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Nuclear News - 1/30/2013
PGS Nuclear News, January 30, 2013
Compiled By: Pia Ulrich

A.  North Korea
    1. Tremors, Gases Will Be Best Proof of NK Nuke Test, Hyung-Jin Kim and George Jahn, Associated Press (1/30/2013)
    2. N. Korea Likely to Conduct Multiple Uranium Boom Tests, Song Sang-ho, Asia News Net (1/30/2013)
B.  Nuclear Safety & Security
    1. European Parliament Safety Ruling to Cost Nuclear Sector $33Bn, Diarmaid Williams, Power Engineering International (1/30/2013)
    2. Taiwan Borrows Wisdom from France's Nuclear Safety Measures, Focus Taiwan News Channel (1/30/2013)
    3. International Experts' Meeting to Discuss Post-Accident Decommissioning and Remediation, IAEA (1/25/2013)
C.  Nuclear Energy
    1. Cost of N-Plant Insurance Rises, Power Engineering International (1/30/2013)
    2. New Milestone for Floating Nuclear Plant, World Nuclear News (1/29/2013)
    3. Westinghouse CEO Expects Japan to Restart Most Nuclear Reactors, Ladka Bauerova, Bloomberg (1/29/2013)
    4. Draft Approval for New Indian Nuclear Site, World Nuclear News (1/28/2013)
D.  Iran
    1. U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Backs Iran's Denial of Fordow Blast, Fredrik Dahl, Reuters (1/29/2013)
E.  Nuclear Cooperation
    1. Belarus, Russia to Sign Nuclear Security Cooperation Agreement on 1 February, Belarusian Telegraph Agency (1/30/2013)
    2. Canada Concerned About Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Intentions, Lee Berthiaume, Ottawa Citizen (1/28/2013)
    3. EU-IAEA Agreed to Establish Ad Hoc Working Groups for Enhancing Cooperation, Karafillis Giannoulis, New Europe (1/28/2013)
F.  Links of Interest
    1. Nuclear Fuel Tax 'Formally Unconstitutional', World Nuclear News (1/30/2013)
    2. NEI Launches Congressional Resource Guide on Nuclear Issues, Power Engineering (1/29/2013)

A.  North Korea

N. Korea Likely to Conduct Multiple Uranium Boom Tests
Song Sang-ho
Asia News Net
(for personal use only)

Experts predict explosion’s power to be close to that of 1945 Hiroshima bomb

As North Korea threatens to conduct a “high-level” nuclear test, speculation has been raised over its method, type, intensity and venue, as well as how far its military nuclear technology has come.

Seoul officials and experts say Pyongyang may conduct an underground test using highly enriched uranium. The first two tests in 2006 and 2009 used plutonium-based fissile material.

They largely concur that the explosive power of a future test will be greater than the past ones given that the communist state seeks to show off its “nuclear deterrence” capability to the international audience and bolster its negotiating power.

“As the North’s previous tests did not have a great political impact with the US downplaying it, Pyongyang could conduct a much stronger test,” An Jin-soo, senior adviser at the state-funded Korea Institute of Nuclear-nonproliferation and Control, told The Korea Herald.

“Pyongyang could conduct multiple tests all at once as India and Pakistan did. The international criticism it would face would be the same anyway, whether it conducts a single test or multiple ones all together.”

An added that the North did not carry out multiple nuclear detonations simultaneously in the past as its stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium was limited.

Since the UN Security Council adopted a new resolution condemning the North’s December rocket launch last week, Pyongyang has hinted at conducting another provocative test through a series of official statements.

Seoul believes the North has already completed preparations for an underground test at the Punggye-ri test site in the country’s northeast, where it carried out the two atomic tests.

“With the current level of preparedness for another test, we judge the North can carry out the detonation experiment at any time. Therefore, we can detect signs of the test or cannot (as there may not be a significant change in activities at the site when the test occurs),” Defence Ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told reporters yesterday.

Stressing the importance of precluding the test, experts said another nuclear test would focus on enhancing the detonation power and technology to miniaturize and lighten warheads.

Some nuclear experts said that in a future test, the North could use a device with the explosive power of up to 15 kilotonnes, close to that of the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped in Hiroshima in 1945. A kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tonnes of TNT.

In the North’s first nuclear test in 2006, its explosive power was about 1 kiloton. Due to its weak explosion, experts evaluated the test as a failure. But the second one recorded the explosion of between 2 kiloton and 6 kiloton, which was regarded as a “half success.”

As to the type of fissile material, experts forecast Pyongyang may use highly enriched uranium rather than plutonium, given that its operation of 5-megawatt reactors ― needed to yield plutonium-based fissile material ― has been halted.

“As Pyongyang is a state whose behaviour is hard to predict, we can’t draw an easy conclusion,” said An of the KINC. “But considering the North can hardly produce additional plutonium and could have secret facilities for uranium enrichment, it is likely that the next test will use HEU.”

As the multilateral aid-for-denuclearisation talks progressed in 2007 and 2008, Pyongyang disabled part of its facilities that yield plutonium. After the six-party talks were suspended in the late 2008, it is thought to have begun restoring the facilities.

As for the North’s stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium, it is believed to have accumulated some 40 kg of plutonium after it reprocessed spent fuel rods at least three times in 2003, 2005 and 2009, according to Seoul officials. To produce one nuclear bomb, around 6 kg of plutonium is required.

Regarding the North’s uranium enrichment programme, Pyongyang has claimed to have some 2,000 operational centrifuges capable of producing some 40 kg of HEU each year. To produce one HEU bomb, more than 15 kg of HEU is required.

To produce warheads mountable on long-range missiles, their miniaturisation remains a critical task for the North.

Since 1980, the North is presumed to have conducted more than 100 experimental high-explosive detonations as well as the two nuclear tests, all of which have helped it gradually enhance its miniaturisation technology.

To mount a nuclear warhead on its SCUD-B missile, the North should reduce its weight to 1,000 kg and its diametre to 90 centimetres, Seoul officials said. Seoul believes the North’s nuclear warhead still weighs some 2-3 tons.

As for foreign examples, the U.S. has developed a nuclear warhead weighing around 110 kg whose explosive power is around 150 kilotonnes, while Russia has a nuclear warhead weighing 255 kg whose power amounts to 200 kilotonnes, according to reports. China’s warhead weighs 600 kg and boasts an explosive power of 200-500 kiloton.

US warheads are mountable on cruise missiles while the other countries’ warheads are mounted on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

To enhance its delivery capability, the North has steadfastly developed long-range missiles under the name of space technology development. The successful launch in December of its rocket indicated that the North’s missile is capable of travelling some 10,000 km to strike the US mainland.

After the North has conducted a nuclear test, South Korea and the US authorities will be able to gain information on the explosive power of its nuclear detonation by analysing seismic waves, sound waves and radioactive gases such as xenon and krypton, experts said.

But they said that confirming the level of miniaturisation technology will be difficult unless one looks into the scale of the actual weapons tested.

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Tremors, Gases Will Be Best Proof of NK Nuke Test
Hyung-Jin Kim and George Jahn
Associated Press
(for personal use only)

With North Korea appearing set to detonate an atomic device, the U.N. agency that detected two previous tests says it is prepared to confirm an explosion when it takes place. But experts say it might be difficult to establish whether the blast is nuclear in nature.

The best indication of a test will be seismic tremors and gases released into the air, phenomena that the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty identified from previous testing.

The Vienna-based organization's most potent detection tools are more than 150 seismic stations across the globe. Although very small in yield, North Korea's first test in 2006 was picked up by the CTBTO, as was a second test in 2009.

Last week, North Korea warned that it plans a third nuclear test to protest toughened international sanctions meant to punish it for firing a long-range rocket in December. The world sees the launch as a ballistic missile test banned by the U.N., while Pyongyang says it launched a satellite into orbit as part of a peaceful space development program.

The U.S., South Korea and their allies have pressed the North to scrap its nuclear test plans, saying it will only worsen the country's decades-old international isolation.

The threats have placed scientists and experts in South Korea on high alert as any test is likely to aggravate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said Tuesday it believes North Korea has nearly completed its nuclear test preparations, confirming satellite analysis last week by the U.S.-Korea Institute, a research group at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed concerns Tuesday about the series of actions the North Korean regime led by new leader Kim Jong Un has taken.

"Let me express my regret, because I think with a new young leader we all expected something different. We expected him to focus on improving the lives of the North Korean people, not just the elite, but everyone to have more education, more openness, more opportunity," she said in a town hall-style meeting in Washington. "And instead, he has engaged in very provocative rhetoric and behavior.

Its satellite images of the Punggye-ri site — where the previous two tests were conducted — show that the North Koreans may have been sealing a tunnel into a mountain where a nuclear device would be detonated. In the event of such an underground nuclear test, both the CTBTO facilities and earthquake monitoring stations in South Korea can detect seismic tremors.

But although this is a strong indication of a test, it is not an absolute confirmation.

An earthquake expert at the state-run Korea Meteorological Administration said his office aims to find out the magnitude of the tremor, the time it started and the exact location on the map within 10 minutes of the explosion. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

Experts also note that artificial earthquakes, such as those created by nuclear explosions, rarely trigger the same wave patterns as natural quakes.

North Korea could still try to deceive and give the impression that it exploded a nuclear device by simply exploding sophisticated conventional weapons that would trigger the same seismic waves produced by a nuclear test, said Chi Heoncheol, an earthquake specialist at the government-funded Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources.

By raising tensions this way, North Korea may hope to wrest concessions or aid in return for promises to scale back its unproven nuclear capability.

"Even if they bring truckloads of high-powered conventional explosives, put them (into an underground tunnel) and explode them, they will generate the same seismic wave and sound wave," Chi said. The only difference is no radioactivity would be detected from the explosion of conventional weapons, he said.

The best course for scientists would be to collect air samples to look for increased radiation but the process could take days. Even if the wind is favorable — and assuming North Korea conducts the test at Punggye-ri in the country's northeastern corner — it will take more than one day for airborne radioactive isotopes like xenon to reach South Korea, according to an official at the government-run Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.

The official, who requested anonymity citing the sensitive nature of the subject, acknowledged it may be impossible for South Korea to confirm a test if the wind doesn't blow southward or if North Korea plugs the underground tunnel so tightly that no radioactive gas escapes.

Both South Korea and the Vienna-based CTBTO confirmed increased radiation levels following the North's 2006 nuclear test but didn't find anything in 2009.

CTBTO spokeswoman Annika Thunborg says that generally speaking it is hard for those conducting nuclear tests to control the escape of noble gases, which is a clear indication of a nuclear test. With her organization's extensive air sampling network, it is less dependent on wind direction than the South Koreans in identifying such traces.

If North Korea decides to conduct a so-called subcritical test, there would be no release of radioactivity at all — but that may be beyond the North's expertise.

A sub-critical test only works on the properties of plutonium but stop short of creating a critical mass, the point at which a self-sustaining nuclear reaction occurs. Such an experiment requires a "very difficult technology" that only a few countries like the U.S., Russia and England have acquired, said nuclear expert Whang Joo-ho of Kyung Hee University.

"I believe North Korea's technology has not reached that level," Whang said.
North Korea said its upcoming atomic explosion will be a "high-level" test and many analysts said that refers to a device made from highly enriched uranium, which gives the country a second source for manufacturing bombs in addition to plutonium.

Whether North Korea detonates a uranium- or plutonium-based device, there won't be much difference in how easily scientists can detect the tests. The only difference is that they produce different radioactive gases, Whang said.

He also said a uranium-based test explosion would mean that North Korea's nuclear stockpile can continue to be enlarged at a time when there is no evidence of continued production of plutonium at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex.

North Korea watchers in South Korea are speculating various dates for a possible nuclear test, with some predicting it could happen as early as this week and others choosing days just before the Feb. 16 birthday of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

There is no way to determine when North Korea will conduct a nuclear test, said analyst Shim BeomChul at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. U.S. spy satellites "can detect objects 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) in size on the ground but they cannot detect what's happening underground," he said.

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B.  Nuclear Safety & Security

European Parliament Safety Ruling to Cost Nuclear Sector $33Bn
Diarmaid Williams
Power Engineering International
(for personal use only)

Nuclear power generators will see their competitiveness tested after the European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee voted that operators will have to pay for all safety upgrades recommended from recent nuclear stress tests.

The ruling also includes responsibility for all costs for which they are liable in the case of a potential accident.

The safety improvements for nuclear power plants in Europe could cost the industry up to $33bn, industry observers have warned.

The ITRE committee's decision reinforces the European Commission and nuclear authorities' assessments on the need for safety improvement of nuclear reactors in Europe, which followed "stress tests" after Fukushima.

However, smaller or older plants could come under greater threat of closure and industry observers told that the safety upgrade recommended by nuclear stress tests could raise nuclear operating costs by around 1 per cent.

It is not yet clear what the implications are for nuclear cost effectiveness compared to other energy sources but small operators might be in difficulty as their profits might not fully cover high safety upgrade costs.

"Nuclear operators will have to take these costs into account," Richard Ivens, institutional affairs director of European nuclear lobby group the European Atomic Forum told

"However, I believe that nuclear operators in Europe will remain competitive, [as power production earnings will cover the safety implementation costs]."

A source close to French nuclear safety authority ASN suggested that EDF might have to spend $6.7bn on safety improvements just in France, which relies on nuclear energy for more than 70 per cent of its power generation. However, no plant in France is expected to be closed as a result from the safety implementation imposed by the stress tests' outcome.

At Thursday’s meeting ITRE also called for new proposals on nuclear insurance and liability to be put forward by the end of 2013. Members of the European Parliament will vote on the resolution on 7 February.

The European Commission plans to present a report on the implementation of stress test recommendations by member states in June 2014.

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Taiwan Borrows Wisdom from France's Nuclear Safety Measures
Focus Taiwan News Channel
(for personal use only)

Taipei, Jan. 30 (CNA) The former chairman of France's independent agency on regulating nuclear safety said Wednesday that Taiwan is applying some of the safety measures France has launched since Japan's nuclear crisis of 2011.

Speaking at a forum in Taipei on nuclear safety, Andre-Claude Lacoste, who stepped down as Nuclear Safety Authority chairman last year, said France has been introducing a series of measures to raise nuclear power safety standards, such as more extensive assessments of nuclear facilities.

Through a close bilateral partnership, he said, Taiwan has applied two out of the 800 new safety requirements France has outlined in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Japan.

The measures include the installation of an emergency cooling water supply and an additional electricity generator for each of Taiwan's nuclear reactors, Lacoste said.

"A continuous improvement process is necessary, in addition to periodic checks on nuclear facilities," Lacoste went on.

His visit comes amid increasingly heated debate in recent weeks on whether Taiwan's controversial fourth nuclear power should begin operating.

Lacoste also delivered a lecture at the forum, which was held at National Taiwan University, as well as meeting with local officials to discuss nuclear power issues. He was set to conclude his Taiwan visit the following day.

The Nuclear Safety Authority is a French independent administrative agency tasked with regulating nuclear safety and radiation protection to protect the public and the environment from the risks involved in nuclear activity.

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International Experts' Meeting to Discuss Post-Accident Decommissioning and Remediation
(for personal use only)

Helping IAEA Member States to protect the public and the environment from harmful radiation is a key mission of the Agency. To support this effort, the IAEA is convening the International Experts' Meeting (IEM) on Decommissioning and Remediation After a Nuclear Accident from 28 January to 1 February 2013. The Vienna meeting is part of the Agency's implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety - endorsed by the Agency's General Conference in September 2011 - and is organized by the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security and the Department of Nuclear Energy.

About 200 experts and government officials are expected to participate in the meeting, which will be chaired by Carl-Magnus Larsson, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. The participants, from more than 35 nations, include radiation safety experts, decommissioning and remediation specialists, regulatory authorities and radioactive waste management experts. Also participating are a number of international organizations, including the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency, the International Commission on Radiological Protection, the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation and the European Commission.

The IEM provides an opportunity for the participants to share lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident and to identify the complex safety, technical, environmental and economic issues that must be considered when managing long-term consequences of a nuclear accident. These issues include decommissioning, environmental remediation and radioactive waste management. The meeting will help Member States to improve their preparations and capacities for managing long-term consequences of a nuclear accident.

The IEM will address the following issues, among others:

National and international frameworks for decommissioning and environmental remediation following accidents; Lessons learned from the dismantling of facilities and remediation of lands and water resources affected by past accidents, including constraints to further progress; Analysis of the decommissioning and remediation challenges that result from a major accident at a nuclear facility;Management of materials and waste resulting from a nuclear accident; The status of characterization, decommissioning and remediation efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi facility and adjacent lands; Optimization of remediation and decommissioning in a post-accident context; and International and national coordination/cooperation.

The IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, consisting of 12 actions and 39 sub-actions, outlines a programme of work to strengthen global nuclear safety. The plan was adopted by the IAEA Member States at the Agency's General Conference in September 2011. Activities include enhancing and strengthening IAEA expert peer reviews, developing more robust and effective national regulatory bodies and protecting people and the environment from ionizing radiation.

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C.  Nuclear Energy

Cost of N-Plant Insurance Rises
Power Engineering International
(for personal use only)

Public liability insurance in the event of a disaster at Sizewell or any other UK nuclear sites is set to be increased from £140million to £1.2billion under plans waiting to be ratified.

But critics claim the amount is still "woefully inadequate" - particularly in view of the cost of damage caused by the Fukushima disaster in Japan two years ago.

Insurance to cover "third party" loss or damage within the impact zone of a nuclear accident in the UK has remained at £140m for some years.

Eight years ago the UK and other signatories to a European convention put forward proposals to oblige operators to increase the cover to 700m euros (£588m).

However, following the Fukushima disaster the proposed amount was increased to £1.25billion euros (just over £1bn) - an amount which would be topped up to 1.5bn euros (about £1.2bn) by signatories to what is known as the Paris and Brussels Convention.

The move was instigated by the UK Government "to ensure that more compensation will be available to a larger number of claimants in respect of a broader range of damage".

The new amounts will be phased in over a five-year period once the agreement has been ratified by all the European signatories, hopefully later this year.

But Suffolk environment consultant Pete Wilkinson, a former member of a Government radioactive waste advisory agency, said: "Even the higher figure represents a derisory amount when compared to the estimated $10-20bn needed for the partial clean- up of the radiological aftermath of Fukushima.

"Thousands of people living in what they consider to be areas safe from the effects of nuclear power may one day have a rude awakening when they are required to leave their homes, possibly indefinitely, and seek compensation which the industry will be unwilling and unable to provide."

Nigel Smith, a Middleton parish councillor and member of the Sizewell Stakeholder Group, said the increased insurance cover was still "woefully inadequate".

An EDF spokeswoman said the company agreed with the changes to achieve consistency across signatory European states.

"However, liability in the event of an incident is only part of the answer," she said. "We believe it is far more important to engineer out the risk of an incident than to simply insure against it.

"Safety is the No. 1 priority for EDF Energy and the nuclear industry and the Government protects the taxpayer best by ensuring through regulation that the highest possible standards of construction and operation are maintained with a view to safety."

The spokeswoman said the insurance requirement on the nuclear industry was "uniquely stringent" compared with other industries.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "A provisional date of December 1 this year has been agreed by the contracting parties for joint ratification but this timetable will be reviewed when the parties meet again in June 2013."

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New Milestone for Floating Nuclear Plant
World Nuclear News
(for personal use only)

The installation of two 300-tonne tanks has taken the project to build Russia's first floating nuclear power plant a step further towards completion.

The tanks, which provide a shielded housing for the reactor vessels and their cooling circuits, were manufactured by Baltiysky Zavod shipyard, which is constructing the plant for Rosenergoatom. They were lowered into the reactor compartment of the Akademik Lomonosov over two days in an operation made complicated by ice on the Neva river. Baltiysky Zavod general director Alexander Voznesensky described the installation of the tanks as a milestone in the project.

Akademik Lomonosov is Rosenergoatom's first-of-a-kind floating nuclear power plant and will contain two 35 MWe KLT-40S nuclear reactors. The vessel's keel was laid in April 2007 at Sevmash in Severodvinsk, but the project was subsequently transferred to the Baltiysky Zavod. The 21,500 tonne hull was launched in 2010, although construction work was frozen in mid-2011 amid bankruptcy proceedings against the shipyard. The company was subsequently acquired by state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation and Rosenergoatom signed a new contract with Baltiysky Zavod shipyard for the completion of the first floating nuclear power plant in December 2012. It is now scheduled for commissioning in 2016.

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Westinghouse CEO Expects Japan to Restart Most Nuclear Reactors
Ladka Bauerova
(for personal use only)

Japan will probably restart most of its atomic reactors within “several years” after the country improved safety at the plants following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown, according to Westinghouse Electric Corp.

“I’m pretty optimistic the Japanese nuclear fleet is going to restart,” Chief Executive Officer Danny Roderick said today in an interview. “It’s going to take several years but I can tell you that the sentiment has changed significantly.”

All but two of Japan’s 50 reactors are shut after a tsunami that led to the atomic crisis at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, forcing 160,000 people to be evacuated from the area. Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who won elections last year are pushing to restart the power stations to ease a shortage of energy supply and help breathe life into the country’s economy.

“The no-go on nuclear is having a severe impact on Japan’s balance of payments,” Mark Hibbs, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment’s nuclear policy program, said by e-mail. “A reversal of Japan’s nuclear policy is no foregone conclusion.”

Any restart will need approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority that’s probing six plants on concerns that they were built on active fault lines. Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga plant may lie on an active quake fault line, the regulator says.

“I’ve met with members of the new government, I’ve also met with a lot of our customers over there, and they’re ready,” Roderick said after a briefing in Prague. “They’ve installed numerous safety modification enhancements, they’ve installed tsunami protection, and now they’re ready to start bringing the units back on line.” Westinghouse is owned by Toshiba Corp.

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Draft Approval for New Indian Nuclear Site
World Nuclear News
(for personal use only)

A new six-unit nuclear power plant at Mithi Virdi in Gujarat will be "environmentally benign and sustainable" while benefitting the region both economically and socially, said a draft assessment on behalf of the proposing company.

The study was carried out for Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) by Engineers India Ltd. (EIL), itself an Indian government-led organisation, to set out to establish baseline environmental data for the project to build up to six imported 1000 MWe light water reactors at the coastal site 40 kilometers from Bhavnagar. It also evaluated potential impacts of the project and formulated environmental management plans for both the construction and operation phase. EIL collected data within a ten-kilometer radius of the site over three seasons (summer, post-monsoon and winter) from December 2010 to November 2011 to prepare its report.

Mithi Virdi received approval in principle from the Indian government as a site for up to six imported 1000 MWe light water reactors in 2009. In 2012 US reactor vendor Westinghouse signed a memorandum of understanding with NPCIL agreeing to negotiate an early works agreement for the construction of up to six AP1000 units at the site. According to the preliminary environmental impact assesment (EIA), the project is not anticipated to have any significant impact on local flora, fauna or human activities. The report details the planned systems to manage gaseous, liquid and solid radioactive wastes and keep discharges below the required limits in normal operation as well as the passive safety design and engineered safety features of the plant.

Based on its findings, the report concluded that the planned Mithi Virdi project would be "environmentally benign and sustainable" and would provide "much needed electricity with minimal environmental impact". It noted that the project will benefit the region generally and contribute to improved social conditions, with NPCIL contributing towards "uplifting" of the surrounding areas and positive impacts including employment, better transport facilities, and improvements to basic education, health and infrastructure in the area.

The power plant project is expected to be completed in three stages, with the first two units pencilled in for completion in 2019-2020, the second two units in 2021-2022 and the final stage completed in 2023-24. The cost is still under negotiation.

Mithi Virdi is one of four sites for which NPCIL is currently involved in pre-project activities. The others are Gorakhpur (Haryana), earmarked for four Indian-designed 700 MWe pressurized heavy-water reactors (PHWRs); Kovvada (Andhra Pradesh), where six GE-Hitachi ESBWR units are planned; and Chutaka (Madhya Pradesh), earmarked for two indigenous 700 MWe PHWRs. A final EIA for the Gorakhpur plant has been submitted to India's Ministry of Environment and Forests for appraisal, while preliminary EIAs are still in preparation for Kovvada and Chutaka.

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D.  Iran

U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Backs Iran's Denial of Fordow Blast
Fredrik Dahl
(for personal use only)

The U.N. atomic watchdog made clear on Tuesday it had seen no sign of any explosion at one of Iran's most sensitive nuclear plants, backing up Tehran's denial of media reports that such an incident had taken place last week.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in an unusual move, made a brief statement after some Israeli and Western media at the weekend reported there had been significant damage at the underground Fordow uranium enrichment facility.

The site is at the centre of Israeli and Western concerns about Iran's nuclear program as the Islamic state refines uranium there to a fissile concentration that takes it closer to potential atom bomb material. Iran denies any such aim.

IAEA inspectors regularly visit Iranian nuclear sites, including the one at Fordow, and the U.N. agency suggested in its comment thatthey had been at the facility after the reports of an explosion there.

"We understand that Iran has denied that there has been an incident at Fordow. This is consistent with our observations," IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said in an emailed statement in response to a question.

The United States said on Monday it did not believe the reports of an explosion at Fordow, which is buried deep underground to protect it against any enemy attacks.

Iran described the news stories as Western propaganda designed to influence upcoming nuclear negotiations.

Wrangling over dates and location have delayed resumption of talks between global powers and Iran aimed at reaching a diplomatic settlement to the decade-old dispute over Tehran's nuclear program and avert the threat of a Middle East war.

In late 2011, the plant at Fordow began producing uranium enriched to 20 percent fissile purity, compared with the 3.5 percent level needed for nuclear energy plants.

This higher level of enrichment represents a significant step towards the fissile concentration that would be needed in any attempt to build atomic bombs.

Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and aimed at producing electricity. It says it needs 20 percent uranium to fuel a medical research reactor in Tehran.

Several U.N. Security Council resolutions have ordered Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment. The Islamic Republic says it is its "right" under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to refine uranium to produce reactor fuel.

Iran has accused Israel and the United States of trying to sabotage its nuclear program through cyber attacks and the assassination of its nuclear scientists. Washington has denied any role in the killings, while Israel has declined to comment.

No government has taken responsibility for the Stuxnet computer virus that destroyed centrifuges at Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility in 2010, but it has been widely reported to have been a U.S.-Israeli project.

Israel, believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed state, has hinted at possible military action against Iran if sanctions and diplomacy fail to resolve the nuclear stand-off.

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E.  Nuclear Cooperation

Belarus, Russia to Sign Nuclear Security Cooperation Agreement on 1 February
Belarusian Telegraph Agency
(for personal use only)

The Belarusian-Russian intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in nuclear security will be signed on 1 February as part of the visit of Director General of the Russian state corporation for nuclear energy Rosatom Mr Sergei Kiriyenko to Belarus, BelTA learned from the corporation.

According to the public press center of the Belarusian Press House, Sergei Kiriyenko will inspect the construction site of the Belarusian nuclear power plant, where the ceremony to start excavating the foundation pit for the second power generating unit will take place.

The Belarusian-Russian draft agreement on cooperation in nuclear security was approved in early January 2013. The agreement envisages various cooperation forms, including the development of the nuclear security infrastructure, security regulation systems, development and improvement of the existing legal framework taking into account requirements and norms of the IAEA, development of the crisis center network in Belarus, training of specialists in nuclear security.

The cooperation agreement is aimed at developing the nuclear security infrastructure in Belarus in connection with the construction of the first NPP in Belarus following the Russian project, ensuring a sustainable and high level of nuclear security, creating effective means of protection against potential radiation threats.

The Belarusian nuclear power plant will have two power generating units with the total capacity of up to 2,400MW (1,200MW each). It will be built at the Ostrovets site in Grodno Oblast. The design AES-2006 has been chosen for Belarus’ first nuclear power plant. The design is fully compliant with international norms and IAEA recommendations. The first power generating unit of the nuclear power plant is scheduled for commissioning in November 2018, with the second one scheduled for July 2020.

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Canada Concerned About Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Intentions
Lee Berthiaume
Ottawa Citizen
(for personal use only)

Canadian officials have expressed private concerns about Saudi Arabia’s nuclear intentions, repeating in internal documents their fears that the Persian Gulf state could try to acquire atomic weapons if Iran managed to acquire the bomb.

The concerns, raised in briefing notes prepared for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in advance of a trip to the Gulf region last March, were cited as a key reason to reject any Canada-Saudi nuclear co-operation.

The warning highlights the fine line the Harper government must walk as it seeks to increase exports of Canadian nuclear technology and materiel such as uranium while at the same time ensuring Canada doesn’t contribute to the spread of nuclear weapons.

Officials noted Saudi Arabia plans to install 16 nuclear reactors worth $80 billion over the next 20 years, and the Gulf state has entered into nuclear relations with a number of countries around the world.

“However, minimal (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards are in place in SA to verify peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” the briefing note reads, “and it has refused to accept strengthened safeguards.

“Many observers question SA’s nuclear intentions, especially if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapons capability,” the note adds. “As a result, SA does not meet Canada’s requirements for nuclear co-operation.”

Iran has been the main focal point when it comes to concerns about nuclear weapons in the Middle East, but a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to the U.S. hinted in December 2011 the Gulf state could build a nuclear arsenal if it found itself caught between a nuclear-armed Iran and Israel.

Saudi Arabia views Iran and its destabilizing role in the Middle East as a major threat, and it has long warned of the potential for conflict if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon.

The Saudi Embassy in Ottawa did not respond to questions Monday afternoon.

The Harper government has made exporting Canadian nuclear technology and uranium a key priority, inking nuclear co-operation agreements with a number of countries, including China, India, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

Exports have surpassed $1 billion, and the government would like to see that grow even further.

Saudi Arabia is also a major commercial partner for Canada in the Gulf region, with two-way trade and investment with the oil-rich kingdom growing substantially over the years.

But Chen Kane, a Washington-based expert on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, said there are major concerns about Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambition.

There is minimal international monitoring within the country, she said, while statements from top Saudi officials have repeatedly indicated the country will pursue nuclear weapons if Iran does the same.

“You actually have statements about it by the highest officials in the country,” she said.

Trevor Findlay, an expert on the nuclear industry and nuclear proliferation at Carleton University, said Saudi Arabia presents a “tricky” case for Canada and other nuclear-exporting countries because of questions about its intentions.

The case highlights the complexities associated with trying to become a major — but also responsible — player in the market, he said.

“Every country struggles with this, and where they find the balance is sometimes different,” Findlay said. “It’s a balance.”

That means Canada doesn’t always comes down hard on the side of non-proliferation, Findlay said, pointing to the recently concluded Canada-India nuclear co-operation negotiations as an example.

“In the case of India, (Canada) clearly pressed India on having stronger safeguards, but in the end they decided they would sell India uranium,” he said.

Meanwhile, Baird’s briefing notes also show the minister planned to lobby Saudi Arabia and Qatar to increase oil production in their respective countries to further isolate Iran.

This was after the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran’s energy sector after repeated refusals on the part of the Islamic republic to open its nuclear program to international scrutiny.

Officials were worried that a major increase in the price of oil would simply drive Iran’s existing customers such as China to rely even more on the Islamic republic for cheap energy — thereby negating the sanctions’ impacts.

“Your meetings with Saudi Arabia and Qatari counterparts will provide you with an opportunity to urge them to increase their oil production to offset the restrictions on Iranian exports with a view to stabilizing oil prices and in isolating Iran in the region,” the note reads.

“Spikes in international oil prices undermine international sanctions efforts as they permit Iran to benefit financially,” the note reads.

The notes also raise concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, and indicate relations were at least temporarily strained after a pro-industry advocacy group sought to convince U.S. consumers in 2011 that buying Canadian oil was more ethical than buying from the undemocratic Saudi kingdom.

“The ‘Ethical Oil’ media campaign was a private initiative which was not supported by the Canadian government,” Baird was instructed to say if the issue came up during a meeting with his Saudi counterpart.

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EU-IAEA Agreed to Establish Ad Hoc Working Groups for Enhancing Cooperation
Karafillis Giannoulis
New Europe
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On 25 January, officials from EU and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agreed the establishment of ad hoc working groups for ensuring enhanced cooperation in joint activities.

According to the press release, the priorities areas for future joint actions are: (i) Strengthening Nuclear Safety and Security cooperation by finalising a Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Safety by Summer 2013 and promoting coordination and cooperation between EU CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) Centre of Excellence and the IAEA Network of Nuclear Security Support Centres); (ii) Expanding collaboration in Science, Research and Innovation (including Fusion Technology), in Technical Cooperation, Nuclear Applications; (iii) considering joint activities in the field of Human Health (such as Cancer Therapy, Nutrition), Water Management and Environmental Protection; (iv) enhancing project impact.

The meeting was held in Brussels, and it was the first ever Senior Level meeting bringing together officials from IAEA and from the European External Action Service and other EU Commission directorates. In detail, the meeting was co-chaired by Senior Commission and EEAS officials (Acting Deputy Director-General Peter Faross, Directorate-General for Energy; and Managing Director Mara Marinaki, European External Action Service) on the EU side and Assistant Director General for Policy, Mr. Rafael Grossi, on the IAEA side.

The next Senior Officials Meeting will take place towards the end of 2013.

Moreover, IAEA will convene the International Experts' Meeting (IEM) on Decommissioning and Remediation After a Nuclear Accident from 28 January to 1 February 2013. The meeting will take place in Vienna and is part of the Agency's implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety.

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F.  Links of Interest

Nuclear Fuel Tax 'Formally Unconstitutional'
World Nuclear News
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NEI Launches Congressional Resource Guide on Nuclear Issues
Power Engineering
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