Michele Kearney's Nuclear Wire

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

Friday, August 13, 2010

US-Vietnam nuke deal will likely allow enrichment

Nuclear pact between U.S., Vietnam may permit enrichment
The U.S. government has concluded it cannot convince Vietnam not to enrich its own uranium as part of a civil nuclear agreement between both countries, according to two congressional aides. The U.S. has been seeking a "no-enrichment pledge" from Vietnam, much like its pact with the United Arab Emirates. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, meanwhile, said that should any country pursue enrichment, the U.S. "would prospectively work with that country" to ensure that its program complies with international nuclear standards. San Jose Mercury News
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My Turn: Feds failing on nuclear waste compliance Read more: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20100812/OPINION02/8120314/My-Turn-Feds-failing-on-nuclear-waste-compliance#ixzz0wV90Azl3

The Burlington Free PressImage via WikipediaOpinion: Feds are to blame for lack of high-level-waste repository
After 38 years, the federal government has yet to fulfill its obligation to establish a permanent repository for nuclear waste, writes Richard Martineit in this column. Despite the billions of tax dollars spent on the project, the failure to establish a permanent disposal site for hazardous material is an indictment of the federal government, Martineit adds. The Burlington Free Press (Vt.)
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Scientists propose nuclear 'renaissance'

Imperial College LondonImage via WikipediaU.K. scientists eye global nuclear revival
U.K. researchers have come up with a 20-year road map for that calls for a global nuclear energy "renaissance." They expect reactors with replaceable components, modular reactors and even floating facilities. "With the right investment, these new technologies could be feasible," said Robin Grimes, a professor with the Imperial College London Department of Materials. United Press International
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U.S. develops new method of calculating nuclear-waste risks

Nuclear Waste LocationsImage via Wikipedia

N.Y. nuclear risk assessment described


U.S. scientists have devised a way of determining the radiation risks from nuclear-waste repositories. U.S. and New York state energy-agency experts studied a buried disposal site at West Valley, N.Y., and found that "a release resulting in a dose of 100 millirems in one year, or more, is extremely unlikely during the next 30 years of operation of the state-managed disposal area at the Western New York Nuclear Service Center." Annually, people are exposed to 300 millirems of cosmic radiation without suffering health problems, the study added. United Press International
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Russia nuclear sites under threat from the flames

Russia nuclear sites under threat from the flames

Moscow (AFP) Aug 12, 2010 - Here is a list of sensitive nuclear sites threatened by the spread of fires raging in Russia since late July. - SAROV NUCLEAR PLANT Russia is stepping up efforts to halt wildfires near its main nuclear research site, where nuclear weapons are also made, at Sarov in the Nizhny Novgorod region, 500 kilometres (310 miles) to the east of Moscow. While no blazes had been registered on th ... more

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Chernobyl - the world's worst civilian nuclear disaster

Radiation hotspots of Cesium-137 in 1996 resul...Image via WikipediaChernobyl - the world's worst civilian nuclear disaster
Kiev (AFP) Aug 12, 2010 - It was shortly after one a.m on April 26, 1986 when the number-four reactor at the Chernobyl complex was shattered by massive blasts, releasing radiation and causing the world's worst civilian nuclear disaster. The explosion at the power station in Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union, was to make the name of Chernobyl practically synonymous with the dangers of atomic energy. ... more
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Iran sanctions helping Ahmadinejad: Karroubi

Iran sanctions helping Ahmadinejad: Karroubi

London (AFP) Aug 12, 2010 Western countries' sanctions against Iran are boosting rather than hurting the Iranian government, opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi said in an interview with a British newspaper published Thursday. Karroubi said the sanctions gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government a justification for clamping down on opponents.
"Look at Cuba and North Korea," he told the Guardian newspaper. "Have sanctions brought democracy to their people?
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Russian missile deployment 'extremely dangerous': Georgia

Russian missile deployment 'extremely dangerous': Georgia

by Staff Writers Tbilisi (AFP) Aug 12, 2010 Georgia on Thursday accused Russia of taking an "extremely dangerous provocative step" by deploying a sophisticated missile defence system in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia. "It is absolutely beyond understanding what aims this extremely dangerous provocative step may serve, which poses a threat not only to the Black Sea region but to the security of Europe as a whole," the Georgian foreign ministry said in a statement.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Living With a Nuclear Iran Iran can be contained. The path to follow? A course laid out half a century ago by a young Henry Kissinger, who argued that American chances of checking revolutionary powers such as the Soviet Union depended on our credible willingness to engage them in limited war. By Robert D. Kaplan

Image credit: Alex Williamson
Also see:

Interview: "A Strategy to Avoid Tragedy"
Robert D. Kaplan talks to James Gibney about Kissinger, Iran, North Korea, and the right way to think about the prospect of a limited nuclear exchange.
In 1957, a 34-year-old Harvard faculty member, Henry Kissinger, published a book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, putting forth a counterintuitive proposition: that at the height of the Cold War, with the United States and the Soviet Union amassing enough hydrogen bombs for Armageddon, a messy, limited war featuring conventional forces and a tactical nuclear exchange or two was still possible, and the United States had to be prepared for such a conflict. Fresh in Kissinger’s mind was the Korean War, which had concluded with a truce only four years earlier—“a war to which,” as he wrote, “an all-out strategy seemed particularly unsuited.” But President Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that any armed conflict with Moscow would accelerate into a thermonuclear holocaust, and he rejected outright this notion of “limited” nuclear war.
The absence of a nuclear exchange during the Cold War makes Eisenhower and what became the doctrine of mutual assured destruction look wise in hindsight. But more than half a century after Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy was published, it still offers swift, searing insights into human nature and a deeply troubling contemporary relevance. Eurasia—from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Japan—is today an almost unbroken belt of overlapping ballistic-missile ranges: those of Israel, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea. Many of these nations have or seek to acquire nuclear arsenals; some are stirred by religious zealotry; and only a few have robust bureaucratic control mechanisms to inhibit the use of these weapons. This conjunction of circumstances increases the prospect of limited nuclear war in this century. Kissinger long ago considered this problem in full, and the current nuclear impasse with Iran gives fresh reason to bring his book back into the debate.
Kissinger begins his study by challenging the idea that peace constitutes the “‘normal’ pattern of relations among states.” Indeed, he describes a world that seems anything but peaceful:
On the ideological plane, the contemporary ferment is fed by the rapidity with which ideas can be communicated and by the inherent impossibility of fulfilling the expectations aroused by revolutionary slogans. On the economic and social plane, millions are rebelling against standards of living as well as against social and racial barriers which had remained unchanged for centuries.
Continuing his description of a world that matches our own, he writes, “International relationships have become truly global … There are no longer any isolated areas.” In 2010, that sounds utterly mundane; but then again, in Eisenhower’s day, the idea that North Korea would help Syria to build a nuclear plant and thereby precipitate an Israeli military raid (as happened in 2007) would have seemed wildly improbable. Kissinger foresaw an interconnected world incessantly roiled by unsettling ideologies and unmet expectations.
Out of this turbulence inevitably come revolutionary powers, whose emergence is a critical theme in Kissinger’s book:
Time and again states appear which boldly proclaim that their purpose is to destroy the existing structure and to recast it completely. And time and again, the powers that are the declared victims stand by indifferent or inactive, while the balance of power is overturned.
Obviously, Kissinger was concerned here with the Soviet Union. As he told me in an interview last spring in his Manhattan office, he considered Moscow a revolutionary power because of its instigation of the 1948–49 Berlin blockade, and its encouragement of the Korean War in 1950, which were very much recent history when he wrote—Stalin had been dead for only four years. Over nearly five decades, thanks at least in part to a Western strategy of containment that resulted in no limited nuclear exchanges, the behavior of the Soviet regime evolved. The revolutionary power had been tamed, if not by us, then by its own longevity.
To insert a nuclearizing Iran in place of the mid-20th-century Soviet Union is to raise several tantalizing possibilities. In his book, Kissinger writes that, by acquiring nuclear weapons, a nation becomes able, for the first time, to change the regional or global balance of power without an invasion or a declaration of war. Let us assume that Iran develops a nuclear capability—an outcome that seems likely despite the imposition of sanctions and the threat by Israel of some kind of preemptive military strike. Would a nuclear Iran be as dangerous a revolutionary power as the old Soviet Union? More broadly, how should the United States contend with the threat posed by Iran, North Korea, and other would-be revolutionary powers that seek to use their possession of nuclear weapons to overturn the status quo?
Kissinger’s 1957 analysis of how the status quo powers respond to revolutionary powers seems sadly applicable to the situation with Iran today: “All their instincts will cause them to seek to integrate the revolutionary power into the legitimate framework with which they are familiar and which to them seems ‘natural.’” They see negotiations as the preferred way to manage emerging differences. The problem is that for a revolutionary power, a negotiation is not “in itself a symptom of reduced tension,” as the status quo powers would have us believe, but merely a tactic to gain time. Whereas for normal nations, a treaty has legal and moral weight, for the revolutionary power, treaty talks are merely a concessionary phase in the continuing struggle. Think of how North Korea has skillfully—and repeatedly—used the promise of giving up its nuclear capability as a negotiating tool to secure other benefits, from fuel oil to relief from sanctions.
“Iran,” Kissinger told me, “merely by pursuing nuclear weapons, has given itself a role in the region out of proportion to its actual power, and it gains further by the psychological impact of its being able to successfully defy the United Nations Security Council.” Nevertheless, he went on, he does not consider Iran a threat of the “same order of magnitude” as the 1950s’ Soviet Union, even as it “ideologically and militarily challenges the Middle East order.”
When I asked Kissinger whether a nuclear Iran would be containable, he suggested that he would want to take tough measures to prevent a nuclear Iran in the first place. He did tell me that the United States had “different deterrence equations” to consider: Iran versus Israel, Iran versus the Sunni Arabs, Iran versus its own dissidents, and Islam versus the West. All of these dynamics, he explained, would interact in the event of an Iran that goes nuclear, and lead to “even more-frequent crises” than we currently have in the Middle East.
But in spite of Iran’s refusal thus far to avail itself of “the genuine opportunity to transform itself from a cause to a nation,” Kissinger told me, the country’s true strategic interests should “run parallel with our own.” For example, Iran should want to limit Russia’s influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia, it should want to limit the Taliban’s influence in neighboring Afghanistan, it should accept stability in Iraq, and it should want to serve as a peaceful balancing power in the Sunni Arab world.


Where Does the Administration Get Off Calling Missile Defense "Proven"? from Foreign Policy In Focus

LGM-30 Minuteman ballistic missile launched fr...Image via Wikipedia
The Obama administration's approach to missile defense may be a threat to national security.


At the Union of Concerned Scientists blog All Things Nuclear, David Wright writes that:

"the Obama administration's approach to missile defense has been particularly disappointing -- and is potentially dangerous. Originally the administration said it would require missile defenses to be 'proven,' . . . So it was surprising when (a) the administration's Ballistic Missile Defense . . . Review stated that 'The United States is currently protected against limited ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] attacks,' and (b) the President called the Aegis missile defense system 'proven' in the announcement of his proposed European system in September 2009."

"Neither of these statements are [sic] true in any meaningful sense. Neither the Aegis system nor the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system fielded in Alaska and California has been subjected to realistic tests against the kind of attacks and under the conditions you would expect in the real-world."

Wright goes into more detail.

The Pentagon is using sleight of hand: it is defining the "threat" very narrowly. [It] has defined a "limited missile attack" as an attack by a limited number of missiles, and by missiles that have no countermeasures. . . . But it makes no sense to assume that North Korea, Iran, or any other country would spend years developing a long-range missile to hit the U.S. . . . and not have some of its aerospace engineers also design countermeasures that would make the missiles effective against [U.S. missile defense. After all] effective decoys and other countermeasures can be built with less sophisticated technology than is needed for a long-range missile and nuclear warhead. [Emphasis added.]

Then Wright demonstrates the threat that hyping missile defense can pose to national security.

First, if military and political leaders believe they have defensive capabilities that they do not in fact have, that can lead them to make bad decisions. For example, if [they mistakenly believe that] they have effective anti-missile systems it may encourage them to take aggressive actions that are in fact likely to make another country launch missiles at them.

[Second] the claim that Aegis is "proven" has led officials to believe the U.S. should buy and deploy many hundreds of Aegis interceptors before they have actually been shown to be effective.

Wright sums up:

It would be ironic if the administration's real steps to reduce nuclear threats to the United States were derailed . . . by its pursuit of a system with known shortcomings that has yet to undergo realistic testing.
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Missile Defense: Pie in the Sky By Tom Sauer,

August 12, 2010
MissileWhat to do with a defense instrument that does not work in practice, agitates neighboring regional powers, and costs a lot of money in times of economic crisis? Common sense would suggest you abandon it. NATO, however, has a different idea. As part of the NATO Strategic Concept Review to be finalized at the end of November at the Lisbon Summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has proposed to adopt missile defense as a mission.
Initially, NATO’s Star Wars was linked to the withdrawal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Since European allies perceive the nuclear umbrella as a symbol of transatlantic solidarity, opponents of the withdrawal required an alternative burden-sharing instrument: missile defense. Replacing offensive by defensive weapons system might even be easier to sell to a skeptical European public.
Even though the withdrawal of U.S. nukes has not yet taken place, missile defense is likely to move forward anyway.

The Obama Plan

If missile defense is accepted as a “new mission” in Lisbon, President Obama’s missile defense plans that were made public in September 2009 will be merged with NATO’s Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense system. The latter, designed to protect NATO troops in the field against short-range ballistic missiles, is supposed to be finished at the end of this year. If the new mission is accepted, NATO’s objective significantly expands beyond protecting troops in the field to protecting all of NATO’s territory. For this expansion to take place, NATO’s system will be plugged into the U.S. facilities in Europe initially established to protect the United States alone.
Obama rejected Bush’s plan to install 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. However, Obama’s replacement plan does not significantly differ in magnitude from the Bush vision. The Obama administration plans to put into place SM-3 interceptors on Aegis ships in the Mediterranean, two of which have already arrived. In the next stage, the administration plans next year to build an X-band radar station either in Bulgaria or in Turkey and a warning center in the Czech Republic. In 2015, the United States would then station interceptors on land, probably in Romania. These defensive interceptors are supposed to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.
Beginning in 2018, the United States would place more powerful interceptors against intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Poland. The plan would be finalized in 2020 with defensive missiles capable of intercepting intercontinental missiles.

Why the Plan Doesn’t Work

There are, however, two objections to a NATO missile shield. The technology is not ready, and Russia is angry about missile defense on its borders.
The missile shield doesn’t work. Every country with offensive ballistic missiles can easily produce countermeasures like decoys or false warheads, which makes it nearly impossible for defensive interceptors to strike targets outside the atmosphere (exo-atmospheric). Both the SM-3 missiles on Aegis ships and on European territory face this problem.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency claims that the tests with the Aegis SM-3 missiles have been successful. Everything depends of course on how "success" is defined. The Patriot missiles — which are endo-atmospheric and therefore less sophisticated — were touted as successfully destroying Saddam Hussein's scuds in 1991. But only three out of more than 50 Patriots effectively destroyed their targets. Formally, the Pentagon had defined “success” as “a Patriot and a Scud that passed in the sky.” Similar misleading practices disguise the real performances of the SM-3 missiles, the backbone of the missile shield in Europe. According to recent scientific analysis by George Lewis (Cornell University) and Ted Postol (MIT), published in the magazine Arms Control Today, nine out of 10 “successful” intercepts with SM-3 missiles were not successful. Sometimes the interceptors hit the offensive missile, but failed to destroy the warhead. Often these warheads then continued on their way in the direction of the target.
Even if this system encounters such technical problems, Russian strategists have to assume that they work. When Obama talks about a phased approach, which would extend the system in the future, Russian fears only mount. The Russian nuclear arsenal is both quantitatively and qualitatively small compared to U.S. capabilities. According to one estimate, if the Russian arsenal is not on alert, Russia will only have six surviving nuclear weapons after an American first-strike. If U.S. nuclear primacy is bolstered by a missile defense shield, it would not be surprising that some Russian planners are panicking.
In short, the proposed NATO’s missile shield does not improve geostrategic stability. Further bilateral nuclear arms reductions with Russia may be hampered as well. This reasoning applies even more to China, which has a nuclear arsenal less than one-tenth of Russia’s.
American taxpayers have spent $150 billion for a system that has yet to work in real time. NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen now wants European NATO member states to contribute to this system for the first time. Are we Europeans expected to bail out NATO’s $600 million budget deficit and sponsor Star Wars as well? In times of economic and financial crisis, especially in Europe, this money can be spent more wisely than on another Maginot Line.
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German E.ON presses Berlin on nuclear power

German E.ON presses Berlin on nuclear power
Frankfurt (AFP) Aug 11, 2010 - German power giant E.ON posted mixed quarterly results on Wednesday and pressed Chancellor Angela Merkel to live up to her promise to extend the life of some of the country's nuclear plants. "There has long been a lack of clarity about the direction of Germany's energy-policy," chief executive Johannes Teyssen said. "This needs to change." Teyssen said German authorities needed to make " ... more
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US plans missile interceptor sale to Kuwait

The Pentagon on Wednesday said it had notified the US Congress of a planned sale of Patriot missiles to Kuwait, which is looking to bolster its defenses against the threat from Iran. "Kuwait needs these missiles to meet current and future threats of enemy air-to-ground weapons," the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement on its web site about the deal, valued at 900 million dollars.
The proposed sale "will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East," it sid.
The agency said it had notifed the US Congress on Tuesday of the possible transfer of 209 MIM-104E Patriot Guidance Enhanced Missile-T Missiles, sought by Kuwait.
"The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region," the DSCA said in the statement.
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Clinton urges Senate to move quickly on nuclear treaty

Official portrait of Secretary of State Hillar...Image via Wikipedia

Washington (AFP) Aug 11, 2010 - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday urged the Senate to move quickly to pass the new US-Russian nuclear arms reduction treaty when it resumes debate next month. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week delayed until mid-September its vote on approving the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the successor to one that expired in December. Committee chairm ... more
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is the Obama administration undermining its own nuclear proliferation policy? - By Will Tobey from Shadow Government by William Tobey

Last week, the Wall Street Journal sounded an alarm over a nuclear energy cooperation agreement being negotiated between the United States and Vietnam. One observer warned that the deal could "drive a stake through the heart of the general effort to rein in the spread of nuclear fuel-making." According to the WSJ, the Obama administration is backing away from requiring that Vietnam forego any capability to enrich uranium -- a process that can be used to make reactor fuel or nuclear weapons.

Such a requirement is central to a similar agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which was widely praised as a model for future cooperation as nuclear energy becomes more widespread. Indeed, in testifying on behalf of that agreement, Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher said, "Other supplier states will hopefully follow our lead and include the no-enrichment/no-reprocessing obligation in their own nuclear cooperation agreements."

Why would the Obama administration, which boasts a deep commitment to preventing nuclear weapons proliferation, suddenly undermine this key policy?


Unfortunately, the Obama administration offers a weak defense of its apparent about face, "We will take different approaches region by region and country by country." Worse, the argument seems to confirm charges by the Non-Aligned Movement that U.S. nonproliferation policy is discriminatory and riddled with double standards. The reality is less stark.

Negotiators originally completed the civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the UAE at the end of the Bush administration, but left it to the Obama administration to forward the pact to Congress for final approval.Eager to prove that they were more committed or more competent than their predecessors, the Obama team insisted on modifying the deal. One change was to move a political commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing from the preamble of the agreement to the body of the text, making it binding. Anxious to gain approval for the agreement, and to avoid another embarrassment like the Dubai Ports World fiasco, the UAE readily acceded.

But when U.S. negotiators sat down with other nations, such as Vietnam and Jordan, they were met with implacable opposition to anything that would appear to curtail "the inalienable right of all of the Parties to the [Nonproliferation] Treaty to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination..." In effect, the Obama administration had to back off its fix to the UAE agreement and return to the Bush administration approach.

They rationalized their flexibility by telling the Journal, "If we're able to have U.S. companies and technologies in play in Vietnam, this gives the ability to exert some leverage. If we shut ourselves out, others may have different standards." This, of course, was exactly the conclusion drawn by Bush administration policy makers in drawing up the original UAE agreement, which sought only a political commitment foregoing enrichment, and in seeking to use it as a model for future deals.

The larger significance of the matter is less about nonproliferation, and more about the administration's continuing foreign policy evolution. It is another in a series of issues in which reality beggars rhetoric, and oft-denigrated policy from the previous administration is demonstrated to be sensible and realistic.
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chinese nuclear firm ties up with Australian uranium miner

Chinese nuclear firm ties up with Australian uranium miner
Beijing (AFP) Aug 6, 2010 - Australian uranium producer Paladin Energy Ltd has said it agreed with a major Chinese nuclear power firm to explore long-term uranium sales, as Beijing looks to boost its renewable energy capabilities. Paladin signed a memorandum of understanding with a wholly-owned subsidiary of China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Corporation (CGNPC) setting up a "framework of cooperation" for uranium sa ... more

Vietnam denies US nuclear negotiations

Vietnam denies US nuclear negotiations
Hanoi (AFP) Aug 6, 2010 - Vietnam said Wednesday it had not yet begun negotiating with the United States on sharing nuclear fuel and technology, despite Washington saying talks were ongoing. "Vietnam and the United States have not yet carried out negotiations on a peaceful uses of nuclear energy agreement," foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said. Washington said Thursday it was in talks with its form ... more
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London behind nuclear revival, Huhne says

File image: Nuclear power in the UK.
London behind nuclear revival, Huhne says

London (UPI) Aug 9, 2010 - Britain is on track to open a first new nuclear reactor in 2018, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said Monday. The Liberal Democrat minister said the new British government is behind plans of its predecessor to support the construction of new nuclear reactors within eight years. "We are on course to make sure that the first new nuclear power station opens on time in 2018," he told th ... more
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Russia nuclear sites under threat from the flames

Russia nuclear sites under threat from the flames
Moscow (AFP) Aug 9, 2010 - Here is a list of sensitive nuclear sites threatened by the spread of fires raging in Russia since late July. - THE MAYAK COMPLEX Russian authorities have declared a state of emergency in the Urals town of Ozersk, some 2,000 kilometres (1,242 miles) to the east of Moscow and home to major nuclear reprocessing and stockage plant Mayak. The Mayak plant can process 400 tonnes of waste a ... morehttp://www.nuclearpowerdaily.com/reports/Russia_nuclear_sites_under_threat_from_the_flames_999.html
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Nuclear energy has environmental pluses; safety remains an issue

Nuclear energy has environmental pluses; safety remains an issue

Monday, August 9, 2010

Egypt plans starting nuclear power tender this year

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Global warming heats up a nuclear energy renaissance Global warming and the BP oil spill have helped rehabilitate nuclear energy in the eyes of the public – and some environmentalists.

Nuclear energy is on the rise, in part because of concerns of fossil-fuel-stoked global warming. The Obama administration is encouraging new nuclear power plants. Georgia Power’s Vogtle Nuclear power facility (leftO is the first to get federal loan guarantees to construct a new nuclear plant. It would be the first such facility built in the US in 30 years.

Global warming, oil spill fuel popularity of nuclear energy
Concerns about greenhouse gases linked to global warming, coupled with the public outcry over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, have galvanized opinion in favor of nuclear energy. President Barack Obama in February approved federal loan guarantees for the country's first new nuclear plants in 30 years, and a Gallup survey in March showed that nuclear was supported by 62% of Americans, the highest since the polling service first asked about the subject in 1994. The Christian Science Monitor
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Whose Nukes Are You Calling Loose? By Russ Wellen

Early weapons models, such as the "Fat Ma...Image via Wikipedia
On Saturday, in an article titled Russia accuses U.S. of loose weapons control, Reuters reported that "The Russian Foreign Ministry said on its web site the United States had been in breach of several arms-related treaties including the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) and a treaty on conventional weapons."

Cited in the "long list of what it called irregularities [were] a U.S. failure to provide information on ballistic missiles trials. The Foreign Ministry also alleged that some 1,500 sources of ionizing radiation were lost in the U.S. between 1996 and 2001."

Perhaps most insulting, "The ministry also said secret information from the U.S. Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory had ended up at the hands of a drug dealing gang in 2006."

Does this sound exactly like one of the scenarios the United States has long feared unfolding in Russia or what?

After the Soviet Union disbanded, the security of its nuclear weapons and materials became cause for concern, not only because of a new lack of centralized oversight, but because it was thought that a sudden lack of job security for those in the nuclear industry might tempt them to smuggle nuclear weapons parts and material out of facilities and sell them to the Russian mob. In 1992 Congress passed the Nunn-Lugar act, sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, which created the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program for the stated purpose of securing and dismantling weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union states.

The results have been dramatic. Among myriad other measures, over 6,000 nuclear warheads have been dismantled. But many American conservatives think that by allowing the Americans to do the bulk of securing its nuclear weapons, Russia is thus able to spend whatever funds it might have spent on nuclear security to build advanced conventional weapons.

Whether or not this accurately describes Russian thinking or whether, in fact, they're just grateful for the help, Russians still can't help but be offended by constant references in the U.S. press and in national security circles to the danger of loose nukes winding up in the hands of terrorists. The Russian allegations may have been made in response to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee delaying a ratification vote on the new START. But they may also just be sick and tired of hearing the United States media and national security continually sounding the alarm over loose nukes, a term that has almost entirely come to be synonymous with Russia's nuclear weapons program.

The implication is that Russian security forces are unable to control both the mob in their country and Islamist elements who might seek to buy nukes from the mob. Perhaps Americans should bear in mind that every reference to loose nukes is (whether they deserve it or not) a slap in the face to the Russians.

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Eyes on the Skies Over Bushehr Nuclear Reactor Analysis by Marsha B. Cohen


MIAMI, Aug 6, 2010  (IPS) - Iran's light water nuclear power plant at Bushehr is preparing to go "live" - again.

Iranian and Russian nuclear scientists and officials have announced Bushehr's reactor will soon be receiving its first shipment of nuclear fuel 36 years after construction first began on the project.

This claim may be quietly fueling speculation that a military strike on Iran by Israel - or the U.S. - may be imminent.

The Persian-language news site Mardom Salari reported on Aug. 3 that members of Iranian armed forces had been transferred to Bushehr to evaluate the security of the air space above the site. Three drones were said to have been shot down over Bushehr the previous day, as part of an exercise to test Iranian readiness for an aerial attack, intercepted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) defence system.

Mohammad Hoseyn Shanbodi, a political security deputy, told Khalij-e Fars television news that local officials had no advance warning of an impending readiness test. Because they hadn't been briefed about the drones entering Bushehr's air space, no details were available about what happened to the drones after they were shot down.

The test came as a surprise even to Amir Salahian, said to be in charge of Bushehr's defence system. After the incident, Salahian was quoted as saying, "I believe it would have been better if some of the officials in the province would have known about the drill to avoid tension."

The prospect of Bushehr becoming operational coincides with the proliferation of  public statements that claim an attack on Iran by Israel or the U.S. is impending and inevitable. Bushehr is strategically located in southwestern Iran on the Gulf coast, directly across from Kuwait.

An aerial assault on Bushehr would have to take place before any nuclear fuel arrives at the site. Beyond that point, an attack on the nuclear reactor would release deadly radioactive fallout into the entire Persian Gulf region and beyond. Besides the catastrophic human and environmental toll of such an attack, the sea lanes through which much of the world's oil supplies pass would be endangered.

Iranians know this. In 1980, Iran bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear power plant before it contained any radioactive material. Osirak was quickly repaired by the French contractors who built it. Eight months later Osirak was partially destroyed by Israeli jets, aided by Iranian intelligence.

Nothing about Bushehr violates any international agreements to which Iran is a party. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was created to promote the use of "atoms for peace". The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Iran signed in 1968 and ratified two years later obligates the five nuclear-weapon states (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China) to assist non-nuclear weapon states that signed the NPT in acquiring and utilising nuclear technology for energy production and other peaceful purposes.

Under the NPT, Iran has the right to produce its own nuclear fuel for civilian projects such as Bushehr. However, suspicions have been raised for nearly two decades that Iran might try to convert low enriched uranium for electricity generation into highly enriched uranium.

IAEA approval of Iran's nuclear energy programme is contingent upon Iran buying its fuel from approved suppliers abroad, and exporting its nuclear waste back to its source so that the radioactive material it contains can't be diverted for use in weapons of mass destruction or fall into the wrong hands. Russia qualifies as an approved supplier.

Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), also told the Russian news wire service Interfax on Jul. 27 that Bushehr won't be affected by U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran.

He said, "No one is against the development of Iran's civilian nuclear programme; the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant is being carried out under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency."

Russia has guaranteed that it will supply all the nuclear fuel needed by Bushehr, and that its nuclear waste will be reprocessed in Russia.

Israeli military and politicians usually equate Iranian access to nuclear fuel for electrical generation with Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon. A light water reactor, Bushehr won't be capable of producing weapons grade plutonium (unlike Israel's heavy water reactor at Dimona).

However, Bushehr's becoming operational will affirm Iran's right to develop and utilise nuclear technology, and give Iran the status and prestige of a nuclear power. Israelis claim this would pose an "existential threat" to the Jewish state.

Once Bushehr's nuclear fuel arrives from Russia, whatever military options against Iran that may be "on the table" that include Bushehr will have to come off. Israel and the U.S. have only a few weeks to launch an attack on Iran before Bushehr has the means to begin generating electricity.

Israeli sources have often hinted that a strike against Iran might be conducted with precision-guided drones, in order to minimise casualties among Israeli soldiers. It's a possibility for which Iranians feel they need to prepare, which may explain the report of drones over Bushehr as the nuclear facility prepares to come online.

Both the IRNA and Interfax have quoted Rosatom's Kiriyenko as saying, "Everything is going according to plan." But nothing about Bushehr has ever gone according to plan, since Siemens began its construction in1974.

After Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini denounced the project as "un-Islamic". Siemens's work stopped during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, when Bushehr was targeted by Iraqi aerial attacks. Siemens declined to resume work on Bushehr after the war, partly in response to U.S. pressure.

When Iran signed an agreement with Russia to resume Bushehr's construction in 1995, the power plant had to be totally redesigned to Russian specifications. The contract called for completing the reactor by1999, but technical, political and financial issues arose. The inauguration of the facility has been pushed back at least half a dozen times, most recently from the spring of 2010 to less than a month from now.

Kiriyenko told journalists, "Questions regarding the exact dates should be referred to the Iranian side. The oversight services...are negotiating the final dates with the Iranian customer. The preparations are continuing according to plan, plus or minus a few days, which will not make any serious difference."

This may be a hint that Bushehr's going live is about to be postponed yet again, leaving the window of opportunity for an "inevitable" attack on Iran open a little longer. Iran's political leaders and defence officials are keeping their eyes on the skies. The next drones shot down may not be a test.

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