Michele Kearney's Nuclear Wire

Major Energy and Environmental News and Commentary affecting the Nuclear Industry.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Obama Budget Seeks 13.4 Percent Increase for National Nuclear Security Administration Walter Pincus, The Washington Post

Obama Budget Seeks 13.4 Percent Increase for National Nuclear Security Administration
Walter Pincus, The Washington Post
President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget blueprint calls for an increase in funding of more than 13 percent for the agency that oversees the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, a greater percentage increase than for any other government agency.
Full Article

President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget blueprint calls for an increase in funding of more than 13 percent for the agency that oversees the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, a greater percentage increase than for any other government agency.

The request could help reduce opposition to a new strategic arms control treaty with Russia. Republicans have argued that the Obama administration will jeopardize national security if it agrees to cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal without modernizing the country's remaining weapons.

The $11.2 billion request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) represents a 13.4 percent increase for the agency from the previous fiscal year. Most agencies across the rest of the government saw either no increase in the spending plan announced this week or a single-digit percentage increase.

At the NNSA, the Obama administration is seeking a funding increase of 25 percent, to $2 billion, for the continued safety and surety of the nuclear weapons stockpile. That would ensure funds for the agency to reach full production of the refurbished Navy W-76 Trident submarine warhead, to refurbish the B-61 bomb, and to study options for maintaining the W-78, the warhead in the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.

In addition, the budget request provides for a 10.4 percent increase, to $1.6 billion, in funds for additional work in science and technology to enhance confidence in the annual certification of the nuclear stockpile. An additional $2 billion would go to the long-term program to upgrade weapons-complex facilities, including a new plutonium facility for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a uranium manufacturing plant at Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who has actively followed negotiations over a new nuclear treaty with Russia, said the increase in the budget was "a definite improvement over previous years." But he said he will be meeting with administration officials to make certain that the budget correlates with the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review and the 10-year modernization plan that could help in dealing with any future treaty.

Other observers already see the new budget as a boon for arms-control advocates.

"The budget signals that the price for the START follow-on agreement with Russia and Senate certification of the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] is additional money for nuclear weapons modernization and production facilities," said Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists. He said the additional funds for research will provide continued employment for scientists so that skills remain to build new nuclear weapons if needed.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the proposed budget figures show that the administration is not allowing the nuclear arsenal to be degraded, as some critics have charged. Instead, Kimball said, the budget shows that there is "a major effort to extend the service lives of warheads."

"Even without the additional funding proposed by the administration, confidence in the ability to maintain U.S. warheads in the absence of nuclear test explosions has been increasing," he said.

Other large increases in funding requests at the NNSA pertain to nonproliferation, which President Obama has stressed as part of his arms-control agenda. An estimated $100 million will go to Russia as part of a $400 million commitment to help it dispose of plutonium.

Obama also requested $559 million for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, an increase of 68 percent from the previous year. This is to aid in bringing under control additional nuclear materials from overseas and to convert research reactors fueled with highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium.

US certifies India-IAEA Safeguards Agreement on civil n-facilities

US certifies India-IAEA Safeguards Agreement on civil n-facilities

WASHINGTON: In yet another step towards full implementation of the India-US civil nuclear deal, President Barack Obama has certified that India
has placed its nuclear facilities under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

Obama made the Congressionally-mandated certification Wednesday in a presidential memorandum to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to have it inserted in the Federal Register that records all government actions.

Obama's confirmation that India has formally agreed to provide the UN nuclear watchdog access to a specified number of nuclear reactors takes the deal yet another step closer to implementation of the landmark deal. Military facilities are excluded from the safeguards agreement.

But a couple of other crucial steps are still pending. India and the US are still negotiating an agreement on reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. The two sides are said to be on track to complete the talks by August as provided under the deal.

India also needs to approve liability protection for US companies. The Indian cabinet has approved the necessary legislation, but it has yet to be placed before parliament.

In a presidential memorandum released by the White House, Obama wrote: "I hereby determine and certify that:

1. The agreement between the government of India and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the application of safeguards to civilian nuclear facilities, as approved by the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency on August 1, 2008 (the 'Safeguards Agreement'), has entered into force; and

2. The government of India has filed a declaration of facilities pursuant to paragraph 13 of the Safeguards Agreement that is not materially inconsistent with the facilities and schedule described in paragraph 14 of the Separation Plan present in the national Parliament of India on May 11, 2006, taking into account
the later initiation of safeguards that was anticipated in the Separation Plan."


Iran Urged to Follow Up on Nuclear U-Turn Andrew Gully, Agence France-Presse

Iran Urged to Follow Up on Nuclear U-Turn
Andrew Gully, Agence France-Presse
AhmadinejadThe United States and key allies urged Iran Wednesday to follow up on a surprise U-turn from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by formally committing to a UN-brokered deal to swap enriched uranium for nuclear fuel.

But there was also alarm and the renewed threat of new sanctions as Ahmadinejad's apparent overture to the West on the nuclear issue was quickly followed by a rocket launch into space deemed by the White House "a provocative act."
Full Article


Pakistan nuclear arsenal safe: Top US spy chief

Pakistan nuclear arsenal safe: Top US spy chief
Washington (AFP) Feb 3, 2010 - Pakistan's military knows there were would "catastrophic consequences, primarily for Pakistan," if any of its nuclear bombs fell into the wrong hands, the top US intelligence official said Wednesday. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair's comments came one day after he told the Senate Intelligence Committee that "vulnerabilities exist" in Pakistan's nuclear safeguards. "The Pak ... more


# White House plan for Yucca Mountain draws concern from NEI

# White House plan for Yucca Mountain draws concern from NEI
The Nuclear Energy Institute expressed concern about the Obama administration's plan to revoke the license bid for Nevada's Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste project in a legally binding way that would keep it from being revived. The sector "does not support the termination of this program but believes that, if it is going to happen, it should occur in an orderly manner to permit the licensing process to be restarted if ever warranted," NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel said. Las Vegas Review-Journal/Stephens Washington News Bureau


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

ooperative Threat Reduction Program to Expand Mission

ooperative Threat Reduction Program to Expand Mission
Global Security Newswire
Recent legislation could help the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction program more easily exploit opportunities to eliminate WMD materials while increasing its work outside the former Soviet Union, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) announced yesterday (see GSN, Dec. 22, 2009).
Full Article


The President's Nuclear Vision

The President's Nuclear Vision
Joe Biden, The Wall Street Journal
BidenThe United States faces no greater threat than the spread of nuclear weapons. That is why, last April in Prague, President Obama laid out a comprehensive agenda to reverse their spread, and to pursue the peace and security of a world without them.

He understands that this ultimate goal will not be reached quickly. But by acting on a number of fronts, we can ensure our security, strengthen the global nonproliferation regime, and keep vulnerable nuclear material out of terrorist hands.
Full Article


Saudi Arabia to take part in U.N. nuclear-safety accord

Saudi Arabia to take part in U.N. nuclear-safety accord
The government of Saudi Arabia declared it is joining the U.N.'s Nuclear Safety Convention. While the country does not have nuclear facilities, it is believed to have an interest in exploring the energy source. Under the convention, parties are required to comply with the standards set to maintain safety at plants. Zawya.com (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)/Agence France-Presse


DOJ seeks $11.4M for defense fund against nuclear-waste litigation

DOJ seeks $11.4M for defense fund against nuclear-waste litigation
President Barack Obama is requesting that Congress provide the Justice Department with an additional $11.4 million to bolster its legal resources against lawsuits filed by utilities over the government's delay in collecting used nuclear fuel. The department said utilities have filed 72 suits representing more than $50 billion in alleged damages. "Defending these cases will involve intensive resources due to their complexity and high financial stakes," the DOJ wrote in its budget summary. The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Newswires


Obama's energy budget earmarks $36 billion in loan guarantees

Obama's energy budget earmarks $36 billion in loan guarantees
President Barack Obama's budget request for 2011 includes $36 billion to back loans for new nuclear power plants -- twice as much as the current program. Nuclear energy proponents hope the guarantees will spur the construction of at least six nuclear power plants. The Washington Post


The great uranium stampede

The great uranium stampede


The Sunday Times January 31, 2010

The great uranium stampede
Everybody wants supplies as nuclear power comes roaring back

Australia's Olympic Dam deposit is the world's largest

Danny Fortson

It’s an odd place for a group of Frenchmen to pitch a tent city. Bakouma is one of the deepest, darkest corners of African jungle. From Bangui, the capital of the land-locked Central African Republic, it takes days to navigate the 800km of dirt track to this patch of virgin forest in the middle of the continent. Usually they go by light aircraft to a nearby landing strip.

Most of the 160 or so jungle dwellers are scientists but they are not there to count butterflies. They are drawing up plans for a uranium mine. Areva, France’s state-owned nuclear giant, is behind the project. It hopes to begin clearing forest next year after the government approves its plan.

Bakouma is not an isolated case. It’s just one example of a silent landgrab unfolding around the globe. After decades as a forgotten commodity, uranium, the radioactive element used as the primary fuel for nuclear power, is hot property again. Agents for companies, many of them government-controlled, are fanning out across the globe to gain access to the powdery, radioactive ore.

The scramble has been set off by the comeback of nuclear power. In the past couple of years countries that for decades had shunned it as an expensive, pariah technology have embraced it anew. Britain is leading the charge. The government envisages a new generation of reactors to replace the rickety old stations that will be retired in the coming years. The renaissance has taken hold elsewhere, from America to the Middle East and China.

For some, the resulting uranium rush is worrying. Rianne Teule, a nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “A lot of new countries in Africa are opening up to uranium mining but it is non-African companies that are exploiting the resource — Chinese, Canadian and French firms. It’s a whole new phase of colonialism.”

It’s also a serious business. As with oil, companies and governments are seeking to ensure supplies of a fuel that will play an increasing role as economies move away from traditional fossil-fuelled power.

Last year Kazakhstan leapfrogged Australia and Canada to become the largest supplier of uranium, producing about 14,000 tonnes, a fifth of global consumption.

Niger has also begun drawing the attention, and money, of big multinationals. Areva is investing more than €1 billion (£870m) in a giant new mine in the impoverished desert nation. CNNC, China’s state-owned nuclear firm, bought a stake in a project there last week. And Obtala Resources, a London-listed group run by Frank Scolaro, former chairman of Regal Petroleum, is in the final stages of negotiating licences for two new prospects.

“These are the kinds of projects we like,” said Scolaro. “The world is going nuclear and they will need the fuel.”

Today there are 439 reactors operating in the world. According to Steve Kidd at the World Nuclear Association, another 142 are in the pipeline, and 53 of these are already under construction. Of the latter, 20 are in China. “We forget that in France in the 1970s they were building five new reactors a year,” he said. “The Chinese are just doing what the French did, but on a Chinese scale.”

The mining boom has been boosted by a surge in the uranium price. “For three decades uranium cost $10 a pound because nuclear power wasn’t seen as very desirable. Now that we have all these concerns about the environment and going low-carbon, it’s different. It hit $137 [a pound] two years ago,” said Joe Kelly, head of nuclear fuel markets at Icap Energy. Today the spot price for unenriched uranium is $42 a pound, enough for most projects to go ahead.

The Cigar Lake mine in Saskatchewan, Canada, the world’s largest undeveloped high-grade deposit, jointly owned by Areva and Cameco of Canada, will open next year. It is one of eight that will begin producing in the next 12 months.

A couple of the biggest sources, meanwhile, could soon run out. America and Russia supply up to a fifth of the world’s needs from decommissioned bombs or stockpiles built up during their nuclear arms race. They are gradually releasing these into the market. “There is a worry that when the cold-war stocks run out we won’t be able to meet demand,” said Kelly.

The US Department of Energy has pledged not to flood the market. If it did, the price would crash and bring many new projects to an abrupt halt.

That would be no bad thing, said Greenpeace’s Teule, who argued that many of the new mining areas are virtually unregulated. A recent investigation in Niger uncovered radioactive shovels on sale in the local market in Arlit, a company town next to Areva’s mine there. The country is the world’s sixth-largest producer and has ambitions to move up the rankings. It employs only three nuclear inspectors to keep watch on the industry.

Areva acknowledged the problem but said the company has instituted a plan to stop radioactive “waste rock” and scrap metal from finding its way into the local community.

Teule said: “We are using this as a specific example to other countries about the problems they can get themselves into and to ensure there is proper regulation and reports on the environmental impact.”

Indeed, even as investors flood into Niger, companies are starting new projects in other poor countries such as Namibia and Malawi.

“Getting a mine going in Texas takes two bookshelves full of authorisations,” said one commentator. “In Niger you give a shovel to a guy on
$2 a day and you’re mining uranium.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

IAEA still in 'dialogue' on Iran enrichment deal: Amano

IAEA still in 'dialogue' on Iran enrichment deal: Amano
Davos, Switzerland (AFP) Jan 29, 2010 - UN nuclear watchdog chief Yukio Amano said Friday his agency was still trying to negotiate a uranium enrichment deal amid new Western warnings to the Islamic state over its atomic programme. "Our proposal is on the table. Dialogue is continuing," the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Amano, who took over as hea ... more


President Obama to seek $54M for nuclear boost, source says

President Obama to seek $54M for nuclear boost, source says
President Barack Obama is reportedly expected to request that Congress provide $54 million in additional loan guarantees for nuclear energy in his 2011 budget proposal, according to a source in the administration. Obama endorsed nuclear energy in his State of the Union address, partly to win over Republican and moderate Democratic legislators in passing a comprehensive climate-and-energy measure. ABC News/The Associated Press


Nuclear must play key role in in U.S. energy mix

Nuclear must play key role in in U.S. energy mix
The U.S. should consider nuclear as one of the energy solutions apart from solar, wind and geothermal power, writes Oregon State University professor emeritus John Ringle in this opinion article. Nuclear has no emissions and supplies power even at times when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. To keep the country's economy on track, the need for more nuclear facilities must be acknowledged. Statesman-Journal (Salem, Ore.)


Blue-ribbon panel to find "new strategy" on nuclear-waste storage

Blue-ribbon panel to find "new strategy" on nuclear-waste storage
The newly formed Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future will study the "full range of scientific and technical options" available as alternatives to Nevada's Yucca Mountain site for storage and disposal of radioactive waste, according to Energy Department Secretary Steven Chu. "The debate over Yucca Mountain is over, as the president has made clear many times," said White House adviser Carol Browner. "It is time to move forward with a new strategy based on the best science and the advice of a broad range of experts." Las Vegas Review-Journal/Stephens Washington News Bureau