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Nuclear News - 3/1/2013
PGS Nuclear News, March 1, 2013
Compiled By: Pia Ulrich

A.  Iran
    1. Chinese Trader Accused of Busting Iran Missile Embargo, William Maclean and Ben Blanchard, Reuters (3/1/2013)
    2. India's Mercator Says Will Not Use Ship For Iran Oil Imports, Nidhi Verma, Reuters (3/1/2013)
    3. "Milestone" Reached in Iran Nuclear Talks: Minister, Reuters (2/28/2013)
B.  Nuclear Energy
    1. Enec Submits Bid for Two more Nuclear Units at Abu Dhabi Site, Emily Gosden, The National (3/1/2013)
    2. Areva Sticks with Plan to Build 10 Nuclear Reactors by 2016, Reuters (2/28/2013)
C.  Nuclear Safety & Security
    1. Safety Concerns Cloud S. Korea Nuclear Drive, Lim Chang-won, AFP (2/27/2013)
    2. Crystal River Nuclear Plant Had Flaw in Safety Procedures for over a Decade, Ivan Penn, Tampa Bay Times (2/27/2013)
    3. List of Fixes Grows at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station, Erin Golden, Omaha World-Herald (2/27/2013)
    4. Second Laptop Stolen from Israeli Nuclear Chief, Phoebe Greenwood, The Guardian (2/27/2013)
    5. US, UK, Russia Hold Nuclear Security Workshop, Mark Rockwell, Government Security News (2/26/2013)
D.  Japan
    1. Power Companies to Face Tough New Standards for Nuke Reactor Restarts, The Mainichi (2/28/2013)
    2. Japanese Nuclear Safety Costs Put at $10B, UPI (2/28/2013)
    3. Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Body Sets New Evacuation Guidelines, Ida Torres, The Japan Daily Press (2/28/2013)
E.  Nuclear Cooperation
    1. Rosatom Helping to Build Groundbreaking Reactor, Andrei Reznichenko, Russia Beyond the Headlines (2/28/2013)
    2. Britain's Need for Nuclear Could Open Door to Chinese Investment, Karolin Schaps and Lorraine Turner, Reuters (2/27/2013)
F.  Links of Interest
    1. Canada to Fund Non-Nuclear Sources for Medical Isotopes, Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren, Reuters (2/28/2013)
    2. Court Rules Biblis Closure Unlawful, World Nuclear News (2/28/2013)

A.  Iran

Chinese Trader Accused of Busting Iran Missile Embargo
William Maclean and Ben Blanchard
(for personal use only)

A Chinese businessman indicted in the United States over sales of missile parts to Iran is still making millions of dollars from the trade, say security officials who monitor compliance with Western and U.N. sanctions.

These officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the businessman, Li Fangwei, has earned at least $10 million from illegal sales to Iran since his indictment by the New York County District Attorney in 2009.

Trade sanctions are at the heart of international efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program for fear it is for military ends - a suspicion Iran rejects. Li's alleged activities may point to Iran's resourcefulness in circumventing those sanctions and turn a spotlight on China's ability to police its own export restrictions.

It is hard to quantify the contribution of foreign firms and individuals to Iran's nuclear and missile programs, but analysts believe some vital components are all but impossible for Tehran to produce at home.

Contacted by Reuters on Feb 4, Li said he continued to get commercial inquiries from Iran but only for legitimate merchandise, such as steel products. Li said his company, LIMMT, had stopped selling to Iran once the United States began sanctioning it several years ago.

He dismissed allegations by the security officials that he had used deception, including changes of company names, to supply Iran with Chinese and foreign-made parts such as high-grade alloys that can be used to enrich uranium and guidance devices suitable for missiles.

"Sure, we did business with Iran, but we did not export the goods they said we did, missiles or whatever," Li said. "We still get inquiries from Iranian clients, but we don't respond to them."

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Beijing was adhering to trade restrictions, including a U.N. ban on helping Iran build missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads.

Officials from Iran, including at firms the security officials said were clients of Li and at the embassy in Beijing, did not respond to requests for comment. A Chinese bank which the security officials said Li used for Iranian business denied it had breached U.N. sanctions.

In 2006, the U.S. Treasury barred Li from the U.S. financial system for allegedly selling goods with potential military uses to Iran.

Three years later, the New York County District Attorney unsealed a fraud indictment against Li and his metals company LIMMT on suspicion they had used false names to process further payments for sales to Iran through several U.S. banks.

The U.S. banks employed by Li were innocent of any wrongdoing because Li and other suspects had concealed their identities, the then District Attorney, Robert Morgenthau, said.

On Feb 4, 2013, Li said that at the time of the indictment he had felt there was no point in saying anything because U.S. courts and prosecutors "don't listen to reason. It's useless."

Three weeks ago, on February 11, the U.S. State Department issued fresh sanctions against Li, saying he had "engaged in missile technology proliferation activities that require the imposition of missile sanctions", and placing additional restrictions on any missile technology trade involving him.

A State Department official said Li had been sanctioned because of his "proliferation to Iran" since his 2009 indictment. Li did not respond to calls seeking comment on the Feb 11 action.

China reacted with irritation to the February 11 measures. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the U.S. step "seriously violates the norms of international relations and harms China's interests" and urged the United States to immediately revoke "these irrational sanctions".

China has no extradition treaty with Washington.

The security officials allege that since the 2009 indictment Li, working in concert with the Iranian embassy in Beijing, had supplied parts to firms that make Iranian missiles, in particular the U.N.-blacklisted Shahid Bakeri Industrial group (SBIG). SBIG did not reply to faxes and emails sent by Reuters for comment.

The goods allegedly supplied included 15 metric tons of high-grade aluminum alloy, more than 20 metric tons of ultra-high strength steel, and 1,700 kg of graphite cylinders.

Li agreed in 2011 to supply 1,500 gyroscopes and accelerometers to SBIG, the security officials alleged, referring to devices that can be used in missile guidance and control systems - a quantity sufficient for about 500 missiles.

Gyroscopes are "controlled items" under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an informal and voluntary partnership between 34 mainly Western countries. China is not a party to the MTCR but has similar export controls of its own.

Li also supplied more specialized devices known as fiber-optic gyroscopes, the officials allege; their main uses are in missiles, robots or remotely operated land or sea vehicles.

The officials accuse Li of advising SBIG and other Iranian clients to change details of shipments, including the falsification of the end-user and supplier details in contracts.

Li denies all the allegations.

Between 2010 and 2012, Li took over $10 million in payments from SBIG alone and travelled often to Iran, the officials allege. He used deception within China to hide his activities not only from the authorities but from Chinese companies as well, the officials added.

In 2012, they said, Li listed a Chinese company as a false end user to obtain repair equipment he intended to send to SBIG in Iran.

A diplomat in Iran's Beijing embassy helped Li, who is aged about 40, to fix meetings with defense officials when he visited Tehran, the security officials allege. In the Iranian capital, the officials said, some contacts knew him only as "The Tailor" to conceal his identity.

The officials alleged that some of his clients were not always satisfied with the quality of his goods but kept on using him, perhaps for lack of choice.

Asked in Beijing whether China knew of Li's purported activities, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua said China's position was "clear and steadfast" on non-proliferation: China had always upheld U.N. Security Council resolutions on non-proliferation. If a Chinese individual or company was doing anything illegal, it would be dealt with.

An internal report for the U.S. Congress in December concluded that sanctions, respected by China, were making it increasingly tough for Tehran to obtain certain critical components and materials for its missiles.

From 2004 to 2007, Chinese arms transfer agreements with Iran totaled about $300 million at today's prices; between 2008 and 2011 total arms transfer agreements dropped to less than $50 million, according to the report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) on Iranian missiles.

Li said his company, LIMMT, had stopped selling to Iran once the United States began sanctioning it several years ago. He did not indicate a date, but the U.S. Treasury first sanctioned LIMMT in June 2006, citing its alleged support of and role in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to Iran.

"We used to export steel, things like that. Nothing to do with missiles," he said.

At two buildings in the northeastern city of Dalian which the security officials said had been used by Li, people either had never heard of him or said he had left some years ago.

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India's Mercator Says Will Not Use Ship For Iran Oil Imports
Nidhi Verma
(for personal use only)

India's Mercator Lines has stopped offering a ship for transporting Iranian oil to India due to U.S. political pressure, industry and shipping sources said, adding to obstacles Iran faces in exporting its crude.

The Omvati Prem was the only ship backed by local emergency insurance and available for charter by Indian refiners when U.S. and European sanctions hit other cover for ships carrying Iranian crude.

Iran took advantage of this to engage the ship for the delivery of two cargoes to its top Indian client, refiner MRPL , which does not have the facilities to take Tehran's larger vessels.

National Iranian Oil Corp (NIOC), which does not have smaller ships like the Omvati Prem, will now have to use its suezmax ships only partially loaded to be able to deliver to MRPL's plant.

"At the moment we are not having any plans to lift cargoes from Iran," Kowshik Kuchroo, president of shipping at Mercator Lines Ltd., said in an interview.

EU and U.S. trade sanctions on Iran have targeted insurance on ships carrying its crude, as part of an effort to limit Tehran's oil revenue to curb its nuclear programme. Iran's crude exports last year were roughly halved as a result.

The four biggest buyers of Iran's crude - India, China, Japan and South Korea - cut shipments by so much that they were given waivers from sanctions, which would have shut them out of the U.S. financial system. To renew those waivers, however, they need to make further cuts.

India's imports from Iran fell 22 percent in the first 10 months of its annual contract to around 286,400 barrels per day (bpd). That meant Iran slipped to fifth among its suppliers from ranking second a year ago.

Energy-hungry India, the world's fourth-biggest oil importer, is expanding its refining capacity to meet rising local demand. It ships in about 80 percent of its crude needs from overseas.

Indian insurance cover was meant to help local shippers and refiners continued to obtain oil supplies from Iran.

In January Reuters reported that Iran had chartered Omvati Prem with cover provided by Indian insurance companies for supplying oil to MRPL in December.

A shipping source said Mercator had decided against using the Omvati Prem for Iranian cargoes due to pressure from the United States.

"To protect its overall business, Mercator had to take this decision (to halt Iranian voyages). Do you think it's easy to work against U.S. sanctions?" the source said.

U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy J Powell raised the issue that Mercator was using a loophole to help Iran supply oil on Feb. 15 in a meeting with India National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, oil industry and diplomatic sources said.

An email seen by Reuters in connection with the meeting said the United States wanted to discuss Indian companies' deals with Iran "including the transaction that has received press recently".

NIOC normally supplies oil in vessels owned by National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), a banned entity under U.S. sanctions.

NITC had hired the Omvati Prem through Dubai-based Sea Enterprise Ltd, a letter seen by Reuters showed.

NIOC in February informed MRPL that its contract to use the vessel Omvati Prem had been terminated, an oil industry source said.

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"Milestone" Reached in Iran Nuclear Talks: Minister
(for personal use only)

Iran's negotiations with world powers over Tehran's disputed nuclear program reached "a turning point" this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Thursday, suggesting a breakthrough was within reach.

"I call it a milestone. It is a turning point in the negotiations," Salehi told Austrian broadcaster ORF in an interview during a visit to the Austrian capital for a United Nations conference.

"We are heading for goals that will be satisfactory for both sides. I am very optimistic and hopeful," he said, according to a German translation of remarks he made in English.

Salehi, who had said on Wednesday he was "very confident" an agreement could be reached, gave no details of the talks in Kazakhstan, but said the fact that discussions would resume in a month showed the process was moving forward.

In a separate interview with the Austria Press Agency (APA), Salehi was asked about Iran's enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, a bone of contention with the West.

Iran says it has a sovereign right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and wants to fuel nuclear power plants so that it can export more oil.

But 20-percent purity is far higher than that needed for nuclear power, and rings alarm bells abroad because it is only a short technical step away from weapons-grade uranium. Iran says it produces higher-grade uranium to fuel a research reactor.

Salehi said nearly 100 kg (220 lb) of the roughly 250 kg of uranium Iran has enriched to 20 percent purity so far had been processed into fuel plates for the research reactor.

"So far we have produced two of these plates per month. In the future we want to produce three, four or perhaps even more fuel plates every month. This is how we want to reduce the supply of 20 percent enriched uranium in the medium term," he said.

Iran has struck an upbeat tone after the talks ended with an agreement to meet again, but Western officials said it had yet to take concrete steps to ease their fears about its nuclear ambitions.

Rapid progress was unlikely with Iran's presidential election, due in June, raising domestic political tensions, diplomats and analysts had said ahead of the February 26-27 meeting in the Kazakh city of Almaty, the first in eight months.

Asked by APA if he would run for president, Salehi said: "No, I do not feel fit enough for this job."

The United States, China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany this week offered modest sanctions relief in return for Iran curbing its most sensitive nuclear work but made clear that they expected no immediate breakthrough.

In an attempt to make their proposals more palatable to Iran, the six powers appeared to have softened previous demands somewhat, for example regarding their requirement that the Islamic state ship out its stockpile of higher-grade uranium.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called the talks "useful" and said that a serious engagement by Iran could lead to a comprehensive deal in a decade-old dispute that has threatened to trigger a new Middle East war.

Salehi played down in the APA interview the effect of international sanctions on Iran.

"Sanctions disturb the economy but cannot weaken it in a lasting way. One thing should be said to the West: whenever the sanctions were tightened, we developed new methods to cope with the consequences of the sanctions," he said.

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B.  Nuclear Energy

Enec Submits Bid for Two more Nuclear Units at Abu Dhabi Site
Emily Gosden
The National
(for personal use only)

Another important milestone was passed in the UAE's nuclear energy programme today as a bid was submitted for two more nuclear units for the coastal site of Barakah.

The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) filed the Construction License Application (CLA) for two more units with the United Arab Emirates Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR).

It comes after the green light was given for the first two units in July last year.

"This marks another important milestone in our programme as we work towards delivering safe, clean, reliable and efficient nuclear energy to the UAE," said Enec chief executive officer, Mohamed Al Hammadi.

"The team has worked diligently to deliver to our regulator a comprehensive, high quality application that draws from all of the experience we have gained - through our reference plants in Korea, the lessons learned from Fukushima, and our own experience with the first application process for Units 1 and 2," he added.

The 10,000-page application will now undergo a rigorous review process by FANR.

The licence application for Units 1 and 2 was 9,000 pages and the review process included more than 1,800 requests for additional information, as well as meetings and site visits.

"We remain committed to achieving the highest standards of safety and quality in all aspects of our programme, and will continue to work under FANR's strict regulations. We now look forward to supporting FANR's review process," added Mr Al Hammadi.

The application is the culmination of 18 months of intense work by Enec and its Prime Contractor, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), a statement released by Enec said.

The corporation was established in 2009 to oversee the construction and operation of the UAE's first nuclear power station.

It is building four units in Barakah in the Western Region of the emirate.
The first plant is scheduled for completion in 2017.

Construction work on the first two units is progressing on schedule, Enec said.

The first safety concrete was poured for Unit 1 in July last year and extensive preparatory works are now underway on Unit 2 - with the first safety concrete expected to be poured in the first six months of this year.

The application includes a description of the plant design and a summary of the associated safety analyses, as well as information on how nuclear fuel and nuclear-related components will be kept secure, and in line with UAE safeguards commitments.

The CLA also includes the design changes identified from lessons-learned from the Fukushima accident.

Fahad Al Qahtani, director of external affairs and communications at ENEC said: "We cannot predict when we will receive the construction License from FANR, but we are ready to answer any inquiries and provide further information FANR might require for reviewing the application."

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Areva Sticks with Plan to Build 10 Nuclear Reactors by 2016
(for personal use only)

French nuclear group Areva's (AREVA.PA) still expects to sell 10 nuclear reactors by 2016, despite a string of disappointments in the past months, its chief executive officer said on Thursday.

Areva's flagship 1600 megawatt European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) has been excluded from tenders in Finland and Czech Republic, and two EPRs under construction in Finland and France are years behind schedule and billions over budget, raising questions about Areva's target to sell 10 EPRS by 2016.

"We face very vigorous competition, in particular from our Russian and Japanese friends," Chief Executive Officer Luc Oursel said at the company's 2012 earnings news conference.

"We do not pretend we will win every tender, but I remain convinced it is possible to maintain this objective," he added.

Charges related to the delays to the EPR it is building on Olkiluoto island in Finland partly prevented Areva from returning to profit in 2012.

The company's attributable loss narrowed to 99 million euros ($129.43 million) from a 2.5 billion loss in 2011.

Restated earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) more than doubled to 1.01 billion euros from 421 million euros. For this year, the firm expects EBITDA of more than 1.1 billion euros, it said on Thursday.

Oursel said he hoped that talks with French power group EDF (EDF.PA) and Chinese utility CGNPC about a new 1000 megawatt reactor model would reach a conclusion by the end of the first half.

He said the plan is not to develop an entirely new 1000 MW reactor, but to look at how a new reactor type could converge with Areva's 1000 MW Atmea reactor, a model which has not been sold or built yet.

"We will see in the next weeks and months whether we can agree on the specifications," Oursel said.

He also said the mid-size Atmea reactor was in the running for possible future reactor sales to Jordan, Vietnam, Argentina and Turkey.

Oursel said Areva was hoping for contracts for the EPR in Britain, China and India. At a later stage, the company is also hoping to sell EPRs in Saudi Arabia, Poland and South Africa.

Asked whether Areva was interested in buying a stake in uranium enrichment firm Urenco, Oursel seemed to indicate that Areva's priority now was to restore its finances, not to embark on a major acquisition.

"Urenco is a marvelous company. It is a competitor and a partner for us. But for the moment, the priority of the group is to restore its finances," he said, adding that the company is not planning any major strategic moves at the moment.

Areva will not pay a dividend on 2012 earnings after not paying one on 2011 earnings. But it said that a dividend on 2013 earnings would amount to a maximum 25 percent of net attributable income.

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C.  Nuclear Safety & Security

Crystal River Nuclear Plant Had Flaw in Safety Procedures for over a Decade
Ivan Penn
Tampa Bay Times
(for personal use only)

For more than a decade, Progress Energy Florida had a serious flaw in the safety procedures at its Crystal River nuclear plant.

If a major radiation leak had occurred, nearby communities might not have found out "in a timely manner," according to a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission report issued to the nation's nuclear plants this week.

The NRC described the oversight as being of "low to moderate risk." It went on to say that a key part of the problem was a lack of training for use of the radiation detection equipment.

"Personnel were not knowledgeable about the design and operation of the radiation monitors," the commission report stated.

If a nuclear plant suffers a major radiation leak, the utility is required to have procedures for notifying the public so local authorities can order evacuations.

The procedure that Progress Energy wrote set the amount of radiation that would trigger a warning at a higher level than what the monitors could ever indicate, according to the NRC. So if the levels ever reached that high, it might not have been immediately clear to issue a warning to the community.

The problem could have been solved two ways: Rewrite the procedures to lower the radiation level that triggers a warning or use monitors that could measure the higher levels.

There was no indication that any radiation went undetected at Crystal River, threatening public health. But had there been a major release of radiation into the community, workers at the plant would have had to rely on their knowledge, experience or some other indicator rather than the monitoring system to warn local authorities to evacuate residents, the NRC said.

"There are other ways to get some information," NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said. But "they did not have equipment that could provide them information they needed."

Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the problem is something Progress Energy Florida, the local subsidiary of Duke Energy that runs the plant, should have caught long ago. He said while it is fortunate that nothing happened, a major leak could have been devastating.

"When you hit a tree, it's a little late to find out you have a hole in your airbag," Lochbaum said.

The problem with the monitoring procedure and equipment at the Crystal River plant dates to June 2000, when Progress Energy Florida changed its procedures to meet new standards.

Progress Energy should have caught the problem earlier, according to federal regulators.

An NRC inspection report stated that "there were several opportunities to identify the . . . error" — two from the lesson of other plants in May 2008 and September 2010, and a third when Progress Energy revised its procedures in July 2010.

Nothing changed.

Heather Danenhower, a spokeswoman for the Crystal River plant, said Progress Energy Florida eventually fixed the problem when workers discovered that their procedures did not match the ability of their equipment to give proper warnings.

"This procedure issue did not pose a public health or safety concern," Danenhower said. "The plant would have needed to sustain multiple failures during a real emergency for this circumstance to have any impact.

"Since the plant went into service in 1977, it has never needed to declare a 'General Emergency' — the most significant of four emergency classifications."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission notice sent out Tuesday identified two other plants with the same flaw, the Kewaunee nuclear plant in Wisconsin and the Prairie Island nuclear plant in Minnesota. Progress Energy Florida will not be fined for the oversight. The notice was a warning to other nuclear operators to avoid similar problems.

The Crystal River plant, which has been offline since 2009, is being retired.

During an upgrade project that fall to replace old steam generators, the nuclear plant reactor's 42-inch thick concrete containment building cracked.

Progress Energy attempted to bring the reactor back in service in March 2011 after repairing the first crack. However, more cracks were found in the containment building. Duke Power, which acquired Progress Energy last July, announced earlier this month that it would permanently close the plant.

Federal and state regulators are reviewing Duke Energy's plans for retiring the plant, the first nuclear plant to close in Florida and the first major one in the southeast United States.

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List of Fixes Grows at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station
Erin Golden
Omaha World-Herald
(for personal use only)

More items have been added to the to-do list for workers at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station as they try to show regulators that the plant is safe enough to produce power for the first time in nearly two years.

The Omaha Public Power District says it's making significant progress on the lengthy checklist. But OPPD, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and nuclear power experts all seem to agree that it will probably be midyear — at best — before the plant can be restarted.

OPPD has already been working on the new concerns for months and doesn't believe that they will slow progress. But after multiple missteps put Fort Calhoun squarely on regulators' radar, a longer list isn't likely to speed an already delayed process.

The district has pushed back its anticipated restart date several times and must keep waiting until regulators have inspected and cleared more than 450 separate items.

Chris Gadomski, Bloomberg's lead analyst covering nuclear power, said the NRC remains “jittery” after the disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan two years ago.

“They're not going to cut anybody any slack, and they shouldn't cut anybody any slack,” he said.

Work to fix all three of those issues has been under way for about six months, said Tim Burke, OPPD's vice president of customer service and public affairs.

For now, anyway, he doesn't see additional delays leading to a need for midyear rate increases.

“Many of those items are in the budget for 2013,” he said. “From that perspective, we don't see any impact on rates from those items that would be in addition to the current (list.)”

Burke said it's too early to speculate about what could happen if the restart is pushed back into the later months of 2013. But he said the district would work to make internal cuts before adjusting rates.

OPPD, he said, remains optimistic that the plant will be fully functional before summer, the peak season for power use.

The district has previously announced several potential restart dates for the plant, beginning last January, when the target was summer 2012. After that came and went, the district publicly announced that it was moving toward heating up the reactor on Dec. 1, 2012. And the 2013 budget approved by the board late last year planned for a Feb. 1 restart.

So far, no heat-up, no restart — and no chance of either one happening — until regulators give their OK. The heat-up process takes somewhere between 48 and 72 hours.

Tony Vegel, director of nuclear materials safety for the NRC's Region IV, which includes Nebraska, said his agency has never given OPPD an estimate of when the plant could be ready. Those timelines, he said, have come from the district itself.

“They've agreed to fix this stuff and fix it right,” he said. “They can say what they want from a plant perspective. But the bottom line is, whatever they're going to do, what's been done, we're going to go behind them and verify that yes, they've thoroughly addressed it.”

Vegel, in town recently to check out progress at the plant, said it's still too early to get a good estimate of how much longer the process could drag out.

Once the 15-person team of inspectors makes a first run through the plant, he'll have a better idea. Even if everything looked good, the NRC would still have to take time to compile its findings, do more research, come back for more inspections and testing, and hold public meetings before taking Fort Calhoun off its list of high-risk nuclear plants.

If the restart work did continue for months — or even years — longer, it wouldn't be unprecedented.

Of the 87 nuclear reactors operating in the United States, more than 40 of them have at some point been closed for more than a year because of safety concerns and problems, some of them twice, according to reports from the Union of Concerned Scientists. In total, there have been 55 closures of more than a year.

Most of those closures have lasted somewhere between a year and three years beforethe plants were ready to restart. But a few dragged on much longer.

A reactor at Three Mile Island, the Pennsylvania site of the country's biggest nuclear meltdown, had a more than six-year outage following the accident in a neighboring reactor.

One reactor in Alabama, Browns Ferry Unit 2, was offline for nearly 10 years before it started producing power again.

Its sister reactor, Browns Ferry Unit 1, has had an even more complex history. It was shut down for a year and a half in the mid-'70s, reopened and then was taken offline again in 1985. It remains in a fuel outage, nearly 28 years later.

The Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville, Neb., operated by the Nebraska Public Power District, went through a shorter process. It was shut down for nine months in the mid-1990s because of performance and safety issues.

Most of the other plants that have been put on regulatory hold were similar to Fort Calhoun in that they had multiple problems.

“It isn't any big reason, it's an amalgamation of problems that took a while to identify and fix,” said David Lochbaum, the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' nuclear safety project.

“Without the right focus on safety, things kept getting put off or deferred, patched rather than fixed, that build up to large problems that the NRC wouldn't tolerate anymore,” Lochbaum said.

Fort Calhoun began its refueling outage on April 9, 2011. Missouri River flooding kept the plant off-line, but that was only the beginning.

After inspectors discovered other safety problems, including ones related to a fire, the plant made its way onto the NRC's list of problem reactors. It is one of just five plants that have received a “red finding” — the most serious level of safety concern — since 2000.

The findings put the plant into the NRC's 0350 review system for troubled reactors. It's a lengthy, complex process that requires thousands of pages of paperwork and inspections that get down to the smallest details.

One recent issue discovered at Fort Calhoun, for example, involved bolts that were a few inches shorter than regulation size. They weren't causing any problems, but there was potential — if the area was struck by an earthquake.

And questions about those bolts will probably lead to inspections of bolts not suspected of being the wrong size. If there is a problem in one place, the NRC says, it's important to check it out everywhere else.

And if there was ever a time when regulators are paying attention, it's now.
Environmental groups and citizens are following regulators' every move — including in Nebraska, where a small but vocal group of people attends every meeting, requests documents and often peppers regulators with well-researched questions.

Although OPPD has fallen off its most recent timeline, there is evidence that it is making progress.

Vegel said his inspectors have reported seeing forward movement on many items on the checklist. And the addition of new management from an outside company, Exelon Corp., which began consulting at Fort Calhoun last February and took over in August, seems to have sparked changes in the plant's culture.

“They have done some work,” Vegel said. “They think they have closed some items.”

To date, none of the now 43 items on the restart checklist has been officially signed off on. Vegel said OPPD officials have told his team that they are ready for inspection on 100 of the 450 broader issues.

Lochbaum said that number isn't unusual for plants under regulators' scrutiny, and it's not impossible to wade through the checklist within the next few months. He said it's a good sign that the number of reports that OPPD submits to the NRC every month is dwindling.

That means OPPD and Exelon have probably found most of the problems and are fixing them.

“I'd say middle of this year, if I was betting,” he said. “May through July.”
That guess, of course, comes with some caveats.

“The big wild card is if they find something else, a slowdown that could push back to this fall.”

If that happens, OPPD will have missed a summer deadline, which it has called “critical,” for having enough power to avoid buying any from other sources and driving up rates this year.

Already, taking Fort Calhoun out of the power supply — and funding restart efforts — has been cited as a key factor behind OPPD rate increases.

The average rate increase for 2013 was 6.9 percent. Residential rates jumped by 7.7 percent. The district went more than $130 million over budget in 2012 because of work at the plant.

Gadomski, the Bloomberg analyst, said it's clear that OPPD won't make its most recent estimate of a first-quarter restart, but he's not sure how much longer it could be delayed. If the district is still waiting by summer, he said, it makes several issues clear.

“It first tells you the problems are more serious than they had anticipated, if they're constantly delaying, delaying, delaying,” he said. “It tells you someone's calculator is broken.

“And it tells you you're entering the peak demand period without a reactor for the third year in a row.”

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Safety Concerns Cloud S. Korea Nuclear Drive
Lim Chang-won
(for personal use only)

South Korea has big plans to become a major nuclear energy player, but they are unfolding at a time when the global industry is under intense scrutiny after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

And its ambitions have not been helped by a series of domestic scandals and forced reactor shutdowns in 2012 that rattled public confidence and exposed a glaring lack of regulatory transparency.

Around $400 billion is riding on South Korea's ability to sell its technology to potential clients as it aims to take on the United States, France and Russia and grab a 20 percent share of the nuclear energy market.

With around half of the world's 430 reactors due for retirement by 2030, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the next 15 years or so offer the prospect of a sales bonanza.

Spearheading South Korea's global drive is its ARP-1400 reactor. It won a $20 billion deal in 2009 to build four of them in the United Arab Emirates and it aims to export another 80, worth around $400 billion, by 2030.

It is also planning a domestic energy expansion that would see it build 16 new reactors by 2030. South Korea currently operates 23 nuclear power reactors which meet more than 35 percent of the country's electricity needs.

"Our reactors are safe," Lee Young-Il insisted as he guided a group around an ARP-1400 nearing completion at the Gori nuclear power complex.

"We also have an excellent record of operating the reactors with a comparatively low annual rate of forced outage," said Lee, who heads the complex where South Korea's first commercial reactor came on line in 1978.

But the Fukushima disaster in Japan forced a number of countries to rethink their energy strategy, as public concern placed an even greater emphasis than before on reactor safety.

A survey commissioned by the Economics Ministry and published in November showed only 35 percent of South Koreans considered nuclear power to be safe, sharply down from 71 percent in January 2010.

"You are never free from worry as long as your country depends heavily on nuclear energy," Yangyi Won-Young, head of Nuclear-Free Korea, a coalition of civic groups, told AFP.

"Our nuclear power plants are vulnerable to natural disasters because of lax safety regulations which have been applied to construction, operation and parts," Yangyi said.

In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami-triggered meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, the state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co (KHNP) launched a $1.0 billion-dollar safety upgrade due to be completed by 2015.

The project involves building higher seawalls around the country's four nuclear power complexes, and equipping plants and reactors -- including the ARP-1400 -- with advanced watertight doors and ventilation systems, as well as new quake sensors.

But the upgrade coincided with a series of shutdowns and scandals in 2012 that triggered a warning from the International Energy Agency (IEA) in November about the need to rebuild public trust.

In May, five senior KHNP engineers were charged with trying to cover up a potentially dangerous power failure at the country's oldest Gori-1 reactor.

Later in the year, the government shut down two reactors at the Yeonggwang nuclear complex to replace components provided with fake quality certificates.

And a third reactor was taken offline at Yeonggwang when cracks were found on control rod tubes during maintenance work.

"Recent incidents at Korean nuclear facilities should serve as a timely reminder to the government that the nuclear regulatory authority must maintain an enhanced profile... and be able to take independent decisions," the IEA said in a report on South Korea's energy policies.

The South has been criticised in the past for a lack of transparency in the nuclear sector -- largely attributed to the regulatory bodies' mixed supervisory and promotional roles.

President Park Geun-Hye, who took office this week, looks set to further muddy the waters with her proposal for the nominally independent Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.

Park wants to affiliate the commission with a newly created super-ministry in charge of policies on science research, information communication technology and atomic energy development.

Scientists, environmentalists and a number of politicians -- including some from Park's ruling party -- say the move would undermine the watchdog's independence and weaken its safety management authority.

"The Republic of Korea is going to be the only country across the globe where regulators and basically developers or promoters might be working all together under the same roof," said Suh Kune-Yull, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University.

"A conflict of interest is inevitable," Suh said.

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Second Laptop Stolen from Israeli Nuclear Chief
Phoebe Greenwood
The Guardian
(for personal use only)

To have one laptop stolen might be considered a misfortune, but to have two stolen could look like carelessness, especially when you're the head of Israel's nuclear programme.

News of the theft from Shaul Horev's family home in Beit Yitzhak was kept from the Israeli public on Monday by a military censor and a gagging order requested by the police.

The gag was partially lifted on Tuesday with a statement from Horev's office confirming he had been the victim of a burglary. His wallet, a "communication device" and various documents were also reported to have been taken.

As head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Horev is in charge of Israel's nuclear policy and answers directly to the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

He has the highest-level security clearance, allowing him free access to Israel's most tightly guarded secrets, including Mossad intelligence on Iran's nuclear programme. The AEC's statement said there was no sensitive material on the stolen computer.

It is the second time a laptop has been stolen from Horev since he took over at the AEC. He has bodyguards, and the home he shares with his wife and two daughters is monitored by CCTV, but unlike government ministers he does not have additional home security.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported police observations of the crime scene. "His home did not appear ransacked as would be expected in a criminal break-in," it said. "Also, in the previous break-in a computer was stolen, about which it's not known whether it was merely for his personal or business or included data he used in his work."

The blogger Richard Silverstein pointed out the irony that Israel had previously claimed to have obtained secrets about Iran's nuclear programme from a stolen laptop which it used as evidence of Iran's ambitions for nuclear weapons – claims now widely believed to be untrue.

Matthew Fuhrmann, a Stanton nuclear security fellow, suggested Horev may have been the victim of espionage. "International agencies frequently try to steal information from phones and laptops, particularly from the hotel rooms of officials while they are travelling abroad. Israel in particular is known to have done this," he said.

"I am sceptical that there will be major state secrets on a laptop that has been allowed to leave the AEC, but in the case of the AEC chairman I'm not sure. Certainly this theft will not be welcome news to Israel."

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US, UK, Russia Hold Nuclear Security Workshop
Mark Rockwell
Government Security News
(for personal use only)

Representatives from U.S., U.K. and the Russian Federation convened a two-day workshop on how to best secure loose nuclear materials worldwide.

The Seventh Annual Nuclear Security Best Practices Exchange on Feb. 22 in Vienna, Austria brought together officials from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence and Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom).

These workshops grew out of commitments in a 2005 U.S.-Russian Joint Statement on Nuclear Security, said NNSA and the U.K. joined as a participant in in 2008. The exchanges are designed to bring together technical experts with high-level policy makers to improve understanding of challenges related to securing nuclear material, said NNSA. Each country made presentations on best practices for securing nuclear material, followed by discussions that helped further develop solutions to prevent the theft or seizure of nuclear material, it said.

“Our nations have a strong mutual commitment to developing and sharing the world’s best practices in nuclear security, as our long-term cooperation demonstrates,” said Anne Harrington, NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. “These workshops are a unique opportunity for U.S., Russian and U.K. partners to work collaboratively, and are an important part of a global effort to improve the security of nuclear materials around the world.”

The trilateral workshop was led by the NNSA acting chief of the Office of Defense Nuclear Security, the Rosatom deputy director general for Security and the principal security adviser of the Defence Equipment and Support Organisation, U.K. Ministry of Defence.

The exchanges, said NNSA, are sponsored by its Material Protection, Control and Accounting (MPC&A) program, which partners with Russia and other countries to strengthen the security of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable nuclear material worldwide.

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D.  Japan

Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Body Sets New Evacuation Guidelines
Ida Torres
The Japan Daily Press
(for personal use only)

The Nuclear Regulation Authority, Japan’s nuclear primary regulatory body, has set new guidelines for evacuating local residents in case of a nuclear power plant accident. The nuclear regulatory body had been reviewing disaster preparedness guidelines set in October last year and has decided on a number of changes and additions.

The NRA decided to add to the guidelines an item that requires iodine tablets to be distributed to households within 5 kilometers of a nuclear plant. Iodine is an element that helps prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive substances. Residents in that zone must evacuate before radioactive substances are released from the plant. In addition, residents in the 5 to 30-kilometer-zone will be asked to evacuate if radiation levels reach 500 microsieverts per hour.

The authority had surveyed and received more than 3,000 public opinions about the guidelines up for review. Some suggested that iodine tablets should be distributed over a wider area, while still others called for lowering the radiation level requiring evacuation. The authority, however, chose not incorporate most of these views into the guidelines, saying the new additions and modifications to the rules have been drawn up properly based on lessons from the March 2011 disaster in Fukushima.

With these changes in place, municipalities within 30 kilometers of a nuclear plant must now review their own disaster preparedness programs by March 18. But many have yet to decide on evacuation methods and places to evacuate, because the authority’s review process had itself been delayed by about a month.

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Japanese Nuclear Safety Costs Put at $10B
(for personal use only)

It would cost Japan's nuclear power companies about $10.87 billion to comply with new safety standards, operators told an Asahi Shimbun survey.

The safety standards relate to disaster preparedness by nuclear power plant operators. A draft of the standards prepared last month by Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority requires operators to take broad measures against natural disasters and accidents.

The operators in the newspaper survey said the final cost to comply with the standards could rise as they cannot accurately estimate the expenses because parts of the standards are yet to be determined.

Since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 48 of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors have been idled.

The Asahi Shimbun said the reactors can't be restarted until utilities comply with the safety standards, which are expected to go into effect in July.

The newspaper said the companies in its survey estimated the costs at $10.87 billion for 15 plants, which don't include the Fukushima plant.

The report said the estimates mainly cover expenses for emergency safety measures, such as construction of levees to guard against tsunami, and provisions for emergency power supply vehicles.

One utility said it needs to restart its idle reactors soon to improve its financial performance.

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Power Companies to Face Tough New Standards for Nuke Reactor Restarts
The Mainichi
(for personal use only)

Power companies across the country will apply for permission to reactivate around five nuclear reactors when new safety standards for nuclear power plants go into effect in July, it has been learned.

The new nuclear regulatory agency is expected to take several months after receiving reactivation applications to decide whether or not to give the go-ahead for utilities to restart their reactors. However, because the only reactors currently in operation in Japan -- Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi Nuclear Power Plant's No. 3 and No. 4 units -- will also be subject to the new standards, there is a chance that Japan could find itself with zero operating reactors once again.

The Mainichi Shimbun surveyed domestic power companies on steps they are taking toward fulfilling the new safety standards.

One of the key characteristics of the new safety standards includes the construction of new equipment and facilities, such as a second control room or other "designated safety facilities." Because the newly established Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has not established detailed installation requirements, most utilities held off revealing their progress to the Mainichi, saying they are waiting for the NRA's specifications.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which is hoping to reactivate its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture, indicated that it is in the midst of "deliberating a basic concept" for its adherence to the new requirements. Kyushu Electric Power Co., which is aiming to restart its Genkai and Sendai nuclear power plants, also said that it was "conducting specific deliberations." Power companies are expected to be given three to five years before the new facilities are made a requirement.

All the utilities have either finished building or are slated to build quake-proof facilities like the one that has served as a front-line emergency operations base in the Fukushima disaster. Shikoku Electric Power Co. finished its facility at Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in late 2011, fulfilling one criterion for reactor reactivation. The NRA has not yet decided whether it will give utilities individual deadlines on this criterion, but if that turns out to be the case, it could water down the effect of the new safety standards.

TECPO has begun work on installing filtered vent systems at the No. 1 and No. 7 reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. Chubu Electric Power Co. has also said it will begin the same work at Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant soon, but predicts it will take two to three years to complete. The NRA plans to make filtered vents a requirement for boiling water reactors (BWRs) -- the same type as the reactors at the stricken Fukushima plant -- in July, at the time the new standards go into effect. This will make it difficult to resume operations of the 26 BWRs, located primarily in eastern Japan, at an early date.

Meanwhile, utilities will likely be allowed more time to install filtered vents on the 24 pressurized water reactors (PWRs) in Japan, found mostly in the western part of the country, since their containment vessels are relatively large and their furnace pressures take more time to rise than in BWRs.

The new safety standards also include more stringent measures against fire, including the use of flame-resistant cables. Currently, flammable cables are used in at least 13 reactors. Since about 1,000 to 2,000 kilometers' worth of cables are used per reactor, inspecting and replacing all of them is bound to take a significant amount of time.

The stipulation that limits a reactor's operational life to 40 years is also expected to make it into the new standards. Three of Japan's reactors began operations over 40 years ago, and 14 have been in operation for over 30. If the rule is strictly applied, some reactors are likely to be decommissioned. Chugoku Electric Power Co. is weighing the cost-effectiveness of installing filtered vents on the No. 1 reactor at its Shimane Nuclear Power Plant, which began operations 39 years ago, saying, "We'll consider the specifics of the 40-year rule in making our decision."

When the power companies were asked whether they had any requests for the NRA, Kansai Electric Power Co. responded, "We'd like (the NRA) to exchange ideas with the utilities."

Meanwhile, rules on active faults on plant properties were completely revamped under the new safety standards' quake and tsunami measures. Faults were heretofore inspected for any activity in the last 120,000 to 130,000 years. Starting in July, if no activity is detected within that time, the fault must be inspected for activity in the last 400,000 years.

Under the new standards, the construction of important facilities above active faults will be explicitly prohibited by law for the first time. The NRA will also demand the construction of coastal levees based on data on the biggest possible tsunami that could strike each of the country's reactors.

Following further deliberation by the NRA on the 40-year operation rule and deadlines for the new requirements, the new safety standards will be legislated and go into effect by July 18.

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E.  Nuclear Cooperation

Rosatom Helping to Build Groundbreaking Reactor
Andrei Reznichenko
Russia Beyond the Headlines
(for personal use only)

A new thermonuclear reactor — the product of years of negotiation and research among scientists and officials from around the world – is being constructed at Cadarache in southern France.
Known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), it is the first large-scale attempt to create power from nuclear fusion, the same kind of thermonuclear reaction that takes place in the sun.

Unlike traditional nuclear reactors, which consume rare and often hazardous resources, Iter will require only two basic components to operate: seawater and lithium. Additionally, the major by-product of the fusion reaction is harmless helium.

The ITER project dates back to 1985, when nuclear physicist Yevgeny Velikhov approached European, American and Japanese scientists, on behalf of the Soviet Union, with the idea of creating a joint thermonuclear reactor. Later that year at the US-USSR Geneva Summit, the parties agreed to the development of fusion energy; one year later in Reykjavik an agreement was made to jointly pursue the design of a large fusion facility, ITER.

In 1992, an agreement was signed by the four parties to begin developing the engineering project of the reactor. Construction began at the site in 2011, and the first construction phase will be completed by 2020, by which time the reactor is expected to produce its first plasma. The reactor is expected to be operational for 20 years before being decommissioned.

Although Iter is a joint project, the responsibilities and costs are not distributed evenly. The total cost of the project is around €13 billion (about $ 17 billion). The EU countries contribute about 50 percent of the project’s finance and technology, with the other nations contributing about 10 percent each. Russia’s share is provided in the form of hi-tech equipment.

Russia is also responsible for much of the know-how behind the project. Iter is based primarily on the Soviet-era tokamak reactor, first developed during the 50s and the 60s.

The most efficient fusion reaction to reproduce in a laboratory is the reaction between two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium. This reaction produces the highest energy gain at the lowest temperatures. At extreme temperatures, electrons are separated from nuclei and a gas becomes a plasma – a hot, electrically charged gas.

A tokamak reactor uses magnetic fields to contain and control the hot plasma. The fusion between deuterium and tritium produces one helium nucleus, one neutron, and energy.

The helium nucleus carries an electric charge which will respond to the magnetic fields of the tokamak and remain confined within the plasma. However, some 80 percent of the energy produced is carried away from the plasma by the neutron which has no electrical charge and is therefore unaffected by magnetic fields.

The neutrons will be absorbed by the surrounding walls of the tokamak, transferring their energy to the walls as heat.

Technological developments from every partner were necessary to create Iter. Russia agreed to produce a number of systems for the reactor, including part of the first wall, which is made from beryllium, a metal used in superconductors.

The main Russian supplier of superconducting materials for the international thermonuclear reactor is Chepetsky Mechanical Plant, a subsidiary of Rosatom’s fuel company TVEL. Russia will provide about 20 percent of the superconductors required for ITER.

The agreement that established the international consortium to construct the reactor stipulated that the project would make use not only of technologies currently in use worldwide, but also new technological breakthroughs in the field that would be developed as the project moved forward.

“Iter will have double benefits for each participant,” says Leonid Bolshov, director of the Nuclear Safety Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“On the one hand, they will have a reactor of the future and a power plant that will meet the electricity requirement of developed economies for many years to come.

“On the other hand, while working on the project, which is unique in its complexity, the countries will share competencies and benefit from new technologies that could be used in different spheres.”

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Britain's Need for Nuclear Could Open Door to Chinese Investment
Karolin Schaps and Lorraine Turner
(for personal use only)

China could be on the cusp of one of its most sensitive European investments as costly plans for new nuclear reactors in Britain open the door to Chinese state-run firms.

Five years on from the sale of nuclear operator British Energy to France's EDF, the French firm is looking to build the first new reactor in the UK since the 1990s and plans talks with a Chinese partner.

Such a deal would be unthinkable in the United States, where the White House is stepping up diplomatic pressure and weighing tougher laws to stem the threat to U.S. businesses and security from China and other nations.

The Chinese military was accused of carrying out hacking attacks on companies, including British ones, by a U.S. cyber security firm last week, an allegation which Beijing's Defence Ministry has denied.

Yet Britain, Washington's closest political ally, looks increasingly likely to accept Chinese investment in sensitive projects given a weak global economy offering few alternatives for funding the billions it needs to replace ageing reactors.

"China is a trading partner to the United Kingdom with millions of pounds traded with them already," said Richard Ottaway, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party which heads the UK's coalition government.

"I don't see any difference in whether we talk about power generation or car production. If there are security issues, I'm quite sure we are capable of addressing them."

EDF confirmed in January that it would start talks with China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp (CGNPC) about forming a partnership to build nuclear power plants in Britain.

The idea took on new urgency this month, after Britain's Centrica, owner of British Gas, quit EDF's consortium.

That move underscored the diverging energy prospects faced by London and Washington as U.S. companies and consumers bask in discounted gas prices brought on by plentiful shale gas while Britain risks an electricity shortage as older plants close.

Britain foresees 200 billion pounds ($303 billion) in needed investment in energy by 2020 as slowing economies around the world constrain state budgets and force lenders and companies to retrench.

Centrica cited rising costs as one of the reasons it was quitting the project with EDF, which could cost as much as 20 billion pounds to build four reactors.

EDF also faces challenges as the bill for a plant it is building at Flamanville in France has risen to 8.5 billion euros from an initial estimate of 3.3 billion.

Further constraining nuclear funding are fears stirred by the March 2011 disaster at Japan's Fukushima plant, which has hurt public backing, delayed projects and prompted Germany to phase out nuclear altogether by 2022.

Germany's RWE and E.ON in turn opted to sell their Horizon nuclear project in the UK to Japan's Hitachi late last year.

In contrast, China is in the midst of an unparalleled nuclear building spree as it aims to more than triple its installed capacity by 2015 to 42 gigawatts (GW).

The British government has repeatedly said it is open to foreign nuclear investment provided that it meets UK standards.

It has backed up its openness to firms from China in other sectors already, with Chinese state firms buying minority stakes in London's Heathrow Airport and Thames Water, a utility serving 14 million Britons.

China's largest foreign takeover - state-owned entity CNOOC Ltd's $15.1 billion takeover of Canadian oil and gas company Nexen Inc which closed on Monday - includes access to British North Sea oil production as well as shale gas projects.

Yet some voices in Britain and France have urged caution.

The French government has launched an investigation into a 2011 deal signed between EDF and CGNPC to establish whether national interests were jeopardised.

In Britain, a parliamentary committee is probing foreign companies' participation in projects linked to national security, including a partnership between China's Huawei Technologies and BT Group.

"We've been examining the background to that particular series of events, to see whether there are any causes for concern or any lessons to be learnt," said Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the UK's parliamentary intelligence and security committee.

Other politicians are calling on Britain to adopt an approach in line with that taken by the United States.

"I think the United States have approached the issue with their eyes wide open and with security pragmatism," said Mark Pritchard, a Conservative member of parliament who sits on a parliamentary committee on national security strategy.

As far as nuclear safety is concerned, China defends its standards and argues it has never had an incident higher than level 2 on the INES nuclear event scale where Fukushima was a level 5.

Yet critics say delay in disclosing details of a malfunction at a CGNPC plant near Hong Kong in 2010 is cause for concern.

"You can't divorce the company's problematic ethics from their corporate involvement in UK nuclear," said Paul Dorfman, founder of Nuclear Consulting Group and a former government adviser on radiation risks.

Ultimately, whether CGNPC is brought aboard the EDF project could hinge on the outcome of current talks between the French firm and the British government aimed at setting a guaranteed minimum price for electricity generated from the planned plant.

Details have not been disclosed, but it is clear the UK government faces a delicate balance between seeking the best price for cashapped consumers and offering a level of return that will entice French, and possibly Chinese, investment.

For the Chinese, beyond further experience in reactor construction, a UK deal could mean a long-term investment that generates an attractive return.

Britain could see a series of nuclear reactors built at five sites over the next 12 years, yet changes in the ranks of the three groups planning the work have sparked doubts about timelines and funding.

In addition to EDF, France's GDF Suez and Spain's Iberdrola aim to build up to 3,600 megawatts (MW) of nuclear capacity at a site in West Cumbria, in northwest England, while Hitachi has plans for up to 6,000 MW at two sites.

Some believe a successful Chinese role alongside EDF could open the way for further investment in the sector. China's state-owned companies have a war chest of some $30-50 billion for international expansion, PwC has calculated, based on Beijing's latest five-year plan.

"This is a trend we will probably be seeing globally where Chinese companies will become part of consortia around technologies that they're helping to build in China," said George Borovas, head of the international nuclear projects team at law firm Pillsbury, who has advised foreign companion UK nuclear investments.

"The UK might be one of the first to see this happen, it's going to be a first try," he said.

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F.  Links of Interest

Canada to Fund Non-Nuclear Sources for Medical Isotopes
Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren
(for personal use only)

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Court Rules Biblis Closure Unlawful
World Nuclear News
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