Welcome to AtomWatch - world nuclear power news and analysis

This blog is aimed at tracing the world news related to nuclear power development internationally and in particular countries. Being an independent resource, we accept all kinds of opinions, positions and comments, and welcome you to discuss the posts and tell us what you think.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Experts Say Next US President Must Deal With Tehran's Nuclear Program

Several American experts say the next U.S. president will have to confront the need to do something about Iran's nuclear enrichment program. They say efforts over the last five years to negotiate with Tehran have been ineffective, with Iran now closer to acquiring the technology to make an atomic bomb. VOA's Ravi Khanna has more on the story.

Tehran continues to defy the West, with Iranian President Ahmadinejad saying Iran has every right to enrich uranium and that it's for peaceful uses. The U.S. and other countries believe Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons technology. The country's repeated missile tests are also a concern.

The next U.S. president will have to deal with Iran's nuclear program, the experts agree.

They say an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would have widespread consequences, because a surgical strike is impossible. Iran's nuclear facilities are believed to be deep underground and dispersed.

Experts also believe U.N. sanctions have not and will not deter Iran.

Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, says Russian and Chinese backing for more sanctions is doubtful.

Russia helped build an Iranian nuclear power plant and has provided Iran with nuclear fuel. China needs Iran's oil and natural gas.

If Israel decides to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, as it did with Iraq, Bolton favors helping the Israelis with military equipment.

"It is risky, it may not succeed fully, or it may not succeed at all. There are undoubtedly consequences that Israel would face," Bolton said. "But I think from the Israeli point of view, and from the American point of view, however deeply unattractive the use of military force is, it is far more unattractive to contemplate an Iran with deliverable nuclear weapons."

But recently, Ehud Olmert, Israel's outgoing prime minister, said the assumption that Israel will attack Iran may not be realistic.

James Phillips at the Heritage Foundation says if the new U.S. president decides on a military option, he will have to answer three questions ahead of time.

"Do we have adequate intelligence to target the key parts of Iran's nuclear program, secondly, do we have the means to destroy those targets, and thirdly, how long a military strike is likely to delay Iran's efforts to attain nuclear weapons," Phillips asked.

David Albright is a physicist at the Institute for Science and International Security. He says the military option is not practical because Iran has several thousand nuclear centrifuges, which can be hidden over a wide area.

"We don't see how you can take out the Iranian program, short of full scale aerial bombardment that will go on for quite a while," Albright said. "There is a risk of pretty widespread war in that region."

Henry Sokolski at the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center prefers a cold war against Tehran even though it might take time.

The new president, he says, should open talks with Iran but widen their scope.

"I would focus on something where you have comparative advantage that Iranians claim they care about," Sokolski said. "They claim they want security guarantees."

Steps to guarantee Iran's security, he says, should be on the agenda.

(Source: VOA)

Swedish nuclear plant posted cleaners as guards

Managers of an atomic power plant in Sweden used janitors to guard the facility when the alarm system was malfunctioning, according to a critical report Thursday from the country's nuclear watchdog.

In a statement on its Web site, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority called the incident at the Oskarshamn plant serious because the workers had no training as security guards.

In early October, managers deployed 20-25 cleaning and maintenance staff to help guard parts of the plant's perimeter, the statement said.

The workers worked in shifts for about a week and were instructed to alert security if an outer fence was being breached, because motion sensors in parts of the newly installed alarm system were not working. The surveillance cameras and other security equipment still worked.

"OKG's decision to use non-security-educated personnel violates the company's internal routines. It is particularly serious since the routine deviation has been going on for a long time," the authority said in its report.

It also criticized the plant for not documenting the decision properly, and said the incident "could be a sign of inadequate safety culture regarding the attitude to physical protection."

In a separate statement, Oskarshamn said it had taken the criticism to heart, and said it had based the decision on the fact that the inner security fences had been intact, equipped with the necessary alarm and surveillance equipment.

The Oskarshamn plant is located 210 miles (340 kilometers) south of Stockholm. It has three reactors and provides around 10 percent of Sweden's electricity.

(Source: AP)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Eastern Europe looks to nuclear revival to meet its power needs

From the Baltic to Bulgaria, governments in Eastern Europe are increasingly looking toward a revival of nuclear power generation to meet growing energy demand.

The renewed interest in nuclear energy in a region that has been under intense pressure from the European Union to close unsafe older-generation plants coincides with a lively debate in several West European countries, in which governments seek cleaner energy options to combat climate change.

Even in Germany, where public opinion has traditionally opposed nuclear energy, the coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel is considering reversing a decision to phase out the country's nuclear plants.

For Eastern Europe, a nuclear revival offers a way to lessen dependency on Russian natural gas and oil. Despite memories of the devastating accident at the Soviet-built reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986, governments in Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia are renovating old nuclear plants or building new ones.

"There is a very strong interest and tangible progress in plans to build new power plants in the countries of Eastern Europe," said Vince Novak, director of the nuclear safety department at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London, which was established in the early 1990s to help Eastern and Central Europe make the transition to a market economy.

Since the creation of the bank, a priority for its nuclear energy experts has been to ensure that nuclear plants in the region meet strict safety standards.

"We are focused on one of the prerequisites for a nuclear renaissance: safety," Novak said in an interview. "We work for nuclear safety, decommissioning of first-generation Soviet reactors, safe and secure management of nuclear waste and spent fuel. These are the requisites."

But the idea of using nuclear power to improve energy security is earning governments sharp criticism from advocates of renewable energy sources. Critics accuse the governments of resorting to the easy option of nuclear power rather than taking difficult decisions to encourage energy efficiency, cut waste and foster renewable energy sources.

"The nuclear lobby is very strong in our country," said Aleksandras Paulauskas, executive director of the independent Lithuanian Wind Energy Association, "but also in other countries in the region."

"Look at where we are located. We could easily produce reliable amounts of energy by using the wind from the Baltic Sea. But there is no political will to consider this option."

Five offshore wind farm projects were recently approved by the local authority for the Lithuanian port city of Klaipeda. But the government is nevertheless pushing ahead with plans for a new nuclear plant at Ignalina, in northeast Lithuania, to replace Soviet-era reactors there. One of the reactors was closed in 2004 under pressure from the EU, while another is scheduled to be closed late next year.

The initial idea behind the Ignalina-2 project was to supply electricity not only to Lithuania but also to neighboring Poland, Estonia and Latvia. But squabbles over the allocation of energy and ownership led to the abandonment of that ambitious attempt at regional energy cooperation. The Lithuanian government now hopes to build a plant to serve its own needs, despite the cost.

Meanwhile, in Central Europe, the Czech government has made nuclear expansion a crucial element of its energy policy. The country already has six reactors, which generate a third of the electricity it consumes. According to CEZ, the Czech Power Company that owns and operates the plants, two more will be built, one of them to replace an existing unit at Dukovany, in the south of the country, after 2020.

Slovakia also is expanding capacity, after having been pressed to close two high-risk reactors at its Bohunice plant as a precondition for joining the EU. The closures turned Slovakia from an energy exporter to an energy importer. To reverse course, the Slovak government decided last year to build two new reactors at the Mochovce power plant, which it hopes will be operational by 2013.

Hungary currently has no plans to build new nuclear plants but the government has agreed to extend by 20 years the life of the country's four existing reactors at Paks, in the center of the country. That will take their operations to the mid-2030s.

Neighboring Romania has two commercial reactors, of which the second started operating in May 2007. The two now generate a fifth of Romania's electricity.

But perhaps the most controversial nuclear expansion program in the region is in Bulgaria. The EU offered Bulgaria compensation of up to €550 million, or $700 million, for closing four high-risk reactors at Kozloduy by 2006. The move was a condition for the country's entry to the union in January 2007.

The two remaining Bulgarian reactors generate about 35 percent of the country's electricity. But to replace the closed reactors, the government now wants to build a second nuclear power plant at Belene, on the Danube.

Despite safety concerns over Soviet-era reactors, some Bulgarian energy experts, including Ognyan Minchev, Bulgarian director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, say that the EU should never have insisted on the closures.

"The environmental lobbies in France and Germany joined forces to shut part of Kozloduy," Minchev said. "It was very damaging for Bulgaria. We used to export energy to other Balkan countries. We were left short after the government closed down some of the plants. That is why a new nuclear power plant is being built at Belene."

But Minchev acknowledges that not all questions concerning nuclear energy have been addressed. "The nuclear energy lobby is very strong here. And the government is not interested in considering other options," he said.

"Above all, the big questions of what to do with nuclear waste are just never discussed."

(Source: IHT)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Russian-Norwegian environmental NGO Bellona with critique on Kaliningrad nuclear site

A true example of antinuclear rhetoric within Russia where emotions replace facts and constructive thinking. A peculiar fact about this article that it is mean only for Western audiences - the Russian version of the Bellona web site does not have a translation of this article. One may just wonder if that propaganda piece is meant only to people who are not familiar with the situation.
Well, anyway, it's up to the reader to judge.

Kaliningrad meets nuke industry to discuss the phantom Baltic NPP amid dazzling atomic sideshow

Friday’s meeting at the administration of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad about building the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant with Russian nuclear officials turned out to be a presentation of wishful thinking, but at least representatives of Russia’s state nuclear corporation were forced slightly closer to telling the truth – that the plans to build the plant are far from approved.

The day was accompanied by its share of fanfare for the nuclear industry, however. The regional government, headed by pro-nuke governor Georgy Boos, financed an exhibit entitled “The Nuclear Renaissance.”

In the absences of any federal decision to actually build the Baltic NPP, it was clear that the PR machine has been cranked into high gear, both in Kaliningrad and in the neighboring Baltic republic that separate Kaliningrad from Russia.

There were also official announcements from the administration’s press service that: “The general contractor for the development of nuclear power station construction in the Kaliningrad Region, the St. Petersburg based Atomenergoproekt , will conduct a presentation of the (Baltic NPP) project.”

It is not possible however to present something that is not there, and the public was treated to a presentation on the suggested development of an institute called the “NPP-2006,” which is currently under construction at the Leningrad NPP 2. In the framework of that programme is included a project called “NPP- 91,” according to which the Tianwan NPP is being constructed in China.

“The Baltic NPP could be constructed as a serial project under the NPP 2006 project of the LNPP 2 type, if the corresponding decisions are taken,” said, correctly, the chief Atomstroiexport engine on the project, Ivan Grabelnikov, in his Friday presentation.

Alexander Zakharov, head of Atomstroiexport’s technical wing, also didn’t substitute the imaginary for reality. “We will gladly take part in a tender and construct the Baltic NPP if the decision is taken,” he said.

The statements reflect the invalid nature of an August 13th document signed by Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko, “On the organization of work for the construction of the Baltic NPP,” in which the builder and the designer are named as Energoatom and Atomstroiexport. Such a decree has to be accompanied by the approval of the Russian Government, which alone, according to existing legislation, decides whether to build nuclear installations.

But an anonymous source with Atomstroiexport, which is building the Tianwan NPP, as well as leading reactor construction in India and Iran, the actions of the nuclear industry is multifaceted: “The customer lacks the normative base and regulatory organs – we plan to create them.”

Perhaps by the legerdemain of Governor Boos, Kaliningrad will be transformed into a fiefdom of Rosatom.

Suffering fools
For the time being, the hypothetical designers and builders of the hypothetical NPP told Kaliningrad reporters about their prototypes: the Leningrad 2 NPP that is under construction and the Tianwan plant that went into service last year.

Nuclear industry officials told their Kalinigrad audience that the Tianwan plant is among the most contemporary in the world and that all of the delays and tie-ups that have already occurred are the result of “Chinese engineers just barked up a couple of the wrong tress and, burning out contact, shorting out schemes.”

Zakharov commented to Bellona Web on the fact that the first block of the Tianwan plant was shut down 10 minutes after it was first launched because of quibbles with the equipment expressed by the customer.

“The customer was not only interested in the equipment, but is intrusively interested in its installation,” said Zakharov.

Where are the guarantees that Kaliningrad engineers wont find themselves barking up a similarly wrong tree? This means that no matter how complete the safety of a nuclear reactor, no matter what generation you call it, no matter what defences from plane crashes and natural cataclysms you install, there still is no defence from the so called human factor, neither at the Tianwan plant nor at - as was euphemistically put by an Atomstroiexport representative - “unprecedented new developments in a new nuclear power plant.”

The coming of a ‘new life’
Kaliningrad media was, however, interested only in strictly local and strictly concrete information: where, when and what kind of NPP was going to be built in the region, and what use it will serve. As none of the presenters knew that information, the presentation of the Baltic NPP sat poorly with those who where invited to it.

At one point, Alexander Rolbinov, the regional minister of infrastructure development, took initiative in his own hands and announced that a declaration of intention would be signed between Rosatom and the regional government on December 1st.

“Then, all parameters of the construction of an NPP in the Kaliningrad region will be conclusively defined, including its location,” Rolbinov said.

Mutation and the ‘strongest taxpayer’
As has been earlier announced, it is assumed that the NPP will be built near the Nemansky or the Krasnoznamensky regions.

“The region will get a new life,” said Rolbinov, apparently not taking into account the mutagenic results of radiation, but rather the planned satellite city for the NPP. Rolbinov also said that new jobs would come to the region, as well as “the strongest taxpayer.”

“Firstly, this means more that a thousand highly paid work positions, from which we will receive corresponding income taxes,” said Rolbinov. “Secondly, a new city will appear, which will command a high investment potential, with a population of some 25,000 to 30,000 residents.”

Nuclear promises
Russian ecologists have often pointed out the deplorable conditions in cities that are hosts to nuclear installations. In October, Greenpeace conducted research on the socio-economic results of the construction and use of a nuclear power plant in Udomlya, the city that hosts the Kalin NPP –which cheerleaders for the Baltic NPP hold up as an example of the fulfilled nuclear dream.

“Rosatom promised the heads of the administration that it will solve many social and economic problems, that it will put considerable effort and funds into infrastructure development,” said Vladimir Chuprov, head of Greenpeace Russia’s energy department. “The problem is that these promises remain just that – promises.”

In the list of these unfulfilled Rosatom promises to Udomlya: construction of water intake and purification facilities, as well as electrical lines from the plant for Udomlya’s energy needs. The city actually receives its powers from a different part of the Tver Region that is located 70 kilometers from the plant, the Greenpeace study revealed. The Udomlya administration says that the NPP lacks required population defence systems in the event of a catastrophe accompanied by large amounts of fallout.

Manholes that resemble cesspools, half-collapsed houses, wrecked roads, emergency heat pipelines, houses that are heated by dismantled picket fences – this is the nuclear landscape of the nuclear industry. It’s a picture that differs from the accounting of the Kaliningrad Regional Parliament’s deputies, who visited Udomlya in March, and who carried back with them the most favorable impressions and a “satisfaction with the level of defence.”

Meanwhile, Rosatom’s promises are not just a gesture of good faith: According to Russian legislation, 10 percent of the cost of building a nuclear power plant must be earmarked for the social living conditions surrounding them.

“From the point of view of tax receipts, the creation of jobs, the guaranteeing of radiation safety, the presence of a nuclear power plant does not change the life of a municipality for the better,” Greenpeace recently wrote in an open letter to administrations of cities where Rosatom plans to build nuclear power plants. “ In many circumstances, a worsening of the local community’s condition is observed. In conjunction with Atomenergoprom’s structure (Russia’s umbrella nuclear conglomerate) only a portion of nuclear workers taxes are spent locally,” said Greenpeace.

Rosatom’s fun house mirror
Despite an absolutely one-sided presentation of information, Kaliningraders themselves are critical of the nuclear industry and the regional administration’s assurances that building a nuclear power plant is a benefit to the region’s economics or communities. According to the results of a poll conducted in March 2008, only a third of Kaliningraders are behind the construction of the NPP.

The bonhomie between the Kaliningrad administration and Rosatom, however, is so strong that Kaliningrad came in second, after Moscow, in an exhibit entitled “Nuclear Renaissance: A photo chronicle,” which opened in a Kaliningrad art gallery on Thursday. Over a dozen of these photos adorn the walls of the corridors of Kaliningrad’s administration building.

(Source: Bellona)

Abisala: Lithuania has lost the fight on Ignalina nuclear power plant

Aleksandras Abisala, chief negotiator over the extension of the Ignalina nuclear power plant, who used to speak about the considerable growth of the possibility to reach an agreement on the extension of the operation of the Ignalina nuclear power plant, now claims that Lithuania has lost this fight.

After the last week"s European Council in Brussels, when the hopes concerning the extension of the operation of the Ignalina nuclear power plant diminished, Abisala admits that Lithuania has lost the fight, lrt.lt writes.

"I evaluate this as a defeat, yet a defeat only in this part. We previously spoke about long-term action plan for the insurance of Lithuania"s energy security. The extension of the operation of the Ignalina nuclear power plant is only a small part of the general plan. The entire long part is agreements on links, alternative energy supply channels and generation capacities," said ELTA Abisala after the joint sitting of the parliamentary committees on the European and foreign affairs, during which the results of the European Council were discussed.

According to him, the European Commission offered the electricity grid interconnection for the Baltic states and the European Council confirmed the creation of this plan. The European Council confirmed a quite good possibility to receive more pollution permits in the light of the closure of the nuclear power plant in its conclusions. The chief negotiator, whose agreements with the Government finishes in the end of this year, says that he does not know yet whether the new Cabinet of Ministers will need his services, however, he says that he will not step down on his own initiative.

(Source: The Baltic Course)

Two Swedish reactors offline over control rod checks

Two of Sweden's 10 nuclear reactors were to be offline for at least a month as checks continued on the control rods used to control the nuclear fission process, officials said Monday. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority last week ordered operators to check the control rods after cracks were detected in the control rods at one of the three reactors at the Oskarhamn nuclear plant, south-eastern Sweden.

Reactor Number 3 at the Oskarshamn plant was due to be back online December 3, Oskarhamn, spokeswoman Annika Carlsson told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The other two reactors at Oskarshamn were operating normally since they had a different design, she said.

The plant is operated by energy groups E.ON of Germany and Finland's Fortum.

At Forsmark, north of Stockholm one of the three reactors that has the same design as Oskarhmamn 3 has also been offline since last week.

Officials at Forsmark said the reactor was likely to be offline until end of November. Forsmark is majority-owned by state-controlled energy group Vattenfall.

Sweden has operated 12 nuclear reactors at most. Two at the Barseback plant in southern Sweden have been decommissioned, the most recent in May 2005.

(Source: The Earth Times)

Standardized nuclear plant design eluding utility firms

The nuclear plant design favored for new plants by Progress Energy, Duke Energy and three other utilities is the subject of multiple design changes that energy industry watchdogs say undermine the concept of a pre-certified design and could delay the construction of new reactors while adding billions to the cost.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified the plant design of Westinghouse Electric Co.’s AP1000 at the end of 2005. Pre-certification was intended to help streamline an approvals process that takes years before plant construction even begins.

Along with Duke and Progress, the Tennessee Valley Authority, South Carolina Electric & Gas and the Southern Co. of Atlanta have applied to the NRC for licenses to build AP1000 plants. According to a Feb. 15 NRC letter that sets an application review schedule for the design of the AP1000, March 2010 is the target date for completing the review process for the plant’s design.

Westinghouse spokesman Vaughn Gilbert acknowledges that design changes have been made, but he says the changes are minor and represent less than 10 percent of the overall design. He says Westinghouse is responding to new NRC requirements, such as demonstration of safety in the event of an airplane crash. He says the utilities have not requested the changes under consideration.

(Source: Triangle Business Journal)

UN nuclear chief says Iran blocking progress

The U.N. nuclear chief said Monday that Iran is blocking his watchdog agency from verifying whether the nation has any ambitions for nuclear weaponry.

"I regret that we are still not in a position to achieve full clarity regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran," Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the U.N. General Assembly.

He urged Iran to do more to ensure "transparency," but emphasized the Vienna-based IAEA "does not in any way seek to pry into Iran's conventional or missile-related military activities."

Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee countered that the U.N. Security Council's demand that his nation suspend uranium enrichment is "illegal."

Iran's nuclear program, he said, is only for peaceful purposes and designed to produce nuclear energy and the nation "will never accept illegal demands."

Khazaee also said that the five permanent members of the Security Council — the U.S., Britain, China, Russia and France — plus Germany never responded to Tehran's proposal that they negotiate without preconditions. The six powers have offered economic and political incentives if Iran suspends its enrichment work.

"The policy of few powers in insisting on suspension as a precondition for negotiations bears zero relation to realities and is an irrational and failed policy," he said.

ElBaradei also told the General Assembly in his annual report that he hoped North Korea, which tested a nuclear device two years ago, would return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty from which it withdrew in 2003 after expelling all IAEA inspectors from the country.

IAEA inspectors were allowed to use some monitoring equipment at North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex earlier this month, based on a U.S. deal that revived disarmament negotiations.

"I naturally still hope that conditions can be created for the DPRK (North Korea) to return to the NPT soon and for the resumption by the agency of comprehensive safeguards," ElBaradei said.

On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the world's nuclear powers to start negotiations on eliminating nuclear weapons and begin talks to assure other nations they will not be attacked. ElBaradei also said it was time to move from resolution to action.

Last month, the Security Council unanimously approved a new resolution reaffirming previous sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program and offering Tehran incentives to do so.

It resulted from a compromise between the United States and Russia to lead a new council effort to condemn Iran's nuclear program, without introducing any new sanctions.

The brief resolution reaffirmed the three earlier Security Council sanctions resolutions, which imposed progressively tougher sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program.

Existing sanctions include an asset freeze on 65 companies and individuals linked to Iran's nuclear program, and a travel ban on five people associated with Tehran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The sanctions also include bans on Iranian arms exports, supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs, and on trade in goods that have both civilian and military uses.

Enrichment can turn uranium into fissile material used in nuclear warheads, but it can also be used to generate power and is allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

(Source: AP)

US Says Curbing Iran's Nuclear Program in Moscow's Interest

The U.S. State Department said Monday that working to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions is in Russia's own interest and not a favor to Washington. Moscow has threatened to cut back cooperation on Iran because of new U.S. non-proliferation sanctions on a Russian company. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department says Russia would only be harming its own interests if it follows through with a threat to curtail cooperation with other major powers on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The Russian warning came from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who angrily protested a U.S. decision announced Friday to impose non-proliferation sanctions against 13 foreign companies including Russia's state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport.

A State Department announcement, published in the U.S. government's official journal, the Federal Register, did not specify charges against the Russian firm.

But it did say there was credible information that it violated U.S. laws curbing sales of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology to Iran, North Korea and Syria.

Rosoboronexport had previously been sanctioned in 2006 in a move protested by Moscow, and the decision Friday extends U.S. penalties against it for another two years.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, at a news conference in Luxembourg Friday, called the U.S. sanctions against the Russian firm illegal and unjust, and said they undermine cooperation among the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany, the P5+1 group, to get Iran to stop enriching uranium.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed that Moscow had made a similar complaint about the sanctions move through diplomatic channels. He said Russia would only be harming itself if it cut back its role in the P5+1.

"This is not a favor to us. Iran having a nuclear weapon is not in Russia's interest. It is in nobody's interest. So, working diplomatically to see that they do not have the abilities and the know-how and the technologies and the hardware to solve some of the toughest problems that could lead to a nuclear weapon is in Russia's interest," he said.

State Department officials said the reasons for penalizing the Russian firm and the others were classified, but Lavrov indicated it had to do with Rosoboronexport dealings with Iran.

Lavrov said all Russian military-technical cooperation with Iran is in strict accordance with international law, and called the U.S. move an arrogant extra-territorial exercise of American law.

The action bars all U.S. government business dealings with the Russian company and its subsidiaries, and sales to them of U.S. military hardware and technology.

Other foreign entities named in the sanctions announcement are Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, three companies from China, two each from North Korea and Sudan, and one each from Syria, Venezuela, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

(Source: VOA)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Reflection over the power electric grids in the Baltic region

Recently I have been studying the maps of the electric power grids in the Baltic sea area and found an interesting report published by www.eksponente.lt, a Lithuanian company dealing with scientific innovations in the field of energy. The report on the whole has to do with wind energy development, but a large part of it was dedicated to the development of the electric grids. The authors were a bit desperate about the Baltic states being a part of the EU and at the same time a part of the common electric grid with Russia and the CIS (remaining since USSR times):

(c) www.eksponente.lt

The map shows also the planned electric connections 1000 MWt each on the bottom of the Baltic sea that do not exist yet - one from the Lithuanian coast and one from Poland. These 2 bridges are planned to be built by the time Visaginas NPP would start functioning (estimated around 2016 or later) in order to export electricity to Sweden.
Looking at this project from the point of rationality, it is obvious that an onshore electric line is easier and cheaper to build and maintain. Lithuanian coast is 330 km from Sweden, that from Kaliningrad region is 280 km (measured on Google Earth map). That makes 50 km difference - meaning the second variant will be cheaper. Of course, it is not only economy but also politics that matter - the Baltic states are traditionally not so Russia-friendly and would prefer to have an energy bridge of their own, in order to be more integrated into the European Union's energy system. On the other hand, this will not make them less dependent from Russian energy supply. The EU forces Lithuania to close the Ignalina power plant that supplies more then 70% of the country's electricity. A new Visaginas power plant is about to be built on the means of 4 parties in the project, 3 Baltic countries and Poland. There is so far no clear decision on the construction of that plant.
While at the same time Russian Baltic NPP in Kaliningrad is planned, agreed upon and about to start building. This plant will be about 2 GWt in capacity. Being located just on the crossroads of the Baltic region, it can securely supply clean and cheap electricity to both East and West neighbors, and help even more to integrate the electric grids of that part of the Baltic coast with the opposite shore. Another important factor is that it will be built quicker then Visaginas on the place of old Ignalina, and start entering the European energy market earlier. Especially in conditions of world energy crisis, the decision to refuse such a proposal because of political reasons sounds stupid, IMHO.
It's not only my opinion, though.

Poland talks with South Korea about nuclear plants

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on Friday that Poland had asked South Korea for help in building its first nuclear power plants by 2012, but Warsaw later said it had not mentioned a firm deadline.

Following a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Lee said in a statement that Warsaw had asked for Seoul's "strong interest and participation" in constructing two or three nuclear power plants as well as a 440 million euro ($570 million) liquified natural gas project.

The two leaders are in Beijing for the Asia-Europe meeting.

Slawomir Nowak, head of the Polish Prime Minister's office, later told Reuters: "Yes, we did talk nuclear power plants over with South Korea as it is one of the most experienced countries when it comes to nuclear energy, and we are willing to cooperate.

"However, we did not mention any particular deadline. We only said we were hopeful to make a final decision on such a plant and start construction works in 2012."

Poland, the European Union's largest ex-communist member, derives more than 90 percent of its electricity from coal. It has no nuclear power plants and virtually no renewable energy resources.

Nuclear power represents 40 percent of power generation in South Korea, which also has been building six nuclear power generation plants.

South Korea has been trying to sell its nuclear power generation techniques for years, but has not yet been successful.

One nuclear plant would cost $1 billion-$2 billion to build, with France, Canada, the United States and Russia among countries that are capable of selling nuclear power plant techniques.

(Source: Guardian.co.uk)

U.S. rejects protest to nuclear waste storage plan

[I attended university about 90 miles south of this plant. I do find it ironic that the same groups that protested the potential crowding of the spent fuel pools are now protesting dry cask storage...]


By Erica WernerThe Associated PressFriday, October 24, 2008

** FILE ** This April 12, 2001, file photo, shows the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo, Calif. Federal regulators on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008, denied an activist group's objections to a radioactive waste storage plan at Diablo Canyon. (AP Photo/Phil Klein, File)

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WASHINGTON — Federal regulators ruled Thursday that a radioactive waste storage plan can go forward at a California nuclear power plant without further study of whether it's safe from terrorist attacks.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 3-1 to deny the novel objection from the activist group San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, which had won a federal court ruling forcing the commission to consider its arguments.
The decision approves Pacific Gas & Electric's plans to store spent nuclear fuel in aboveground casks at its Diablo Canyon power plant near San Luis Obispo. Dry cask storage is increasingly common at nuclear power plants around the country.
Mothers for Peace had contended there wasn't sufficient study of whether the casks planned for Diablo Canyon could withstand potential terrorist attacks while protecting human health and the environment, but the commission said no more study was needed.
"The NRC staff and PG&E provided essentially uncontradicted evidence that the probability of a significant radioactive release caused by a terrorist attack was low, and that the potential latent health and land contamination effects of the most severe plausible attack would be small," commissioners wrote in their order.
NRC staff studied what they said were plausible attack scenarios that couldn't be made public for national security reasons, and concluded that even the worst-consequence scenario would result in such a low dose of radiation that it wouldn't cause health problems for plant neighbors.
Commissioner Gregory Jaczko dissented, contending that NRC staff didn't address potential attack scenarios raised by Mothers for Peace and made insufficiently supported assumptions that the probability of a terrorist attack was low.
"Combining this with the fact that the agency's message all along has been trust us to have looked at this information that we refuse to give you access to,' I would say the agency is standing on a very weak foundation to reject" the position of Mothers for Peace, Jaczko wrote.
Mothers for Peace spokeswoman Jane Swanson said her group would consider all options for how to respond to the ruling.
"The court ruled that the NRC staff must study the environmental effects of a terrorist attack. The NRC has not complied with that order," Swanson said.
PG&E spokeswoman Sharon Gavin said, "We are pleased with the commission's decision and respect the process that was used to make it, which included input from the public." She said the ruling would allow the company to remain on schedule to begin moving spent fuel into dry cask storage in 2009.

540 jobs, $363 million in nuclear reactor deal

[Note that the forgings will be assembled at this new facility, but the large forgings themselves will be made elsewhere. This will still ease the bottleneck, as Korea, China, UK, and India have all discussed plans to expand forging capability.]


The next generation of commercial nuclear reactors will be built in Newport News.
By Chris Flores and Hugh Lessig
757-247-4738 804-225-7345
October 24, 2008

-->A deal announced Thursday that two major global companies plan on building nuclear power plants at a new facility in Newport News will put the city at the forefront of an industry that is likely to grow for decades.Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding and French nuclear giant AREVA announced they will invest $363 million and create 540 jobs at a new 368,000-square-foot nuclear reactor manufacturing facility. The presence of the new industry will add an important layer of diversity to the shipyard and the city."It enables, on the footprint of the shipyard, a new technology, a new form of production," said Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. "Shipbuilding is a massive industry. It has some cycles associated with it. But to have this technology at the shipyard location ... is a great thing for that shipyard."The building where the joint venture will do the work will be constructed in the north end of the shipyard where there is currently a large parking lot. The companies make the large components, but not handle any radioactive nuclear materials, that will be used to construct a wave of planned reactors nationwide.The move will further strengthen Virginia's position as a leader in nuclear technology and bring high-paying engineering and advanced manufacturing jobs to Newport News. Construction of the facility, which will help Northrop Grumman be less dependent on federal spending cycles that can lead to the loss of skilled employees, will start in March 2009."This gives us a chance to diversify a little bit and allow us to smooth more of that out," said Mike Petters, president of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding. "We don't see this as interfering with anything we do on the Navy side. In fact, we think it compliments it very well."The partnership between the companies stemmed from the shipyard's expertise in engineering and managing the construction of large naval vessels over long time horizons. The companies believe it will take three years to get the new building ready to begin operating, with production starting by December 2012.There has not been a single new nuclear plant built since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. The new manufacturing facility will be the first of its kind built in 35 years in the United States. The new venture, called AREVA Newport News, will make reactor parts that weigh as much as 500 tons.AREVA's subsidiary in the United States is based in Lynchburg, the central part of Virginia, where it employs 2,000 workers. From that base, AREVA NP has a facility that makes the uranium-filled fuel rods that run nuclear plants. The company also does engineering and dispatches experts to do maintenance at plants nationwide.While the AREVA operations have revolved around harnessing its expertise to serve existing nuclear plants, the company is now ramping up to construct new ones. There are at least 20 companies currently going through the federal regulatory process to build 35 new plants.
IncentivesTo attract the project, the state and local governments are putting up more than $23 million of incentives. The state will put up $4.5 million of performance-based funding, and will offer up to $1.3 million in tax credits and job training assistance.Newport News will offer an investment grant over four years estimated at $6.5 million, one-half of 1 percent of the taxable investment. It will also get a 50 percent break on business license fees over 10 years, valued at almost $2.2 million. The city will also provide a $1.2 million discount on a lease of three floors of office space in the city-owned Rouse Tower building at the corner of Mercury Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue.The employees in the Rouse building will work for Newport News Energy, a new Northrop Grumman subsidiary formed to work with the new venture. About 190 engineers, designers and field support positions will work for Newport News Energy. Those jobs will offer average salaries of $70,000. AREVA Newport News will hire 180 engineers and managers and 170 manufacturing employees in "skilled crafts" for the new facility. They will be paid $50,000 annually on average.The new building will specifically be used to manufacture the parts for the AREVA Evolutionary Power Reactor design. Seven utilities planning new plants have already committed to using the EPR reactor, and the new plant will give AREVA the option of building them in Newport News. Petters said Thursday that the facility does already have a backlog of orders.AREVA has been making these nuclear components for more than 30 years at a large plant in France, which has embraced nuclear power as its main source of electricity. AREVA says it is the leader in the nuclear industry in the United States both in numbers of employees and revenue.
New processAs interest has grown in the United States to build more nuclear plants, which generate concerns about waste but do not emit pollutants, a new process has been put into place to make them easier to build. A key part of the process is approval for standardized designs that can be matched easily to plans for a specific site and utility operator.AREVA has already spent $200 million on the design and certification of the EPR reactor.The main players vying to get their designs approved are AREVA, General Electric, Westinghouse and Mitsubishi. Dominion Virginia Power, which runs a nuclear plant in Surry County, is far along toward building a new reactor at North Anna outside Richmond. Dominion has chosen the design and is buying parts for its reactor from GE Energy, which will be a major competitor for AREVA Newport News.The AREVA plant in Lynchburg is one of four in the country that manufacture nuclear fuel rods, and AREVA operates another one in Richland, Wash.
A coupThe deal is a coup for Newport News, which finds itself in the enviable position of adding large numbers of engineering and advanced manufacturing jobs amid a troubled economy. Canon announced in May that it was investing in a $625 million expansion of its Newport News plant and adding over 1,000 high-paying jobs."It's yet another example that advanced manufacturing is able to survive and grow in the United States," said Florence Kingston, economic development director of Newport News.The waterfront location of the new facility, which will enable transportation of the large components by barge on the James River, also played a role in the decision to locate here. Kingston said the recent years' improvements such as City Center have helped make the city a more attractive place for businesses.The new industry, which will now involve the city's largest, long-standing employer at the shipyard, is another step toward stepping away from the local economy's reliance on government spending. It gives Northrop Grumman a new field that compliments its existing strengths."You're seeing our companies re-make themselves so they can survive," said Kingston.Petters said that when his company saw the re-emergence of the nuclear industry occurring, they realized that the shipyard's work building the nuclear reactors for the Navy could be an asset to private industry."One of the things we saw is that there are not too many people out there who do what we do – the manufacturing side of it," said Petters.The announcement from Kaine was heavy on symbolism, as the press conference was moved to the ornate Jefferson Room at the Virginia Capitol. Thomas Jefferson designed the Capitol while in Paris, basing it on an ancient Roman temple in Nimes, France. Just down the hall from the press conference stands the life-size likeness of George Washington by French sculpture Jean-Antoine Houdoun."The relations between France and Virginia are strong, and those relations are accelerated today," said Kaine.
What will the new facility do? Workers will build the huge components weighing as much as 500 tons that go into a nuclear reactor. There will not be any work with radioactive materials, which are added to reactors after they are fully assembled at a site.
About the companies Northrop Grumman Corp.Headquarters: Los AngelesWhat it does: Global defense contractor in services, aerospace, electronics and shipbuildingNumber of employees: 120,000Number of Newport News employees: About 21,000AREVAHeadquarters: ParisWhat it does: Maker of nuclear components and key player in electricity distributionNumber of employees: 71,000Number of employees at AREVA's Lynchburg subsidiary: 2,000
Copyright © 2008, Newport News, Va., Daily Press

Tokyo's nexus with India deepens

Minister Manmohan Singh to Tokyo - his third since he became prime minister in 2004. During his three-day official visit, Manmohan and Japanese counterpart Taro Aso issued a joint statement on the advancement of the strategic and global partnership, but more significantly signed a joint declaration on security cooperation.

It is remarkable that Tokyo has signed such a declaration with New Delhi with which it fell out badly only 10 years ago when it condemned India's nuclear testing in 1998 and imposed severe economic sanctions. The declaration is hugely significant, as India is only the second country after Australia with which Japanhas signed such a declaration outside its security ties with the United States.

This declaration is a comprehensive package emanating from different types of bilateral cooperation and exchanges in defense and security areas occurring in the past three to four years. The package reaffirms the two nations' similar perceptions of the evolving environment in the region and the world at large. It also extends their common commitment to democracy, open society, human rights and the rule of law and their role in promoting peace, stability and development in Asia and beyond.

This is all highly rhetorical and symbolic, but nevertheless important in charting a new course in the relationship. A number of areas have been identified where interests and commitments intersect, including the safety of sea lines of communication, fighting terrorism and pursuing disarmament.

Mechanisms for security cooperation have been spelled out in the declaration that include consultations between the two foreign offices, meetings and dialogues at various levels, defense-level cooperation through meetings of defense ministers, exchange of service chiefs, bilateral and multilateral exercises and exchange of staff and personnel. The declaration also stipulates the two countries develop an action plan for further cooperation.

India-Japan security ties began to warm only recently during the Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe administrations. But the momentum was lost with the inauguration of the Yasuo Fukuda administration in 2007, which was less keen on India and wanted to focus on China and Southeast Asia. The architect of this declaration is undoubtedly Aso, an India enthusiast, and who in his former capacity as foreign minister was at the forefront of developing and strengthening ties with India.

This new development raises several strategic questions. One that stands out relates to China. Both prime ministers have denied that their rising bilateral interests have any implications for China. Manmohan commented that cooperation with Japan would not be "at the cost of any third country, least of all China". Similarly, Aso observed that "we regard security cooperation with India as very important ... and we do not have any assumption of a third country as a target such as China".

While no immediate comments appeared in Chinese media because Beijing is busy with the 7th Asia-Europe meeting, no matter what Manmohan and Aso might state, it is certain that Beijing will see in the new declaration a strategic design to curb its regional influence.

Only a few years ago when a proposal for a quadrilateral framework consisting of Japan, the United States, Australia and India was advanced, Beijing regarded it as an attempt to isolate and encircle the mainland within an "arc of democracy". Given its troubled ties with Tokyo, Beijing has reasons to be suspicious of Japan's separate security agreement with Australia and now with India.

While Australia has historically been a staunch ally of the US, India-US ties have deepened considerably in recent years and most recently through the signing of the civilian nuclear agreement. New developments in Japan's security ties with these nations will not be taken lightly in the Chinese strategic community. Although the quadrilateral process is on the backburner, Japan's alliance with the United States and its new security ties, no matter how loose, with Australia and India sends the signal of a new security order in the region.

How fast the broken lines existing through bilateral and trilateral security processes between Japan, the US, Australia and India will be joined together and in what shape and form will largely depend on the priority that the new administration in Washington will attach to this issue. Additionally, both India and Japan are heading for general elections. While it seems certain that there will be a new prime minister in New Delhi next year, the future of Aso depends on how his party performs at the general election.

Civilian nuclear cooperation

While cooperation in security and defense added a new chapter in the bilateral relationship, India's desire for civilian nuclear cooperation with Japan remains unfulfilled. Although Japan reluctantly supported India's case at the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, Tokyo is hesitant to cooperate with India in the civilian nuclear area. Japan possesses state-of-the-art technology in the field and it generates about one-third of its electricity through the existing 55 nuclear power plants. It is well placed to help India meet its much-required energy needs both through technology and finance.
Despite the US-India civilian nuclear technology agreement and strong support from the Japanese business community and some strategic thinkers in Japan, the Japanese government is reluctant to talk about such a deal due to strong domestic opposition from civic groups and anti-nuclear lobbyists. It is not difficult to appreciate domestic opposition as hundreds of thousands of Japanese were victims of nuclear bombings during World War II and some still suffer the consequences.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) acts cautiously and pragmatically over such controversial issues as nuclear cooperation, especially when its own political future remains uncertain. A general election is likely to be called soon in Japan and the LDP's electoral fortune hangs in the balance, although currently it enjoys a solid majority in the Lower House. That's why Aso reiterated Japan's long-held position that India become signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

The Japanese side understands India's position on why it has refused to sign and ratify these treaties, and the Indian side also acknowledges Japan's position on the issue. When discussing this matter with his counterpart, Manmohan stated that India was willing to wait until Japan was ready to take it (cooperation in civilian nuclear technology) forward.

Economic ties: Mixed signals

While political and strategic ties have strengthened considerably in recent years, bilateral trade and Japanese investment in India still remain at a relatively low level, compared to other bilateral trade figures that Japan and India have achieved with their major partners. Prospects of high growth are not very strong. Even the two-way trade target of $20 billion annually by 2010 looks unachievable, given that the current level of bilateral trade stands at about $10 billion. The current global financial turmoil is also likely to slow down economic activities of both nations.

Furthermore, the much-discussed economic partnership agreement for which several rounds of negotiations have been carried out in the past two years could not be brought to a conclusion. The two sides were unable to reach agreement on how to lower trade barriers to both sides' satisfaction. Nevertheless the two leaders have agreed to continue working on it, but no deadline has been set.

The silver lining was an announcement that Japan will provide some 450 billion yen ($4.6 billion) worth of loans as part of Japan's official development assistance (ODA) to India to help it build a Mumbai-Delhi freight rail connection. This is Japan's largest package ever granted to a single project. Recently India has become Japan's largest overseas aid destination, replacing China, that long occupied this status.

India was the first recipient of Japan's ODA in 1958, but Japan's shifting focus on Southeast Asia and later on China took its attention away from India. This is now changing. In an environment where Japan's aid budget is shrinking - making Japan the fifth-largest donor in the world today from number one in the late 1990s, Japan's commitment to fund India's critical infrastructure is as much an economic decision as strategic and political.

Economically, Japan sees business opportunities in a rising economy that India symbolizes. Politically and strategically, it is largely a balancing act. Japan poured billions and billions of dollars into China in the 1980s and 1990s as part of its ODA that helped develop infrastructure in China. But Japan received very little kudos for its generosity. On the other hand, India has expressed great appreciation for such assistance. In the joint declaration issued in Tokyo, the Indian prime minister acknowledged the assistance of "the Japanese people for their generous role in India’s development".

Japan-India ties have travelled a somewhat unique trajectory. Conventional wisdom tells us that strong economic and trade ties lead to greater political and security ties. This was most definitely the case with Japan's relations with Australia. Sometimes trade ties develop strongly but political relations remain fragile, as in the case of Japan and China or Japan and South Korea.

Japan-India economic and trade ties remained static for many years and have grown slowly in recent years, but the pace of political and strategic relations has moved much faster than economic ties. Whether or not Japan-India ties "will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world", as Shinzo Abe once described, it is most definitely the case that an important new chapter has been added to the relationship through Manmohan's visit to Tokyo, although much is required to give substance to declarations and agreements. These will happen only slowly and gradually, not with a big bang.

(Source: Asia Times Online)

Feds reject protest to nuclear waste storage plan

Federal regulators ruled Thursday that a radioactive waste storage plan can go forward at a California nuclear power plant without further study of whether it's safe from terror attacks.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 3-1 to deny the novel objection from the activist group San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, which had won a federal court ruling forcing NRC to consider its arguments.

The decision OKs PG&E's plans to store spent nuclear fuel in aboveground casks at its Diablo Canyon power plant near San Luis Obispo. Dry cask storage is increasingly common at nuclear power plants around the country.

Mothers for Peace had contended there wasn't sufficient study of whether the casks planned for Diablo Canyon could withstand potential terror attacks while protecting human health and the environment, but the NRC said no more study was needed.

"The NRC staff and PG&E provided essentially uncontradicted evidence that the probability of a significant radioactive release caused by a terrorist attack was low, and that the potential latent health and land contamination effects of the most severe plausible attack would be small," commissioners wrote in their order.

NRC staff studied what they said were plausible attack scenarios that couldn't be made public for national security reasons, and concluded that even the worst-consequence scenario would result in such a low dose of radiation that it wouldn't cause health problems for plant neighbors.

Commissioner Gregory Jaczko dissented, contending that NRC staff didn't address potential attack scenarios raised by Mothers for Peace and made insufficiently supported assumptions that the probability of a terror attack was low.

"Combining this with the fact that the agency's message all along has been 'trust us to have looked at this information that we refuse to give you access to,' I would say the agency is standing on a very weak foundation to reject" the position of Mothers for Peace, Jaczko wrote.

Mothers for Peace spokeswoman Jane Swanson said her group would consider all options for how to respond to the ruling. Citing Jaczko's dissent, she contended that the NRC has yet to fulfill its court-ordered obligations.

"The court ruled that the NRC staff must study the environmental effects of a terrorist attack. The NRC has not complied with that order," Swanson said.

PG&E spokeswoman Sharon Gavin said, "We are pleased with the commission's decision and respect the process that was used to make it, which included input from the public." She said the ruling would allow the company to remain on-schedule to begin moving spent fuel into dry cask storage in 2009.
Following Mothers for Peace's win in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006, the attorneys general of New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts challenged NRC decisions on similar grounds, and those are pending.

The ultimate outcome of the Diablo Canyon case could have broader ramifications for the nuclear power industry, which is anticipating growth as nuclear power attracts more interest as an energy source that doesn't generate greenhouse gas emissions.

The industry is hampered by the question of radioactive waste disposal. A federal permanent underground repository planned for Yucca Mountain, Nevada, has been delayed by cost overruns and political opposition. The Energy Department's best-case opening date is now 2020.

Meanwhile, more than 50,000 tons of spent fuel is piling up at nuclear reactors nationwide. Spent nuclear fuel is in dry storage at 47 power plant sites, a number that's expected to increase to 70 by 2020, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group.

Used nuclear fuel rods are first moved into cooling ponds at power plants. When they fill up, as is happening at Diablo Canyon, they're put in dry cask storage.

The NRC says the casks are designed to withstand severe accidents such as being hit by an automobile in a tornado. The casks to be used at Diablo Canyon are made of inner and outer carbon steel shells that are filled with 30 inches of concrete and weigh up to 170 tons when fully loaded with spent fuel.

The larger question of overall security from terrorism at nuclear power plants has been controversial since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission revised its security plan early last year but critics said it was inadequate, and Mothers for Peace and other activist groups are challenging the plan in court.

(Source: AP)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Big-Power Diplomats Discuss Iran Nuclear Issue

Senior diplomats of the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany, the P5+1, conferred by telephone Monday on next steps in efforts get Iran to curb its nuclear program. It was the first six-party Iran discussion in nearly a month.

The State Department says the P5+1 political directors reaffirmed their commitment to the dual-track strategy of offering Iran incentives to stop enriching uranium and sanctions if it doesn't.

However, there was no claim of progress toward new U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran for its defiance of demands to curb nuclear activity that U.S. and European officials say is weapons-related.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood says Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns represented the United States in the conference call, the first joint conversation of the six powers on Iran since a ministerial-level meeting in New York late last month.

Wood said they discussed "the way forward" following a September 27 U.N. Security Council resolution pressing Iran for compliance on the nuclear issue and reaffirming terms of the three existing sanctions resolutions.

Wood said they agreed to remain in close touch on the issue, although there was no agreement on further political-director or ministerial meetings.

The spokesman rejected a press report depicting Monday's discussion as a failure, saying the meeting had no fixed agenda other than for the parties to talk. He said there is no recent sign of Iranian interest in accepting nuclear incentives.

"The P5+1has given Iran a generous package of incentives," said Robert Wood. "We encourage Iran every day to take up that package of incentives. We've offered them a pathway forward to better relations with the international community. The ball is in the Iranian court right now. Iran knows what it needs to do, and we all want to see that happen."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and their colleagues in the six-party group agreed on last month's resolution as a show of unity on Iran, despite tense relations between Washington and Moscow over Russia's recent military intervention in Georgia.

But the measure only reaffirmed existing sanctions because of Russian and Chinese opposition to additional penalties against Tehran.

Iran denies that it has nuclear weapons ambitions and says it has a right to enrich fuel for nuclear power plants.

Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani - the country's former chief nuclear envoy - said last week that Tehran wants to continue negotiations over its nuclear program but that it will not accept an end to uranium enrichment as a precondition for talks.

(Source: VOA)

India Needs to Tap Atomic Opportunity as Crisis May Slow Orders

India needs to tap opportunities to get nuclear reactors and secure uranium supplies as a global financial crisis may slow orders from other countries.

``The current global financial crisis may very well be a blessing in disguise,'' Shyam Saran, special envoy to the prime minister on the nuclear deal, said at a conference in New Delhi today. ``We should soon see something of a buyer's market in nuclear power plants and uranium as a consequence of the slowdown of major economies.''

The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression is pushing the world economy toward recession and has prompted governments worldwide to shore up bank balance sheets. This coincided with India signing a nuclear energy agreement with the U.S., ending a three-decade ban.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. this month cut its uranium price forecast through to 2010, citing the potential for the freeze to slow nuclear power project development. High up-front capital costs for nuclear power projects may slow the so-called nuclear renaissance, the securities firm said.

``This creates a favorable condition for India to embark on a truly ambitious nuclear energy program, getting the best terms and conditions,'' Saran said. ``This opportunity should not be frittered away, because this window will probably close once this crisis is over.''

Last month, India secured the right to buy equipment from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group as it seeks to bridge the shortfall in electricity.

Seeking Orders

Asia's third-biggest economy has said it plans to add 40,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity by 2020. The agreement with the U.S. paves the way for General Electric Co. and other U.S. companies to export nuclear equipment to India and the waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group allows France's Areva SA, Russia's Rosatom Corp. and Japan's Toshiba Corp. to seek orders.

Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd., the monopoly atomic energy generator, said this month it plans to place orders for as much as 2,000 metric tons of uranium, equal to almost a fifth of Japan's annual demand, before the end of this year to ensure supplies.

The state-owned company is in talks for long-term contracts and is also willing to invest as much as to $1 billion to buy stakes in as many as four uranium mines overseas, Chairman Shreyans Kumar Jain had said.

India expects to agree on long-term uranium supply contracts with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Niger, Saran said. It is also exploring a joint mining initiative with Mongolia, he said.

Uranium dropped to the lowest level since January 2006 as utilities held off purchases, expecting the metal used to fuel nuclear reactors to continue declining, Denver-based pricing service TradeTech LLC said on Oct. 13.

Uranium Prices

Uranium has fallen 37 percent from this year's high of $75 a pound as funds pulled back from commodities, concerned that a U.S. economic decline may slow new construction and business expansion.

Spot prices may average $65.98 a pound this year, down from an earlier forecast of $69.62, JPMorgan said in its report. It cut its 2009 forecast by 14 percent to $64.75 and the 2010 estimate by 4.7 percent to $71.50. JPMorgan left its long-term uranium price forecast unchanged at $65 a pound.

India plans to spend as much as $14 billion to buy nuclear reactors from suppliers such as Areva, General Electric and Westinghouse Electric Co., Jain said in an earlier interview on Sept. 8.

The government may consider allowing private companies in the nuclear energy industry, Saran said.

Regulation, Licensing

``The entry of Indian private industry into the nuclear power sector will certainly enable a more rapid expansion,'' Saran said. ``However, this would require an amendment in the Atomic Energy Act and the establishment of a much more elaborate regulatory and licensing system. The government may at an appropriate time move in that direction.''

The country needs to make changes in the law as soon as possible, said Abhishek M. Singhvi, a spokesman of the Congress Party, which leads the ruling coalition government.

As much as 2 trillion rupees ($41 billion) is required to set up 20,000 megawatts of nuclear power plants in the next two decades, Singhvi said at the conference in New Delhi today.

``For all this, where do you get the money unless you get the private players?'' said Singhvi. ``Such a large volume of construction, reactors, investment, principally by foreign direct investment and other sources, should lead to some boost in these tough times and these times of distress.''

India needs to consider issuing a global ``nuclear'' bond to partly pay for building the power generation plants, Singhvi said.

Nuclear reactors may produce more than a fifth of the world's electricity by 2050 from the current 16 percent, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. To reach this level, 54 reactors would need to be built each year between 2030 and 2050, the agency said on Oct. 16.

In June, 41 reactors were being built around the world, with an average construction time of 62 months, the OECD said.

More than 90 new plants have been approved and are in the planning stage, while at least double that are proposed, according to the World Nuclear Association.

(Source: Bloomberg)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Nuclear deal with Russia to be inked in Dec

The stage is set for the inking of the civil nuclear deal between India and Russia, later this year when the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visits New Delhi in December.

External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who held talks here ahead of the first official visit of Medvedev to India, did the necessary groundwork for the signing of the nuclear pact that envisages Russia building four more atomic reactors in Tamil Nadu. The pact, agreed on during a visit by former Russian president Vladimir Putin in January 2007 and initiated early this year, will follow similar pacts signed with the US and France.

This will be the third bilateral nuclear pact which India will sign after the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) lifted an atomic embargo against New Delhi September 6.

(Source: The Financial Express)

Russia to build 26 nuclear power reactors

Russia intends to build 26 major nuclear power reactors over twelve years to come, chief of the state-run corporation Rosatom, Sergei Kiriyenko, said.

"The pace of commissioning new nuclear power reactors is pegged to our current plans, but it can be adjusted in terms of scale and deadlines," he said.

"Construction work is underway at five sites (Leningrad, Novovoronezh, Kalinin, Rostov and Beloyarsk NPPs)," he said, adding that design and exploration work was in progress on another 14 reactor projects.

Russia has been working on a number schemes, including the invitation of private investors, for instance the Baltic NPP project in the Kaliningrad Region.

"That one is regarded as an integration project," he said. "It is called to address not so much Russian as pan-European energy issues."

"Alongside this Russia-designed nuclear power plants continue to be built outside the country. The expansion of this activity of ours has been underway in full compliance with the safety and reliability requirements," Kiriyenko said.

(Source: Hindustan Times)

Foreign firms interested to build Darkhovin nuclear plant: official

Iran power plant construction company managing director, Mohammad Qods, said some Western countries have expressed readiness to cooperate in the construction of Darkhovin nuclear power plant.

Iran is seeking to build a light water nuclear power plant at a capacity of 360 megawatts near the city of Darkhovin. Iran nuclear energy production and development company has authorized the nuclear power plant construction company to implement the project, Qods told a press conference in Shiraz.

The company has arranged a 3-day seminar on designing and constructing nuclear power plants in Shiraz.

Qods said a number of Russian nuclear scientists including the Russian director of the Bushehr nuclear power station have been invited to the conference.

He stated that during the conference Iranian scientists would hold talks with foreign nuclear experts about the implementation of Darkhovin nuclear power plant.

Meanwhile Hamid Soltani, the managing director of the Iran nuclear power plant construction company, said, “Most of the project will be done by Iranian experts but we will also seek the views of foreign experts.”

He said the designing process of Darkhovin power plant would take 6 years and its construction would start by the beginning of 2013.

(Source: Tehran Times)

IAEA Director General says 50 nations contemplating nuclear power generation

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says the technological innovation of today’s nuclear renaissance is aiming for inherently safe, proliferation-resistant and more-cost effective nuclear power.

The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that "no fewer than 50 countries have informed the IAEA that they are considering introducing nuclear power."

In a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the IAEA, said 12 nations, including Turkey, Egypt, Vietnam and Nigeria, " are actively preparing nuclear energy programs."

"China is constructing six power reactors and expects its installed capacity to increase five-fold by 2020. Russia plans to add at least 26 new large reactors between now and 2020, plus 10 smaller units, more than doubling its nuclear capacity. India is building six reactors and aims to increase its installed capacity eight-fold by 2022," he said.

The world's energy consumption is forecast to grow about 50% by 2030 with electrical use doubling globally and tripling in developing countries, according to the International Energy Agency. Nuclear energy is still expected to account for about 14% of global electricity generated in 2030.

"You are all familiar with the factors driving what some are calling a nuclear renaissance: surging global demand for energy, uncertainty about energy supply and concern about climate change," he noted. "Nuclear energy appears to offer at least a partial solution to these challenges."

"Every country has a right to develop nuclear power, but also a responsibility to do it properly," ElBaradei said. "Sometimes we need to lower the expectations of countries about how quickly they can hope to have nuclear power reactors in operation. It can take a minimum of 10 years just to put the basic infrastructure in place. This is not an area where you can cut corners."

ElBaradei noted that public attitudes toward nuclear power have been come positive in the past 10 years. However, he added, "concern about waste will remain until the first final repository for high-level waste is operational. Naturally, we can never be complacent. A single nuclear accident anywhere in the world could severely undermine the prospects for nuclear energy everywhere."

"In some countries, we see a troubling combination of old reactors and weak regulators," ElBaradei said. "This could be a ticking time bomb. It is in all our interests to ensure that the highest safety standards are upheld everywhere."

The potential downside of a nuclear renaissance is the spread of nuclear material to many more countries, according to ElBaradei. "This clearly indicates the risk that nuclear material could be diverted to make nuclear weapons."

"That is why we need to think seriously about some form of multinational control over the fuel cycle," he suggested. "This should provide assurance that every country that wants nuclear energy-and is in compliance with its safeguard obligations-has guaranteed access to a supply of nuclear fuel that will not be interrupted for political reasons."

"The idea scenario, in my opinion, would be to start with a nuclear fuel bank under IAEA auspices. Then we should agree that all new enrichment and reprocessing facility should be placed exclusively under multilateral control," he said. "Ultimately, all existing facilities should also be converted from national to multilateral control."

(Source: Mineweb)

China-Pakistan nuclear power plant deal

According to officials from the Pakistani government, China has agreed to provide help to build two new nuclear power plants.

This is welcome news, not least because Pakistan is suffering from acute power shortages with official estimates putting the shortfall close to 4000 MW.
Furthermore, this enhanced cooperation with China is likely to ease Pakistan's unhappiness at the recent deal allowing American businesses to sell nuclear fuel, technology and reactors to its neighbour, India.

China previously helped Pakistan build its second nuclear power plant at Chashma, about 125 miles southwest of Islamabad. Work on a second nuclear plant is in progress, and is due to be completed in 2011.

The Chashma 3 and Chashma 4 reactors would provide Pakistan with an additional 680 MW of generating capacity. No details were given on when the units would be built or what assistance China would provide.

Pakistan, which began operating its first nuclear power station with Canadian assistance back in 1972, has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the main international agreement meant to stem the spread of nuclear weapons technology.

However, it has placed several of its civilian reactors under International Atomic Energy Authority safeguards.

The nuclear agreement was among a dozen economic cooperation accords signed during President Asif Ali Zardari's recent visit to Beijing, PR China.

(Source: Power Engineering)

UK: Shortage of safety inspectors threatens nuclear power plans

Britain's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is battling to recruit up to 50 inspectors to cope with its existing workload in the nuclear industry and the vital assessment of the reactors being put forward to meet government plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations.

HSE said its nuclear arm had some 160 inspectors but needed another 30 to bring it up to full complement to meet the workload on existing nuclear sites. It also needs a further 20 inspectors for the teams working on the generic design assessments of the next generation of nuclear reactors.

A recruitment drive for inspectors is under way but it is facing fierce competition for scarce skills. The main source of staff with the necessary skills is the industry itself or former naval personnel who have worked on Britain's nuclear-powered submarines. Industry sources said people with nuclear skills were being offered signing-on fees or pay rises of up to £20,000 a year to switch employers.

Mike Graham, national secretary of the Prospect trade union, warned that the government would have to be more competitive in terms of inspectors' salaries. "They are basically going to have to breach public-sector pay restraint or else nuclear new build will be threatened," he said

The government wants to have the first of a new generation of nuclear power stations on line by 2017 as Britain seeks to replace its existing and ageing nuclear fleet as well as several coal-fired stations and there are concerns that the shortage of inspectors could threaten the timetable.

A report for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) by the National Metals Technology Centre (Namtec) says there are serious problems to overcome. "Delays in the completion of the process and the possible knock-on effects of delays in the planning and licensing processes would affect confidence throughout the supply chain," says the report by Stephen Court.

An HSE spokesman said that while it wanted to recruit more inspectors to assess the new reactor designs, they were needed on a progressive basis.

The shortage of inspectors is only one of a series of issues facing the new-build programme. The Namtec report, The Supply Chain for a UK Nuclear New Build Programme, identifies a range of weaknesses in Britain, including the lack of UK-based engineering firms with atomic experience. There are none here that can produce the forgings needed to manufacture reactor pressure vessels, it warns.

(Source: Guardian.co.uk)

Exelon offers to buy NRG for 6.2 billion dollars

[NRG is the company that is trying to add two more units to the South Texas Project that currently has two operating units. They are trying to get ABWRs licensed through Toshiba rather than GE. I will post again as more news comes out on this possible merger.]


Mon Oct 20, 3:44 am ET

WASHINGTON, (AFP) – US energy company Exelon has offered to buy its competitor, NRG Energy, for 6.2 billion dollars in a deal which would create a national energy giant worth about 60 billion dollars.
The offer represents a 37-percent premium on the October 17 closing price for NRG shares.
In a letter delivered on Sunday to NRG President and chief executive office David Crane and Chairman Howard Cosgrove, Exelon proposed to acquire all of NRG's outstanding common stock in an all-stock transaction.
The proposed terms were for a fixed exchange ratio of 0.485 Exelon shares for each NRG share, which represents a value of approximately 26.43 dollars for each share.
"We believe a combination of Exelon and NRG would represent an exceptional value for shareholders of both companies," John Rowe, chairman and CEO of Exelon, said in a statement.
"This combination would not only diversify Exelon's generation portfolio geographically, it would also create immediate earnings and cash flow accretion."
He added that an Exelon-NRG combination would result in an enterprise valued at approximately 60 billion dollars with a generating capacity of around 47,000 megawatts, or enough electricity to serve nearly 45 million homes.
Rowe invited NRG's CEO and board of directors to join him in merger talks in order to create a more efficient company.
Chicago-based Exelon Corporation is one of the nation's largest electric utilities with nearly $19 billion in annual revenues.
The company, which has 17,800 employees, has one of the industry's largest portfolios of electricity generation capacity, with a nationwide reach and strong positions in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, said company officials.
Exelon distributes electricity to approximately 5.4 million customers in northern Illinois and Pennsylvania and natural gas to 480,000 customers in the Philadelphia area.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Baltic Race - Kalinigrad VS Visaginas NPPs

On a recent referendum in Lithuania, that we already have been following here, the citizens were asked whether they support the close down of Ignalina nuclear power plant in 2009. The plant currently gives up to 70% of the total amount of energy in the country. The referendum, however, was not recognized as valid, since less then half of the voters participated (about 48%). Still, most of those who voted were against the shut down of Ignalina plant until the new plant, Visaginas NPP, 4 GWt in capacity, will be launched on the same site.
Still, the first block of Visaginas will not be launched before 2016, second - 2020. The construction is sponsored and performed by the 4 interested parties - Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland. The situation around the project still remains on the level of agreements and disagreements between these four. Moreover, the final project is not confirmed yet. Obviously, that will take some time.
On the other hand, Russians have already signed and confirmed the project of Baltijskaya NPP in Kaliningrad region, 2GWt in capacity, to be launched by 2015. The construction will be performed in cooperation with foreign companies, those interested in the project (for example, those from Czech republic). The project was also discussed with potential customers in Germany, Finland and Sweden.
Kaliningrad is a small enclave of Russia by the Baltic sea between Poland and Lithuania. By itself, it has no need for such a huge plant - most of its electricity needs are covered by a large heat station (ТЭЦ-1). The current electricity production in the region is about 500 MWt, and within a few years after the second block of heat station is launched, the figure will double.
What do we have finally in the Baltic region by mid-2010s? Here are some of my remarks on the base of Google Earth map of the area.

The yellow line shows the border of the European Union, green crosses - existing NPPs, red ones are planned, with approximate year of launching.
Once there will be 3 more nuclear power plants in the area - Visaginas (Lithuania), Baltijskaya (Kaliningrad, Russia) and the Belarusian one, the region might get overloaded with electricity generation capacities it does not actually need. This is when the competition for the export market might take place. The one who will be the first to occupy the niche of major electricity export supplier, will get hold of the local market and largest share of export. Ignalina closure will create a great shortage of electricity in Lithuania and the Baltic countries, and they will have to import it anyway until the new station is built. Even if that sounds politically "absurd" for some West-oriented politicians in the Baltic region, they will have to buy it from Russia - the neighboring EU countries do not have enough own capacities to supply one more country with 4 million population.
The question is whether Lithuania might also be able to use the electricity from Kaliningrad instead of building a huge own plant? From economical point of view, launching a huge plant when the local electric grids are already overloaded by cheap Russian and Belarusian energy, is a bit of an absurd. A nuclear power plant is less flexible then a heat plant when it comes to reducing the amount of energy produced when consumption is low. For an export-oriented plant, besides from the reactors itself, a huge infrastructure will be needed. In order to reach Sweden, there is a need of a transmitting line on the bottom of the Baltic sea. Again, here the Russian plant has more advantages from the point of location - their "Baltic bottom distance" will be a bit closer than that from Lithuania.
What we have now is Russian and Belarusian plants confirmed and ready for construction, and on the other side there is Ignalina about to be closed and some rumors about a new plant that the 4 countries did not yet agree upon. The one who wins the race will be the one who presses the start button on the new plant first.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Areva to Settle Finnish Project Loss With Client TVO (Update2)


Areva to Settle Finnish Project Loss With Client TVO (Update2)
By Anne-Sylvaine Chassany
Oct. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Areva SA, the world's largest reactor maker, is negotiating with Teollisuuden Voima Oyj, or TVO, to share losses at a reactor it is building for the Finnish utility.
The company is also working with TVO on 50 measures to accelerate the project, as resources dedicated to the project are almost at the limit, Philippe Knoche, project manager of the Olkiluoto-3 project, or OL3, said late yesterday in a presentation to analysts and reporters in Finland.
``OL3 is and will remain a very challenging project,'' Knoche said. The teams are working six days a week and 24 hours a day and any unexpected problem may lead to further delay on the project delivery date, he added.
OL3, which has been plagued by component, construction and organization problems since it started in 2005, is more than 25 percent over its 3 billion-euro ($4.1 billion) initial budget and its delivery date has been pushed back two years to mid-2011. Even that target is ``challenging,'' Jouni Silvennoinen, senior VP at TVO, said today in a presentation on site.
The French state-owned company, which competes with General Electric Co. and Toshiba Corp.'s Westinghouse in a global nuclear race, wants to use OL3 -- the first nuclear plant to be built in western Europe since Chernobyl -- as a showcase for its new- generation Evolutionary Power Reactor as it seeks to supply about a third of the estimated 300 reactors needed worldwide by 2030.
``Areva obviously lacks visibility on the project but really needs to make it happen to prove its new design really works,'' said Pierre Boucheny, an analyst at Landsbanki Kepler in Paris. The analyst, who rates Areva ``reduce,'' estimates that the cost overruns of about 1 billion euros have already wiped out profit on Areva's next 10 reactors.
No Visibility
The company has never disclosed the exact amount of provisions for the project over the time. Areva's reactors and services unit had a 258 million-euro operating loss in the first half on additional charges as the company tried to accelerate the work and allocated more resources than planned, it said.
The OL3 contract was the first reactor order negotiated by Areva after the nuclear power industry's long pause. ``It badly wanted to win and took some risk,'' Boucheny said. The company also wants to use the project to demonstrate it can handle a big turnkey contract, its first in a long time, the analyst added.
``OL3 is a prototype and we're making sure we learn from our experience,'' Knoche said.
Areva hadn't anticipated the level of scrutiny TVO and the Finnish Safety Authority would have at every step of the construction process, Knoche said. The utility wants to approve about 100,000 engineering documents along the way, which differs from the French practice and slows down the project, he said. About 30 percent of these documents have been approved so far, he said.
``It's heavy work, which none of the parties had anticipated,'' he said.
While TVO contractually committed to approving each of these documents in two months, on average, it takes the Finnish utility seven to nine months, said Isabelle Coupey, Areva's financial communications director. This, in turn, disrupts the planning of the project and incurs additional costs.
Separately, Areva has filed a complaint to the International Chamber of Commerce to settle a dispute with TVO that happened at the beginning of the construction phase and is not related to the engineering certification process, Coupey said without elaborating.
The OL3 project is entering a new phase in 2009 with the end of civil work and the start of the assembling of the primary components, Knoche said.
New Phase
Despite difficulties in Finland, the Paris-based company is positioning itself to build the country's sixth nuclear reactor, Knoche said. Westinghouse Electric Co., the reactor-builder owned by Japan's Toshiba Corp., won't bid, Dan Lipman, the company's head of nuclear plants, already said Sept. 4.
Finland's parliament will vote on a sixth nuclear reactor by the third quarter of 2010. TVO will probably order one unit if it gets government approval for another, Knoche said. Fortum Oyj, the country's biggest utility, and E.ON AG-led Fennovoima Oy are also planning to add nuclear capacity in the Nordic country. E.ON is Germany's biggest utility. Areva is answering technical questions from all of these parties, Knoche said.
Areva is also building a reactor for state-owned utility Electricite de France SA. It will build another one by 2011, French president Nicolas Sarkozy said in July. It won an 8 billion-euro contract in November last year to supply two Evolutionary Power Reactors and uranium to China and is competing for reactor contracts in South Africa and the U.S.
The French government is weighing options for the nuclear maker, as the company needs funds to expand. Options include selling shares to the public and a merger with French turbine maker Alstom SA. Lauvergeon opposes a merger with Alstom, she has said repeatedly.
To contact the reporter on this story: Anne-Sylvaine Chassany in Paris achassany@bloomberg.net Last Updated: October 16, 2008 06:41 EDT