The US has flown two B-2 stealth bombers over South Korea as part of a military exercise.
The US said it demonstrated its forces could conduct "long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will".
The move follows strong rhetoric from Pyongyang and comes a day after it cut a military hotline with the South.
The hotline had been used mainly to facilitate cross-border travel at a joint industrial complex, which was said to be operating normally.
More than 160 South Korean commuters went through border control on Thursday morning to start work at the Kaesong complex, after being approved for entry by North Korea, officials said.
North Korean authorities had used a civilian phone line to arrange the crossing, they added.
The joint project is a source of badly-needed hard currency for the North. Around 120 South Korean firms operate at Kaesong industrial park, employing an estimated 50,000 North Korean workers.
Pyongyang has been angered both by annual US-South Korea military drills, and the fresh UN sanctions that followed its third nuclear test on 12 February.
The hotline it severed was the last direct official link between the two nations. A Red Cross hotline and another line used to communicate with the UN Command at Panmunjom have already been cut. An inter-Korean air-traffic hotline still exists.
North Korea has also made multiple threats against both the US and South Korea in recent weeks, including warning of a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" on the US and the scrapping of the Korean War armistice.
North Korea is not thought to have the technology to strike the US mainland with either a nuclear weapon or a ballistic missile, but it is capable of targeting some US military bases in Asia with its mid-range missiles.
The US military said in a statement that the B-2 flight showed US "capability to defend the Republic of Korea [South Korea] and to provide extended deterrence to our allies in the Asia-Pacific region".
The two nuclear-capable planes flew from Whitman Air force Base in Missouri to South Korea as part of a "single, continuous" round trip mission during which they dropped "inert munitions on the Jik Do Range", the statement said.
The US said earlier this month that nuclear-capable B-52 bombers were taking part in the annual joint exercises with South Korea, prompting an angry response from Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, in a phone call on Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-Jin that the US would provide "unwavering" support to South Korea.
He also told his South Korean counterpart that the US-South Korea alliance was "instrumental in maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula", Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21963369
Reclusive North Korea is to cut the last channel of communications with the South because war could break out at "any moment", it said on Wednesday, days of after warning the United States and South Korea of nuclear attack.
The move is the latest in a series of bellicose threats from North Korea in response to new U.N. sanctions imposed after its third nuclear test in February and to "hostile" military drills under way joining the United States and South Korea.
The North has already stopped responding to calls on the hotline to the U.S. military that supervises the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Red Cross line that has been used by the governments of both sides.
"Under the situation where a war may break out at any moment, there is no need to keep north-south military communications which were laid between the militaries of both sides," the North's KCNA news agency quoted a military spokesman as saying.
"There do not exist any dialogue channel and communications means between the DPRK and the U.S. and between the north and the south."
The Pentagon condemned the latest escalation in North Korean rhetoric, with spokesman George Little calling Pyongyang's declaration "yet another provocative and unconstructive step."
The U.S. military announced on March 15 it was bolstering missile defenses in response to threats from the North, including a threat to conduct a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States.
Despite the shrill rhetoric, few believe North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), will risk starting a full-out war.
North and South Korea are still technically at war anyway after their 1950-53 civil conflict ended with an armistice, not a treaty, which the North says it has since torn to pieces.
The "dialogue channel" is used on a daily basis to process South Koreans who work in the Kaesong industrial project where 123 South Korean firms employ more than 50,000 North Koreans to make household goods.
About 120 South Koreans are stationed at Kaesong at any one time on average.
It is the last remaining joint project in operation between the two Koreas after South Korea cut off most aid and trade in response to Pyongyang's shooting of a South Korean tourist and the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel blamed on the North.
Kaesong is one of North Korea's few hard currency earners, producing $2 billion a year in trade with the South, and Pyongyang is unlikely to close it except as a last resort.
The North's military spokesman representing its "supreme command" did not mention Kaesong, which has suffered temporary shutdowns before.
The South's government said it would take steps to ensure the safety of the workers at Kaesong. It did not elaborate.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/27/us-korea-north-idUSBRE92Q07E20130327
3. Japan, Australia to Sanction North Korean Bank as Part of U.S.-Led Crackdown
Antoni Slodkowski and Warren Strobel
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Japan and Australia plan to sanction North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank as part of U.S.-led efforts targeting Pyongyang's main foreign exchange bank for the role Washington says it has in funding the country's nuclear program.
A Japanese government source said Tokyo could act within the next two to three weeks. Australian Foreign Ministry sources said Canberra might also unveil sanctions soon.
A senior U.S. official said the Obama administration was trying to convince other governments to crack down on the bank after Washington announced its own measures this month.
Washington had urged the European Union to take action, a State Department official said on Monday. David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told reporters he raised the issue of the bank with Chinese officials in Beijing last week, although he did not say what their response was.
Experts said the U.S. move was designed to make foreign banks that do business in the United States think twice about dealing with the Foreign Trade Bank, much the same way banks have become wary about having ties with financial institutions in sanctions-hit Iran.
"It was obvious to us, fairly early on, that this bank is key to the North Korean ability to finance and fund" their nuclear and ballistic missile programs, said the senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "And so it was decided it would make sense to do everything we could to put pressure on their proliferation efforts and their WMD (weapons of mass destruction) efforts by putting pressure on this bank."
Not much is publicly known about the bank. One South Korean expert said it also handled legitimate trade and investment with China. The State Department official said some EU countries with embassies in Pyongyang used the bank for embassy business.
Washington had asked the U.N. Security Council to include the bank in fresh sanctions imposed on North Korea for its February 12 nuclear test, but China and Russia were opposed, said the senior U.S. official and U.N. diplomats. They did not say why Beijing and Moscow rejected the proposal.
Neither Russia's U.N. mission in New York nor China's had an immediate comment. Russia and China each wield vetoes in the Security Council.
The United States announced its unilateral measures against the bank several days after the U.N. resolution was passed on March 7. Washington's measures prohibit any transactions between U.S. entities or individuals and the North Korean bank.
The Japanese government source with direct knowledge of the matter said Tokyo was expected to announce sanctions once legal documents were prepared.
"The (bank) doesn't have a branch in Japan so the main reason behind the move is an attempt to cause as much reputational damage as possible," the source said, referring to any institutions that might be doing business with the bank.
In Canberra, Foreign Ministry sources said sanctions would be applied to prevent Foreign Trade Bank operations in Australia. Talks were under way with bank representatives, the sources said, declining to say what the measures would be or where the talks were taking place.
The office of Foreign Minister Bob Carr said that up to now regulators had yet to find any record of a Foreign Trade Bank branch in Australia. Australia has diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. Japan does not.
"We are continuing to review our sanctions regime against North Korea, including the further tightening of financial sanctions," said a spokeswoman for Carr.
The senior U.S. official indicated the American campaign was not meant to be coercive, but rather aimed at explaining Washington's concerns about the bank and advising other countries to take similar action. The United States took that approach, warning other countries and banks of reputational risk, in its drive to cut off Iran's access to the global financial system.
One expert said Washington was following up U.N. sanctions with its own, tougher measures, which meant going after specific entities and isolating them.
"Then countries have to decide whether they want to do business with North Korea, or do business with the rest of the financial community," said Mark Dubowitz from the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who has advised the Obama administration on sanctions focused mainly on Iran.
The new U.N. sanctions tighten financial curbs on North Korea, including the illicit transfer of bulk cash, and crack down on its attempts to ship and receive banned cargo.
One of the challenges is stopping the transfer of bulk cash, which U.N. diplomats say is one of Pyongyang's preferred methods of moving money - often in briefcases carried by its diplomats. Sanctions on the Foreign Trade Bank could force North Korean diplomats to carry more cash, exposing them to the risk of capture, the Japanese government source said.
The success of the new U.N. measures depends to a large extent on China, North Korea's sole diplomatic ally and its major trading partner.
However, China has become increasingly frustrated with North Korea, Chinese experts have said. Besides the latest nuclear test, North Korea launched a long-range missile in December and has stepped up its rhetoric against the United States and South Korea.
Cho Bong-hyun, an expert on the North Korean economy at the IBK Economic Institute in Seoul, said China might act against the bank but would not shut it down. China's actions could include limiting the bank's activities in China, partly by making it harder to transmit money, Cho said.
"The impact would be significant. It could mean the flow of money through the bank would dry up. The key is China is not likely to impose such actions indefinitely," he said.
The State Department official, briefing reporters in Brussels on Monday on condition he not be further identified, said it was complicated for the EU to impose sanctions on the bank because some European countries used it in Pyongyang.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian organizations may also use the bank, he said, adding: "We are not going after NGOs that do legitimate work."
An EU source said the bank was not on the current EU sanctions list. EU diplomats are expected to discuss additional sanctions soon, the source said.
The senior U.S. official contrasted the effort against the Foreign Trade Bank with the 2005 U.S. action against Macau-based Banco Delta Asia (BDA), which Washington alleged handled illicit funds for Pyongyang. Some $25 million in North Korean money was frozen in that U.S. Treasury-inspired raid.
Unlike BDA, the Foreign Trade Bank is a domestic North Korean institution.
"This is more an effort to impede their financial system's ability to operate" in the nuclear and missile sector, the senior U.S. official said.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/26/us-korea-north-bank-idUSBRE92P04T20130326
1. ‘Most Substantive’ Iran Nuclear Talks to Date, But Narrow Area of Agreement
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Iranian nuclear experts deeply engaged on the substance of a revised international proposal, and said they are considering suspending 20% enrichment for six months and converting their 20% stockpile to oxide for medical use at technical talks with six world powers held in Istanbul last week, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor Tuesday.
However, the Iranians raised numerous objections to other elements in a revised international proposal presented in Kazakhstan last month, a diplomatic source, speaking not for attribution, said Tuesday. Among them: suspending other operations at Fordo except for 20% enrichment, shipping out Tehran’s stockpile of 20% enriched fuel; as well as enhanced IAEA inspections.
American officials “had the most substantive conversation they ever had” with the Iranians, another analyst briefed on the Istanbul talks, speaking not for attribution, said. International arms control envoys “went through their [international] proposal slide by slide, and [the Iranians] didn’t focus on [their] counter proposal.”
The Iranians in Istanbul were cool to incentives in the revised offer, including modest sanctions relief, but did not explain what they would want instead, according to the diplomat.
The updated proposal offered to ease sanctions on the gold trade and petrochemical sales, but not major oil and banking sanctions, Al-Monitor reported last month.
Diplomats from six world powers head back to Almaty, Kazakhstan next week for political director level talks with Iran, to be held April 5-6.
Two sources suggested the US may be looking at additional incentives to possibly bolster the international offer, but the details were unclear.
The parties have said little publicly following the March 18 technical meeting in Turkey, in part perhaps due to the Persian New Year’s (Nowruz) holiday underway and Easter and Passover holidays in the West.
But an Iranian source close to the talks on Tuesday pointed Al-Monitor to a speech by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei last week for guidance on Tehran’s negotiating stance.
“If the Americans wanted to resolve the issue, this would be a very simple solution: they could recognize the Iranian nation’s right to enrichment and in order to address those concerns, they could enforce the regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Khamenei said in a March 21 speech in the city of Mashhad. “We were never opposed to the supervision and regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
“Whenever we are close to a solution, the Americans cause a problem in order to prevent reaching a solution,” Khamenei continued. “My assumption and interpretation is that their goal is to keep the issue unresolved so that they can have a pretext for exerting pressure on us.”
Available at: http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2013/03/4872/most-substantive-talks-with-iran-in-istanbul-but-narrow-area-of-agreement/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=most-substantive-talks-with-iran-in-istanbul-but-narrow-area-of-agreement
2. Sanctions May Be Speeding Iran's Nuclear Advancement
The Christian Science Monitor
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Even Iranian officials now admit that the US-led sanctions regime against Iran is damaging its economy. But the pressure has failed in its primary aim: to slow Iran’s nuclear progress. That has become obvious to the US and European officials imposing crippling sanctions, as has the fact that sanctions may have even sped up Iran's nuclear advancement.
A report released today – based on 30 in-depth interviews with Iranian officials, analysts, and businessmen – explains that dilemma and Iran’s determined defiance to Western policymakers, who will conduct a fifth round of nuclear negotiations with Iran in Kazakhstan next week.
The report's conclusions provide a rare glimpse from high levels in Iran of how sanctions have and have not worked, which could directly affect decisions by Western nuclear negotiators, and a US Congress keen on adding more sanctions, but reluctant to offer enough sanctions relief to convince Iran to stop its most sensitive nuclear work.
“It’s critical to understand how massive pain is being channeled and absorbed in Iran, because just sitting there expecting pain to deliver results is somewhat naive,” says coauthor Trita Parsi, president of the Washington-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which produced the report.
“Putting pressure is just half of the equation; [US and European officials] have succeeded with that, undoubtedly the pain on Iran is immense,” says Mr. Parsi. “But to channel the pain is a very, very different task.”
Sanctions now include a European oil embargo, exclusion from the SWIFT international banking system that enables Iranian banks to transfer money, and US measures that target Iran’s central bank.
These measures have begun to bite, causing economic isolation and a precipitous fall in both oil revenues and the value of the Iranian currency. But Iran has still added thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium, and deployed a more efficient, second-generation centrifuge model; stepped up uranium enrichment levels from 5 percent to 20 percent, which is technically not too far from weapons-grade; and moved its most sensitive work to a deeply buried site impregnable to air attack.
Those results so far indicate that pressure is not working, according to the NIAC report, because “escalating sanctions as a [Western] bargaining chip also gives Iran the incentive to advance its program for the same reason.”
It also suggests that rethinking the scale of sanctions relief on offer may be necessary when the P5+1 group (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) sits down to nuclear talks with Iran next week, if they are to have any chance of success.
The NIAC study concludes that “it is highly unlikely that the regime will succumb to sanctions pressure … [when] no proportionate sanctions relief is put on the table by the P5+1, and capitulation is seen as a greater threat to the regime’s survival than even a military confrontation with the United States.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said last week that Iran had turned “threats into opportunities” and was emerging victorious despite the “negative effects” of sanctions.
“They have announced that their goal is to cripple the Iranian nation and to bring it to its knees,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, according to a transcript on his website. “Therefore, if our nation resists their pressure, stays vibrant, and achieves more advances, they will lose credibility.”
The US had been the “enemy” and “main center for designing machinations” against Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Khamenei said. “The sanctions have had an effect, but they have not had the effect that they were after," he added.
Senior Iranians quoted in the NIAC report – titled “Never give in and never give up," in reference to the core regime ideology at play – also explain how Iran’s unexpected reaction raises questions about the utility of sanctions.
The report states that "individuals close to the core of Iran's power structure are relishing the narrative of resistance" because although there is economic suffering, Iran “is also gaining newfound respect on the international stage due to its refusal to succumb to Western pressure.”
A senior Iranian parliamentarian “influential in the top layers of the regime” told NIAC that Iran’s resistance had even become a “role model” for developing countries – a view echoed by a number of other Iranian officials.
“Stark divisions among the Iranian elite are unmistakable,” notes the NIAC report. “[But] if the testimony of elite insiders is to be believed, sanctions have helped strengthen cohesion rather than intensify rifts.”
One current Iranian official told NIAC that Western governments expected Iran’s economy to collapse: “Well, now they know that they have failed. If they continue this way, it will just strengthen Iran’s resolve to confront the West.”
Describing regime thinking, a former deputy foreign minister said, “It was obvious to us that the sanctions pressure will increase and … the main target was to weaken the regime, but that compelled us to stay strong, work together, and prove the Western strategy wrong.”
This is likely to be food for thought on Capitol Hill, at the White House, and among European Union officials, who have so far offered Iran only modest sanctions relief – and none at all on oil or financial sanctions – in exchange for capping its most sensitive nuclear work. Iranian sources have told the Monitor the current offer has "no balance."
The report's conclusions echo another detailed sanctions analysis from the International Crisis Group (ICG) in February.
“Compliance with Western demands, in Ayatollah Khamenei’s mind, likely will not result in alleviation of pressure” because it would project weakness, noted the ICG. “Under this view, the [nuclear] deal, not its absence, could be the poison that brings down the Islamic Republic.”
The sanctions juggernaut against Iran “illustrates the risk that, precisely due to their inability to secure their primary goal, sanctions may turn into an end in and of themselves,” reports the ICG. “That such [economic] pain does not translate into the desired policy change becomes … almost an afterthought.”
Many of the US sanctions can only be lifted or adjusted by Congress, which has shown little interest in giving Iran what some see as a “reward” for its defiance.
“The key thing for the US is what are the sanctions that politically can be lifted without causing major mayhem or a backlash from Congress,” says NIAC’s Parsi, who co-wrote the report with the Vienna-based Iranian economist Bijan Khajehpour and NIAC research director Reza Marashi.
“It is truly a litmus test for diplomacy, because if it ends up in a situation where the president is incapable of convincing Congress to play ball, and actually be helpful for diplomacy, rather than being unhelpful, then the US doesn’t have any cards to bring to the negotiating table,” adds Parsi.
Available at: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0326/Report-Sanctions-may-be-speeding-Iran-s-nuclear-advancement
1. Japan Turns from Nuclear Fission to Nuclear Fusion
Environment News Service
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The Japanese utility that supplies electricity to seven prefectures on Japan’s main island of Honshu today officially withdrew its plan to build a new nuclear power plant near the site of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Tohoku Electric Power Company said Thursday that it will cancel the construction of the Namie-Odaka plant in view of strong local opposition.
Announced in 1968, the plant was to be built about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant belonging to Tokyo Electric Power Company.
At Fukushima Daiichi, hydrogen explosions and nuclear fuel meltdowns followed the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that shut down power to the water pumps that cooled the nuclear fuel rods.
Tohoku already has two nuclear power stations – one in Miyagi Prefecture and the other in Aomori Prefecture. But they remain shut down after the Fukushima disaster as do all Japan’s other 50+ nuclear power plants, except for two near Osaka.
All the world’s nuclear power plants generate electricity by splitting atoms in a process known as nuclear fission.
But now, Japan is taking a leading role in developing production of electricity by means of nuclear fusion, the process that powers stars and the Sun. In this nuclear reaction, atomic nuclei collide at very high speed and join to form a new type of atomic nucleus, emitting vast amounts of heat and energy.
Scientists have been working to harness nuclear fusion as a next-generation energy source.
This week, Japanese and European scientists began assembling an advanced nuclear fusion testing facility northeast of Tokyo in Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture. The site is on Japan’s Pacific coast 143 kilometers (89 miles) south of Fukushima Daiichi.
About 100 people from Europe and Japan attended a ceremony Monday at Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s Naka Fusion Institute to mark the start of assembling the testing facility.
The new fusion testing facility replaces the JT-60 Upgrade experiment recently operating there, using the buildings and basic site infrastructure. The super-conductivity base for the JT-60SA testing facility was shipped from Europe.
SA stands for Super, Advanced, since the experiment will have superconducting coils and study advanced modes of plasma operation.
Some 500 Japanese and European researchers are expected to take part in nuclear fusion experiments there.
The experiments at Naka will support and optimize the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, ITER, an international nuclear fusion research and engineering project, currently building the world’s largest experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor at the Cadarache facility in France.
Michel Claessens, PhD, head of communication and external relations for ITER’s Office of the Director-General, told ENS that the new testing facility will also support the fusion power plants that are built after ITER.
ITER’s aim is to show that nuclear fusion could be used to generate electrical power, and to gain the necessary data to design and operate the first electricity-producing plant.
JT-60SA is an experimental device based on the tokamak concept, in which a hot gas is confined in a torus-shaped vessel using a magnetic field. The gas will be heated to over 100 million degrees, typically for 100 seconds every hour.
The plasma fuel will be hydrogen or deuterium. Deuterium mimics the behavior of a reacting deuterium-tritium plasma in a real power reactor or ITER, without generating large amounts of heat or neutrons.
The reaction produces some neutrons directly, plus reactions with tritium, a by-product of one branch of the reaction. JT-60SA thus slowly can become radioactive in use, and remote handling of systems near the plasma must be planned.
Japan’s JT-60SA nuclear fusion testing facility is scheduled for completion in 2018
Available at: http://ens-newswire.com/2013/03/28/japan-turns-from-nuclear-fission-to-nuclear-fusion/
2. Japanese Regulators to Investigate Nuclear Crisis
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Japanese government regulators said Wednesday that for the first time they will conduct their own investigation into the country's nuclear crisis to address key unanswered questions.
The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami cut power and destroyed vital cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-chi nuclear plant, causing meltdowns at three of its reactors. Several groups have already published the findings of their own investigations into the crisis, largely blaming the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl on botched crisis management, government-industry collusion and the tsunami.
But questions remain, and experts still suspect that the quake, not the tsunami, may have triggered the meltdowns. The Nuclear Regulation Authority said this issue, which could affect anti-quake measures at nuclear facilities nationwide, will be part of its investigation.
The authority said the investigation will also look into other issues, including how much and from where radiation leaked at the plant. The probe, to be conducted by a panel that will include outside experts, will start by the end of April and could take decades to complete because parts of the plant are still in horrible condition as the complex undergoes a 40-year cleanup process.
"Nobody has inspected the site very closely and we still have to sort out a lot of technical questions that remain unresolved," said Tetsuo Omura, a regulator in charge of reactor safety. "We have conflicting views, particularly about how the earthquake had impacted key safeguard equipment, a key question that needs to be addressed."
The plant suffered an extensive power failure last week after a rat short-circuited an outdoor switchboard, cutting fresh cooling water from four of its seven fuel storage pools for more than a day, a reminder that the fragile complex is running on makeshift equipment and is full of blind spots.
Available at: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/japanese-regulators-investigate-nuclear-crisis
1. Ukraine, EBRD Sign EUR 300 M Loan Agreement to Improve Safety of NPPs
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Ukraine and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on Monday signed a loan agreement worth EUR 300 million as part of a comprehensive program to improve the safety of nuclear reactors at Ukrainian nuclear power plants (NPPs).
An Interfax-Ukraine reporter said that the agreement had been signed by Energy and Coal Industry Minister Eduard Stavytsky, Acting President of the Energoatom Nuclear Energy Generating Company Vissarion Kim and EBRD Director in Ukraine Andre Kuusvek.
"This project is very important for Ukraine in the context of maintaining a high degree of safety at its nuclear reactors," Kuusvek said.
The allocation of funds will start in 2013, the term of the loan is 15 years, and the interest rate is euro Libor +1%.
As reported, on March 12, 2013, the EBRD decided to participate in a comprehensive safety upgrade program for the operating nuclear power units of Ukraine with a EUR 300 million loan.
Euratom, the European Atomic Energy Community, will provide EUR 300 million towards the total cost of the program, which is estimated at EUR1.4 billion.
The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine declared it reasonable for Energoatom to raise a loan of EUR 600 million from the EBRD and Euratom to implement a comprehensive program to improve the safety of Ukrainian NPPs.
The Ukrainian government, with cabinet resolution No. 1270 of December 7, 2011, approved a comprehensive program to increase the safety of reactors at NPPs for 2012-2017 worth a total of UAH 12.453 billion. According to the document, the sources of program financing will be loans from the EBRD and Euratom worth UAH 8 billion, and UAH 4.453 billion of Energoatom's own funds.
The implementation of the program will allow the country to bring the level of safety of Ukrainian nuclear units to international standards, as well as ensure the full implementation of Ukraine's international obligations on improving the safety of the existing nuclear power plants.
Energoatom operates all four of the nuclear power plants in Ukraine – Zaporizhia NPP, Yuzhnoukrainsk NPP, Rivne NPP, and Khmelnytsky NPP, with fifteen generating units outfitted with water-cooled fast-breeder reactors with an installed generating capacity of 13.835 gigawatts.
Available at: http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/economic/146264.html
1. Korea Struggles to Win Nuclear Rights from U.S.
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The U.S. seems determined that South Korea should permanently relinquish its rights to enrich uranium and reprocess the mass of spent fuel rods from its nuclear power plants. Washington insists on what it considers the "gold standard" of a permanent ban on uranium enrichment and plutonium extraction by governments negotiating new nuclear deals with the U.S.
Seoul is in talks with the U.S. to revise the bilateral nuclear energy pact, which expires in March 2014, to get permission to produce low-enriched uranium for power generation and reprocess spent fuel rods, which are piling up from its many nuclear power stations. But instead it seems the government will have to scramble to avoid even tougher restrictions.
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se's trip to Washington next month is apparently part of efforts to find a breakthrough in the stalled talks. Yun decided to fly to Washington even though U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to visit Seoul in the middle of next month.
When she was running for the presidency in November last year, President Park Geun-hye pledged to have the nuclear accord revised as it is "outdated."
"A major agenda item on Yun's list is the South Korea-U.S. civil nuclear pact," said one high-ranking diplomatic source in Seoul. "Yun will stress the importance of revising the pact when he meets Kerry and other high-ranking members of the Obama administration."
The pact, signed in 1974, details the extent of the nuclear technology Korea can use for civilian purposes and prohibits it from enriching uranium and reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods from power plants.
"Based on our mutual trust, we should be able to reach a win-win strategy by the May summit" between Park and President Barack Obama, a senior Foreign Ministry official said. "The existing pact expires in March next year, so we need to reach an agreement on the revised deal by June this year and have to get the green light from the U.S. Congress."
Seoul will try to convince Washington that it only wants to produce low-enriched uranium, which cannot be used to make nuclear weapons, and that it will wait for the results of joint research on a reprocessing method called pyroprocessing that does not produce weapons-grade plutonium before deciding on the issue of reprocessing.
But if Seoul fails to revise the deal, the existing pact simply lapses, and that could mean South Korea would face problems obtaining nuclear fuel. The country relies wholly on uranium imports to fuel its nuclear power plants, and 20 to 30 percent come from the U.S.
Available at: http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2013/03/29/2013032901011.html
Russia's State Atomic Energy Corporation, Rosatom, has joined a growing list of global companies that are considering South Africa as a base to expand their operations on the African continent.
Rosatom last year opened a marketing office in Johannesburg, only its third such office after Ukraine and Singapore, and sent a high-level delegation to Durban to take part in the 5th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit this week.
Rosatom deputy director-general Kirill Komarov gave a presentation on "Nuclear as a factor of social and economical development" during the BRICS Business Forum on Tuesday.
South Africa's Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) for 2010 to 2030, a 20-year projection on the country's electricity supply and demand, envisages 9 600 MW of additional nuclear capacity by 2030. The plan is due to be reviewed soon.
Speaking at the Africa Energy Indaba in Johannesburg last month, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said South Africa planned to expand its use of nuclear power in a safe and secure way as a key part of the country's move towards a diversified, low-carbon energy mix.
"If we are serious about diversification towards a low carbon economy, we cannot belittle the role that natural gas and nuclear power can play in the realisation of that 2030 low carbon energy vision," Peters said.
Rosatom is ranked fourth in the world for nuclear electricity generation, accounting for 17% of the world nuclear fuel market. It conducts 45% of the world's uranium enrichment services, and is ranked the second in the world for uranium reserves and fourth for uranium production.
Rosatom said on Monday that it believed South Africa and its neighbours on the continent could benefit from the company's expertise to increase their reliance on nuclear power.
The company noted that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Yukiya Amano, during a visit to South Africa in February, "made the point that other African economies such as Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt were also considering using nuclear technology as a means to diversify energy sources".
Alexander Kirillov, the head of Rosatom's marketing office in South Africa, said the company offered a comprehensive package that ensured localisation should South Africa decide to build a new nuclear power plant.
"Localisation will at the initial stage of the project be at 30% of production, which will eventually peak at 65%", Kirillov said, adding that 15 000 direct jobs and between 9 000 and 19 000 indirect jobs would be created during the construction of such a plant.
Available at: http://www.southafrica.info/business/investing/opportunities/rosatom-260313.htm
1. Kudankulam Will Be Commissioned in April, Manmohan Singh Tells Vladimir Putin in Durban
The Times of India
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India has decided to operationalize unit 1of the Russian-built Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu next month, finally getting past the psychological and political barrier it had faced post-Fukushima.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed the breakthrough decision to President Vladimir Putin of Russia on the sidelines of BRICS Summit here on Tuesday. He also told Putin about the government's decision to build Units 3 and 4 of the plant, which had run into strong resistance from locals and People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy. "I am pleased to inform the President that Kudankulam Unit 1 will be operational very next month. As far as Units 3 and 4 are concerned, we have to secure our internal approvals," he said.
While the Prime Minister did not mention Unit 2 of the power plant, Nuclear Power Corporation of India limited had earlier planned to operationalize it within six months of Unit 1 being commissioned. The significance of Unit 1 going on stream goes far beyond the 1000 MW it'll generate. It marks the end of diffidence around the country's nuclear programme because of safety concerns raised by the damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan following the April 2011 earthquake.
The disaster and the threat of radiation hazard forced governments worldwide to take a close look at their plans to step up their nuclear energy programmes just when an era of nuclear renaissance appeared to be dawning. The Indian government, like many others, also decided to take a fresh look at safety of the plants, although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had ruled out the rollback of the plan to augment nuclear power generation in a hurry.
Nuclear Power Corporation of India strengthened safety measures at the Kudankulam plant. But, this had failed to mollify locals and the anti-nuclear activists banded under the banner of People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE). The decisive move augurs well for the country's long-term plan to generate 20,000 MW nuclear power by 2020 as part of a larger plan to diversify the country's energy mix. The focus on nuclear energy is also because it is considered to be clean power, and the commissioning of the Kudankulam plant in the face of protests showed that the Fukushima scare has not altered the safety assessment.
Politically, the decision will help Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa. Although the AIADMK supremo is supposed to be on a strong political wicket, power scarcity across the state and the resultant popular discontent has emerged as a source of vulnerability.
Available at: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-03-28/india/38098840_1_movement-against-nuclear-energy-kudankulam-plant-kudankulam-unit
2. Renewable Energy Providers to Help Bear Cost of New UK Nuclear Reactors
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The row over subsidies for the UK's new nuclear power stations has deepened after it emerged that the £160m-a-year cost of accommodating the giant reactors on the national electricity grid will be borne by all generators, including renewable energy providers.
The new reactors planned by EDF for Hinkley Point are significantly larger than any existing power stations, meaning the national grid has to pay for extra standby electricity to stop the grid crashing if one of the reactors unexpectedly goes offline. National Grid said its decision to charge all generators for the cost was because "increasing costs on larger users could delay the commissioning of large nuclear plants by a number of years".
The government is sensitive to the charge that its energy policies are contributing to increases in consumer bills. On Wednesday it released an analysis which predicted that bills in 2020 would be £166 lower as a result of climate change policies than they would be if the government did nothing.
But experts said the National Grid's decision to spread the cost of extra standby capacity amounted to a subsidy for the new power stations. "There is no justification for nuclear being exempted from paying the additional costs to the system other than to make nuclear look cheaper than it is relative to other sources of electricity," said Prof Catherine Mitchell, an energy policy expert at the University of Exeter. "It is clear to me that were there a genuine, transparent and comprehensive examination of the costs and benefits to society of nuclear versus renewables, the latter would be of far greater value both in the short and long term."
A spokesman for EDF, which is currently in tense negotiations with ministers over the minimum price it will be guaranteed for electricity from the reactors in coming decades, said: "The costs of balancing the system and maintaining reserve have always been proportionally spread or socialised across all those on the system. The maintenance of such a reserve is to the benefit of everyone: customers, generators and suppliers." He added that large offshore windfarms would also benefit from the upgraded grid back-up system.
However, an industry source with decades of senior experience in the sector said offshore windfarms would not be connected to the grid by a single cable and therefore not pose the same risk. "All renewable generators are paying the additional costs here, but not causing the need. The cost should lie where it falls," he said. "National Grid obviously had its arm twisted at some point. Its justification is unconvincing."
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change declined to comment on how the new grid costs were spread, but said: "The system requires back-up reserve to be available because of the intermittent nature of some types of low-carbon generation and in case a large generator fails. This underlines the importance of having a balanced energy mix."
Currently, the grid's back-up system plans for a major loss of up to 1,320MW a few times a year. But the two new reactors planned by EDF will have 1,600GW of capacity each, meaning the grid will have to increase its back-up to 1,800MW. Nuclear power stations can shut down at short notice owing to engineering problems or even a swarm of jellyfish blocking cooling water pipes, as happened in June 2011 at EDF's reactor at Torness in Scotland.
"Nuclear reactors need back-up, which is expensive and which its advocates tend to forget," said Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace. "The spreading of the cost is another implicit subsidy to get huge nuclear plants built that people will be paying for without even realising it."
A spokesman for National Grid, which consulted on the charging decision in 2010, said: "The overwhelming response was that operating reserve and balancing costs should continue to be socialised across the industry, given that the system security it provides protects all those connected, from nuclear to gas to renewables." The UK's big six energy companies, most of which had nuclear interests at that time, backed the plan, but Westinghouse, which makes reactors, said: "Charging on the basis of size more accurately reflects costs to users. Socialising the cost … is anti-competitive."
The question of state-sanctioned support for new nuclear power, paid ultimately by consumers, has become a fraught one for ministers. In 2010, they promised there would be "no public subsidy", but ministers have since modified that to say no "unfair" subsidies, meaning the subsidies are available to a range of technologies. But in February the energy secretary, Ed Davey, admitted to MPs the funding mechanism could differ between technologies and even individual projects. EDF is likely to receive tens of billions of pounds via the minimum price agreement.
The government also has to convince the European Union that its support for nuclear is not considered unfair under state aid rules. Doerte Fouquet, a lawyer specialising in EU law, said: "This scheme for nuclear generators [cannot] be declared compatible with European state aid rules."
Mitchell said the nuclear industry was set to enjoy other benefits as well. "Renewables will be supported with 20-year contracts rather than nuclear's expected 40 years and the unknown costs of nuclear waste and accidents will also be placed on customers via government."
Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/27/renewable-energy-cost-nuclear-reactors
3. Government Extends New Nuclear Power Station Timetable by Five Years, Confirms First Plant Will Cost Up to £14bn
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In a Nuclear Industrial Strategy report it said it now hoped the new reactors at five sites around the country would be developed “by 2030”.
The Government also gave the first official confirmation that the costs of the first proposed new plant, at Hinkley Point in Somerset, have risen to as much as £14bn.
EDF Energy plans to build a 3.2GW twin-reactor plant at the site but is locked in talks with ministers over subsidies for the project. The French company set a deadline of the end of the month to get an agreement.
Chancellor George Osborne told MPs on Tuesday that the Government was “in a hard commercial bargain” with EDF.
“Both EDF and the British Government want to see the project go ahead,” he said.
Launching the strategy document, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said the nuclear industry provided “significant opportunities for economic growth” for the UK.
He said the industry had indicated “that the UK new build programme (around 16GW) equates to investment of circa £60bn, which could support an estimated 30,000 jobs”. Separate analysis yesterday showed it could be as many as 40,000 jobs.
Mr Cable said that “nuclear power has the potential to play an increasing role in meeting the UK’s future energy needs”. However, the strategy document also provided the first official recognition that the timetable for delivery of the reactors has slipped.
Ministers have repeatedly said they want 16GW of new nuclear stations built at five sites across the country by 2025, helping to power the country as old plants close.
John Hayes, the energy minister, told this newspaper in October that there was “no diminution in the Government ambitions in this respect”.
But Tuesday’s document said: “Hinkley, the Government hopes, will be the first of five new sites to be developed by 2030.”
Tony Lodge, research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies, said the timetable slipping was “hugely significant” because it meant Britain would be “hugely dependent” on gas-fired power plants.
Earlier this month MPs on the Energy Select Committee warned that ministers have no "plan B" if new nuclear plants are not built on time and on budget. They heard evidence that the 2025 timetable was “ambitious at best and unrealistic at worst”, with delays and rising costs having dogged new nuclear projects elsewhere in Europe.
EDF has declined to give an offiicial cost estimate for Hinkley, but expectations were that costs had risen from £10bn in recent years to £14bn. Yesterday’s Government strategy confirmed they had increased, describing it as a “£12bn - £14bn project”.
The company is still in talks with ministers to agree a long-term contract guaranteeing it a so-called “strike price” for electricity from the plant, to be paid for through levies on consumer energy bills. Without agreement, the project will not proceed and Vincent de Rivaz, EDF Energy chief executive, has called the talks “challenging”.
EDF is also yet to secure partners to help share the costs of the project after Centrica withdrew.
A DECC spokesman denied it had “any technology-specific targets post-2020” adding: "We want all low carbon options to be part of the mix and we want to see new nuclear come forward as early as possible.
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/9954515/Government-extends-new-nuclear-power-station-timetable-by-five-years.html
4. UAE Nuclear Energy Plant: Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation Installs Containment Liner Plate
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Construction of the UAE’s first nuclear energy reactor continues to progress, with the installation of the Containment Liner Plate (CLP) in the reactor containment building for Barakah Unit 1 last week. The CLP is one of the many defence-in-depth barriers that ensure the safety of nuclear energy plants.
The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) and the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) installed the first modularised sections of the 2,000 tonne steel cylinder. The installation was the culmination of months of work, and is just one element of the complex construction programme under way at Barakah.
With the CLP installation proceeding, Enec and Kepco remain on track to deliver the country’s first nuclear energy reactor, Barakah Unit 1, in 2017. A total of four nuclear energy reactors are set to be constructed by 2020, producing a significant portion of the UAE’s energy needs and saving up to 12 million tonnes in carbon emissions every year.
“As we continue to make steady progress on construction, we remain firmly committed to maintaining the highest standards of safety, security and quality in everything we do,” said Enec’s Chief Executive Officer Mohammad Al Hammadi.
“This installation was a challenging and complicated operation. Its successful completion is a testament to the strong safety culture we have fostered here at Barakah,” added Al Hammadi.
The Containment Liner Plate is a cylindrical steel shell that forms the inner wall, ceiling, and floor of the Reactor Containment Building (RCB)
“The Liner Plate plays a fundamental role in ensuring the safety of the containment structure, which is where the nuclear reactor is housed. It is one of many physical barriers that ensure the safety of our employees, the community and the environment and make Generation III+ nuclear energy plants incredibly robust structures.”
Due to the magnitude of the liner plate, the component has to be constructed in multiple stages and parts. A total of 19 separate liner rings make up the structure, each measuring 45 metres in diameter, and three metres in height. The floor and the first two levels of the liner plate were made off site and have been installed over the past two months in-situ. The next three levels of the liner have been fabricated and welded together on site, and then crane-lifted and installed last week weighing almost 200 tonnes. Over the next 10 months, the team will continue to fabricate and install the remaining 14 sections of the CLP.
A special Very Heavy Lift (VHL) crane, with a total lifting capacity of 1,600 tons, was shipped to the UAE to carry out the installation process. The Terrex Crawler Crane took just under two hours to lift and swing the liner plate safely into position.
Prior to the installation, the site team carried out a series of ground condition tests to ensure the safest possible conditions for the lift. Multiple load tests were also carried out on the crane. Two simulations tested both the lift load of the crane, and the actual lift and swing of the structure following the same radius as the Liner would follow, from its original location to its installation in the containment building. In addition, wind speed conditions were carefully monitored throughout the entire process.
Available at: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/government/uae-nuclear-energy-plant-emirates-nuclear-energy-corporation-installs-containment-liner-plate-1.1162653
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