagues could be doing this a little faster."

His comments came as Tehran proposed Cairo as the venue for the next meeting with the so-called "P5+1" -- the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany.

Those talks run in parallel with the ones Iran is holding with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and focus on slightly different issues.

A top Russian official had earlier said that Moscow expected the fourth round of top-level talks Iran has held with the "P5+1" in the past 10 months to happen in Istanbul by the end of February.

Russia has voiced repeated concerns over a lack of dialogue over a contested Iranian programme that most powers believe is focused on developing a nuclear bomb.

The Kremlin has also urged Western powers led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to offer meaningful concessions in return for Iran's formal renouncement of deeper enrichment.

Lavrov on Wednesday once again warned against Western attempts to isolate Iran and expressed dismay that the two sides were still arguing about the proper venue for negotiations.

Iranian media earlier quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying that Tehran had proposed that the next meeting be held in Cairo.

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C.  Nuclear Cooperation

Rosatom Strengthens Positions on US Nuclear Market
Polina Chernitsa
Voice of Russia
(for personal use only)

Rosatom Russia’s NuclearEnergy State Corporation (Rosatom ) is strengthening its positions on the US nuclear market. Tekhsnabexportcompany, which is part of Rosatom, has signed a new multimillion dollar contract under which it is to sell low-enriched uranium to the US.

The new agreement is the 14th for Tekhsnabexport. It envisages direct supplies of low enriched uranium to the US nuclear facilities. Although the company’s subsidiaries have been active on the US market for several years already, until recently Russia’s share was very small. Now the situation is changing fundamentally, Sergey Novikov, an official with Rosatom told the “Voice of Russia”.

"There were serious restrictions for Tekhsnabexport because of the anti-dumping investigation. After 2008 it became possible to sign such contracts. After the investigation was halted Russia’s quota for nuclear supplies in the US is 20% of the market needs. This is a very good share considering the US has the largest park of NPP – more than 100 energy units."

Industry experts stress that the expiration of the HEU-LEU contract in 2013 is even more significant factor for the strengthening of Rosatom positions in the US. This contract was signed in 1993 and aimed to convert 500 metric tons of high-enriched uranium (HEU), the equivalent of approximately 20,000 nuclear warheads, from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons into low-enriched uranium (LEU), which is then converted into nuclear fuel for use in US commercial reactors. Under this contract Russia sold uranium to the US at the price which was lower than on the market.

The experts note that this technology of anti-enrichment of uranium is unique. As of today no other country except Russia has such a technology. The HEU-LEU contract played an important role when the policy of real disarmament was conducted but morally it is outdated.

While the HEU-LEU contract was effective it brought Russia about $12 billion. In difficult 1990-s, this income was an important article in the budget of the national nuclear industry.

Today the situation is different, Rosatom officials stress. About 40% of the US NPPs operated on Russian uranium because the US did not have enough uranium enrichment facilities. But the fuel was not exported under a non-commercial agreement and prices were lower than on the market prices. The new agreement envisages uranium supplies at a market price, though not everyone in the US wants to accept new rules of the game, Sertgey Novikov says.

The anti- dumping investigation regarding Russian companies will be completed by 2025. That means that there will be no restrictions for Russian fuel suppliers. Naturally, the US authorities want providers of these services to develop first of all on their territory. Until recently the US did not have a centrifuge technology for uranium enrichment. US energy companies had to fully import fuel. The recent years saw the establishment of several joint ventures on the territory of the US and uranium enrichment facilities started operating using European technology.

Apart from the projects in the US Rosatom supplies nuclear fuel to NPP in Sweden and has recently reached an agreement on the construction of an uranium enrichment facility in Ukraine. Industry experts also note that the concern which in 2012 acquired 100% of Canada’s Uranium company can count on winning the fight for the Chinese market. In this case Rosatom will become the global leader in supplying fuel for nuclear electricity generation plants.

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D.  Nuclear Energy

Japan Faces Nuclear Shutdown for Second Time Since Fukushima
Aaron Sheldrick
(for personal use only)

Japan may face a total nuclear shutdown in the summer for the second time since the March 2011 Fukushima disaster as the country's two operating reactors close for maintenance and tough new safety checks keep the rest of the fleet offline.

That could force Japan to import even more fossil fuels for power generation, adding to an onerous energy bill that helped push the country into a record trade deficit in 2012.

"It is unlikely that any of the idled reactors will re-start prior to September due to ongoing investigations of seismic issues at certain plants and due to the fact that safety standards have still not been finalized by the Nuclear Regulation Authority," said Tom O'Sullivan, a Tokyo-based energy consultant.

"Local approvals will also be necessary for re-starts, adding a further layer of complication," he said.

The previous Democratic Party of Japan government's decision last June to restart two reactors weeks after the last full shutdown galvanized the country's previously dormant anti-nuclear movement, sparking the biggest demonstrations in decades and contributing to its downfall in elections in December.

Media surveys have shown a majority of Japanese want to abandon atomic energy by 2030, if not sooner, making the decision to restart even reactors deemed safe a risky proposition for the new Liberal Democratic Party government.

Utilities and the government, however, are keen to reduce expensive oil and gas imports. Japan is already the world's top liquefied natural gas (LNG) importer, and volumes rose 11.2 percent to a record 87.31 million metric tons in 2012 from a year earlier, according to government data. That is more than one third of global trade of about 240 million metric tons in LNG in 2011.

Crude oil imports rose 2 percent in 2012 to 3.66 million barrels a day, from a 22-year low in 2011. Thermal coal imports were up 6.5 percent to 107.7 million metric tons.

The NRA, set up in September last year with more independence than its predecessor, this week released a draft of tough new rules that nuclear operators must comply with to get reactors approved for restart. These may delay any restarts further. The NRA say it will finalize the safety standards by July.

"In terms of earthquakes and tsunamis, I'm sure our safety standards will be the toughest in the world," NRA chief Shunichi Tanaka said at a regular news conference on Wednesday.

Tanaka earlier warned the government its three-year deadline to carry out safety checks of reactors is too ambitious.

The only two of Japan's 50 nuclear plants operating are both at Kansai Electric Power's Ohi plant in western Japan, and must be for shut for maintenance 13 months after resuming commercial operations, according to Japanese law.

That means they will be idled by the middle of September, according to Kansai Electric spokesman Takahiro Senoh.

The Fukushima disaster, the worst nuclear accident in the world in a quarter century, prompted the gradual shutdown of all Japan's nuclear reactors until there were none left operating in May 2012, leaving the country without atomic power for the first time since 1970.

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Environmental Approval for New Czech Reactors
World Nuclear News
(for personal use only)

The construction of two more units at the existing Temelin nuclear power plant site will not have a significant environmental impact, the Czech Republic's ministry of environment has concluded.

In July 2008, Czech utility CEZ requested that the Ministry of the Environment conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of two additional reactors at Temelin. It submitted the documents needed by the ministry to conduct that assessment in June 2010, although it has yet decide which reactor model will be used.

The ministry of environment announced that it has now completed its assessment of the EIA for the project, noting that it had been "one of the most demanding and professionally complicated EIA processes in its history."

The EIA covers the construction of two generic third-generation pressurized water reactors, each with a capacity of up to 1700 MWe. It also considers the addition of power lines to the Kocin distribution point and the potential increase in the supply of water to the plant from the Hnevkovice pumping station.

"The Czech Republic must be tough in defending this project and defend the concept of sustainable energy for reasonable prices," he said.

The ministry's assessment of the EIA stipulates 90 conditions which must be met to ensure that the new units meet necessary environmental protection and public health requirements. It said that it was essential that regular consideration is given to any new legal requirements, including further recommendations and international practice in the field of nuclear energy, radiation protection and emergency preparations. This condition, it stated, "ensures that future design preparation of the project will reflect current developments in the area of nuclear energy without relation to the contractor."

The ministry noted that the EIA process was accompanied by substantial participation by non-governmental organizations and the public. In addition to the mandatory public hearings in the Czech Republic, public discussions were held in neighbouring Germany and Austria. More than 60,000 opinions were submitted, the "vast majority consisted in fears connected with the operation of nuclear power sources." All the received opinions were included in the basic documents for the EIA statement.

"During the entire EIA process, thousands of pages of expert studies were prepared, together with analyses, expert reports and other documents, with participation by dozens of experts from the Czech Republic and abroad," the ministry said.

The ministry's EIA statement is not a decision on whether the project should or should not be implemented, but must be used by regional and national authorities when issuing decisions or licences related to the project.

CEZ launched the tender process for the new Temelin units in August 2009 and invited three candidates - Areva; a consortium between Škoda JS, AtomStroyExport and OKB Gidropress; and Westinghouse - in November 2011 to submit bids. All three contenders submitted documentation supporting their respective bids in late June 2012. However, in October, CEZ told Areva that its bid had been disqualified. Areva subsequently lodged a petition with the Czech anti-monopoly office. CEZ expects to select the reactor supplier and sign the construction contract by the end of 2013. The units are scheduled to begin operating in 2023 and 2024.

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Unions Team Up for Fessenheim
World Nuclear News
(for personal use only)

Five trade unions in France have joined forces to oppose the early closure of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant as ordered by President Francois Hollande. The country is in the middle of a debate on an 'energy transition'.

The labour groups met last week and emerged with a statement that they 'unanimously denounce' the policy to close the Fessenheim plant, which they said was 'not based on any technical, economic, social or environmental argument.'

Fessenheim hosts France's two oldest operating nuclear units, and sits on the Rhine, which forms a river border with Germany. The plant passed a major regulatory inspection after 30 years of operation and the Nuclear Safety Authority (Autorité De Sûreté Nucléaire, ASN) granted EDF a license for a further ten years of generation on condition certain engineering upgrades were carried out. This work was said to be proceeding on schedule.

Nevertheless, Hollande made a promise during an environmental conference to close Fessenheim before the end of his first term. He had been elected four months previously having courted Green support and pledging to reduce the use of nuclear power in France to 50% of electricity generation, compared to today's 75%.

Rejecting Hollande's ideas, the unions stated their 'desire to build together a schedule and method to oppose the closure of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant.' Towards this end, the national organisations plan to coordinate with a range of local unions and branches to arrange another multi-party meeting on 21 March.

Until that date, they will not cooperate with Francis Rol-Tanguy, the interministerial delegate charged with stakeholder relations on the controversial shutdown policy. Rol-Tanguy has already been turned away by workers from the gates of Fessenheim. He has also visited the ASN headquarters in Paris, where head regulator Pierre-Frank Chevet explained the lengthy technical and regulatory processes required before committing a power plant to decommissioning.

When appointing Rol-Tanguy, the French government made its plan clear: Fessenheim is to close 'at the end of 2016' and the government will make sure that 'security of supply is maintained in the region, the site is redeveloped and all jobs are preserved.'

The plant produces 1760 MWe and employs around 800 people, with considerably more joining during maintenance and refuelling outages. An open letter from EDF site directors in September last year said the shutdown would be a 'profound injustice', noting, 'Our plants do not relocate, we live with them with our families integrated into areas that are dear to us.'

France is currently in a period of debate over a potential 'energy transition', which could result in consensus for Hollande's plan to reduce levels of nuclear energy to be made law. The first 'information phase' of the debate ran through November and December last year and a 'public participation phase' will now run until April. Recommendations are to come in May, with a new energy bill publishined in June.

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First Criticality for Hongyanhe Unit
World Nuclear News
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Unit 1 of the Hongyanhe plant in Liaoning province in northeast China has moved closer to commissioning by achieving a sustained chain reaction.

The 1080 MWe reactor achieved first criticality on 16 January, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Co (CGNPC) and China Power Investment Corp (CPI) reported.

Construction of Hongyanhe 1 - the first of four CPR-1000 pressurized water reactors (PWRs) currently being built at the Hongyanhe Phase I project - started in August 2007.

Cold testing of the nuclear island of Hongyanhe 1 was successfully completed in October 2012. Since then, further tests have been conducted to check the operation of equipment and instrumentation under normal working conditions, prior to the reactor entering the commissioning phase. Previously scheduled to begin commercial operation by the end of 2012, Hongyanhe 1 now looks set to enter operation this year. All four units at Phase I should be in operation by the end of 2014.

An adjacent site - Hongyanhe Phase II - will comprise two further CPR-1000 units. A ceremony was held in July 2010 to mark the breaking of ground for the two units. However, work on those units was suspended while China reconsidered its plans following the March 2011 accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The Hongyanhe plant is owned and operated by Liaoning Hongyanhe Nuclear Power Co, a joint venture in which CGNPC and CPI each hold a 45% stake, with the Dalian Municipal Construction Investment Co holding the remaining 10%.

The CPR-1000 is the standardized design which is derived from the Areva-supplied PWRs at Lingao and Daya Bay in Guangdong province.

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E.  Nuclear Safety & Security

France Orders Special Forces to Protect Niger Uranium: Source
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France has ordered special forces to protect uranium sites run by state-owned Areva in Niger as the threat of attacks on its interests rises after its intervention against rebels in Mali, a military source said on Thursday.

Areva has been mining uranium in Niger for more than five decades and provides much of the raw materials that power France's nuclear power industry, the source of 75 percent of the country's electricity.

Paris launched air strikes and sent hundreds of soldiers into Niger's neighbor Mali this month to drive back al-Qaeda-linked rebels it said could turn the West African country into a base for international attacks.

The insurgents have threatened to hit French targets across the Sahel region in revenge and, days after the French assault, militants stormed a desert gas plant in Algeria and took hostages.

The military source confirmed a report in weekly magazine Le Point that special forces and equipment would be sent to Areva's uranium production sites in Imouraren and Arlit, but declined to go into further details.

Defence ministry officials declined to comment on the report and Areva said it did not talk about security issues.

Seven workers, including five French nationals, were kidnapped in Arlit by al Qaeda's north African arm AQIM in September 2010. It later released three of the hostages but four French citizens are still being held.

Areva, Niger's biggest single investor, has about 2,700 workers in Niger and is planning to start up a third mine in Imouraren.

The planned startup of production in Imouraren was delayed to 2013 or 2014 from 2012, following the kidnappings and a labor dispute.

An Areva spokeswoman said this month the French government had not asked the company to reduce staffing in Niger. She added Areva has an extensive security plan for its employees and that the plan has been reviewed by the French authorities.

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Premier Chen Vows to Ensure Nuclear Safety
Taiwan Today
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ROC Premier Sean C. Chen said Jan. 22 that the government is committed to ensuring the safety of Taiwan’s Longmen nuclear power plant before allowing it to commence commercial operation.

“The paramount issue regarding Longmen is safety,” Chen said. “We will invite the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and U.K.-based World Association of Nuclear Operators to conduct comprehensive inspections.”

Chen made the remarks during an interview with local daily China Times. He reiterated the ROC government’s rock-solid stance on nuclear safety, adding that the Atomic Energy Council, Ministry of Economic Affairs and state-run Taiwan Power Co. Ltd. will make a professional decision based on USNRC and WANO findings.

Taiwan has three existing nuclear plants—Jinshan and Guosheng in New Taipei City, and Ma-anshan in Pingtung County. Longmen in New Taipei City is still under construction with its commencement date repeatedly pushed back.

Chen, who expressed great confidence in Taiwan’s nuclear safety, dismissed concerns that a Fukushima-style crisis could occur on the island. He said additional inspections and improvement work have been taken to ensure all nuclear facilities incorporate adequate safety controls in the wake of the disaster.

“Based on extensive research, we found that Taiwan’s nuclear safety measures surpass many other nations,” he said. “All our facilities are equipped with two emergency power generators and deep reservoirs, making power outages and a shortage of cooling water impossible to occur.”

The Fukushima crisis was triggered after a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami struck eastern Japan March 11, 2011, knocking out emergency power at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Subsequently, three of the facility’s six reactors melted down, resulting in the largest nuclear disaster since 1986 in Chernobyl, Ukraine.

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Russia Explores Old Nuclear Waste Dumps in Arctic
Laurence Peter
BBC News
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The toxic legacy of the Cold War lives on in Russia's Arctic, where the Soviet military dumped many tonnes of radioactive hardware at sea.

For more than a decade, Western governments have been helping Russia to remove nuclear fuel from decommissioned submarines docked in the Kola Peninsula - the region closest to Scandinavia.

But further east lies an intact nuclear submarine at the bottom of the Kara Sea, and its highly enriched uranium fuel is a potential time bomb.

This year the Russian authorities want to see if the K-27 sub can be safely raised, so that the uranium - sealed inside the reactors - can be removed.

They also plan to survey numerous other nuclear dumps in the Kara Sea, where Russia's energy giant Rosneft and its US partner Exxon Mobil are now exploring for oil and gas.

Seismic tests have been done and drilling of exploratory wells is likely to begin next year, so Russia does not want any radiation hazard to overshadow that. Rosneft estimates the offshore fossil fuel reserves to be about 21.5bn tonnes.

The Kara Sea region is remote, sparsely populated and bitterly cold, frozen over for much of the year. The hostile climate would make cleaning up a big oil spill hugely challenging, environmentalists say.

Those fears were heightened recently by the Kulluk accident - a Shell oil rig that ran aground in Alaska.

But Charles Emmerson, an Arctic specialist at the Chatham House think tank, says Arctic drilling is a "strategic imperative" for Russia, which relies heavily on oil and gas exports.

It is a bigger priority for Russia than Alaskan energy is for the US, he says, because the US now has a plentiful supply of shale gas. That and environmental concerns make the Arctic more problematic for Americans, he told BBC News.

"In the US the Arctic gets great public scrutiny and it's highly political, but in Russia there is less public pressure."

Russia is rapidly developing the energy-rich Yamal Peninsula, on the eastern shore of the Kara Sea. The retreat of Arctic summer sea ice, believed to be evidence of global warming, means liquefied natural gas tankers will be able to reach the far east via Russia's Northern Sea Route in future.

The captain decided to keep going, because if the sub stopped for several hours nobody would survive long enough to get it back to base”

On the western flank is a closed military zone - the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. It was where the USSR tested hydrogen bombs - above ground in the early days.

Besides K-27, official figures show that the Soviet military dumped a huge quantity of nuclear waste in the Kara Sea: 17,000 containers and 19 vessels with radioactive waste, as well as 14 nuclear reactors, five of which contain hazardous spent fuel. Low-level liquid waste was simply poured into the sea.

Norwegian experts and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are satisfied that there is no evidence of a radiation leak - the Kara Sea's radioisotope levels are normal.

But Ingar Amundsen, an official at the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA), says more checks are needed.

The risk of a leak through seawater corrosion hangs over the future - and that would be especially dangerous in the case of K-27, he told BBC News.

"You cannot exclude the possibility that there is more waste there which we don't know about," he said.

Igor Kudrik of the Norwegian environmental group Bellona says there is even a risk that corrosion could trigger a nuclear chain reaction, in the worst-case scenario.

In 2001 the ill-fated Kursk was salvaged and put in a Russian dry dock
With international help Russia did manage to lift the wreck of the Kursk submarine after it sank in the Barents Sea during exercises in 2000. A torpedo explosion and fire killed 118 Russian sailors, in a drama which gripped the world's media. The Russian navy was heavily criticised for its slow response.

But another ill-fated Russian nuclear-powered sub - the K-159 - remains at the bottom of the Barents Sea, in international waters.

And in the Norwegian Sea lies the K-278 Komsomolets, reckoned to be too deep to be salvaged.

Mr Amundsen says Russia is finally giving the radioactive waste problem the attention it deserves, and "we're very happy they are focusing on this now".

K-27 was an experimental submarine - the first in the Soviet navy to be powered by two reactors cooled by lead-bismuth liquid metal.

Disaster struck in 1968, when radioactive gases escaped from one reactor, poisoning crew members who tried to repair it at sea.

This footage from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority shows the K-27 submarine underwater

Nine sailors died of radiation sickness, but the Soviet military kept it secret for decades.

The navy gave up trying to repair K-27 and scuttled it illegally in 1981 off Novaya Zemlya. It lies just 30m (99ft) beneath the surface of Stepovogo fjord - though international guidelines say decommissioned vessels should be buried at least 3,000m down.

Last September a joint Norwegian-Russian expedition examined the wreck with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) equipped with a video camera. Some other nuclear dump sites were also examined and they found no signs of any leak, but the investigations are continuing.

Beyond the Kara Sea, Russia is forging ahead with exploration of the Arctic seabed, collecting data for a claim to areas beyond its waters.

Other Arctic countries are doing the same, aware of the frozen wilderness's importance as the planet's more accessible resources are depleted. A UN body, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)., will adjudicate on the claims.

As if to underline the strategic priorities, Russia is boosting its military presence in the Arctic and the Northern Fleet is getting a new generation of submarines, armed with multiple nuclear warheads

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F.  Links of Interest

Nuclear Plant Design Needs Blue Sky Approach
World Nuclear News
(for personal use only)

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Southern and SCE&G Seek Concrete Answers
World Nuclear News
(for personal use only)

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