Michele Kearney's Nuclear Wire

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

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lack of fuel may limit US nuclear power expansion

Lack of fuel may limit US nuclear power expansion
March 20, 2007

Limited supplies of fuel for nuclear power plants may thwart the renewed and growing interest in nuclear energy in the United States and other nations, says an MIT expert on the industry.

Over the past 20 years, safety concerns dampened all aspects of development of nuclear energy: No new reactors were ordered and there was investment neither in new uranium mines nor in building facilities to produce fuel for existing reactors. Instead, the industry lived off commercial and government inventories, which are now nearly gone. Worldwide, uranium production meets only about 65 percent of current reactor requirements.

That shortage of uranium and of processing facilities worldwide leaves a gap between the potential increase in demand for nuclear energy and the ability to supply fuel for it, said Dr. Thomas Neff, a research affiliate at MIT's Center for International Studies.

"Just as large numbers of new reactors are being planned, we are only starting to emerge from 20 years of underinvestment in the production capacity for the nuclear fuel to operate them. There has been a nuclear industry myopia; they didn't take a long-term view," Neff said. For example, only a few years ago uranium inventories were being sold at $10 per pound; the current price is $85 per pound.

Neff has been giving a series of talks at industry meetings and investment conferences around the world about the nature of the fuel supply problem and its implications for the so-called "nuclear renaissance," pointing out both the sharply rising cost of nuclear fuel and the lack of capacity to produce it.

Currently, much of the uranium used by the United States is coming from mines in such countries as Australia, Canada, Namibia, and, most recently, Kazakhstan. Small amounts are mined in the western United States, but the United States is largely reliant on overseas supplies. The United States also relies for half its fuel on Russia under a "swords to ploughshares" deal that Neff originated in 1991. This deal is converting about 20,000 Russian nuclear weapons to fuel for U.S. nuclear power plants, but it ends in 2013, leaving a substantial supply gap for the United States.

Further, China, India, and even Russia have plans for massive deployments of nuclear power and are trying to lock up supplies from countries on which the United States has traditionally relied. As a result, the United States could be the "last one to buy, and it could pay the highest prices, if it can get uranium at all," Neff said. "The take-home message is that if we're going to increase use of nuclear power, we need massive new investments in capacity to mine uranium and facilities to process it."

Mined uranium comes in several forms, or isotopes. For starting a nuclear chain reaction in a reactor, the only important isotope is uranium-235, which accounts for JUST 7 out of 1000 atoms in the mined product. To fuel a nuclear reactor, the concentration of uranium-235 has to be increased to 40 to 50 out of 1000 atoms. This is done by separating isotopes in an enrichment plant to achieve the higher concentration.

As Neff points out, reactor operators could increase the amount of fuel made from a given amount of natural uranium by buying more enrichment services to recover more uranium-235 atoms. Current enrichment capacity is enough to recover only about 4 out of 7 uranium-235 atoms. Limited uranium supplies could be stretched if industry could recover 5 or 6 of these atoms, but there is not enough processing capacity worldwide to do so.

Source: MIT

Doubts raised on nuclear industry viability

Doubts raised on nuclear industry viability
November 19, 2009 by Lin Edwards
(PhysOrg.com) -- The investment in nuclear power has been growing around the world over the last few years, being viewed as a means for countries to control their energy security, avoid the price fluctuations of other energy sources, and reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, but concerns are now being raised.

A scientist from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology predicts that supplies of uranium are running out and countries relying on imports of uranium may face shortages by 2013, while a New York Times journalist suggests new nuclear power plants are an "abysmal" investment that will never pay for itself without government financial support.

Dr Michael Dittmar, a physicist with CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), said in the fourth and final part of an essay on the world's nuclear industry published this week that civilian stockpiles of uranium could be depleted by as early as 2013.

According to Dittmar civilian and military stockpiles and re-enriched or reprocessed uranium sources contribute 25,000 of the 65,000 tons of uranium used globally each year. The rest is mined directly, but Dittmar claims nobody knows where the mining industry can find enough uranium to make up the shortfall, and disputes the Nuclear Energy Agency's estimates of reserves of Uranium.

Dittmar is unconvinced that fission breeder reactors can provide a solution, saying that their inefficiency, high construction costs and poor safety mean they are unlikely to become commercially viable alternatives. He considers nuclear fusion even less likely to provide the needed energy.

New York Times energy reporter Matthew Wald, writing in Technology Review, said new reactors would be unable to pay for themselves because of the massive cost of construction and competition from emerging alternatives that could affect the energy price. Wald compared the costs per kilowatt of capacity of nuclear ($4,000), coal ($3,000) and natural gas ($800), which makes the nuclear option a big financial gamble. The future cost of fossil fuels is unknown, and could also affect the nuclear industry's viability.

More information:

• Chapter I: Nuclear Fission Energy Today, arxiv.org/abs/0908.0627
• Chapter II: What is known about Secondary Uranium Resources? arxiv.org/abs/0908.3075
• Chapter III: How (un)reliable are the Red Book Uranium Resource Data? arxiv.org/abs/0909.1421
• Chapter IV: Energy from Breeder Reactors and from Fusion? arxiv.org/abs/0911.2628

© 2009 PhysOrg.com

GE and Hitachi want to use nuclear waste as a fuel February 18, 2010 by Lin Edwards

GE and Hitachi want to use nuclear waste as a fuel
February 18, 2010 by Lin Edwards nuclear power plant

(PhysOrg.com) -- One of the world's biggest providers of nuclear reactors, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (a joint venture of General Electric and Hitachi), wants to reprocess nuclear waste for use as a fuel in advanced nuclear power plants, instead of burying it in waste repositories such as that proposed at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

Conventional nuclear power plants in the US only harness around five percent of the energy of nuclear fuels. The reprocessing technique would separate nuclear waste into different types of fuels, some of which can be used in conventional nuclear power plants, and some of which can only be used in advanced fast neutron reactors. Reprocessing of nuclear waste to extract more useable fuel has been criticized in the US because it produces pure plutonium, which could be stolen and used to make nuclear weapons. To get around this difficulty, GE Hitachi’s proposed method produces a fuel that is much harder to steal.

The GE Hitachi process separates wastes from conventional nuclear power plants into three streams, by applying voltage to a molten salt. The first waste material consists of the products of fission, which cannot be further used as fuel and will need to be stored, but the storage time required is reduced from tens of thousands of years to a few hundred years (although a small fraction of the material will still need to be stored for over 10,000 years). The second material is uranium that does not have enough fissile material to be used in the light water uranium reactors in the US, which need enriched uranium, but it can be used by deuterium (heavy water) uranium reactors, which are used in Canada.

The final group of waste products is a mixture of transuranic elements including plutonium and neptunium. The plutonium is not separated from the other elements, and the mixture releases 1,000 times more heat and 10,000 times more neutrons than pure plutonium. This makes it much harder to steal, and therefore less of a security risk, and it is also much easier to detect. The mixture of transuranic elements can be used in nuclear reactors that use molten sodium as the coolant rather than water, and this type is used in Japan and a few other countries. GE Hitachi has designed a reactor known as the PRISM reactor that would be able to use the mixed fuel, but sodium cooled reactors have not been approved for use in the US.

A GE Hitachi spokesman said previous US administrations had little interest in re-using spent nuclear fuel, but the Obama administration is increasing support for nuclear power and looking at possibilities such as reprocessing. If adopted, the proposal would significantly decrease the amount of dangerous nuclear waste that needs to be stored.

© 2010 PhysOrg.comhttps://login.yahoo.com/config/login_verify2?.pd=c%3DvIsqTW2p2e4DoLh0xcJOtMk-&.intl=us&.lg=us&pkg=&.done=https%3A%2F%2Fbilling.yahoo.com%2Fselfcare%2Fservices_center.php%3F.params%3DeJzTSy4qzU2yLTbOtkwsTXQMtoxQ0yvJLi62NTAsSMrKcS4oybX0c_OECBbb5gdmGiQHZFVm..ZXVpZZVHlkFXgZuqVFulRZ6AIA1ecZ8g--%26.psig%3DawXYCw.qXcBx0TlD4K8Czg--%26.scrumb%3D0&.last=https%3A%2F%2Fbilling.yahoo.com%2Fselfcare%2Fservices_center.php%3F.params%3DeJzTSy4qzU2yLTbOtkwsTXQMtoxQ0yvJLi62NTAsSMrKcS4oybX0c_OECBbb5gdmGiQHZFVm..ZXVpZZVHlkFXgZuqVFulRZ6AIA1ecZ8g--%26.psig%3DawXYCw.qXcBx0TlD4K8Czg--%26.scrumb%3D0

Iran's Nuclear Program Raises More Concerns Russia "Very Alarmed" At Iranian Nuclear Stance -- Reuters

Iran's Nuclear Program Raises More Concerns

Russia "Very Alarmed" At Iranian Nuclear Stance -- Reuters

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Friday it was "very alarmed" by Iran's failure to cooperate with the IAEA, after the U.N. nuclear agency said it feared Tehran might be working to develop a nuclear-armed missile.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated Iran's insistence that suspicions about its nuclear program were baseless. But the U.S.-led campaign for more sanctions against Tehran appeared to be gaining ground.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated that Moscow's patience was wearing very thin.

Read more ...

More News On Iran's Nuclear Program

Excerpts: IAEA report on Iran nuclear programme -- BBC

UN says Iran enriching more uranium, warns of nuclear bomb program -- Christian Science Monitor

U.N. nuclear agency expresses concern on Iran -- L.A. Times

ANALYSIS - New chief Amano gives U.N. watchdog more bite on Iran -- Reuters

Germany says Iran's defiance merits fresh sanctions -- Reuters

Europe Threatens Iran With New Sanctions -- FOX News

Russia says sanctions on Iran over nuclear ambitions possible -- RIA Novosti

IAEA Believes Iran Is Building A Nuclear Warhead

IAEA Believes Iran Is Building A Nuclear Warhead

Iran Enriches Nuclear Fuel, Says IAEA -- Wall Street Journal

The United Nations' nuclear watchdog said it has information suggesting Iran may be working to build a nuclear warhead, an assessment that could escalate the U.S. and other Western governments' confrontation with Iran over its nuclear activities.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, a Vienna-based U.N. body, said in a confidential report Thursday that Iran has impeded agency efforts to establish the true purpose of Tehran's nuclear program.

Read more ....

More News On Iran's Nuclear Program

Watchdog: Iran may be working on nuclear warhead -- CNN

IAEA fears Iran working now on nuclear warhead -- Reuters

I.A.E.A. Suspects Iranian Nuclear Weapons Activity -- New York Times

IAEA says secret Iranian research could be aimed at nuclear weapons -- Washington Post

Iran could be making nuclear warhead, says director of UN watchdog -- The Guardian

UN accuses Iran of working to build nuclear bomb -- The Telegraph

US voices concern after Iran 'warhead' report -- Voice of America

U.S. says concerned over Iran after IAEA report -- Reuters

WH on Iran nuclear report: Iran behavior "very disturbing" -- Politico

Obama Administration: Report Shows Iran More Determined Than Ever to Build Nuclear Weapon -- ABC News

U.S. says Iran facing many nuclear technical problems -- Reuters

IAEA Believes Iran Is Building A Nuclear Warhead A map showing Qom and Natanz reported uranium enrichment facilities.
Photo AFP

Iran Enriches Nuclear Fuel, Says IAEA -- Wall Street Journal

The United Nations' nuclear watchdog said it has information suggesting Iran may be working to build a nuclear warhead, an assessment that could escalate the U.S. and other Western governments' confrontation with Iran over its nuclear activities.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, a Vienna-based U.N. body, said in a confidential report Thursday that Iran has impeded agency efforts to establish the true purpose of Tehran's nuclear program.

Read more ....

More News On Iran's Nuclear Program

Watchdog: Iran may be working on nuclear warhead -- CNN
IAEA fears Iran working now on nuclear warhead -- Reuters
I.A.E.A. Suspects Iranian Nuclear Weapons Activity -- New York Times
IAEA says secret Iranian research could be aimed at nuclear weapons -- Washington Post
Iran could be making nuclear warhead, says director of UN watchdog -- The Guardian
UN accuses Iran of working to build nuclear bomb -- The Telegraph
US voices concern after Iran 'warhead' report -- Voice of America
U.S. says concerned over Iran after IAEA report -- Reuters
WH on Iran nuclear report: Iran behavior "very disturbing" -- Politico
Obama Administration: Report Shows Iran More Determined Than Ever to Build Nuclear Weapon -- ABC News
U.S. says Iran facing many nuclear technical problems -- Reuters

More News On Iran's Nuclear Program

Watchdog: Iran may be working on nuclear warhead -- CNN
IAEA fears Iran working now on nuclear warhead -- Reuters
I.A.E.A. Suspects Iranian Nuclear Weapons Activity -- New York Times
IAEA says secret Iranian research could be aimed at nuclear weapons -- Washington Post
Iran could be making nuclear warhead, says director of UN watchdog -- The Guardian
UN accuses Iran of working to build nuclear bomb -- The Telegraph
US voices concern after Iran 'warhead' report -- Voice of America
U.S. says concerned over Iran after IAEA report -- Reuters
WH on Iran nuclear report: Iran behavior "very disturbing" -- Politico
Obama Administration: Report Shows Iran More Determined Than Ever to Build Nuclear Weapon -- ABC News
U.S. says Iran facing many nuclear technical problems -- Reuters

Thursday, February 18, 2010

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy And Strategy

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy And Strategy

'US Will Maintain Minimum Nuclear Deterrence' -- Press Trust India

Washington, Feb 18 (PTI) The US would maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent while working towards the goal of achieving a nuke-free world, a top Obama Administration official on nuclear disarmament has said.

"This Administration will work toward a world without nuclear weapons and we will continue to maintain a safe, secure, and effective deterrent as we proceed toward that goal," Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, said.

Read more ....

More News On U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy And Strategy

U.S. to pump money into nuke stockpile, increase security -- RIA Novosti

Administration Slated to Finalize Major Nuclear Weapons Policy Review -- Union Of Concerned Sceintists

Experts Voice Concern Over U.S. Nuclear Policy Review -- Global Security Newswire

US, Russia near 'finish line' on nuclear disarm deal -- AFP

Missile defense not a threat to U.S.-Russia "reset" -- Reuters

Russia-US START talks enter home stretch -- Tauscher -- ITAR-TASS

The Second Annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit -- US Department of State

Tauscher to talk arms trade -- Politico

Biden nuke speech preview -- Foreign Policy

Biden To Press For Ratifying Test Ban Treaty -- The Atlantic

Biden to Push Test-Ban Treaty -- Wall Street Journal

Biden to Call for Senate Ratification of CTBT -- Global Security Newswire

Stage set for new fight over START treaty -- The Cable/Foreign Policy


START is Key to Reducing the Nuclear Threat -- Carnegie Endowment For Peace

START is key to reducing the nuclear threat -- Matthew Rojansky and James. F. Collins, The Hill

The End of Obama’s Vision of a Nuke-Free World by Scott Ritter

The End of Obama’s Vision of a Nuke-Free World

by Scott Ritter

As any student of foreign and national security policy well knows, the devil is in the details. Back in April 2009, in a speech delivered in Prague, the Czech Republic, President Barack Obama articulated his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Since that time, however, the Obama administration has offered very little of substance to push this vision forward. When one looks past the grand statements of the president for policy implementation that supports the rhetoric, one is left empty-handed. No movement on ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). No extension of a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia (START). No freeze on the development of a new generation of American nuclear weapons. Without progress in these areas, any prospects of a new approach to global nuclear nonproliferation emerging from the May 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference are virtually zero.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of failed nonproliferation policy on the part of the Obama administration is the fact that there has been no progress on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, and in particular the ongoing controversy surrounding a proposed uranium exchange. The deal would have Iran swap a significant portion of its existing stock of 3.5 percent enriched uranium (the level needed to fuel Iran’s planned nuclear power reactors, as opposed to uranium enriched to 90 percent, which is needed for nuclear weapons) in exchange for nuclear fuel rods containing uranium enriched to 19.5 percent (the level needed to operate a U.S.-built research reactor in Tehran that produced nuclear isotopes for medical purposes). Iran is running out of fuel for this reactor, and needs a new source of fuel or else it will be forced to shut it down. As a signatory member of the NPT, Iran should have the right to acquire this fuel on the open market, subject of course to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, but the United States and Europe have held any such sale hostage to Iran’s agreeing to suspend its indigenous uranium enrichment program, which is the source of the 3.5 percent enriched uranium currently in Iran.

The crux of the U.S. and European concerns rests not with Iran’s possession of 3.5 percent enriched uranium, but rather that the enrichment technique employed by Iran to produce this low-enriched uranium could be used, with some significant modifications, to manufacture high-enriched uranium (90 percent) usable in a nuclear weapon. This reality, and the fears of a nuclear-armed Iran it produces, trumps the fact that the IAEA today is in a position to certify that it can account for the totality of Iran’s inventory of nuclear material, and that any diversion of nuclear material would be detected by the IAEA almost immediately. Furthermore, beyond its capacity to enrich uranium, there is no real evidence that Iran has engaged in a nuclear weapons program.

But the fear and hype that emanate from American and European policymakers, strongly influenced by the zero-tolerance policy of Israel when it comes to Iran and anything nuclear, peaceful or otherwise, have created an environment where common sense goes out the window and anything becomes possible. Take, for instance, Iran’s current stock of 3.5 percent enriched uranium. The IAEA certifies that Iran is in possession of approximately 1,800 kilograms of this material. Policy wonks and those in the intelligence community given to hypotheticals have postulated scenarios that have Iran using this stock of 3.5 percent enriched uranium as the feedstock for a breakout enrichment effort that, if left to its own devices, could produce enough high-enriched uranium (90 percent) for a single nuclear bomb. This breakout capability would require Iran to reconfigure thousands of the centrifuges it uses for low-level enrichment for use in the stepped-up process of follow-on enrichment. Ironically, one of the next steps required in such a scenario would be for Iran to reconfigure its centrifuges to enrich uranium up to 20 percent—roughly the level Iran needs for the nuclear fuel required to operate the Tehran research reactor.

Fears about a potential covert Iranian enrichment breakout capability reached feverish proportions when, in September 2009, Iran revealed the existence of (and U.S. intelligence proclaimed the discovery of) a prospective small underground centrifuge enrichment facility near the city of Qom. The fact that this facility was under construction, and consisted as of September 2009 of little more than a reinforced hole in the ground without any equipment installed, did nothing to allay the fears of those who saw an Iranian nuclear bomb behind every bush, or under every rock. Suddenly Iran was on the verge of having a nuclear bomb, and something had to be done to prevent this from happening.

The focus of attention shifted away from Iran’s ongoing enrichment capability, which the U.S. and Europe demanded be permanently suspended, to Iran’s 1,800 kilograms of 3.5 percent enriched uranium. This material represented Iran’s theoretical atomic bomb. If the material could be placed under international control, then Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, at least for the immediate future, could be thwarted. Iran was not going to freely hand over this material. However, a deal was negotiated between the U.S. and Iran that would have Iran ship 1,600 kilograms of its 3.5 percent enriched uranium to Russia, which would then further enrich it to 19.5 percent before sending it to France, which would process the uranium into fuel rods unusable for nuclear weapons. This fuel swap appeared to provide an elegant solution to a vexing problem. Indeed, President Obama embraced it as his own initiative when it was announced in October 2009.

For Iran, the swap was always about acquiring the needed nuclear fuel rods, manufactured from 19.5 percent enriched uranium, in order to continue operation of its research reactor in Tehran, which produces much-needed nuclear isotopes for medical purposes. The main attraction for the Iranians for such a deal, beyond acquiring the fuel rods, was that they would not need to produce any 19.5 percent enriched uranium itself, and thus not have to reconfigure their current centrifuge-based enrichment infrastructure to operate beyond its 3.5 percent enrichment threshold. Iran has consistently maintained that it neither requires, nor desires, any capability to enrich uranium beyond the 3.5 percent level needed to manufacture nuclear fuel rods for its own nuclear power reactors. Having its uranium enrichment infrastructure locked in at 3.5 percent simplified not only Iran’s own operations, but also the safeguard monitoring and inspection requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency, charged with verifying Iran’s compliance with the terms of the NPT. Iran viewed the fuel swap as a means of facilitating international acceptance of its uranium enrichment program, a point of view that was in fundamental opposition to that of the United States and Europe.

No amount of finessing the specifics of a fuel swap, whether it be done in stages, managed by a neutral third party, or carried out over the course of several months or several years, could reconcile the Iranian position with that of the U.S. and Europe. At the center of this problem is the Iranian uranium enrichment program itself. Any fuel swap deal is little more than window dressing to the larger issue of whether or not Iran will be permitted by the international community to enrich uranium. To the U.S. and Europe, finer points such as whether such enrichment would be capped at 3.5 percent, or diversified to include 19.5 percent, remain irrelevant, since their unified policy approach is to suspend all uranium enrichment activities inside Iran.

The fatal flaw in the Obama fuel swap proposal, when it was broached in October 2009, was that it failed to explicitly state that any fuel swap had to be linked to Iran’s suspension of its uranium enrichment program. While policy wonks in and out of the Obama administration can argue that such a position was more than implied, given the existence of U.N. Security Council resolutions that explicitly call for suspension, any deal that introduces Iran’s stocks of low-enriched uranium as a legitimate commodity provides de facto legitimization of the processes that produced that commodity. Since Iran has consistently refused to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, it had every reason to treat the proposed fuel swap as a stand-alone deal that focused on a short-term problem, and not as part of the larger U.S.-driven demands for enrichment suspension.

The U.S. policy objective was never to provide Iran with 19.5 percent enriched uranium fuel rods, or to lock Iran in at a 3.5 percent enrichment threshold, but rather to get the majority of Iran’s existing stocks of 3.5 percent enriched uranium out of the country, thereby eliminating any scenario that had Iran using this low-enriched uranium as feedstock for any breakout nuclear weapons production capability, no matter how farfetched such a scenario might be. This is why the Obama administration never paid much attention to the details of such a swap, since these details simply didn’t matter. The U.S. approach was never about facilitating a swap so much as it was about facilitating a kidnapping. The policy objective was to get the majority of Iran’s enriched uranium stocks under international control. Once Iran no longer had access to 1,600 kilograms of its 1,800-kilogram stockpile of low-enriched uranium, the Obama administration could blunt the fear-driven concerns over the immediacy of any Iranian nuclear capability. It would take Iran several months to reconstitute its low-enriched uranium stocks to the level needed to produce its hypothetical nuclear bomb. During this period, the U.S. would redouble its demands for suspension of uranium enrichment and develop a comprehensive package of stringent economic sanctions that would be imposed on Iran should it fail to cooperate.

The fatal flaw in the U.S. approach was that it failed to recognize that such policy formulations may work on paper but in the real world things are far more complicated. The Obama administration had hoped for immediate Iranian agreement to the fuel swap. Once Iran’s enriched uranium was safely out of Iran, the U.S. would then redouble its diplomatic pressure to suspend enrichment activities while simultaneously pressing for international consensus on sanctions. U.S. policy formulators envisioned a seamless transition between these various stages of policy implementation. But Iran, by agreeing in principle to a fuel swap, but demanding closer scrutiny of the details inherent in any such deal, complicated implementation of the U.S. plan.

By December 2009, a point at which the U.S. had hoped to have the Iranian uranium under its control and a sanctions campaign under way, Iran had yet to agree to the specifics of any fuel swap but at the same time publically remained committed to the concept. That approach paralyzed the U.S.-led effort to rally support behind sanctions since most nations did not want to do anything that would threaten the fuel swap negotiations. As 2010 rolled around, the Iranian delay tactics forced the U.S. to shed all pretenses around the fuel swap. While Iranian negotiators spoke of a potential swap formula that could unfold over the course of several months, the U.S. spoke of a swap timetable stretching out several years, making such a swap useless for the purpose it was ostensibly being instituted for—the Iranian nuclear research reactor and the manufacture of medical isotopes.

With the true U.S. policy objective thus exposed, Iran last week announced that it would carry out its own indigenous enrichment of uranium to the 19.5 percent needed to fuel the research reactor. Whether Iran has the technical or practical capabilities necessary to bring such a plan to fruition is debatable. While reconfiguring its existing centrifuge cascades to produce 19.5 percent enriched uranium is not impossible, Iran has never before attempted to process enriched uranium into nuclear fuel rods. Likewise, there is a question about the viability of Iran’s feedstock of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the gaseous material that is fed into the centrifuges for the purpose of enriching uranium.

Iran’s stores of foreign-procured UF6 are nearly exhausted. So is the stock of UF6 that Iran produced using foreign supplies of natural uranium. What is left for Iran is UF6 produced from indigenous sources of natural uranium. However, these stocks are believed to be contaminated with molybdenum, a metallic substance the presence of which creates destructive mass-distribution problems when Iran’s centrifuges are spun up to the more than 60,000 revolutions per minute needed to extract enriched uranium from the UF6 feedstock. If Iran cannot come up with the means to extract the molybdenum from its indigenous UF6, then short of finding an outside supplier of natural uranium or clean UF6 (activities that would have to be declared to the IAEA), the Iranian enrichment program will halt.

This would not prevent Iran from using its existing stocks of 3.5 percent enriched uranium as the feedstock for any effort to produce 19.5 percent uranium. Reconfiguration of its centrifuges to conduct this higher level of enrichment is likewise well within the technical capability of Iran. The ultimate testament to the failure of U.S. nonproliferation policy when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program is the reality that, in an effort to retard any Iranian nuclear breakout scenario that saw Iran rapidly converting its low-enriched stocks to high-enriched fissile material, the United States has actually facilitated such a scheme. Had the U.S. sought to lock Iran’s enrichment infrastructure in at a 3.5 percent capacity, any deviation from that level would have been viewed with suspicion. However, by creating the conditions that have Iran now seeking to build enrichment facilities capable of 20 percent enrichment, the Obama administration has significantly reduced the threshold of detection and prevention which was in place when all Iran produced was 3.5 percent enriched uranium.
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Copyright © 2010 Truthdig, L.L.C.

Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of numerous books, including "Iraq Confidential" (Nation Books, 2005) , "Target Iran" (Nation Books, 2006) and his latest, "Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement" (Nation Books, April 2007).


Interest is building in small nuclear reactors

Interest is building in small nuclear reactors
Babcock & Wilcox's small nuclear reactor design is a rising contender amid the push in the U.S. to revive its nuclear energy industry. The Tennessee Valley Authority, First Energy and Oglethorpe Power have forged agreements with Babcock to get the design cleared for commercial use. Though none of the three utilities agreed to purchase a reactor, their commitment is expected to boost the technology


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Israeli PM Netanyahu: If Iran Gets Nukes, So Will Turkey, Egypt, And Saudi Arabia From The Jerusalem Post:

Israeli PM Netanyahu: If Iran Gets Nukes, So Will Turkey, Egypt, And Saudi Arabia
From The Jerusalem Post:

MOSCOW - Following his meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and local Jewish community leaders on Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went out to eat with his wife Sara at a Moscow restaurant and coincidentally ran into Greek Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs George Papandreou.

The Greek premier, facing an economic crisis back home, asked if he could join the Netanyahus.

In an apparent to prod the Greeks toward action on the Iranian issue Netanyahu said that a nuclear would eventually lead to the Nuclearization of Turkey, Greece’s long-time nemesis, as well as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Read more ....

The Iran Nuclear Issue: The View from Beijing

The International Crisis Group has compiled a very insightful report on this subject that may be accessed at http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=6535&l=1 . The summary of their briefing is below.
The Iran Nuclear Issue: The View from Beijing

Asia Briefing N°100
17 February 2010


The revelation in 2009 of nuclear facilities near Qom intensified international criticism of Iran’s opaque nuclear development. As Western countries prepare to pursue tougher sanctions at the UN, China’s acquiescence as a permanent Security Council member is vital but will be difficult to obtain. Beijing is reluctant to pursue further sanctions, insisting that a solution to the nuclear impasse must be sought first and foremost through diplomacy. It emphasises that as long as Iran honours its Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) commitments not to use nuclear technology for military purposes, it should not be obliged to forgo its rights, including enrichment, under that accord.

Beijing is unconvinced that Iran has the ability to develop nuclear weapons in the short term and does not share the West’s sense of urgency about the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, despite the risks that this would present to China’s long-term interests. Moreover, it does not believe the sanctions proposed by the West will bring about a solution to the issue, particularly given the failure of this approach so far. And while Beijing has stated that it supports a “nuclear-free” Middle East, it does not want to sacrifice its own energy interests in Iran. However, if China finds itself facing unanimous support for sanctions from other Security Council members, it will delay but not block a resolution, while seeking to weaken its punitive terms.

China has vested interests in a good relationship with Iran. Iran is China’s third largest source of imported crude oil and possesses the abundant energy reserves that the rising power needs to sustain its rapid economic growth. China’s thirst for energy and its vast foreign reserves are an ideal complement to Iran, which has the world’s second-largest crude oil reserves but desperately needs investment to develop them. But China’s priorities in Iran go beyond economic interests. Strong bilateral relations help to counter U.S. dominance in the Middle East and increase Beijing’s strategic leverage. China sees Iran’s influence in the Middle East and Central Asia as useful to advancing its political, economic and strategic agenda in that region. The two countries also share important historical and political affinities, shaped by suspicion towards the West and reinforced by an experience of sanctions and a perception of U.S. interference in their domestic politics. At the same time, the condemnation by some Iranian clerics of Chinese actions following the July 2009 Xinjiang riots has also led Beijing to view the relationship through the lens of protecting its domestic stability.

Chinese officials have been pursuing a delay-and-weaken strategy with regard to UN sanctions by focusing on the importance of a negotiated settlement. Pursuit of the diplomatic track delays punitive action and maximises Beijing’s bargaining power with regard to both Iran and the West. Nevertheless, if Russia finally supports sanctions, China will likely come on board to avoid diplomatic isolation. Ultimately, Beijing will not side with Iran at the expense of its relations with the U.S. Despite recent troubles in the Sino-U.S. relationship, China still values those ties more than its ties to Tehran. To protect its interests, however, it will negotiate strongly to weaken the terms of proposed sanctions.

This briefing examines the factors influencing China’s policy towards Iran, the framework within which Beijing will ultimately make its decisions and the likely implications for international efforts to address the nuclear issue, particularly within the UN.

PDF: http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/asia/north_east_asia/b100_the_iran_nuclear_issue___the_view_from_beijing.pdf

MS Word: http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=6535&l=1

Joe Cirincione: Obama's Nuclear Decision Day

Joe Cirincione: Obama's Nuclear Decision Day from The Huffington Post
by Joe Cirincione

A secret meeting in the White House today will set US nuclear policy. It will also test Barack Obama's sincerity and determination.

NRC licensing board suspends licensing hearings for Yucca Mountain

NRC licensing board suspends licensing hearings for Yucca Mountain
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has suspended most licensing hearings connected to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository in Nevada upon request of the Department of Energy. The board's decision was praised by Nevada lawmakers. Las Vegas Review-Journal/Stephens Washington News Bureau//The Associated Press


NATO and the Nuclear Umbrella

NATO and the Nuclear Umbrella
Wolfgang Ischinger and Ulrich Weisser, International Herald Tribune
A recent report by George Robertson, a former secretary general of NATO, and two co-authors, Franklin Miller and Kori Schake, criticizes the German proposal to withdraw the remaining American nuclear weapons from German territory as damaging not only to Germany, but to the alliance as a whole.
Full Article


The Nuclear Industry: Unexpected Reaction The Economist

The Nuclear Industry: Unexpected Reaction
The Economist
The nuclear industry got an unexpected boost from Barack Obama in his State of the Union address last month.
Full Article


Missile Threat Signals U.S./Russia Reset Strains Conor Sweeney, Reuters

Missile Threat Signals U.S./Russia Reset Strains
Conor Sweeney, Reuters
Moldova's rebel region of Transdniestria said on Monday it was ready to host Russian tactical missiles if the Kremlin were to ask, escalating growing tensions about defense between Moscow and Washington.
Full Article


Saudi Minister Plays Down Iran Sanctions

Saudi Minister Plays Down Iran Sanctions
Abeer Allam, Financial Times
Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, on Monday played down the efficacy of tighter sanctions against Iran and said immediate action was needed to avert a nuclear arms race in the region.
Full Article

Dangerous Hysteria over Iran’s Nuclear Programme By Patrick Seale

Dangerous Hysteria over Iran’s Nuclear Programme
By Patrick Seale
12 February 2010

Iran’s announcement that it is to start enriching uranium to close to 20 per cent, under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to produce radioisotopes for its medical reactor in Tehran has triggered a fresh outbreak of hysteria. There have been renewed calls for sanctions to force it to close down its nuclear programme.

But the more Iran is threatened, the more defiant it becomes -- and the more remote the chance of an agreement. The latest quarrel seems to be about the quantity of low enriched uranium Iran is ready to swap with Russia and France in exchange for nuclear fuel rods for medical purposes -- rods which cannot be used to make weapons.

As Iran is deeply suspicious of Western intentions, it has proposed sending its uranium abroad in batches. But its Western interlocutors want it to surrender the bulk of its uranium supplies all at once – some 1,200 kilograms – so as to preclude any possibility of enrichment to weapons-grade levels.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki held talks last week with Yukiya Amano, the new Japanese IAEA chief, who replaced the Egyptian Muhammad al-Baradei. Mottaki described the talks as ‘very good’, while a more sceptical Amano called for an ‘accelerated’ dialogue.

Two rival coalitions now confront each other on the international scene: the first wants to impose harsher sanction on Iran and, if sanctions prove ineffective, to bomb its nuclear facilities; the second recommends a patient dialogue with Tehran, and nothing but dialogue.

Somewhere between the two – and uneasily holding the ring between them -- is U.S. President Barack Obama. His early policy of engagement with Iran has hardened into something like impatient opposition to the Islamic regime, and even into a reluctant acceptance that tougher sanctions may be necessary. This is a serious blow to his policy of reaching out to the Arab and Muslim world.

Israel and its hard-line friends in the United States are prominent in the first coalition. They have long campaigned for resolute action against Iran – as they did for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. Their claim is that an Iranian bomb would pose an ‘existential’ threat to Israel as well as a global menace. ‘We must recruit the whole world to fight [Iran’s President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad,’ President Shimon Peres declared recently, echoing the bellicose tone Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu adopts whenever he refers to Iran.

Israel has repeatedly hinted that it would resort to military action on its own if diplomacy failed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Among European countries, France has been the most vocal in calling for harsher sanctions, with some voices in Britain not far behind.

In his recent appearance before the Iraq inquiry in London, Tony Blair, Britain’s unrepentant former prime minister, mentioned Iran no fewer than 58 times. There was a need to ‘deal’ with Iran, he suggested, much as he and former U.S. President George W Bush had dealt with Iraq in 2003!

The coalition advocating dialogue with Tehran includes China, Turkey, Brazil, and -- with more or less unanimity -- Iran’s Arab neighbours. Arab states have no wish to see a nuclear-capable Iran, but they are far more frightened of an Iranian-Israeli war, which could have devastating consequences for the security and stability of the region and for Arab oil exports.

China, Iran’s leading trading partner, is opposed to sanctions and seems ready to veto any move at the Security Council to impose them. ‘To talk about sanctions at this moment will complicate the situation and might stand in the way of finding a diplomatic situation,’ Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in Paris last week. Turkey, in turn, has long advocated negotiations with Iran and has resolutely opposed military action against it – which is undoubtedly one of the reasons why Turkish-Israeli relations have cooled this past year. Brazil, which now occupies a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, has also advocated a dialogue with Tehran. Ahmadinejad was in Brazil last November, while President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is expected in Iran in May.

Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, has urged the Arabs to take the initiative in talking to Iran, with the aim of drawing it into some sort of regional security arrangement. The idea is gaining some ground in Arab circles.

As Iran presses ahead with uranium enrichment – as it has the right to do for peaceful purposes under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- the contest between the two coalitions is likely to sharpen. On balance, however, the scales are tilted against punishing Iran more than it is already being punished. Obama may agree to some tightening of the sanctions regime -- in Paris this week his Defence Secretary Robert Gates said ‘the only path that is left to us...is the pressure track’ – but he has by no means joined those hawks who blatantly recommend bombing Iran. Indeed, Obama is widely believed to have warned Israel that an attack on Iran would damage U.S. interests.

Obama’s pro-Israeli critics have accused him of ‘appeasement.’ At last week’s Munich security conference, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate committee on homeland security, declared: ‘We have a choice here: to go to tough economic sanctions to make diplomacy work or we will face the prospect of military action against Iran.’ ‘A nuclear-armed Iran,’ he added, ‘would provoke chaos in the Middle East, send world oil prices soaring and end any hope of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.’

These predictions would seem to be entirely mistaken. Far from provoking chaos, an Iranian bomb could stabilise the region and curb Israel’s aggressive behaviour towards its neighbours-- something the Arabs have not managed to achieve in the past six decades. Indeed, by creating a balance of power with Israel, and thereby limiting its freedom of action, Iran might actually encourage Israel to make peace with its neighbours, including the Palestinians. The only development which would send oil prices soaring is an Israeli attack on Iran.

All the indications are that the debate about what to do about Iran will continue without either side landing a decisive blow. It may be that events inside Iran will bring matters to a head. Yesterday, 11 February, was the anniversary of the 1979 revolution. The whole world was watching to see whether anti-government protests would manage to affect the future policies of the Islamic Republic.

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Obama's Remarks on Energy By Barack Obama

February 16, 2010
Obama's Remarks on Energy
By Barack Obama

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Please have a seat. Have a seat. Good morning, everybody. Before I begin let me just acknowledge some of the people who are standing behind me here: First of all, two people who have been working really hard to make this day happen -- Secretary Steven Chu, my Energy Secretary -- Steven Chu. (Applause.) And my White House advisor on everything having to do with energy, Carol Browner. (Applause.)

I want to acknowledge the outstanding governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, as well as his lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown. (Applause.) We've got Mark Ayers from the building trades, and Billy Hite from the UA Plumbers and Pipefitters -- give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) Gregory Jaczko, who's with the Nuclear Energy Commission, is here. Where is he? (Applause.) Ed Hill, president of IBEW International. (Applause.) And I want to thank Chuck Graham and everybody here at Local 26 for their great hospitality. (Applause.)

Thank you for the warm welcome. Thanks for showing me around. I was just mentioning that I got a chance to pull the first fire alarm since I was in junior high. (Laughter.) And I didn't get in trouble for it.

This is an extraordinarily impressive facility, where workers are instructed on everything from the installation of sophisticated energy hardware and software to the basics of current and resistance. We need to look no further than the workers and apprentices who are standing behind me to see the future that's possible when it comes to clean energy.

It's a future in which skilled laborers are helping us lead in burgeoning industries. It's a future in which renewable electricity is fueling plug-in hybrid cars and energy-efficient homes and businesses. It's a future in which we're exporting homegrown energy technology instead of importing foreign oil. And it's a future in which our economy is powered not by what we borrow and spend but what we invent and what we build.

That's the bright future that lies ahead for America. And it's one of -- it's a future that my administration is striving to achieve each and every day. We've already made the largest investment in clean energy in history as part of the Recovery Act -- an investment that is expected to create more than 700,000 jobs across America -- manufacturing advanced batteries for more fuel-efficient vehicles, upgrading the power grid so that it's smarter and it's stronger, doubling our nation's capacity to generate renewable energy. And after decades in which we have done little to increase the efficiency of cars and trucks, we've raised fuel economy standards to reduce our dependence on foreign oil while helping folks save money at the pump.

But in order to truly harness our potential in clean energy we're going to have to do more, and that's why we're here. In the near term, as we transition to cleaner energy sources, we're going to have to make some tough decisions about opening up new offshore areas for oil and gas development. We'll need to make continued investments in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies, even as we build greater capacity in renewables like wind and solar. And we're going to have to build a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in America.

That's what brings us here. Through the Department of Energy -- under the leadership of Nobel prize-winning physicist, Steven Chu -- although, just a quick side note: When he was talking to some of the instructors here, and they were talking about currents and this and that and the other, I indicated to him that he could have saved a lot of money. Instead of getting a Ph.D., he could have come here and learned some of the same stuff. (Laughter and applause.) You know, the instructors here were just keeping up -- they were right there with him.

But through the Department of Energy and Secretary Chu's leadership, we are announcing roughly $8 billion in loan guarantees to break ground on the first new nuclear plant in our country in three decades -- the first new nuclear power plant in nearly three decades. (Applause.)

It's a plant that will create thousands of construction jobs in the next few years, and some 800 permanent jobs -- well-paying permanent jobs -- in the years to come. And this is only the beginning. My budget proposes tripling the loan guarantees we provide to help finance safe, clean nuclear facilities -- and we'll continue to provide financing for clean energy projects here in Maryland and across America.

Now, there will be those that welcome this announcement, those who think it's been long overdue. But there are also going to be those who strongly disagree with this announcement. The same has been true in other areas of our energy debate, from offshore drilling to putting a price on carbon pollution. But what I want to emphasize is this: Even when we have differences, we cannot allow those differences to prevent us from making progress. On an issue that affects our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we can't keep on being mired in the same old stale debates between the left and the right, between environmentalists and entrepreneurs.

See, our competitors are racing to create jobs and command growing energy industries. And nuclear energy is no exception. Japan and France have long invested heavily in this industry. Meanwhile, there are 56 nuclear reactors under construction around the world: 21 in China alone; six in South Korea; five in India. And the commitment of these countries is not just generating the jobs in those plants; it's generating demand for expertise and new technologies.

So make no mistake: Whether it's nuclear energy, or solar or wind energy, if we fail to invest in the technologies of tomorrow, then we're going to be importing those technologies instead of exporting them. We will fall behind. Jobs will be produced overseas, instead of here in the United States of America. And that's not a future that I accept.

Now, I know it's been long assumed that those who champion the environment are opposed to nuclear power. But the fact is, even though we've not broken ground on a new power plant -- new nuclear plant in 30 years, nuclear energy remains our largest source of fuel that produces no carbon emissions. To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we'll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It's that simple. This one plant, for example, will cut carbon pollution by 16 million tons each year when compared to a similar coal plant. That's like taking 3.5 million cars off the road.

On the other side, there are those who have long advocated for nuclear power -- including many Republicans -- who have to recognize that we're not going to achieve a big boost in nuclear capacity unless we also create a system of incentives to make clean energy profitable. That's not just my personal conclusion; it's the conclusion of many in the energy industry itself, including CEOs of the nation's largest utility companies. Energy leaders and experts recognize that as long as producing carbon pollution carries no cost, traditional plants that use fossil fuels will be more cost-effective than plants that use nuclear fuel.

That's why we need comprehensive energy and climate legislation, and why this legislation has drawn support from across the ideological spectrum. I raised this just last week with congressional Republican leaders. I believe there's real common ground here. And my administration will be working to build on areas of agreement so that we can pass a bipartisan energy and climate bill through the Senate.

Now, none of this is to say that there aren't some serious drawbacks with respect to nuclear energy that have to be addressed. As the CEOs standing behind me will tell you, nuclear power generates waste, and we need to accelerate our efforts to find ways of storing this waste safely and disposing of it. That's why we've asked a bipartisan group of leaders and nuclear experts to examine this challenge. And these plants also have to be held to the highest and strictest safety standards to answer the legitimate concerns of Americans who live near and far from these facilities. That's going to be an imperative.

But investing in nuclear energy remains a necessary step. What I hope is that with this announcement, we're underscoring both our seriousness in meeting the energy challenge and our willingness to look at this challenge not as a partisan issue but as a matter that's far more important than politics -- because the choices we make will affect not just the next generation but many generations to come.

The fact is changing the ways we produce and use energy requires us to think anew; it requires us to act anew; and it demands of us a willingness to extend our hand across some of the old divides, to act in good faith, and to move beyond the broken politics of the past. That's what we must do; that's what we will do.

Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it. (Applause.)



Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Report: Japan eyes nuclear power co-op with U.S.

Report: Japan eyes nuclear power co-op with U.S.
Japan is seeking to forge a nuclear-cooperation deal with the U.S., according to a media report. This comes after the Japanese government declared that developing the power source will be part of its push for further growth. Arirang.co.kr (South Korea)


U.S. should amend nuclear deal with South Korea

U.S. should amend nuclear deal with South Korea
The nuclear power deal between the U.S. and South Korea should be revised to allow the Asian nation to reprocess spent fuel rods for peaceful purposes, according to this editorial. This comes after a U.S. official this past year stated that there was no need to change the agreement and the U.S. Senate doubted South Korea's intentions. Relations between the two countries could be affected should the U.S. decide to stop South Korea from reprocessing. Chosun Ilbo (South Korea)


Monday, February 15, 2010

Nuclear industry official: U.S. lagging

Nuclear industry official: U.S. lagging

China is ramping up nuclear energy sector, Areva executive says

China is ramping up nuclear energy sector, Areva executive says
The U.S., which has 104 nuclear reactors, is the biggest nuclear energy producer in the world, but China is catching up, according to Areva executive Robert W. Poyser. Speaking at a forum in Wyoming sponsored by the Citizens for Uranium Resource Education, Poyser said that "China is going to be producing up to 100 reactors over the next 20 years, and we're sitting here trying to figure out what to do." Star-Tribune (Casper, Wyo.)


Official: U.S. to award Southern first nuclear loan guarantee

Official: U.S. to award Southern first nuclear loan guarantee
Southern this week is expected to receive a loan guarantee to construct and operate two nuclear reactors, an unidentified administration official said. The loan guarantees, which are meant to show President Barack Obama's support for the power source, will go toward the first new nuclear plants in almost 30 years, the official added. Reuters