1. Lack of Data Shrouds Nature of N. Korea Nuclear Test
Jung Ha-won, JoongAng Daily
(for personal use only)
Urgent efforts to find out the type of device detonated in North Korea's latest nuclear test appeared to be getting nowhere Thursday, with South Korean experts unable to detect any radioactive fallout.
The North's test on Tuesday triggered an immediate scramble to collect and analyse any fallout data that might provide crucial clues about the nature of the test and the progress Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme has made.
While seismic data was able to shed light on the likely yield of the underground test -- estimated at 6-7 kilotons -- the main hunt was for elusive radioisotopes that might confirm the type of fissile material that was used.
Experts are particularly keen to establish whether the North switched from plutonium -- used in the 2006 and 2009 tests -- to a new and self-sustaining nuclear weaponisation programme using highly enriched uranium.
The South's state-run Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said Thursday it had analysed eight atmospheric samples apparently collected by warships and air force planes equipped with highly sensitive detection devices.
"No radioactive isotope has been found yet," the commission said in a statement.
Their priority target was traces of xenon gases released in the detonation that would point to the weapon type. "We are analysing samples and xenon has not been found," the commission statement said.
If the underground test was well contained, it is quite possible there would be little or no radioactive seepage into the atmosphere.
A Seoul government source quoted by Yonhap news agency suggested that was the case, saying the entrance to the tunnel where the test was conducted remains intact.
And even if some gases did escape, scientists stress there is a large amount of luck involved in collecting them. No xenon gases were detected after the North's 2009 test.
As well as the military detectors, the commission said there were 122 automated devices across South Korea that were continually capturing and analysing air samples.
The detection effort is running on a very tight deadline. Xenon-133m, a metastable isotope needed to pin down the fissile material type, has a half-life of just over two days.
Proof of a uranium test would confirm what has long been suspected: that the North can produce weapons-grade uranium, doubling its pathways to building more bombs in the future.
The North has substantial deposits of uranium ore and it is much easier secretly to enrich uranium in centrifuges rather than enriching plutonium in a nuclear reactor.
In an apparent effort to showcase its own military muscle on Thursday, South Korea's Defence Ministry provided a video demonstration of a newly deployed cruise missile capable of striking precision targets in the North.
"With this missile, we could hit any facility, equipment or individual target in the North anywhere, at any time of our choosing," Major General Ryu Young-Jeo told a special press briefing.
Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said the missile was accurate enough to target "the office window of the North's command headquarters".
It has "deadly destructive power" that could "restrain the enemy headquarters' activities" during wartime, Kim told reporters.
The day after the nuclear test, South Korea said it would speed up the development of longer-range ballistic missiles that could also cover the whole of North Korea.
Last October South Korea reached a deal with the United States to almost triple the range of its ballistic missile systems -- with Seoul arguing it needed an upgrade to counter the North's own missile development.
The United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea and guarantees a nuclear "umbrella" in case of any atomic attack. In return, Seoul accepts limits on its ballistic missile capabilities.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gj_QgeYYUBzIqCWhzpOHLJ7ESrLQ?docId=CNG.464e2be3b8023ccfe02bede099a1bdce.351
2. North Korea Nuclear Test Prompts Stern Warnings from Neighbors
Ju-min Park and Kiyoshi Takenaka
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South Korea sent a stern warning to North Korea on Thursday, two days after the North tested a nuclear bomb, saying it could strike the isolated state if it believed an attack was imminent as it deployed a new cruise missile to drive home its point.
North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday, in defiance of U.N. resolutions, pushing it further along the path of developing a workable long-range nuclear missile and drawing condemnation from the United States, Japan, Europe and the North's only major ally, China.
Pyongyang said that the test was designed to bolster its defenses due to the hostility of the United States, which has led a push to impose sanctions on the country after its long-range missile launch.
North Korea on Thursday repeated its warning that any further sanctions would provoke it into taking firmer action.
Seoul warned that it would strike if attacked. South Korea has already relaxed rules allowing troops on the border to return fire directly without seeking permission from the army chiefs.
"The cruise missile being unveiled today is a precision-guided weapon that can identify and strike the window of the office of North Korea's leadership," Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters."
Japan, which has little capacity to strike at the North if threatened by an attack because of the constraints of its pacifist constitution, said it had the right to develop such capability in response to changes in the regional security situation - but had no plan to do so at present.
"When an intention to attack Japan is evident, the threat is imminent, and there are no other options, Japan is allowed under the law to carry out strikes against enemy targets," Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told Reuters in an interview.
"Given Japan's political environment and the peace-oriented diplomacy it has observed, this is not the time to make preparations (for building such capability)," he said.
"But we need to carefully observe the changing security environment in the region."
Any sign that Japan was moving to develop such a capability would upset neighbors China and South Korea, where memories of Tokyo's past military aggression run deep and which have reacted strongly in the past to suggestions it might do so.
It is unlikely the United States, which acts as a security guarantor for both its allies, would permit any major escalation in any conflict with North Korea.
Japan and China are engaged in a bitter island dispute that has soured relations between the two and alarmed Washington while Seoul and Tokyo have also clashed verbally over a separate disputed island. The United States and its allies are pushing for new sanctions at the U.N. Security Council aimed at slowing North Korea's nuclear and long-range missile development.
President Barack Obama spoke to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday about North Korea's nuclear test and reaffirmed U.S. commitments to Japan's security.
"They pledged to work closely together to seek significant action at the United Nations Security Council and to cooperate on measures aimed at impeding North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs," the White House said in a statement after the call.
The United States and its allies are believed to be pushing to tighten the noose around North Korea's financial transactions in a bid to starve its leadership of funding.
Japan's Onodera called on the North's biggest benefactor, China, to join in strengthening the sanctions.
"I think China is the one that is most concerned about the development ... From now on, it is necessary for us, including China, to seek effective steps, effective economic measures (against North Korea)."
North Korea has repeatedly said it is planning what it terms "stronger measures" against the United States and its allies, although it hasn't specified what those could be.
It is not capable of hitting the United States, but its medium-range missiles can hit Japan and South Korea. It also has an estimated 8,000 artillery systems stationed within 100 km of the heavily militarized border between the two Koreas.
"If the U.S. and its allies challenge the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) with 'strong measures', (a) 'financial freeze' and fresh pressure and 'sanctions' over its underground nuclear test, it will react to them with stronger measures for self-defence," its KCNA news agency said on Thursday.
Australia signaled its displeasure with Pyongyang by banning diplomats seeking to reopen an embassy there from visiting the country.
While it was still unclear what fissile material North Korea used in its third nuclear test - its statements appeared to indicate that it was likely plutonium as it is easier to miniaturize than uranium - it seemed that initial environmental fears about the test were not realized.
China's Environment Ministry said it had found no abnormal radiation from the test site, which is around 100 km from its border. South Korea too said it had not detected any radiation.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/14/us-korea-north-idUSBRE91D0GC20130214
3. North Korean Nuclear Test Draws Anger, Including from China
David Chance and Jack Kim
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North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday in defiance of U.N. resolutions, drawing condemnation from around the world, including from its only major ally, China, which summoned the North Korean ambassador to protest.
Pyongyang said the test was an act of self-defence against "U.S. hostility" and threatened stronger steps if necessary.
The test puts pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama on the day of his State of the Union speech and also puts China in a tight spot, since it comes in defiance of Beijing's admonishments to North Korea to avoid escalating tensions.
The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting at which its members, including China, "strongly condemned" the test and vowed to start work on appropriate measures in response, the president of the council said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the third of his line to rule the country, has presided over two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear test during his first year in power, pursuing policies that have propelled his impoverished and malnourished country closer to becoming a nuclear weapons power.
North Korea said the test had "greater explosive force" than those it conducted in 2006 and 2009. Its KCNA news agency said it had used a "miniaturised" and lighter nuclear device, indicating it had again used plutonium, which is suitable for use as a missile warhead.
China, which has shown signs of increasing exasperation with the recent bellicose tone of its reclusive neighbour, summoned the North Korean ambassador in Beijing and protested sternly, the Foreign Ministry said.
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China was "strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed" to the test and urged North Korea to "stop any rhetoric or acts that could worsen situations and return to the right course of dialogue and consultation as soon as possible".
Analysts said the test was a major embarrassment to China, which is a permanent member of the Security Council and North Korea's sole major economic and diplomatic ally.
Obama called the test a "highly provocative act" that hurt regional stability.
"The danger posed by North Korea's threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community. The United States will also continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies," Obama said.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington and its allies intended to "augment the sanctions regime" already in place due to Pyongyang's previous atomic tests. North Korea is already one of the most heavily sanctioned states in the world and has few external economic links that can be targeted.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test was a "grave threat" that could not be tolerated.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms programme and return to talks. NATO condemned the test as an "irresponsible act."
South Korea, still technically at war with North Korea after a 1950-53 civil war ended in a mere truce, also denounced the test. Obama spoke to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Tuesday and told him the United States "remains steadfast in its defence commitments" to Korea, the White House said.
North Korea's Foreign Ministry said the test was "only the first response we took with maximum restraint".
"If the United States continues to come out with hostility and complicates the situation, we will be forced to take stronger, second and third responses in consecutive steps," it said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
North Korea - which gave the U.S. State Department advance warning of the test - often threatens the United States and its "puppet", South Korea, with destruction in colourful terms.
North Korea told the U.N. disarmament forum in Geneva that it would never bow to resolutions on its nuclear programme and that prospects were "gloomy" for the denuclearisation of the divided Korean peninsula because of a "hostile" U.S. policy.
Suzanne DiMaggio, an analyst at the Asia Society in New York, said North Korea had embarrassed China with the test. "China's inability to dissuade North Korea from carrying through with this third nuclear test reveals Beijing's limited influence over Pyongyang's actions in unusually stark terms," she said.
Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, said: "The test is hugely insulting to China, which now can be expected to follow through with threats to impose sanctions."
The magnitude of the explosion was roughly twice that of the 2009 test, according to the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization. The U.S. Geological Survey said that a seismic event measuring 5.1 magnitude had occurred.
U.S. intelligence agencies were analysing the event and found that North Korea probably conducted an underground nuclear explosion with a yield of "approximately several kilotons", the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said.
Nuclear experts have described Pyongyang's previous two tests as puny by international standards. The yield of the 2006 test has been estimated at less than 1 kiloton (1,000 tons of TNT equivalent) and the second at some 2-7 kilotons, compared with 20 kilotons for a Nagasaki-type bomb.
Initial indications are that the test involved the latest version of a plutonium-based prototype weapon, according to one current and one former U.S. national security official. Both previous tests involved plutonium. If it turns out the test was of a new uranium-based weapon, it would show that North Korea has made more progress on uranium enrichment than previously thought.
The United States uses WC-135 Constant Phoenix "sniffer" aircraft to collect samples to identify nuclear explosions. These would need to be deployed quickly to detect whether highly enriched uranium rather than plutonium was used because uranium decays to undetectable levels within a matter of days. Plutonium takes much longer to decay.
North Korea trumpeted news of the test on its state television channel to patriotic music against a backdrop of its national flag.
"It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment," KCNA said.
North Korea linked the test to its technical prowess in launching a long-range rocket in December, a move that triggered the U.N. sanctions, backed by China, that Pyongyang said prompted it to take Tuesday's action.
The North's ultimate aim, Washington believes, is to design an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that could hit the United States. North Korea says the programme is aimed at putting satellites in space.
Despite its three nuclear tests and long-range rocket tests, North Korea is not believed to be close to manufacturing a nuclear missile capable of hitting the United States.
It used plutonium in previous nuclear tests and before Tuesday there had been speculation that it would use highly enriched uranium so as to conserve its plutonium stocks, as testing eats into its limited supply of materials to construct a nuclear bomb.
When Kim Jong-un, who is 30, took power after his father's death in December 2011, there were hopes that he would bring reforms and end Kim Jong-il's "military first" policies.
Instead, North Korea, whose economy is smaller than it was 20 years ago and where a third of children are believed to be malnourished, appears to be trapped in a cycle of sanctions followed by further provocations.
"The more North Korea shoots missiles, launches satellites or conducts nuclear tests, the more the U.N. Security Council will impose new and more severe sanctions," said Shen Dingli, a professor at Shanghai's Fudan University. "It is an endless, vicious cycle."
Options for the international community appear to be in short supply. Diplomats at the United Nations said negotiations on new sanctions could take weeks since China is likely to resist tough new measures for fear they could lead to further retaliation by the North Korean leadership.
Beijing has also been concerned that tougher sanctions could further weaken North Korea's economy and prompt a flood of refugees into China.
Tuesday's action appeared to have been timed for the run-up to Feb. 16 anniversary celebrations of Kim Jong-il's birthday, as well as to achieve maximum international attention.
Significantly, the test comes at a time of political transition in China, Japan and South Korea, and as Obama begins his second term. The U.S. president will likely have to tweak his State of the Union address due to be given on Tuesday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is bedding down a new government and South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, is preparing to take office on Feb. 25.
China too is in the midst of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition to Xi Jinping, who takes office in March. Both Abe and Xi are staunch nationalists.
The longer-term game plan from Pyongyang may be to restart international talks aimed at winning food and financial aid. China urged it to return to the stalled "six-party" talks on its nuclear programme, hosted by China and including the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia.
Its puny economy and small diplomatic reach mean that North Korea struggles to win attention on the global stage - other than through nuclear tests and attacks on South Korea, the last of which was made in 2010.
"Now the next step for North Korea will be to offer talks... - any form to start up discussion again to bring things to their advantage," predicted Jeung Young-tae, senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/12/korea-north-idUSL4N0BC0Y420130212
1. Intelligence Services May Have Deceived IAEA about Parchin: Iranian Nuclear Chief
Xinhua News Agency
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Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Fereidoon Abbasi said Wednesday that intelligence services might have deceived the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the Parchin Military Base.
"Parchin is not a nuclear site. I have repeated this for times. Some ambiguities are raised about it and we are talking with the agency (IAEA) to remove those ambiguities," Abbasi was quoted as saying by semi-official Fars news agency.
To remove the ambiguities, there should be required documents, the Iranian nuclear official said, adding that "If there are documents from intelligence services that have deceived them (the IAEA), they should present them to us."
The UN nuclear watchdog has urged Iran to open the Parchin Military Base to UN inspectors to clarify its nuclear program.
The West suspects that Iran might have tested in Parchin explosives which could be used to set off a nuclear charge. But the charges have been dismissed by Tehran.
Experts of the IAEA and Iran started a new round of talks in Tehran on Wednesday with hopes to resolve the differences between the UN nuclear watchdog and Iran over the latter's disputed nuclear program.
The Islamic republic "expects them (the IAEA experts) to consider the issue 'logically' in the ongoing talks and respect the rights of our country, and in case they possess any document present it so that we would consider and respond to it," said Abbasi, according to Fars.
"Presently, there is no such a discussion of visiting Parchin or any other sites" in the agenda of ongoing negotiations between Iran and the IAEA, he said.
Available at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2013-02/14/c_124345109.htm
2. UN Inspectors See New Centrifuges at Iran Nuclear Site: Diplomat
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U.N. nuclear inspectors have seen a small number of advanced centrifuges at an uranium enrichment plant where Iran has said it will install and operate them, a diplomatic source said on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Iran's atomic energy chief said it had started installing a new generation of machines for refining uranium at the Natanz plant, an announcement likely to annoy the West and complicate efforts to resolve a dispute over its nuclear work.
The diplomatic source, who declined to be identified, suggested the centrifuges were positioned for installation at the Natanz facility. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regularly visits Iranian nuclear sites, including Natanz.
Iran had already told the IAEA that it planned to introduce new, so-called IR2-m centrifuges to its main enrichment plant near the central town of Natanz - a step that could significantly speed up its accumulation of material that the West fears could be used to develop a nuclear weapon.
Enriched uranium can fuel nuclear power plants, Iran's stated aim, or, if refined to a high degree, provide material for bombs, which the West suspects is Tehran's real purpose - something Iran strenuously denies.
If deployed successfully, new-generation centrifuges could refine uranium several times faster than the model Iran now has.
It was not clear how many of the new centrifuges Iran aimed to install at Natanz, which is designed for tens of thousands; an IAEA note to member states on January 31 implied that it could be up to 3,000 or so.
Iran's atomic energy chief, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, said on Wednesday the new machines were specifically geared for lower-grade enrichment of uranium to below 5 percent purity.
Iran has been refining some uranium up to a concentration of 20 percent fissile material, only a short technical step from weapons grade of 90 percent.
It is this stockpile that has prompted Israel and the United States to warn that they will do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran being able to build a nuclear warhead.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/14/us-iran-nuclear-centrifuges-idUSBRE91D0UB20130214
3. Small Russian Banks Help Iran's Oil Exports: Minister
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Small Russian banks are participating in schemes to finance Iranian oil exports, which are the target of U.S. and European sanctions against Tehran, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday.
"Large (banks) are not taking part. Small ones are, yes," Novak told reporters, in the first such confirmation by a top Russian official.
"Major banks are not involved as they have taken into consideration the possibility of any sanctions to which they might become subject."
In 2011, the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring buyers of Iranian oil to make significant cuts to their oil purchases, or risk being cut off from the U.S. financial system.
The European Union followed suit by imposing sanctions last July against Iran's oil and shipping industries which barred Europe-based insurers from covering tankers that carry Iranian oil. Later, it also added bans on financial transactions and on sales to Iran of shipping equipment, among other measures.
Novak, who spoke after meeting Iranian Foreign Ali Akbar Salehi in Moscow, declined to name either the banks involved or the scale and nature of their possible financing of oil exports from Iran.
Salehi, in Moscow on a trade mission, said that Russian companies would be welcome to participate in developing the growing oil industry of the OPEC member state.
The West suspects of Iran of seeking to acquire atomic weapons, while Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful. Six-power talks with Iranian nuclear negotiators are due to be held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on February 26.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/12/us-russia-iran-banks-idUSBRE91B13T20130212
1. Floridians Stuck with the Bill for Unused Nuclear Power Plants
The Miami Herald
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With the help of the Florida Legislature, two energy companies have been able to collect more than $1 billion from utility customers for the construction of nuclear power plants with no guarantee they would ever be built.
One of those companies, Progress Energy, announced last week that it would shut down its Crystal River nuclear plant, which hasn’t generated electricity since 2009. Rather than make repairs to a damaged containment building, the company will begin the 40- to 60-year process of dismantling the plant.
Progress Energy has spent at least $457 million to purchase electricity elsewhere to offset the lost production at Crystal River, which began operating in 1977. However, a consultant’s report last year put repairs between $1.5 billion and $3.43 billion.
Now Progress Energy may consider building a natural-gas power plant to help replace the lost generation of electricity from the nuclear facility. It could begin operation as early as 2018.
No nuclear plant has been built in the United States in 30 years. So why have customers been paying for nuclear-power plants that may not go into operation? In 2006, state lawmakers passed the Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause. It was a response to Florida’s booming economy and a potential future demand for electricity. With no way to pay for it, they saddled customers with the cost.
Since that time, the two largest investor-owned utilities, Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy Florida, have collected $1.4 billion with the Public Service Commission’s blessing. Just a few months ago, the commission approved the recovery of another $151 million in nuclear project costs for FPL and $143 million for Progress Energy.
But not everyone supports allowing big power companies to profit off their customers. State Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, and state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, have tried to repeal the advance fee law, saying it’s an unfair “tax.” They have yet to receive a hearing. The average cost per customer ranges from $1.69 to $4.74 each month.
Though consumers don’t have the Public Service Commission on their side, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has gone to bat for the public. It challenged the constitutionality of the law and argued before the Florida Supreme Court late last year. The court has yet to rule.
At a time when people are struggling with unemployment and underemployment, it is outrageous the Florida Legislature hasn’t sought to repeal this law. Private industry should never be funded on the backs of our families.
The reasons for repeal are strong. The economic downturn has reduced power demand, natural-gas prices have fallen and safety concerns have risen after Japan’s nuclear-plant meltdown. House Speaker Will Weatherford now admits it may not have been a good idea.
While it may not have been obvious to the Florida Legislature in 2006, it should be obvious in 2013. Repeal the Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause, and ask the power companies to refund their customers the unused money.
Available at: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/02/11/3224348/floridians-stuck-with-the-bill.html
Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh stated that he and France's President Francois Hollande remain committed to constructing six EPR units at Jaitapur.
During a state visit to India by Hollande, Singh said, "We reviewed progress on the Jaitapur nuclear power project and reiterated our commitment to its early implementation as soon as the commercial and technical negotiations, which have made good progress, are completed."
A memorandum of understanding to cooperate on the construction of the Jaitapur plant, including lifetime fuel supply for the units, was signed by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and Areva in February 2009. This was followed by the signing of major agreements between the two companies in December 2010, under which Areva is to supply nuclear islands and associated services for the first two EPRs planned for the Jaitapur site in Maharashtra state.
International trade in nuclear materials and technology with India had previously been severely restricted due to the country's refusal of full-scope safeguards. However, this changed in September 2008 when the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) decided to relax these restrictions for India. This was followed by a flurry of cooperation agreements with India, including one signed with the France in September 2008. However, the supply of foreign reactor technology has been hindered by the amount of money that vendors could be expected to pay in the event of an accident under India's liability laws.
A contract for the first two units at Jaitapur is expected to be signed between NPCIL and Areva as soon as negotiations over liability have successfully concluded.
Available at: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-France_India_committed_to_Jaitapur_project-1402134.html
3. Nuclear Revival Dying in Europe as Power Prices Slump: Energy
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A Czech atomic-plant expansion planned near the German border had been one of the few prizes left for Europe’s nuclear-power industry after the Fukushima disaster stopped projects from Switzerland to Romania.
Russian and U.S. contractors have prepared to bid for the $10 billion contract to build two new reactors, Europe’s largest competitive tender for a nuclear project. Now a combination of cheaper European power prices and carbon credits, falling demand for electricity and concern government support may falter leaves CEZ AS’s project in doubt, analysts and investors said.
Vapour rises from cooling towers at the Prunerov coal-fired power station, operated by CEZ, in Kadan, Czech Republic, on March 8, 2011. Photographer: Vladimir Weiss/Bloomberg
“The future of nuclear energy in Europe looks very dim indeed,” said Mycle Schneider, an independent consultant on energy and nuclear power based in Paris. “Nuclear is too capital intensive, too time-consuming and simply too risky.”
Abandoning the Temelin project would deal another blow to the foundering nuclear industry in Europe, and to contractors such as Russia’s Rosatom Corp. and Westinghouse Electric Corp., after the 2011 accident at the Fukushima plant in Japan.
The catastrophe led Germany to set in motion the closure of all its reactors, while Italy and Switzerland dropped building plans. Projects already under way in France and Finland have suffered delays and cost overruns. The Czech Republic and the U.K. were seen as the the two European countries with the strongest commitment to new nuclear plants. Now projects in both countries are in doubt.
“At this point the Temelin project has no market logic,” said Michal Snobr, a CEZ shareholder and an energy adviser to J&T Bank in Prague. “Building the reactors now would be incredibly risky for CEZ and the Czech Republic in general.”
CEZ shares fell 1.4 percent to 625 koruna today in Prague, the steepest drop in a week. The utility lost 13 percent of its value last year and a further 8.1 percent since the beginning of this year.
Temelin’s future looks even less certain after Centrica Plc bailed out of the plan to build atomic plants in the U.K. on Feb. 4. A day later, Electricite de France SA threatened to do the same unless the U.K. government ensures the project is profitable.
That doesn’t bode well for CEZ, which has cited the U.K. model of government support as an inspiration. The Czech utility is asking the government, its majority shareholder, to guarantee future purchase price of electricity to ensure that it gets return on its investment, Chief Financial Officer Martin Novak said in a Feb. 1 interview in the Bloomberg office.
“The negotiations have only just started,” Novak said. “There has to be a consensus for such a type of support all through the political spectrum that would last a really long time.”
German wholesale power prices have more than halved since 2008 as the economic crisis cut demand and wind turbines and solar panels increased supply, while a slump in EU carbon permits to a record low has removed much of nuclear’s advantage over fossil fuels. At the same time, increased technical scrutiny after Fukushima has raised the cost of new reactors.
The move away from nuclear in the European Union stands in contrast to other parts of the world. China has 26 reactors under construction, more than a third of the world’s total, according to data from the Nuclear Energy Institute. Russia is building 11 units and India seven.
While the Czech government says it wants new reactors to replace coal plants and reduce dependence on Russian gas, consensus is proving difficult to find. The center-right government of Prime Minister Petr Necas is battling plunging popularity and had to face as many as five no-confidence votes in the parliament since 2010 as it carried out deficit cuts, raised the sales tax and curbed public spending.
The opposition Social Democratic party would get 84 of 200 seats in the lower house of parliament if elections were held now, compared with 42 seats for Necas’s Civic Democrats and 29 for the junior coalition partner TOP09, according to a Stem poll conducted in January. Regular parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year.
A government led by Social Democrats would provide “absolutely no guarantees” on power generated by Temelin as such a plan has the potential to increase the budget deficit and state debt, the party’s shadow finance minister Jan Mladek said in an interview last month.
CEZ, in which the state holds a 70 percent stake, is scheduled to sign a contract with the winner of the Temelin tender before the end of this year. Westinghouse Electric Corp. and a Russian-Czech consortium led by Rosatom Corp.’s unit Atomstroyexport are the sole competitors after CEZ threw out Areva SA’s bid last October. Areva has filed an appeal with the Czech antitrust office over the exclusion and is trying to block the tender process.
CEZ’s hopes of finding a strategic investor willing to help finance the new Temelin reactors have been disappointed. Most European utilities are selling assets and reducing spending rather than looking for new projects, CFO Novak said.
“The Finnish model of financing where a few industrial companies put funds together and get a share in the plant is not very realistic in the Czech Republic,” Novak said. “We have to work with the scenario that we do it by ourselves.”
CEZ is capable of funding new Temelin reactors on its own using a combination of cash flow and debt, CFO Novak said. The project makes economic sense even at the current power prices, according to the executive.
“CEZ’s inability to finance the nuclear investment could not be excluded,” Credit Suisse analysts Piotr Dzieciolowski and Vincent Gilles said in a Feb. 1 report. “Sustainable profitability of CEZ is significantly worse than current guidance, which is largely supported by hedging.”
Prices of electricity would have to rise to at least 50 euros per megawatt-hour and remain stable for the rest of the decade to make Temelin possible, Credit Suisse said. Erste Bank AG analyst Petr Bartek lowered his 2014 profit estimates for CEZ by as much as 10 percent, citing weak power prices.
Lack of financing has stalled nuclear projects elsewhere in eastern Europe. Romania is struggling to find investors for its Cernavoda plant. RWE AG, GDF Suez SA, Iberdrola SA and CEZ pulled out of the 4 billion-euro project in 2011. Bulgaria has been unable to lure more investors to its aborted Belene project, estimated to cost at least 6.3 billion euros. The Lithuanian government is reviewing the plan to build a new 1,350 megawatt reactor in Visaginas, which was rejected by voters in a non-binding referendum in October.
Even CEZ has hinted signing a contract doesn’t mean it will go ahead and build the reactors. The company still has three years before actual construction begins, and it may decide to back out of the project before 2017 if market conditions deteriorate further, Novak said.
“The time for making the final decision is still relatively long,” he said. “Then we can look at it once again.”
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-14/nuclear-revival-dying-in-europe-as-power-prices-slump-energy.html
4. EDF Eyes UK Government Help for Nuclear Reactor
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The world's biggest operator of nuclear reactors is in early stage talks with the Treasury about underwriting some of the financing of the reactor at Hickley Point, which is expected to cost about £7bn.
The hope is that any guarantees will help persuade some of the world's largest pension funds to stump up money to help create the next generation of nuclear reactors in Britain.
Any agreement by the UK would be be politically controversial given the government has been clear it would not subsidies the generators. However, last summer the Treasury launched a £40bn UK Guarantees Scheme intended to underwrite certain major infrastructure projects with the aim of encouraging private investment in them.
EDF said on Monday night that "we are aware of the scheme and we are examining the applicability and the scope of the scheme as any other investor that potentially meets the qualifying criteria will be".
EDF is under pressure to reduce the risk in the project after Centrica last week declined to exercise an option to take a 20pc stake in the project, which is also building a reactor in Sizewell, Suffolk, as well as one in Hickley Point. Any agreement about using the Guarantee Scheme to help guarantee some of the cost of the projects would only happen after EDF and the government have agreed on on a price for the power that will be generated at the new plants.
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/9863994/EDF-eyes-UK-government-help-for-nuclear-reactor.html
5. Proposed Fermi 3 Nuclear Power Reactor Earns Positive EIS from NRC
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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded there are no environmental impacts to preclude issuing a Combined License (COL) to build and operate the proposed Fermi Unit 3 near Newport, Mich.
The NRC developed the Fermi project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) jointly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District. The Corps will use the document’s information in considering its federal permit decision in accordance with the Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.
Issuing the statement is an important milestone in the overall Fermi 3 COL review, which continues. The staff continues working on a final safety evaluation report, which will include a review by the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, an independent group of nuclear safety experts. The NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a group of independent administrative law judges, is currently considering legal challenges to the Fermi application. The NRC’s five Commissioners will conduct a separate mandatory hearing regarding the application and the staff’s review, when completed.
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While all of these review activities continue, a Commission Order from August 2012 directs the staff to hold off on any new reactor license decisions until completion of a rulemaking and environmental impact statement to update the waste confidence decision, expected by September 2014. If the rulemaking leaves any Fermi-specific issues unresolved, those issues will be addressed separately. All of this work must be completed before the NRC can reach a final decision on the Fermi application.
Detroit Edison (NYSE:DTE) submitted a COL application Sept. 18, 2008, seeking permission to construct and operate an Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor at the Fermi site, adjacent to the company’s existing reactor approximately 25 miles northeast of Toledo, Ohio. General Electric-Hitachi Nuclear Energy submitted an application to certify its 1,600-megawatt electric design, on Aug. 24, 2005.
The FEIS is available on the NRC website. The NRC staff, in cooperation with the Corps, started the environmental review in late 2008 by gathering community input on what issues should be considered. The agencies issued a draft EIS in October 2011 and met with the local community again in December 2011 for additional comments.
Available at: http://www.pennenergy.com/articles/pennenergy/2013/02/proposed-fermi-3-nuclear-power-reactor-earns-positive-eis-from-n.html
Officials in Ukraine were rushing to reassure the public that radiation levels remained unaffected after the 6,500 square foot section of roof over the turbine hall at the fourth power block collapsed under heavy snowfall.
French construction firms Vinci and Bouygues they had evacuated around 80 employees as a precaution.
The two companies are working on constructing the sarcophagus structure covering the reactor that exploded in 1986. The structure is in place to contain radiation emanating from the exploded reactor.
"Everybody should be absolutely calm," a Chernobyl spokesman said. "Yes, it is unpleasant, but there is no danger."
The April 26, 1986, accident in the then-Soviet republic of Ukraine sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over much of Europe and forced the evacuation of about 115,000 people from the plant's vicinity. A 30-kilometre (19-mile) area directly around the plant remains largely off-limits.
A new, giant, arch-shaped confinement is currently being constructed over the old sarcophagus. The construction of the new shelter was not affected by the accident, said Anton Usov, spokesman for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which runs the $2 billion project co-sponsored by the bank and international donors.
"The old shelter was not affected, the new safe confinement was not affected either," Usov said. The workers are expected to return as soon as an investigation into the accident is completed and the roof is reinforced in order to prevent water from getting inside.
The Chernobyl spokesman said that Ukrainian workers at the plant have not been evacuated or ordered to implement any additional safety measures. "We are not wearing face masks, we have not been evacuated, which is what would have happened had there been danger," she stated.
Some environmentalists expressed concern.
"Even if the radiation level has not changed, it's still an alarming signal," Vladimir Chuprov, head of the energy program at Greenpeace Russia, said, according to the Interfax news agency. "If the panels in the turbine hall have collapsed, then in principle there is no guarantee that the sarcophagus, built in 1986, will not start falling apart in the near future."
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/9867992/Chernobyl-workers-evacuated.html
2. Manager Says Safety Issues Are Ignored at Hanford Nuclear Site
Los Angeles Times
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The long-troubled project to clean up radioactive waste in Hanford, Wash., has come under attack from another senior manager, the third to assert that top executives are ignoring serious problems in the plant's design.
Donna Busche, the manager of environmental and nuclear safety for San Francisco-based URS Corp., alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that executives at the $13.4-billion project attempted to suppress her warnings and were working to fire her.
Busche, a nuclear engineer and health physicist, alleged that pressure to meet deadlines led the company to retaliate against her for insisting on stringent safety practices at the former nuclear weapons complex.
Hanford is the nation's most contaminated piece of property, home to 56 million gallons of highly radioactive sludge in underground tanks that pose a long-term risk of leaking into the Columbia River. Dozens of the tanks are already leaking and threatening the largest river in the western U.S.
The Energy Department is in a race to pump out the waste, embed it into glass and ship it to a future dump, but so far not a single gallon has been treated and the project is more than 20 years behind the original schedule.
Construction has been stopped since last year over allegations that the plant's design for mixing radioactive waste could allow explosive hydrogen gas to detonate inside the plant, or allow enough radioactive solids to accumulate in tanks to trigger nuclear fission.
The concerns, backed up by panels of outside experts, forced the plant's construction contractors, URS and San Francisco-based Bechtel, to begin a full-scale test of the system to mix the sludge, but using nonradioactive surrogates.
The concerns about the Hanford waste treatment plant — which resembles a small industrial city with many individual processing plants, laboratories and ancillary buildings — have been voiced by senior officials on the project.
Walter Tamosaitis, a senior URS scientist and manager of a large research staff, has said his warnings about potential hydrogen gas explosions led to his being isolated at work, given no assignments and put in a basement office without furniture.
In August, Gary Brunson, then the Energy Department's engineering division director, sent a memo to higher-level officials that alleged 34 instances in which Bechtel had committed factual errors, pursued unsafe designs or provided equipment that did not meet federal standards. Brunson said those failures had led to delays and increased costs and that the Energy Department should remove Bechtel as the design authority for the plant.
After the Brunson memo, an investigation by the Energy Department's office of nuclear safety found in November that Bechtel had committed potential health and safety violations, a finding that could lead to a multimillion-dollar fine.
This month, the Government Accountability Office said the success of the entire Hanford project hinged on finding solutions to a wide range of technical problems. The report noted that the cost had jumped to $13.4 billion from $12.3 billion, and would probably increase further.
Busche's suit named URS Energy and Construction and Bechtel National. A spokeswoman for URS said the company would not comment on Busche's allegations as a matter of policy on litigation. Busche had earlier filed a whistle-blower complaint with the Labor Department, but elevated the dispute to a formal lawsuit Tuesday when she filed the suit in federal court in Spokane, Wash.
Bechtel National, the lead contractor at the Hanford project, said it took concerns about safety seriously and did not tolerate retaliation or harassment against employees who raised them.
"We have thoroughly reviewed Ms. Busche's complaint and found no basis for it," the company said in a statement. "We remain committed to ensuring that [the waste treatment plant's] nuclear safety and quality culture is strong."
But Tom Carpenter, executive director of the watchdog group Hanford Challenge, said the allegations raised by Busche, Tamosaitis and Brunson demonstrated the depth of the problems affecting the stalled project.
"Congress needs to take a hard look at the situation here and determine whether we can go forward," Carpenter said Wednesday.
In an interview, Busche said one of her biggest technical fights involves a risk-analysis tool that URS and Bechtel want to use to assess the potential for hydrogen explosions inside the plant's piping systems. Busche said the tool would allow tens of thousands of safety components to be removed from the design if it predicted the risk of an explosion as being extremely small.
She said the standard approach to safety design requires no possibility of an explosion that would release radioactivity.
"I'm holding the line on that one," she said.
The suit refers to that dispute, which surfaced at a lengthy hearing conducted in 2010 by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent federal agency. During days of testimony, Busche was often at odds with officials from her own company and the Energy Department. In her lawsuit, Busche said that URS and Bechtel officials had privately asked whether she could alter her testimony and she refused.
The safety board apparently knew that she was under pressure. During the hearings, a safety board member asked whether she was up to the pressure that was likely to be applied to her, apparently not knowing her assertions that she was already being asked to change her testimony. She assured the board she was capable of withstanding the pressure, according to a transcript of the safety board hearing.
In the aftermath of the hearings, URS officials told her to stop putting her safety concerns in writing, she claims in the suit, and Bechtel "actively sabotaged her work."
Available at: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-hanford-safety-20130214,0,3749477.story
1. Chalk River's Spent Reactor Rods to Be Shipped Through Valley
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Highly radioactive nuclear reactor fuel rods are to be clandestinely shipped by road from Chalk River to the United States under a non-proliferation effort to rid the Upper Ottawa Valley site of bomb-grade uranium.
News of the spent fuel shipment follows a Citizen report Monday about separate preparations to transport a lethal brew of liquid weapons-grade uranium by armed convoy through Eastern Ontario to a South Carolina reprocessing site. It will be converted at the Savannah River Site into a form unusable for bomb-making.
Federal law prohibits officials from releasing details of the plans, including routing, timing and the number of transport truck trips planned.
As well, a 2011 federal government memo says the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) considers it unnecessary to hold public sessions that would allow citizens to ask questions and comment on the highly enriched uranium (HEU) repatriations to the U.S. The CNSC declined to comment on the memo Tuesday.
Documents from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission say an "expedited" approval is being sought for transport of the liquid HEU. It is believed to be the first time such a highly radioactive solution has been transported by road in North America and, according to U.S. commission documents, could happen as early as August.
Other U.S. commission documents show March 1 is the U.S. target date for approving transport of the spent fuel rods to the Savannah River Site.
The planned shipments follow Prime Minister Stephen Harper's commitment at last year's global nuclear security summit to return additional HEU inventories to the U.S. by 2018 to lessen the risk of nuclear terrorism.
Yet fresh shipments of HEU continue to flow into Canada. The U.S. nuclear commission issued export licence No. XSNM3726 last Oct. 24 for the U.S. Department of Energy to transfer 7.5 kilograms of HEU to Chalk River.
Because Canada has no domestic enrichment facilities, fresh HEU from the U.S. has long been shipped to Chalk River for production of medical isotopes.
Finished isotopes are then shipped around the world and to the U.S., which has no domestic medical isotope manufacturers.
But fears of nuclear terrorism and potential theft of civilian HEU stocks prompted the Obama administration in 2009 to launch a global effort to repatriate U.S.-origin HEU and its byproducts.
Under the program, the first, unannounced shipment of HEU from Chalk River to the U.S. took place in 2010.
No details were ever released. Now, U.S. commission documents detail a plan to move an undisclosed number of old spent fuel rods used to power Chalk River's NRU research reactor and the former NRX research reactor.
The NRU reactor now runs on less dangerous low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel.
Details show 126 to 216 spent HEU rods (and possibly some LEU rods) will be loaded into a single stainless cask for truck transport. The total number of rods and casks to be moved is not known.
Meanwhile, the plan to transport discreet amounts of HEU liquid is attracting the most attention - both praise and criticism - on both sides of the border.
The lethal solution is believed to be from Chalk River nuclear laboratories Fissile Solution Storage Tank, or FISST, which holds 24,000 litres of an intensely radioactive nitric acid solution from the production of molybdenum-99, a vital medical isotope.
Suspended in the solution are an estimated 175 kilograms of HEU, enough to produce as many as seven small nuclear bombs. Also present are plutonium, tritium, other fission products and mercury.
In 2011, the Citizen revealed the tank sprang three internal pinhole leaks in recent years and is under constant surveillance by the International Atomic Energy Agency for any hint of an accidental atomic chain reaction called criticality.
If such an event occurred, there would be no nuclear explosion, but the tank could rupture and cause catastrophic contamination of a wide area, including the nearby Ottawa River.
CNSC and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), which operates Chalk River, insist the FISST is safe. Nuclear safety officials in both countries say HEU shipments will only be approved if the safety of workers, the public and the environment are ensured.
A former CNSC official with more than 20 years of experience in nuclear power operations and international nuclear safeguards says the risk of leaving the FISST solution at Chalk River far outweighs what he says is a minimal danger of transporting it to the U.S. under strict surveillance.
"A criticality accident involving 24,000 litres of nitric acid that's holding HEU in solution, that's the real danger," says John Brauneisen, recently retired from the CNSC.
"The governments of both the United States and Canada deserve credit for taking positive action to deal with this ticking time bomb. This is the equivalent of seven nuclear explosive devices.
The risk of transporting the inventory of fissile material back to its country of origin pales against a potential criticality accident at Chalk River."
The stainless steel cask that is to be used for the transport must pass stringent Canadian and U.S. requirements for structural strength, thermal shielding and criticality. An approved security plan will also be required of NAC International, the U.S. company contracted for the job.
"There'll be more guns and cameras watching those shipments than you can shake a stick at," says Brauneisen.
"It'll be a convoy going down the road at 30 km/h and nobody is going to be allowed within many hundreds of metres of that."
Gordon Edwards, head of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, says the federal government should instead consider building a vitrification plant at Chalk River, where the FISST solution could be solidified before transport to the U.S.
Failing that, he says, "there should be an environmental assessment in both countries as to the environmental risks of this."
The environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth has made a formal request for a full assessment, including public hearings, to the U.S. Department of Energy, which operates the Savannah River Site.
In Canada, a Feb. 25, 2011 federal ministerial memorandum, classified as "SECRET" and obtained by The Canadian Press under Access to Information law, notes that intense public and media interest was generated by the 2010 CNSC hearings into Bruce Power's plan to ship 16 generators through the Great Lakes, up the St. Lawrence River and on to Europe.
"There may be an expectation that similar information be made public on the shipments of spent HEU fuel to the U.S., and that the CNSC hold public hearings," said the document, addressed to then natural resources minister Christian Paradis.
Based on the memo, "the nuclear watchdog considers it unnecessary to hold public sessions that would allow citizens to ask questions and comment on the shipments," CP reported.
The cost of moving the radioactive material from Chalk River has not been disclosed, but will be funded by the federal Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program.
AECL is in the eighth year of an estimated $7-billion, 70-year federal cleanup of its "legacy" wastes across the country, environmental restoration and decommissioning of outdated and unused buildings.
The 37-square-kilometre Chalk River site along the Ottawa River, two hours upstream from Ottawa, harbours 70 per cent of all the radioactive waste ever produced by AECL and its predecessor, the National Research Council of Canada.
Highly radioactive material is being shipped from Chalk River to a reprocessing facility in South Carolina. Though the route is secret, it will also be long. The most direct route shown below is almost 1,900 kilometres.
Available at: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/health/Chalk+River+spent+reactor+rods+shipped+through+Valley/7956151/story.html
The United States is sending a top arms-control official to Moscow to convince the Russians to continue to decommission deployed nuclear weapons by saying it would save the two countries $8 billion a year, Kommersant reported Monday, citing an undisclosed source.
White House officials reportedly believe that the approaching limit of 1,550 strategic deployed nuclear weapons, agreed upon in the 2010 New START agreement, could be brought down to 1,000 without compromising nuclear deterrence between the two powers.
Pyotr Topychkanov, a nonproliferation program coordinator at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that "in terms of its defense strategy, the U.S. is shifting its focus toward conventional [non-nuclear] weapons, while Russia remains more nuclear-dependent. Therefore, it is easier for the U.S. to talk about further nuclear arms reductions."
"Russia cannot keep up with the pace of these [conventional-weapon] developments and thus still heavily relies on its nuclear might," he added. "In contrast with the U.S., Russia also finds itself in a close vicinity of many other nuclear-weapon states, such as India, Pakistan and North Korea."
Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance, was scheduled to arrive on Tuesday for three days of talks on "bilateral and international arms control, nonproliferation and international security," the U.S. State Department said in a terse statement on its website.
When reached by phone, a State Department representative was unable to immediately comment about the trip.
Available at: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/us-russia-in-nuclear-arms-reduction-talks/475389.html
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