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IAEA seeks budget for nuclear safety

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

On 22 September 2011, the IAEA 55th General Conference unanimously endorsed the Action Plan on Nuclear Safety that Ministers in their Declaration at the IAEA's June Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety requested. The plan, criticized by many for not going far enough towards more mandatory measures, outlines a series of voluntary steps aimed at improving reactor safety and emergency preparedness.

IAEA Director General Amano made clear the agency needed more money to turn the plan into reality, but did not give details. "Meeting new and expanding demands for assistance from member states in nuclear safety, as well as in other areas, will require an increase in the agency's resources," he said.

Even before Fukushima added to its workload, experts warned that budget austerity in member states may block funding required by the IAEA to deal with growing demand for atomic energy and the attendant risk of weapons proliferation. The bulk of money for the IAEA, which has more than 2 300 staff, comes from Western member states on a voluntary basis.

The IAEA 'Program and Budget for 2012-2013' was adopted by the General Conference in September. The total proposed budget for 2012 is 341.4 million euro (US$ 451 million) which represents a 2.1% increase, plus a 1.1% price adjustment. This differs from the Director-General’s original proposal to the Board of Gov­ernors of a 2.8% increase. Of this regular budget, 39% is allocated to nuclear verification. In addition, voluntary contributions can be made by member states to specific funds such as the Technical Cooperation and Nuclear Se­curity Funds.

The recently-published ‘Programme and budget for 2012-2013’ warns that ‘demands for the Agency’s services are growing at a rate beyond what can realistically be funded through the regular budget’. Therefore, some of the money will need to be delivered to the Agency on an extrabudgetary basis, and in support for specific projects. This is not without risk. The program and budget notes that these ‘are unpredictable, often tied to restrictive conditions and thus involve some risk for the program’.

Reasons mentioned by the IAEA for expanding the budget are:
• An increasing number of States are contemplating the establishment or enhancement of safe nuclear power programmes and look to the Agency for advice and assistance.
• Basic human needs in developing countries regarding health, water and food — areas where nuclear techniques are of proven benefit — increasingly call for Agency support.
• The Agency’s nuclear security activities remain extensively reliant on uncertain extrabudgetary contributions.
• With increases in the number of facilities and nuclear material the Agency’s verification responsibilities continue to grow.
• The interrelationship between complex global issues and the development needs of Member States, to be addressed by the Agency in a coordinated manner, is increasing.
• The Agency’s considerable infrastructure requirements have begun to be addressed, but much remains underfunded. Despite the establishment of a Major Capital Investment mechanism, there is a lack of funding to it that prevents fund accumulation. Meeting capital needs is therefore contingent upon the Agency’s receiving adequate extrabudgetary contributions.

As said, the General Conference of the IAEA agreed on a budgetary increase of no more than 2.1 per cent (plus a 1.1 per cent inflation increase) but the IAEA Secretariat will still have to try to deliver more services—which means that the IAEA has to deal with the challenges of both effective­ness and efficiency.

At a time of economic problems squeezing government finances, some European states have resisted budget hikes for the agency.

Sources: Trust & Verify, July-September 2011 / IAEA 'Programme and budget 2012-2013', at:


The proliferation dangers of centrifuge technology

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Mikael Shirazi and Andreas Persbo

In early April 2011, a nondescript industrial plant 50km west of Tehran, named TABA, came under public scrutiny when it was revealed as being a significant centrifuge manufactur­ing site—apparently unbeknownst to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As the technology involved has become ever more accessible, centrifuge-driven uranium enrichment has emerged as a significant proliferation risk. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the IAEA’s ability to monitor the construction of these specialized machines.

The ability to monitor the construction of centrifuge-driven uranium enrichment is especially illustrative of the added value of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol to the process of confirming the exclu­sively peaceful nature of countries’ nuclear energy program­s. The Additional Protocol is a powerful legal instru­ment developed in the 1990s to complement member states’ Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements (CSAs). This article considers the proliferation risks involved in centrifuge pro­duction and the merits of the Additional Protocol with respect to two countries, Iran and Brazil, neither of whom implement the updated safeguards techniques, but who both possess the ability and will to manufacture centrifuges.

It is often considered that the most difficult stage in the production of nuclear weapons is acquiring the necessary fissile material: either plutonium or highly enriched ura­nium (HEU). In the past, acquiring these materials usually involved building and running a nuclear reactor (to make plutonium), or a gaseous diffusion plant (for HEU). Both required very substantial industrial capabilities. However, with the spread of gas centrifuge technology in the past three decades, the potential route to HEU has become both significantly less challenging—and less conspicuous.

Like the diffusion method, the gas centrifuge technique separates the two isotopes that make up uranium, concen­trating the crucial U-235 from the very slightly heavier U-238. In nature, uranium consists almost entirely of U-238 (at around 99.3 per cent) and therefore requires processing in order for the weapons-usable U-235 to be separated out. To be useful in ‘light water’ reactors, the raw material must be converted into uranium hexafluoride gas and subse­quently ‘enriched’ in the separation process to consist of 3-5 per cent U-235 particles (known as low enriched uranium, or LEU). Natural uranium can be used in other reactor types after some processing. Nuclear weapons require HEU at about 90 per cent enrichment. Enriching with the centrifuge process involves injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into cylinders rotating tens of thousands of times per minute. The effect of centrifugal force pushes the U-238 closer to the outer wall of the machine, with U-235 particles tending towards the center, which is then siphoned off. Each ma­chine can only perform a very small amount of enrichment. An effective enrichment plant therefore requires large num­bers of centrifuges linked together in so-called ‘cascades’.

The older gaseous diffusion system requires thousands more painstaking steps, which take place in immense facilities using significant amounts of energy, and emitting large amounts of heat. In contrast, centrifuges on average perform the same amount of enrichment in significantly fewer steps, consuming smaller amounts of electricity. Centrifuge fa­cilities therefore tend to be less conspicuous. They are typically much more compact, without the easily identifi­able electrical and cooling systems associated with gaseous diffusion plants, or heat emissions detectable to infrared imaging systems. It may be possible to trace uranium hex­afluoride gas accidentally released from a centrifuge enrich­ment plant, but these emissions are normally very small.

The number of centrifuges required to produce enough fis­sile material for a weapon depends on the design and effi­ciency of the centrifuges themselves—measured in kilograms of ‘separative work units’ per year (kg SWU/yr). This can range from lower than two kg SWU/yr for less advanced models to machines (currently confined to Europe or the United States) operating at 100 kg SWU/yr and above.

Centrifuge production and the Additional Protocol
As a rule of thumb, it requires about 100,000-120,000 kg SWU to produce enough LEU per year for an average sized nuclear reactor. In contrast, it requires only 6,000 kg SWU to produce enough HEU for one weapon a year (known as one ‘significant quantity’, defined by the IAEA as 27.8 kg of 90 per cent enriched uranium).

The potency of gas centrifuge technology in terms of pro­liferation risks is therefore clear: these are machines capable of producing ‘significant quantities’ of fissile material in relatively low numbers and with a small footprint, thus making them a good bet for states wanting to develop nu­clear weapons-usable material without being detected. However, centrifuges are complicated machines, requiring very specialized technical capabilities. One of the major difficulties is that even the slowest centrifuges spin at rates requiring unusually durable materials—ranging from alu­minium alloys for older machines and maraging steel (a particularly strong type of steel) to modern ultra-strong carbon composites. These materials require precision ma­chine tools to shape and strengthen them. The high-speed motors and their variable-frequency power supplies (which adapt the electrical current available from the power grid into an output of much higher frequency) also need to be specifically adapted for use in centrifuges.

Centrifugal safeguards standards
Under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), non-nuclear-weapon states’ obligations on centrifuge manufacturing fall under two IAEA safeguards regimes: those with Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements (CSAs), and those who further implement the strengthened measures of the Additional Protocol to their CSAs.

Though each non-nuclear-weapon state’s CSA is individual, all follow the form and content of a standard text, ‘IN­FCIRC/153’, which obliges a country to provide information on all nuclear material and facilities, and to allow agency inspectors to verify these declarations. The resulting verifi­cation regime focuses largely on nuclear material account­ancy to check the accuracy of declared materials in declared facilities. According to Article 8 of INFCIRC/153, this guarantees the IAEA information on only those facilities ‘relevant to safeguarding such material’. The definition of ‘facility’ is articulated in Article 106 to include reactors, conversion plants, fabrication plants, reprocessing plants, isotope separation plants, separate storage installations, or any location where significant amounts of nuclear material is customarily used. As such there are no requirements re­garding centrifuge production facilities. CSAs were designed in an age when centrifuge enrichment technology was still in its infancy. The underlying assumption was that the production of HEU through conspicuous gaseous diffusion plants would be readily detectable, and that the proliferation risk came instead from the diversion of material from de­clared facilities.

With the discovery of Saddam Hussein’s secret nuclear weapons program in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, it became clear that it was necessary to address pos­sible clandestine uranium enrichment—with centrifuge production being an important component. Partly as a result of this discovery, the Additional Protocol was developed and opened for voluntary signature in 1997. It is a legal instru­ment that provides the IAEA with more information and wider access rights, thereby strengthening its ability to verify that a country is not producing material for nuclear weapon purposes.

The document ‘INFCIRC/540’ describes the standard ob­ligations required under an AP. In contrast with IN­FCIRC/153, this document specifies in Article 2.a.(iv) that the participating state must provide the IAEA with a descrip­tion of the scale of operations involved in centrifuge produc­tion. According to Annex I of INFCIRC/540, centrifuge production is described as the manufacture of centrifuge rotor tubes or the assembly of gas centrifuges. These ac­tivities are further detailed in Annex II, which describes the purpose, general design, and component set of gas centri­fuges. Such constituent parts include: rotor assemblies, rotor tubes, bellows, baffles, top and bottom caps, mag­netic suspension bearings, molecular pumps, motor stators, centrifuge housings, and scoops, among others.

As well as indigenous manufacturing capabilities, the pro­tocol also brings into focus the other way of acquiring centrifuges (or their constituent parts)—import from for­eign trade partners. Article 2.a.(ix) of INFCIRC/540 outlines the state’s responsibility, when requested, to provide infor­mation to the IAEA on the identity, quantity, and location of the intended use of all the materials and equipment listed in Annex II that have been acquired from abroad. The information generated by these requirements enables the IAEA to develop a fuller understanding of a member state’s uranium enrichment program. It thus becomes pos­sible to draw comparisons between centrifuge production rates and centrifuge deployment in declared facilities: for instance, if more centrifuges are manufactured than de­ployed, the IAEA will be able to flag the discrepancy for further investigation.

The CSA and the AP differ not only in terms of the infor­mation flow that they can generate but also in the level of access for inspectors. According to Article 76.a of the model CSA text (INFCIRC/153), the IAEA is guaranteed access only to ‘any location where the initial report or any inspections carried out in connection with it indicate that nuclear material is present.’ There is a provision in Article 73 of INFCIRC/153 for ‘special inspections’, which give the agency the right to visit ‘locations in addition to the access specified’—a vague definition which John Carlson, a mem­ber of VERTIC’s International Verification Consultants Network, interprets as ‘anywhere in the state’ if there are ‘circumstances giving rise to suspicion.’ This could conceiv­ably include certain centrifuge manufacturing plants. His­torically, though, the special inspection tool (which, accord­ing to Article 77, must be obtained in agreement with the inspected state party) has been of little value. It has only been invoked by the IAEA on one previous occasion. This was against North Korea in 1992, and access was then denied. INFCIRC/540 (the model Additional Protocol) makes an important contribution in this area by outlining a system of ‘Complementary Access’ to inspectors. This expands the rights of the Agency to make visits to centrifuge manufac­turing plants according to Article 4.a.(ii), for the purpose of resolving ‘a question relating to the correctness and com­pleteness of the information provided [...] or to resolve an inconsistency relating to that information.’ There is no need to obtain agreement from the party and notification of a visit can be as short as 24 hours.

Though INFCIRC/540 specifies that the IAEA ‘shall not mechanistically or systematically seek to verify’ information provided by the state, its ability to make informed judgments about a proliferation risk is substantially increased, and a state’s corresponding ability to shield important in­formation from it is substantially diminished. With respect to the monitoring of centrifuge production, the salient points of the Additional Protocol are Article 2.a.(iv)’s en­shrined principle of information provision as a matter of routine, and Article 4.a.(ii)’s enshrined principle of Com­plementary Access as of right.

This has important conse­quences, explored below, for states that produce centri­fuges, as is made clear by the examples of Iran and Brazil, both of whom possess the indigenous capacities to manu­facture these machines, but neither of which currently implement the Additional Protocol.

Iran: AP, the option-limiter
The controversy and uncertainties surrounding Iran’s ura­nium enrichment program are well-known and well-documented. The Islamic Republic has signed an AP, but has not yet ratified it. Nevertheless, Iran implemented the protocol on a voluntary basis between 2003 and 2006, but cut off cooperation in retaliation to the IAEA Board of Governors vote to report Iran to the UN Security Council. During this time the Agency learnt a great deal about the Iranian nuclear infrastructure; since then, however, relevant knowledge about centrifuge production capabilities has deteriorated markedly.

It is therefore not difficult to appreciate the interest gener­ated, when, at a press conference in Washington, DC, an Iranian opposition group announced the discovery of the previously-undocumented role of a facility named TABA in producing centrifuge parts for Iran’s controversial uranium enrichment program. TABA apparently manufactures ‘casing, magnets, molecular pumps, composite tubes, bel­lows, and centrifuge bases’ primarily for the current gen­eration of machines—but also for emerging next-generation centrifuges. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Tehran’s envoy to the IAEA, refuted any allegations of concealment, pointing out that Iran’s safeguards obligations did not necessitate any provision of information about the plant to the IAEA. Rather, they required only the ‘inspection of centrifuge machines.’ This is indeed broadly in line with the require­ments of the CSA as described above, which strictly speak­ing concerns itself only with the nuclear materials flowing within the machines.

The disclosure, however, highlights the proliferation risk resulting from the limited reach of the CSA. TABA is lo­cated in a nondescript industrial park and offers few distin­guishing features. The facility’s generic name—a Farsi ab­breviation of ‘Towlid Abzar Boreshi Iran’, meaning ‘Iran Cutting Tools Company’—also gives little away. This lack of transparency and openness over their centrifuge manu­facturing capabilities offers the Iranian authorities the pos­sibility—should they so choose—of secretly sending cen­trifuges to a undeclared enrichment installation to produce weapons-grade fissile material, whilst appearing to fulfill their safeguards obligations.

Enrichment facilities can be relatively small and largely indistinguishable from other industrial plants, or outright hidden as in the case of Iran’s underground Qom enrichment facility. The Qom plant was uncovered in September 2009 as a result of Western intelligence-gathering operations; its existence was previously a secret. In an atmosphere so fun­damentally degraded by a lack of trust between the princi­pal actors, the possibility that any small and inconspicuous enrichment facility could be discretely producing weapons-usable material is a serious consideration.

It is a possibility that Iran’s 2007 decision to suspend an essential commitment to the IAEA regarding the declaration of new facilities has made concerns over undeclared facilities significantly more acute. The commitment in question is set out in the modified Code 3.1 of Iran’s Subsidiary Ar­rangements, to which it acceded in 2003 and which the CSA specifies cannot be unilaterally modified without the IAEA’s consent. The result of the suspension, which the IAEA re­portedly did not agree to, is that Iran has reverted to an outdated requirement that any new facility need only be declared six months prior to the introduction of nuclear material, rather than as soon as the decision to construct it is taken. The option therefore exists for Iranian authorities to begin construction on sites that can house centrifuge cascades, and even to outfit them with this equipment, without violating any of its safeguards obligations. Of course, if undeclared enrichment begins, this is no longer true. But many of the crucial steps taken to get to this point in op­erating a clandestine HEU-producing program (the undeclared industrial development of centrifuges and their deployment in undeclared enrichment plants) will have been taken with little risk.

The power of the AP is to close off such windows of op­portunity and thereby build confidence among countries. INFCIRC/540 states clearly the IAEA’s right to be supplied with information regarding centrifuge production facilities, and its right to access these facilities. The result is an im­portant reversal of responsibility, away from the IAEA hav­ing to press for data and onto the state itself to provide the information in a routine manner.

Brazil: AP, an option limited
The Brazilian centrifuge program began as a covert project in 1979 at the behest of the military government that dominated Brazilian political life until 1985. A research team, under the direction of the Brazilian navy, developed over the next decade a centrifuge technology in which rotors spin not on the usual metal pin bearings, but on electromag­netic bearings, allowing the rotating and fixed parts in the machine to operate without any point of contact. This is designed to eliminate sources of friction which reduce ef­ficiency and durability, and recent enrichment capacities have been placed at 10 kg SWU/yr. Construction of these machines takes place at the navy’s Aramar Experimental Center, outside São Paulo. Brazil has ambitious plans to attain an enrichment capacity at its main deployment site at Resende, near Rio de Janeiro, of 300,000 kg SWU/yr by 2014, and up to one million kg SWU/yr by 2030.

The military origins of the program, its secrecy before the advent of democratic government, a late accession to the NPT in 1998, and the 2005 admission by a former president that Brazil had previously sought to develop nu­clear weapons to counter competition from Argentina all point to the need for a robust verification regime that instills confidence in the peaceful ambitions of the program as it exists today. Currently, this work is done through the 1991 Quadripartite Safeguards Agreement, which joins together Brazil, Argentina, the IAEA and ABACC (the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials) to mandate the application of nuclear safeguards. Analogous to the CSA, this ad hoc arrangement does not offer the extended measures provided by the AP, as described above, with the exception of some provisions for unan­nounced inspections. Monitoring, performed by both ABACC and the IAEA, focuses on flows of nuclear mate­rial and provides access only to those facilities through which significant amounts of such material passes. It seems likely that another possible route to fissile material may be opened up with the Brazilian navy’s development of nuclear-pow­ered submarines, in which uranium enriched as high as 10 per cent by centrifuges at Aramar will power a reactor out­side the reach of safeguards. Although the US has made efforts to persuade Brazil to give up on these plans, it was not successful, and negotiations with the IAEA to establish appropriate verification measures are ongoing. This is an eventuality that neither the CSA nor AP address directly, and for which entirely new arrangements will need to be developed.

Despite these substantial capabilities and ambitious plans, implementation of the Additional Protocol has been reso­lutely dismissed by Brazil, with the country’s 2008 Na­tional Defense Strategy rejecting it until further progress in disarmament is made by the NPT nuclear weapons coun­tries. Brazilian officials have offered a variety of other rea­sons—revolving primarily around an unwillingness to allow inspectors access to the commercially sensitive electromag­netic bearing technology, and the fact that it is an unneces­sary measure in a country with a solid non-proliferation record which constitutionally prohibits nuclear weapons development (Brazil has also joined the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which establishes a Latin American nuclear-weapon-free zone, and ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which Iran has only signed). Analysts suspect the main reasons for opposition are military in nature, with the navy unwilling to grant extended access rights to the centrifuge manufactur­ing facilities in Aramar that are co-located with non-nucle­ar submarine R&D activities. This is despite the fact that Article 7 of the AP outlines clearly a state’s right to request ‘managed access’ to protect proprietary information, and that the IAEA Department of Safeguards (in charge of the practical application of safeguards) has had regular access to sensitive technologies throughout its history without leaking them.

Many of the same clandestine enrichment options are there­fore as open to Brazil as they are to Iran - without, how­ever, the associated IAEA reports, UN resolutions or Secu­rity Council sanctions. Most observers, such as Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, or Con­doleeza Rice during her term as US Secretary of State, seem not to question Brazil’s commitment against nuclear pro­liferation. Ad hoc measures, such as the Quadripartite Agreement and a future system to monitor enriched ura­nium production for nuclear powered submarines, are deemed to be imperfect but adequate safeguards measures - despite the lack of scrutiny on centrifuge production at Aramar. Crucially though, this type of safeguards develop­ment can only occur in an atmosphere with a certain level of trust; such as that which generally characterizes the IAEA’s relationship with Brazil.

One of the most important benefits of AP implementation is to lessen the impact of the wider political atmosphere. Should relations take a turn for the worse, the principles of information provision as a matter of routine and Comple­mentary Access as of right allow for confident conclusions to be drawn over the use of centrifuge technology regardless of political context. With the IAEA thus somewhat shield­ed by the AP from the vagaries of international tensions over policy and intent, it is able to focus with greater free­dom on states’ technical centrifuge capabilities, allowing for more reliable judgments on proliferation risk to be made. The effectiveness of the IAEA’s verification regime is dimin­ished, however, by the selective and voluntary implementa­tion of AP requirements in ‘suspect states’—much as the theoretically powerful CSA Special Inspection tool is often rendered impotent in practice. Universalization of the Ad­ditional Protocol should therefore be a central goal in strengthening the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Source and contact: Mikael Shirazi and Andreas Persbo, Trust & Verify 133, April-June 2011.
VERTIC (the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre) is an independent, non-profit making charitable organization. Established in 1986, VERTIC supports the development, implementation and verification of international agreements as well as initiatives in related areas. It can be reached: Development House, 56-64 Leonard Street
London EC2A 4LT, United Kingdom.
Tel: +44 20 7065 0880

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

IAEA-DG: less watchdog, more lobby.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano presenting his first report to the UN General Assembly on November 8, said that he aims to change the widespread perception of the agency as the world's "nuclear watchdog." The label "does not do justice to our extensive activities in other areas, especially in nuclear energy, nuclear science and applications, and technical cooperation." Established by the UN in 1957 as the "Atoms for Peace" organization, the Vienna-based IAEA gained its reputation as the world's nuclear watchdog from its nuclear verification activities and reports of "non-compliance" by states that have failed to abide by the safeguards imposed by the agency. As countries consider introducing nuclear energy and expanding their nuclear power, the IAEA will need to cement its role in assisting such developments. "When countries express an interest in introducing nuclear power, we offer advice in many areas, including on how to put the appropriate legal and regulatory framework in place and how to ensure the highest standards of safety and security, without increasing proliferation risks," he said.  Amano added that "access to nuclear power should not be limited to developed countries but should be available to developing countries as well."

The IAEA chief encouraged international lending institutions to place greater consideration in funding nuclear power projects, as he drew the Assembly's attention to practical applications of nuclear energy. Meanwhile, cables leaked by Wikileaks show cosy US relationship with IAEA chief. When Yukiya Amano took over as the head of the UN nuclear watchdog last year, American diplomats described him as "director general of all states, but in agreement with us"

Source: Statement to the Sixty-Fifth Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, 8 November 2010 at / Guardian (UK), 30 November 2010

News in the nuclear age: rabbits and mice trapped and killed.

 A radioactive rabbit was trapped on the Hanford nuclear reservation (USA), and Washington state health workers have been searching for contaminated rabbit droppings. The Tri-City Herald reports that officials suspect the rabbit sipped some water left from the recent demolition of a Cold War-era building used in the production of nuclear weapons. The rabbit was trapped in the past week and was highly contaminated with radioactive cesium. It was killed and disposed of as radioactive waste.

Only one rabbit sipped from that water? No because a few weeks later, radioactive mouse-droppings were found. It has been difficult to find mice in the current cold and snowy weather. Sixty mouse traps were set, but the two mice reported trapping and killing the holiday were not contaminated. Now PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is asking to stop killing mice in search for contaminated ones. “Live traps should be used to catch mice and then they can be released or humanely euthanized as appropriate after they are checked for radioactivity,” PETA writes. Hanford currently is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States and is the focus of the nation’s largest environmental cleanup. Last year, 33 contaminated animals or animal materials such as droppings were found on the site.

Source:The Associated Press, 5 November 2010 / Xinhua, 6 November 2010 / TriCityHerald, 25 November 2010

US: Vermont elects Governor that wants Vermont Yankee closed.

In an extremely close race on the November 2 House of Representatives elections, Peter Shumlin (D) defeated Brain Dubie (R) and will be the next Governor of the state of Vermont. Shumlin is an avowed opponent of extending the license of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon past its expiration in 2012, citing the plant's leaks and other problems and its owners' poor record in dealing with state officials. Dubie was open to granting the plant an extension to operate and wanted decisions about the Vermont Yankee’s future made by "experts" at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Vermont Public Service Board.
In February, in a 26 to 4 vote, the Vermont Senate decided that the continued operation of the 38-year-old nuclear reactor was not in the best interest of Vermonters. Entergy, which owns the decrepit 38 year old reactor, has vowed to challenge the state and attempt to relicense the reactor.When Entergy bought the reactor, the corporation agreed that the State of Vermont would decide whether splitting atoms beyond the 40 year license was in the best interest of Vermonters.
Within hours of the election of Peter Shumlin as the next Governor of Vermont, Entergy put the aging Vermont Yankee nuclear plant up for sale. According to Entergy, dumping the aged reactor from their books would benefit their stockholders. But Entergy's announcement has everyone wondering, who in their right mind would buy this rust bucket of a reactor?

Just days after the announced sale, Vermont Yankee was forced into an emergency shutdown due to radioactive leaks, this time inside the nuclear plant. Entergy should behave like a responsible corporate citizen and begin preparations to permanently shut down Vermont Yankee as scheduled.

Source: Blogs at; 3 and 8 November 2010

First victory for Finnish campaign on nuclear investors.

Early November, Greenpeace started a campaign aimed at a group of investors in the E.ON/Fennovoima nuclear project. One of them, with a 3% share, is Finland's largest retail & service chain called S-Ryhmä ("S Group"). On November 25, two of their regional subsidiaries, including the Helsinki area one with most weight, have pulled out. This is a very quick result, quicker than expected. The pulling out is financially small but psychologically very important. There was a major feeling of apathy and inevitability and a lot of people thought there is no more fight to be fought. With at least a year to go to the investment decision, with the cost doubled from 4 to 8 billion euro and timetable pushed back by a couple of years, there is a good chance of splitting the investor coalition. This result will show the movement and the local groups that nothing is cemented and the investors can be swayed. The first, ongoing campaign push is aimed at Christmas sales so the timing could not be better to energize the movement.

Source: Lauri Myllyvirta – Greenpeace, 25 November 2010

Czech Republic: CEZ to pay its regulator?

The Czech Green Party has voiced its alarm at government proposals to change the law so that nuclear companies - principally the semi-state owned energy giant CEZ - would directly finance the budget of the state watchdog responsible for regulating their activities. The plans to amend the Atomic Act, which are still in the draft stage but could become  government policy within months, envisage saving 500 million Czech Koruna (Kc) (US$27.9  million or 25.1 million euro) from public spending over the next decade by asking nuclear firms to finance the State Office of Nuclear Safety (SUJB). Under the proposal, for example, the cost of the three permits needed to open a nuclear reactor would be increased to a total of 250 million Kc, with an annual operating fee of 30 million Kc thereafter. The opening and operation of new uranium mining facilities would also face additional fees, as would the storage of spent nuclear fuel.

The Green Party (SZ) has strongly criticized the proposals, saying the nuclear company should not be allowed to directly fund its own regulation and arguing the state is already being governed by CEZ rather than the other way round. "If it is the case that direct funding of SUJB would be moved under CEZ, that is obviously alarming," SZ spokesman Tomáš Průša said to the ‘The Prague Post’. CEZ and other semi-state firms should be taxed like private companies, he said it was important to maintain a system of indirect funding under which "the state collects fees that then become part of state budget revenue." "An independent regulator can never be under the direct financial influence of the regulated." The Greens believe that CEZ, the country's largest energy firm, was already under-regulated even before this proposed change.

Source: The Prague Post, 14 November 2010

Germany: higher cancer rates near Asse radwaste dump.

Newly published figures from the Lower Saxony state cancer registry show that in the area around Asse, the site of the controversial nuclear waste dump Asse, some cancer rates are higher than normal. Between 2002 and 2009 there were 12 cases of leukemia in the greater Asse region. The area had twice the rate expected for men. While there was no significant  increase in leukemia for women, their rate of thyroid cancer was three times as high as normal. The government has not yet determined if the increase is related to the proximity to the nuclear waste site. A working group of representatives from Lower Saxony’s environment, social, and health ministries as well as the federal agency for radiation protection is set to meet to take a closer look at the data. Asse was originally a salt mine. Between 1967 and 1978 around 126,000 drums of low- and intermediate level waste were stored in the facility. More recently it's been declared unstable because of a danger of collapse and water leaks and is due to be emptied out and shut down.

Source: Deutsche Welle, 24 November 2010

Kenya (Kenya?) seeks sites for nuclear power plant.

The government of Kenya has formed a committee to help identify sites for the construction of a nuclear power plant along its coast, and ensure that all terms and conditions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) necessary for the approval of a nuclear power plant are met. "Prepare and endorse a detailed road map for the realisation of these terms and conditions indicating the milestones and time lines for approval by the IAEA," Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi said in the notice, outlining the mandate of the 13-member committee. Earlier this year, Kenya's National Economic and Social Council (NESC) recommended that east Africa's biggest economy embark on a program to start generating nuclear energy by 2020 to meet its growing demand for electricity. Kenya relies on hydropower to generate about 65 percent of its electricity but has began channelling investments towards geothermal plants and wind farms to diversify energy sources.

Kenya's main electricity producer, KenGen, is already hunting for a partner to produce nuclear power by 2022 to help match-up rising demand and diversify from hydropower. The power producer projects that Kenya as a whole could produce some 4,200 megawatts (MW) using nuclear by 2022.

Source: Reuters, 26 November 2010

Court greenlights lawsuit seeking to open Yucca.

A federal appeals court has ruled that a lawsuit seeking to relaunch plans for a Yucca Mountain nuclear dump can go forward. The lawsuits had been on hold while the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals waited for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to decide whether DOE had the authority to withdraw its license application for Yucca Mountain. In June, an NRC legal panel ruled that DOE must move forward with the license, but the NRC commissioners have not issued a required decision since then. The Department of Energy has until Jan. 3 to file a brief defending its authority to shut down the site. The states of Washington and South Carolina and the National Association of Utility Regulators filed the suit that insists only Congress can decide Yucca Mountain's fate. The plans were to bury at least 77,000 tons of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Source: AP, 10 December 2010 / News Tribune 12th Dec 2010

Quote of the Day                                

It is like in a zombie movie, where you shoot off its arms and then its head and it still comes after you. USA: Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects head Bruce Breslow, describing other states' efforts to sustain a one-time federal plan to build a massive underground nuclear-waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain.

Source: Global Security Newswire 13 December 2010

RWE wins ‘Worst EU Lobbyists 2010’ Award!

RWE (npower), Goldman Sachs and derivatives lobby group ISDA have been given the  dubious honour of being named the Worst EU Lobbyists of 2010. The results of the dual climate and finance categories of the Worst EU Lobbying Awards 2010 were revealed on November 2, during a ceremony outside the ISDA office in Brussels. Citizens across Europe participated in an online public vote for the most deserving of the climate and finance nominees.

In the climate category, German energy giant RWE’s subsidiary npower, nominated for claiming to be green while lobbying to keep its dirty coal- and oil-fired power plants open, won with 58% of the total vote. BusinessEurope, nominated for its aggressive lobbying to block effective climate action in the EU while claiming to support action to protect the climate, took second place with 24% of the total votes and Arcelor-Mittal, the steel Industry “fat cat”, came in third with 18% of the total votes. Nina Katzemich, speaking for the organisers of the 2010 Worst EU Lobbying Awards, said: "These awards show that people around Europe are fed up with deceptive lobbying practices used by big business when it comes to climate regulation. RWE claims to be green but has pulled out all the stops to keep its dirty power plants open, promoting their profits over public interests. If the European Commission is serious about tackling climate change, it must stop listening one-sidedly to corporations.


Another location for Indonesia’s first nuclear power reactor.

The Indonesian government hopes to relocate the planned site of the country’s first nuclear power plant to Bangka island in Bangka Belitung province from Muria, Jepara, Central Java due to strong opposition from the local people. Public resistance has long been the main constraint for the government to build nuclear power plants. The previous plan to build a nuclear power plant in Muria, Jepara, Central Java, faced strong opposition from the local people and non-governmental institutions. Most people, particularly those living near planned nuclear power plant sites, have deep suspicion and distrust concerning the issues of the plant's operational safety.

National Atomic Energy Agency’s spokesman, Ferhat Aziz, said that people's rejection most likely came from negative opinions disseminated by anti-nuclear groups that prompted people to remember the nuclear reactor accidents on Three Mile Island, the United States, in 1979 and in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1985 (uh, again?). To address the public's negative perception of nuclear technology, he continued, his agency had to assist people to understand the urgency and benefits of having such technology for future electricity supply in the country.

Source: Jakarta Post, 2 December 2010

Israel stops Mordechai Vanunu getting Carl von Ossietsky Prize in Berlin.

Israel has barred Mordechai Vanunu, who spent 18 years in jail for revealing secrets of the country's nuclear program, from going to Germany to accept a prize, organisers said on December 10. Accoding to a spokesman for the International League for Human Rights Vanunu was to be awarded the Carl von Ossietsky Prize in Berlin two days later, for his work promoting disarmament but has not received permission to leave Israel. The League decided to cancel the ceremony and held a protest rally on behalf of the 56-year-old former nuclear technician instead. The group had previously appealed to Israeli leaders to allow Vanunu to come to Berlin. The medal, which the League has bestowed annually since 1962, is named after a German pacifist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935 and died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1938. Vanunu served time for disclosing the inner workings of Israel's Dimona nuclear plant to Britain's Sunday Times newspaper in 1986. He was kidnapped and sentenced, released in 2004 but was banned from travel or contact with foreigners without prior permission.

Source: Middle East online, 10 December 2010

Research report "The Uncertain Future of Nuclear Energy".

In late October, the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) has released a new research report ‘The Uncertain Future of Nuclear Energy’. The report provides an overview of the status of nuclear power worldwide, with country studies for China, India, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Western Europe. It discusses why the International Atomic Energy Agency and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency project nuclear power as approximately maintaining but not greatly increasing during the next two to four decades its 14% of global electric power generation in 2009. The reasons include the currently very limited capacity to build nuclear power plants, high capital costs in North America and Western Europe, the perception by the private sector that nuclear power plants are risky investments, and continuing public mistrust of the nuclear industry despite the passage of two and a half decades since the Chernobyl accident. Frank von Hippel is the editor and lead author of the report, which includes contributions by Matthew Bunn, Anatoli Diakov, Tadahiro Katsuta, Charles McCombie, M.V. Ramana, Ming Ding, Yu Suyuan, Tatsujiro Suzuki, and Susan Voss.

Source: The report can be found at:

Proliferation & the 'Nuclear Revival': taking stock, managing concerns

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Justin Alger

The so-called ‘nuclear revival’ is considered by some observ­ers to be the next major challenge for the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It is considered by some to set in motion the rapid diffusion of nuclear technology to states in volatile regions, namely North Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. It is, some argue, likely to cause these states to engage in ‘nuclear hedging’, that is, the deliberate stock­piling of nuclear capacity and expertise to keep open the option of quickly building a nuclear weapon if security conditions take a turn for the worse. Iran’s behavior, in particular, is seen as the potential catalyst for a nuclear ‘tip­ping point’, ‘cascade’ or ‘proliferation epidemic’ in the Middle East. The safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is already financially strained and is said to be incapable of handling the rapid influx of new nuclear facilities that comes with a nuclear revival. The non-proliferation outlook for this predicted revival has so far been, to say the least, rather pessimistic.

The pessimism of some in the non-proliferation commu­nity is juxtaposed by the extreme optimism of nuclear en­ergy advocates with regard to the extent of nuclear energy’s resurgence. The IAEA, for example, projects in its high-end scenario that nuclear energy generation will increase from its current 372 gigawatts electric (GWe) to 807 GWe by 2030. The World Nuclear Association’s (WNA) high-end scenario predicts 1203 GWe of nuclear generating capacity by the same year. The Massachusetts Institute of Technol­ogy’s (MIT) 2003 study predicted 1,000 GWe of nuclear by 2050, but in 2009 said that this was ‘less likely’ than they initially anticipated.

Historical projections for nuclear power capacity have in­variably been overly optimistic. For example, the IAEA projected that during the 1980s—when more reactors were connected to the grid than any other decade—there would be 14 new countries using nuclear power with a combined low-end predicted capacity of 52 GWe by 1989. As it turns out, the actual capacity of these countries by 1989 was just shy of 9 GWe, nearly 6 GWe of which belonged to South Korea alone, with reactors in only 4 of the 14 countries. However, the ability of the IAEA to make accurate projec­tions is dependent on the predictions of its member states, which are often overly optimistic for political reasons. Past predictions, be they from the IAEA, governments or others have almost always been wrong.

The reality is that ten years into the forecasted ‘nuclear re­vival’ neither the optimistic projections for nuclear energy growth nor the pessimistic predictions for the non-prolif­eration regime’s ability to cope appear to be accurate. Of course, the lack of any significant increase in nuclear en­ergy production means that the predicted burden on the non-proliferation regime has not materialized, but the pes­simism is unfounded regardless. Countries in which new nuclear build is taking place, or is expected to, are gener­ally not considered proliferation threats because they are either existing nuclear weapon states, or already have well established nuclear industries and a demonstrated apathy towards possessing nuclear weapons of their own, like Canada or Japan.

The main proliferation concern -potential new entrants in volatile regions- have shown little rigour in pursuing their nuclear energy ambitions. The Survey of Emerging Nu­clear Energy States (SENES) of the Nuclear Energy Futures (NEF) Project -a partnership between the Centre for In­ternational Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the Cana­dian Centre for Treaty Compliance (CCTC), Carleton University -currently lists 34 states pursuing nuclear en­ergy. Of these, only Iran has actually made significant headway in the past decade to connect a nuclear power reactor to its electrical grid, but it began its ongoing quest to do so under the Shah in the 1970s. All states pursuing nuclear power will face some problems of cost, industrial bottlenecks, personnel constraints and nuclear waste, but aspiring states face unique challenges of their own. Since many of these states are poorer, less developed countries, they often lack the institutional capacity, physical infrastruc­ture and finances to support a large-scale, multi-billion dollar nuclear power plant project.

The risk, or concern, is that these new states will obtain the expertise in nuclear engineering and related disciplines that would allow them to go on to eventually develop nuclear weapons, most notably in the form of highly-trained scien­tists. Though the relationship between nuclear energy and weapons is complex, a nuclear power programme is none­theless a potential stepping stone toward weapons develop­ment, and also a potentially highly effective cover for mask­ing nefarious intent. Many fear that Iran is using its nu­clear power programme for exactly that reason.

Despite these fears, if most aspiring nuclear energy states are not making any real progress towards acquiring nuclear energy then it goes almost without saying that the associ­ated proliferation challenges of a nuclear revival are much less likely to materialize. This means that the burden on the IAEA and its safeguards system may not be as profound as many might expect.

IAEA safeguards
That the predicted revival in nuclear energy has not fully materialized, however, should not be taken as an indication that the IAEA, or its safeguards, are any less important. The humbler scale and pace of nuclear energy expansion still means an increase in the number of nuclear power reactors, increased trade and transport and perhaps more states with sensitive nuclear fuel cycle technologies. As new facilities are built, the IAEA will need to expand on its existing safe­guards capacity.

The post-Gulf War emergence of the Additional Protocol as the highest standard of verification for the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has gone a long way to improving the effectiveness of the safeguards system. It is a step closer to the ‘anytime, anywhere’ verification that was envisaged -but not enshrined- in the IAEA Statute. It is only sensible, then, that the first step in improving the cur­rent state of safeguards is to try to increase the number of states implementing Additional Protocols, which as of September 2010 stood at 102. Regrettably, those states that do not have an Additional Protocol in force include 18 of the states in the SENES project.

Interest by these states in technical cooperation from the IAEA and from nuclear suppliers may be just the opportu­nity needed to convince them that an Additional Protocol is both worthwhile and important. The United Arab Emir­ates (UAE) seems to be setting an example, agreeing to have an Additional Protocol in place as a condition of supply in its nuclear cooperation agreement with the US. However, the Additional Protocol is not likely to become an absolute requirement for nuclear cooperation in the near future. Developing countries and particularly prominent non-aligned countries already feel overburdened by safeguards, and many consider this as an imposition beyond what is already expected of them by the NPT, seeing it as a form of inequality or even as a way of depriving them of technology. (italic added, WISE)

As important as the Additional Protocol is, attempting to make it mandatory may be unproductive. Nuclear suppli­ers may, however, be able to incentivize the adoption of Additional Protocols through measures such as increased cooperation, assistance programmes and training, rather than through the imposition of punitive steps such as technology denial.

IAEA safeguards and nuclear export controls are an impor­tant part of the non-proliferation regime, and are effective in ensuring that states are responsible with their nuclear technology and material. They have proven invaluable in helping deter states that might otherwise consider the pursuit of nuclear weapons. These supply-side measures, though effective non-proliferation measures, are not as important as the reality that most states today simply do not want nuclear weapons. The demand, except in increas­ingly rare instances, is just not there, and the IAEA’s rela­tively recent changes to its safeguards philosophy is perhaps in part a reflection of that.

For states in which the Agency has sufficient confidence that all nuclear activities taking place are intended for purely peaceful purposes, the IAEA’s ‘integrated safeguards’ system streamlines monitoring activities, thereby allowing it to allocate resources more effectively to states with problem­atic nuclear programmes like Iran. It is also shifting towards what it calls information-driven safeguards, a more holistic approach to verification that involves analyzing information beyond traditional accounting methods, including unde­clared activities and intelligence information provided by states. These two initiatives are exactly the right kind of efforts that the IAEA needs to make in order to cope with potential increases in the number of nuclear facilities it is responsible for safeguarding.

The IAEA itself is a veritable bargain for developed states, which primarily view it as a verification body. The Agency’s 2010 budget was US$444m, with an additional target of US$158m in extra-budgetary contributions. To give an ex­ample of the return on investment that states receive for their money, in 2008 the IAEA had 237 safeguards agree­ments in place with 163 states covering 1,131 facilities, and conducted 2,036 on-site inspections.

The problems currently faced by the IAEA, revival or not, revolve primarily around resources, with the IAEA hampered by budgetary constraints imposed on it by many member states. If the number of new nuclear facilities is to increase even at a gradual pace, the IAEA will struggle to cope fi­nancially.

As former IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei cogently put it to the Board of Governors in 2009: ‘I will be cheating world public opinion to be creating the impres­sion that we are doing what we’re supposed to do, when we know we don’t have the money to do it.’ Dr ElBaradei and a 2008 Commission of Eminent Persons both recom­mended a doubling of the budget by 2020 to account for the increasing safeguards burden placed on the Agency as new facilities are built. Such a doubling would probably be wise, and will certainly go a long way to assuage any endur­ing concerns about a possible nuclear revival, if member states can be convinced of its necessity.

Even when the IAEA’s increasingly effective verification system successfully detects cases of non-compliance, inter­national responses to them are not always effective. So far, determining the form that these responses take has been done on a somewhat ad hoc basis and with mixed results ranging from economic sanctions, military strikes and Se­curity Council-mandated decommissioning programmes. Nuclear hedging presents an additional challenge: even if countries are pursuing nuclear power to hedge against re­gional rivals it is difficult to divine true intent because the technologies involved are inherently dual-use. Iran has done well so far to keep much of the world in doubt about its ultimate aim, despite being recently caught hiding a secret enrichment facility near Qom. Thankfully, Iran’s behavior appears to be the exception rather than the norm.

Implications for non-proliferation
It is probably inevitable that at least a few new states will succeed in their ambitions to acquire nuclear power. The report of the CIGI-CCTC NEF Project, The Future of Nuclear Energy to 2030 and Its Implications for Safety, Security and Nonproliferation details the numerous con­straints standing in the way of a substantive nuclear revival. In doing so, it identifies those aspiring states that are most likely to overcome those constraints and succeed in their nuclear ambitions, as Iran is poised to do. Though most aspiring states have so far only taken the easy steps towards acquiring nuclear power, the report identifies several that have the potential to make significant headway by 2030, namely: Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, the UAE and Vietnam.

The problem with many of the commonly used terms such as ‘tipping point’ or ‘proliferation cascade’ is that they in­evitably falter at the level of the individual state. It is simple enough to imagine strategic scenarios in which a domino effect leads to many new nuclear-armed states, but it is dif­ficult to identify individual states that would actually follow such a course in a world increasingly characterized by eco­nomic and social integration.

Egypt is a prime example. Not only is it one of the aspiring nuclear energy states that has the potential to succeed in its plans, but it is frequently referred to as a ‘usual suspect’ in the proliferation context because of its long and compli­cated nuclear history, including a minor reporting failure in 2004 that was eventually put down to a lack of clarity over what was required of it under its IAEA safeguards agreement. Egypt has a poor relationship with the unde­clared nuclear-armed state of Israel, including violent clashes in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Despite this violence, though, Egypt never devoted resources to the serious pursuit of nuclear weapons to counter the Israeli arsenal, nor did Israel threaten to use its own against Egypt. It would be ahistorical to assume that Egypt, or indeed other Middle Eastern states, would automatically follow suit were Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. If this logic applies to Egypt it also applies to the less conflict-prone states in the Middle East and elsewhere as well.

The proliferation problem that the expansion of nuclear energy to new states poses to the non-proliferation regime is essentially unchanged from what it has always been: de­tecting and dealing with rare cases of NPT non-compliance as they arise. It is not about managing the rapid influx of new nuclear-capable states eager for a nuclear weapons ca­pability. Between the unlikelihood of a significant nuclear revival, increasing recognition of the IAEA’s worth and need for resources, and the genuine apathy that most states feel toward nuclear weapons, in terms of non-proliferation, nuclear energy’s resurgence may not be as alarming as might initially have appeared to be the case.

Justin Alger is a researcher at the Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance (CCTC) at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He has worked on nuclear energy research for the past four years as a primary researcher on the Nuclear En­ergy Futures Project and as a part of his graduate studies. He holds a Master’s in International Affairs from Carleton University, and an Honours Bachelor’s in History from McMaster University.
First published in:  Trust & Verify, July-September 2010. VERTIC, Development House, 56–64 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4LT, United Kingdom

About this article
Although this is an interesting article -the reason why we publish it in the first place- we have some remarks with the overall message. The reason that proliferation problems are not as problematic as foreseen ten years ago, is only because of the failure of the nuclear revival, and is no proof for the argument that nuclear power has less proliferation problems than expected.

This article considers problems that come with nuclear power have to be solved without looking at the cause (nuclear power): it is focused at solving the symptoms, not the cause; it sees nuclear power as something inevitable. That is maybe understandable from his point of view (it is 'simply something that exists' and has to be dealt with), but not something the antinuclear power movement will accept.

The last remark we want to make is about the "reality that most states today simply do not want nuclear weapons".  Latent proliferation (having the technical know how, the technology and materials) has always been seen as equally problematic as horizontal (more countries) or vertical (more installations, material & technology in same number of countries) proliferation. Horizontal proliferation is only one political decision away from latent proliferation. And the fact that such decisions haven't been made until now, does not mean much for the future. "No demand for nuclear weapons" can change rapidly and an almost autonomous development can reverse that.

To end; it is clear, and it follows also from this article, that nuclear power and the dangers concerned with it, increases global inequality: some countries are allowed to do things others aren't. And IAEA making use of  "intelligence information provided by states" will rather increase that problem.

(WISE Amsterdam)

Proliferations costs of laser enrichment

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

Safety and non-proliferation are two key premises –"important minimum requirements"- for global expansion of nuclear power and countries seeking nuclear use must adhere to these principles, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Nobuo Tanaka stressed during the International Conference on Access to Civil Nuclear Energy held in Paris. The meeting, initiated by France and co-organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency and OECD, aims to promote bilateral and multilateral cooperation between countries eager for nuclear access and willing to share nuclear experience.

But what about proliferation? Due to a new technology, the problem of proliferation will rather become worse than better. Two scientists are claiming that the ‘new’ uranium enrichment technology SILEX (separation of isotopes by laser excitation) is so proliferation prone that the dangers outweigh the so-called advantages: exponential improvements in efficiency.

In an article in Nature (March 4, 2010) the two -Francis Slakey (Upjohn lecturer in physics and public policy at Georgetown University, Washington DC) and Linda R. Cohen (professor of economics and law at the University of California, Irvine)- they warn that the world is heading towards the development of nuclear-enrichment technologies so cheap and small that they would be virtually undetectable by satellites. The say that those proliferation risks incurred from such technologies are “simply not worth the benefits”. Over the past 60 years, technologies that enrich uranium to make fuel for nuclear reactors have shown exponential improvements in efficiency. But those improvements also come with a heavy price: an increased risk of proliferation. It is far easier to covertly build a small, lower-energy enrichment facility than a large, energy-intensive one.

In their opinion, the newest laser enrichment technology — called separation of isotopes by laser excitation (SILEX) — offers more potential risks than benefits. The development and potential misappropriation of an enrichment facility too small and efficient to be detected could be a game-changer for nuclear proliferation.

Global Laser Enrichment, a subsidiary of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, has applied for a license from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to operate a full-scale commercial SILEX plant in North Carolina. This is open for public petition until 15 March, and a final decision is expected to take at least another year. Numerous analysts, as well as the authors of a recent report from the American Physical Society ('Technical Steps to Support Nuclear Arsenal Downsizing'), have called for the NRC to examine proliferation risks as part of its licensing process. Such a barrier would discourage commercial research and development in this area, the authors suggest.

To assess the costs and benefits of a new technology, its efficiency must be measured. To make reactor fuel, the concentration of fissile uranium-235 must be increased compared with the uranium-238 in the sample. The efficiency of an isotope-separation technology can be measured in terms of the increase in the proportionate concentration of uranium-235 in the enriched stream — or ‘separative work units’ (SWU) — per megawatt-hour of electricity consumed by the plant (SWU MWh−1). The quantity of SWUs needed to produce a kilogram of reactor fuel depends on three factors: the percentage of uranium-235 required

in the final fuel, the percentage present in the natural uranium feedstock and the percentage acceptable in the depleted uranium tailings (waste). If uranium feed is cheap and SWUs expensive, fuel of a given enrichment level can be made in a cost effective way by using more uranium and living with a higher proportion of residual uranium-235 in the tailings. Alternatively, expensive uranium and cheap SWUs make it worthwhile to squeeze more of the uranium-235 out of the feedstock.

The initial enrichment method, developed in the 1940s and called the calutron, was a mass spectrometer that ionized the uranium and used magnetic fields to filter out the uranium- 235. This was displaced by the technique of gaseous diffusion, which forces uranium hexafluoride through semipermeable membranes.

In the 1960s, centrifuge enrichment was developed, which dramatically decreased the energy required. The technology’s efficiency has increased from roughly 0.5 SWU MWh−1 in 1945 to more than 5 SWU MWh−1 in the 1960s, and over 20 SWU MWh−1 today.

More than 20 countries have experimented with laser enrichment over the past two decades, including South Korea and Iran, without much success. SILEX was developed by the Australian company Silex Systems, and is now being commercialized exclusively by GE Hitachi. In 2006, Silex stated that it anticipated the technology to be anywhere from 1.6 to 16 times more efficient than first-generation centrifuges. The details are classified and the efficiency claims impossible to verify. But assuming a continuation of historical trends in enrichment efficiency it seems reasonable to assume a doubling of today’s best efficiency by 2020.

It is generally assumed that this improvement will lead to financial benefits for consumers. But such an effect would be small: about US$0.66 per household per month, as calculated in the Nature article. Doubling nuclear generation in the US by 2025 (a very ambitious growth scenario for the nuclear industry) could double the value of enrichment savings to US$1.32 per household a month. In addition, a change in the relative prices of enrichment services (lower) and natural uranium (higher) will increase the demand for SWUs in the production of fuel. If the price of the former halves and the price of the latter doubles, the authors of the Nature article calculate — based on a cost-optimization of formulae for enrichment processes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge — that demand for SWUs will increase by 40% for the same level of electricity production from nuclear power.

The construction, heat signature and power usage of large nuclear enrichment plants can usually be detected, but smaller centrifuge plants can be kept secret for years, as the recent revelation of a facility being built in Qom, Iran, shows. If laser enrichment is as efficient as has been suggested, then it could occupy a space substantially smaller than a warehouse (75% smaller than centrifuge technologies) and draw no more electricity than a dozen typical houses. This could put such plants well below the detection threshold of existing surveillance technology — even when used to enrich uranium on a large scale.

Hidden costs of nuclear power
As a contrast to the savings anticipated from laser enrichment, calculated in the article, consider the public costs associated with containing such technologies. According to the Congressional Research Service, the US government spent roughly US$990 million in 2008 on nonproliferation programs. In particular, this included more than US$200 million to research and develop technology to detect covert enrichment facilities. Others estimate that US$5 billion — 10% of the US government’s annual budget for nuclear-security activities — can be credited to non-proliferation activities.

Over the past decade, the United States has spent money on non-proliferation activities at a total cost of more than US$50 per household a month.

An increase in the number of countries with access to perhaps-undetectable laser enrichment technologies would only increase these costs. As a first step in containing the risks of laser enrichment, Congress should require that an evaluation of proliferation risks be part of the NRC licensing process. Such an evaluation would be a natural extension of the NRC’s mandate to ensure that technology is not used “in a manner that is hostile to the interests of the United States”. The NRC already has a process for evaluating confidential information, so this need not be difficult to enact.

An argument has been made that by developing laser enrichment technology in the United States, US entities can ensure that the technology is adequately safeguarded against proliferation. History does not instill confidence in this approach. Previous enrichment technologies — the calutron, gas centrifuge and advanced centrifuge — have all created proliferation risks over the past 50 years despite efforts to withhold the information.

A second argument offered in favour of developing such technologies is that if the United States doesn’t do so, some other country will, in which case the costs of protecting against proliferation will be even higher. There are two responses to this: first, if the United States ceases development and takes no further action, the technology will certainly be delayed. Second, to limit the availability of the technology, the United States need now only negotiate with the handful of technologically advanced countries capable of laser enrichment innovation. It would be best if all nations took a stance of repressing new technologies for more efficient uranium enrichment. But it is clear that the risk of proliferation will only decrease when nuclear power is phased-out.

Sources: ‘Secrets, lies and uranium enrichment: The classified Silex project at Lucas Heights’, Greenpeace, 2004 / ‘Stop laser uranium enrichment’, Francis Slakey and Linda R.Cohen in: Nature, 4 March 2010 / / Xinhua News Agency, 8 March 2010


Laser enrichment plants can be used to produce highly enriched uranium in just a few stages, as opposed to the thousands of stages required using centrifuges. A 1977 report by the US Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) highlighted this as one of the major proliferation problems posed by laser enrichment The report also expressed the concern that the sale of laser enrichment technology by commercial entities, could hasten the proliferation of the technology.

The sensitive nature of the SILEX technology was formally recognised in 1996, after SILEX Systems signed an agreement with the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC). The US Department of Energy (DOE) then classified the SILEX process as “Restricted Data”, RD – a classification that usually relates to the design of nuclear weapons, or the use or acquisition of nuclear material suitable for their construction.

This was the first time in history that privately held technology was given this classification.

On April 30, 2003, USEC Inc. announced that it is ending its funding for research and development of the SILEX laser-based uranium enrichment process. USEC has been funding R&D on the SILEX process since 1996, when the Company signed an agreement with Silex Systems Limited in Australia. USEC will now focus all of its advanced technology resources on the demonstration and deployment of USEC’s American Centrifuge uranium enrichment technology. On May 22, 2006 GE Energy’s nuclear business has signed an exclusive agreement with Silex Systems Limited, an Australia-based technology innovator, to license the technology and develop the company's next generation low enriched uranium manufacturing process in the United States. The transaction is subject to, among other things, governmental approvals and regulatory controls on the design, construction and operation of the process. On October 4, 2006, Silex announced that GE Energy's nuclear business and Silex Systems Limited received the U.S. government authorizations required to proceed with an agreement granting GE exclusive rights to develop and commercialize Silex’s laser-based uranium enrichment technology.


In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Spain: Zapatero’s compromise.
As mentioned in issue 690 of the Nuclear Monitor, Spain's Socialist government, had to take a decision before July 5, on the future of Santa María de Garona, the countries oldest nuclear plant, which license expires in 2011. Spain’s Nuclear Safety Board (CSN) recommended a new 10-year license. Prime Minister Zapatero, promised in his election campaign to start a phase-out of nuclear energy. So he had to take a clear stand. It became more and more clear that he had not the guts to close the 38-year old plant, which provides 1.3 percent of Spain’s electricity, and was looking for a compromise. He decided to grant Garona a new license, but not for a 10 year period, but only for two years, so until 2013. Catch is that 2013 is after the next general elections. Noo one is pleased with this decision. The conservative Popular Party said it would overturn the government's decision if it wins the 2012 general elections. Environmental organizations and parties to the left – vital to Zapatero's governing coalition in Parliament – attacked the decision to postpone the closure of Garona and questioned the prime minister's credibility and integrity.

Christian Science Monitor, 5 July 2009

IAEA: Board Formally Appoints Yukiya Amano as Director General.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors officially appointed Ambassador Mr. Yukiya Amano of Japan as the next Director General. Amano addressed the Board of Governors on July 3, following his successful bid to become the IAEA´s next Director General later this year. "I will dedicate my efforts to the acceleration and enlargement of the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world," he said.

The IAEA Director General is appointed by the Board of Governors with the approval of the General Conference for a term of four years. The General Conference meets in Vienna starting 14 September 2009. Ambassador Amano´s term as Director General would begin 1 December 2009.

Ambassador Amano, 62, is the Permanent Representative and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to International Organizations in Vienna, and Governor on the IAEA Board of Governors. Amano is seen as the choice of the western industrialized countries. According to the IAEA he has "extensive experience in disarmament, non-proliferation and nuclear energy policy and has been involved in the negotiation of major international instruments." He has held senior positions in the Japanese Foreign Ministry, notably as Director of the Science Division, Director of the Nuclear Energy Division and Deputy Director General for Arms Control and Scientific Affairs.

IAEA Staff Report, 3 July 2009

USA: no domestic commercial reprocessing; Fatal blow to GNEP?
In a notice published in the Federal Register, the Department of Energy (DoE) said that it had decided to cancel the GNEP (Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) because it is no longer pursuing domestic commercial reprocessing, which was the primary focus of the prior administration's domestic GNEP program. Its decision follows a change in government policy on commercial reprocessing. Domestically, the GNEP program would promote technologies that support “economic, sustained production of nuclear-generated electricity, while reducing the impacts associated with used nuclear fuel disposal and reducing proliferation risks”. As yet, DoE has no specific proposed actions for the international component of the GNEP program. Rather, the USA, through the GNEP program, is considering various initiatives to work cooperatively with other countries. So far, 25 countries have joined the GNEP partnership.

Although the future of GNEP looks uncertain, with its budget having been cut to zero, the DoE will continue to study proliferation-resistant fuel cycles and waste management strategies. The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 provides $145 million (105 million Euro) for such research and development (R&D). As described in the President Obama's 2010 budget request, the DoE's fuel cycle R&D's focus is on "long-term, science-based R&D of technologies with the potential to produce beneficial changes to the manner in which the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear waste is managed." One outlet for this money is likely to be the Generation IV International Forum, which includes a research program on fast-breeder reactors, which in turn require reprocessing plants.

World Nuclear News, 29 June 2009 / Nuclear engineering International, 1 July 2009

Greenland: continuation of the zero-tolerance policy towards uranium extraction. 
The government of Greenland has stated that the country’s stance on uranium mining remains clear and unchanged. Following a request from opposition party Atassut, Premier Kuupik Kleist ruled out opening up the possibility of broadening the policy towards the extraction of uranium as a by-product. The government pointed out that whilst it acknowledged the natural presence of uranium in Greenland, the 30-year-old policy of banning mineral extraction from areas with a high level of uranium content would continue to be disallowed. The issue emerged with the recent rejection of a mining proposal for Kvane Mountain, where the uranium content is so high that it is believed to be a potential risk to the residents of the nearby town of Narsaq, western Greenland. However, despite the zero-tolerance policy, areas where mining would involve extraction of uranium as a by-product within certain defined limitations would be allowed, according to Premier Kuupik Kleist.

Sermitsiaq, 24 June  2009

Sweden: Ringhals under close scrutiny.
The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) has placed the Ringhals nuclear plant, in the southwest of Sweden, under special supervision after a series (some sources say 60) of incidents, which could endanger the security at the nuclear plant. According to reports, the first incident occurred late in 2008 and involved the failure of an automatic safety system to switch on. The second, at the start of 2009, involved faulty control rods that are designed to regulate nuclear activity. The nuclear watchdog also cited weaknesses in how officials at the nuclear plant (operated by Vattenfall) carried out routines and how instructions were adhered to.

Ringhals' four reactors produce up to one-fifth of Sweden's electricity. It is not the first time that the SSM has placed a Swedish plant under special supervision. In July 2006, officials put the Forsmark nuclear plant under supervision after the shutdown of one of its reactors.

Deutsche Welle, 9 July 2009  /, 9 July 2009

NSG Fail to Adopt Standards for Technology Trade.
The 46-member Nuclear Suppliers Group failed in its June meeting to adopt stricter rules governing the trade of technologies that can support nuclear-weapon development. According to Arms Control Today, NSG-member states had sought to establish specific standards for potential purchasers of equipment or technology that could be used to enrich uranium or reprocess spent reactor fuel. Standards proposed by the U.S. and Canada would address whether a potential state recipient of sensitive nuclear equipment has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and whether it has accepted the Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, according to sources familiar with the terms. The Additional Protocol gives U.N. inspectors access to more information about a signatory state's nuclear facilities and enables them to conduct snap inspections of the sites.

But concerns about the proposed criteria have been raised by other NSG members, including Turkey, Brazil, South Korea and South Africa, sources indicated. The proposed standards also include "subjective" criteria, including whether the sale could harm regional stability. Turkey has expressed concern that its nuclear purchases might be restricted if were deemed under the rules to be part of the volatile Middle East.

Arms Control Today, July/August 2009

Sellafield (U.K.): 50 year leak stopped.
For about 50 years radioactive liquid has been leaking from a waste tank at Sellafield – but in June the operators, Nuclear Management Partners, said they had finally managed to solve the problem.

The leak was from one of four huge effluent tanks which held the waste before it was discharged into the Irish Sea. The leak from a crack in the concrete wall was first noticed in the 1970s and has contaminated not only a large area of ground but has resulted in contamination of the Sellafield beach. NMP said they had managed to empty 95 per cent of the radioactive sludge from the tank and it will now be treated as intermediate level waste. A spokesman said the tank had been a known environmental risk and its emptying was a great achievement.

N-Base Briefing 618, 24 June 2009

France imports power.
France has been forced to import electricity from the UK this summer because of problems with its nuclear reactors. Fourteen of France's reactors use river water for cooling, rather than seawater, and there are regulatory limited on the temperature of water than can be discharged back into rivers.

Also the recent summer heat wave increased the river water temperature meaning it could not reduce the heat of reactor casings. The problems forced state-owned EDF to shutdown reactors. The company has encountered similar problems in the past.

Times (UK), 7 July 2009

USEC: “no loan guarantee; no enrichment plant”.
Usec could halt construction of its American Centrifuge Plant if the US Department of Energy (DOE) doesn’t give it a conditional commitment for a loan guarantee by early August. In a statement Philip Sewell, vice president of American Centrifuge and Russian HEU said a DoE decision is expected by early August. “As we have stated in the past, a DOE loan guarantee is our path forward for financing the American Centrifuge Plant. Therefore, we are making contingency plans for project demobilization should we not receive a conditional commitment or should a decision on a conditional commitment be further delayed, Sewell said. Demobilization, which would involve the partial or full halt of ACP activities and plant construction, could begin in August. So far Usec has invested $1.5 billion in the enrichment plant under construction in Piketon, Ohio. In February, due to the lack of certainty on DoE funding the company initiated cash conservation measures and delayed the ramp-up in hiring. It says it needs a loan guarantee to secure a substantial portion of the remaining financing needed to complete the project.

Nuclear Engineering International, 7 July 2009

Italian Senate passed pro-nuclear law.
On July 9, after four readings in the upper house since November last year, the Italian Senate passed a bill which will pave the way for the return of nuclear power. The package, which also greenlights class action suits and the privatisation of state railways, was passed with an almost unanimous vote after the opposition Democratic Party and Italy of Values left the Senate in the hope that the legal minimum of votes required would not be reached. Under the new law, the government will have six months to choose sites for new nuclear energy plants, define the criteria for the storage of radioactive waste and work out compensatory measures for people who will be affected by the plants. A nuclear security agency will also be set up, although the actual building of the plants is expected to take years. Industry Minister Claudio Scajola said earlier this year that Italy would begin to build its first new generation nuclear power plant by 2013 and start producing energy by 2018. Italy abandoned nuclear energy after a 1987 referendum, one year after the Chernobyl accident.

Opposition politicians meanwhile slammed the new law. Roberto Della Seta, environmental pointman for the Democratic Party, said the cost of building four nuclear plants would be ''20-25 billion euros'', while they would contribute less than 5% to the country's energy consumption. ''This law ignores all the real problems that stand in the way of Italy having a renewable and efficient energy policy, such as closing the gap with other major European countries on renewable sources and promoting research into new technology,'' he said.

ANSA, 9 July 2009

EU ministers rubber stamp weak nuclear safety rules.
On June 25, environment ministers meeting in Luxembourg rubber-stamped a Euratom Directive on Nuclear Safety. The law was meant to improve nuclear safety in Europe by setting EU-wide standards. However, the directive mainly refers to weak principles from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which all EU countries are already bound to as signatories of the Convention on Nuclear Safety. Attempts to improve the independence of nuclear regulators have also been watered down. There is no provision in the directive to guarantee the accountability of nuclear regulators.

"There is nothing new in this law to improve nuclear safety in Europe. We are still faced with a nuclear industry that sees safety as an obstacle, rather than a paramount necessity," said Jan Haverkamp, EU nuclear energy expert for Greenpeace. Greenpeace calls on the EU to base its safety rules on the principles of best available technology and best regulatory practice.

Greenpeace Press release, 25 June 2009

Belgium bans investments in depleted uranium weapons.
On July 2, the Belgian Parliament unanimously approved a law forbidding investments in depleted uranium weapons. Belgium is now the first country to prevent the flow of money to producers of uranium weapons. This law complements the country's ban on their manufacture, testing, use, sale and stockpiling which came into force on June 21st last. The use of depleted uranium armour piercing munitions during combat causes the release of chemically toxic and radioactive particles which represent a long term hazard for the environment as well as for human health.

Senator Philippe Mahoux submitted the resolution in the Belgian Senate, where it was unanimously approved on the 2nd of April 2009. Approval in the Chamber of Representatives followed on the 2nd of July. The law forbids banks and investment funds operating on the Belgian market from offering credit to producers of armor and munitions that contain depleted uranium. The purchase of shares and bonds issued by these companies is also prohibited. This law implicates that financial institutions in Belgium must bring their investments in large weapon producers such as Alliant Techsystems (US), BAE Systems (UK) and General Dynamics (US) to an end. Only investments made via index funds, and the financing of projects of these companies that are clearly unrelated to cluster munitions will be allowed. The law also obliges the government to draw up a "black list" of uranium weapon producers.

Press Release, 3 July 2009, Belgian Coalition 'Stop Uranium Weapons!'

India: National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movements (NAAM) launched.
More than one hundred organizations, peoples’ movements and concerned citizens from across the country came together for a National Convention on “The Politics of Nuclear Energy and Resistance” on June 4-6, 2009 at Kanyakumari. They discussed all the different aspects of nuclear power generation and weapons production, the various stages of nuclearization from Uranium mining till waste management, and the commissions and the omissions of the government of India and the Department of Atomic Energy during the three-day-long convention.

Most importantly, nuclearism is a political ideology that cannot stomach any transparency, accountability or popular participation. It snubs dissent, denounces opponents and creates a political climate of fear and retribution. With the India-US nuclear deal, and the deals with Russia and France and likely private participation in nuclear energy generation, the situation is going to get out of hand in our country. The combination of profiteering companies, secretive state apparatuses and repressive nuclear department will be ruthless and this nexus of capitalism, statism and nuclearism does not augur well for the country. These forces gaining an upper hand in our national polity will mean a death knell for the country’s democracy, openness, and prospects for sustainable development.

In order to mobilize the Indian citizens against this growing nucolonization, to resist the nuclearization of the country, and to protect our people from nuclear threats and the environment from nuclear waste and radiation, an umbrella organization (tentatively named as the National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movements) has been founded with eight committees on Documentation, Economic Analysis, Legal, Mass Media, International Liaison, Translation, Health, and Direct Action.

Contact for more info: Dr. S. P. Udayakumar,

NAAM Press release, 7 June 2009

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Indonesia: Tender postponed indefinitely.
Indonesian State Minister of Research and Technology Kusmayanto Kadiman announced late last month (May) that the tendering process for new nuclear power plants, expected to be completed by the end of the year, have been postponed indefinitely. The process has lacked political support and with presidential elections due in July, the government has pulled the plug. Kusmayanto said, ‘It's impossible to decide now. For the fastest, it will possibly take at last six more years.’ This destroys plans to have a nuclear power plant operating in the 2016-2019 timeframe established by Indonesian Law No. 17/2007.

Nuclear Reaction, 18 June 2009

Sweden: smiling sun banned from Parliament.
Seven antinuclear activists who went to the Swedish Parliament to listen to the energy debate on June 16, were forced to leave the public gallery and were thereafter taken into inquiry by the police. This has never happened before. The reason was that five of them where wearing t-shirts with the smiling sun, the well known antinuclear symbol. Most of them activists were members of the Swedish antinuclear movement and some belong to the Swedish Green woman.

Email: Eia Liljegren-Palmær, 19 June 2009

U.K.: Serious accident averted at Sizewell.
A serious accident at the Sizewell A Magnox reactor was only averted because a worker cleaning clothes in a laundry noticed cooling water leaking from a spent fuel storage pond. In January 2007 40,000 gallons of radioactive water (1 gallon (UK) is about 4.54609 liter)  leaked from a 15ft (4.5 meter) split in a pipe in the cooling pond, containing 5,000 spent fuel rods and alarms failed to warn staff or were ignored. If the pond had emptied of water and exposed the highly-radioactive rods would have caught fire with an airborne release of radioactivity. Thanks to the worker in the laundry staff were able to contain the leak - discharging the radioactive waster into the sea - and re-fill the pond.

A new report on the accident has now been published. It is written by nuclear consultant Dr John Large, commissioned by the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign and based on Nuclear Installation Inspectorate reports released under Freedom of Information. The NII report highlighted a number of serious concerns surrounding the accident. Not only did the pond alarms fail, but had it worked it would have triggered another alarm that had already been on for two days but ignored by staff. There was also poorly designed and poorly installed instrumentation and control equipment. The NII report also suggests that it chose not to prosecute the operators because of staff shortages.

N-base briefing 618, 17 june 2009

Spain: renewal of operation license Garona?
On June 8, the five-member board of Spain's Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) unanimously agreed to recommend that the Garona nuclear plant in northern Spain should get a new 10-year operating licence if it upgrades its safety equipment. The 38-year-old nuclear plant's licence expires on July 5. Nuclear Safety Council chairwoman Carmen Martinez Ten said the decision was taken on technical and security grounds and not for reasons of "energy policy, economics or another nature".

The Spanish government will have to take a clear stand for or against nuclear power before July 5, when it decides whether to renew the operating licence Garona, the oldest of the country's six nuclear plants. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose socialist government has backed the developmentof  renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, has said he wants to phase out nuclear energy in the country when the life span of its six nuclear plants expires. A decision to prolong the life of the Garona plant would be a major u-turn for Zapatero, who pledged to gradually phase out nuclear power during general elections in 2004 and 2008. However, the prime minister said. "The decision regarding Garona will be coherent with the commitments in our election programme as long as the supply of power is guaranteed," This statement was seen by some observers as a sign that the government was leaning towards renewing, maybe for a short period. Later in June, CSN said the government asked their opinion about renewing the permit for two, four or six years, rather than the 10 years. The 500 megawatt Garona plant provided just 1.3 percent of Spain's electricity last year and grid operators say its closure would pose no supply problems.

The Spanish branch of Greenpeace has urged the government not to renew the licence of the plant, arguing it is unsafe. It has called it the "plant of 1,000 fissures". The two utilities running the plant, Iberdrola and Endesa, estimate it will cost 50 million euros (US$70 million) to carry out the upgrades to the plants safety equipment recommended by the CSN.

Spain, along with Denmark and Germany, is among the three biggest producers of wind power in the European Union and the country is one of the largest world producers of solar power.

AFP, 11 June 2009 / Reuters, 19 June 2009

Blows for IAEA Fuel Bank proposal. Developing countries blocked plans by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for nuclear fuel banks that aim to keep countries from acquiring sensitive nuclear technology by offering them alternatives. The Vienna-based agency and Western countries had hoped the IAEA's governing board would give the green light for fleshing out plans to sway countries to buy rather than make nuclear fuel, by offering an insurance in case their supply is cut off for political reasons. But a June 18, joint statement by the Group of 77 (a coalition of developing countries and the Non-Aligned Movement) said that "none of the proposals provide a proper assurance of supply of nuclear fuel." The plans "should not be designed in a way that discourages states from developing or expanding their capabilities in the nuclear fuel cycle". The 35 members of the board agreed only that the nuclear agency "may continue its consultations and discussions" to further work on the fuel bank proposals, according to diplomats at the meeting.

The idea of the IAEA Fuel Bank was to keep countries from acquiring uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies, which can be used not only for energy purposes, but also for making nuclear bomb material. However, developing countries fear that such plans would pressure them to give up their right to peacefully using nuclear energy.

Meanwhile, in May the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Verhagen, concluded that the British, German and Dutch (the countries that form the Urenco enrichment consortium) initiative for assured supply for low enriched nuclear fuel failed. In May he wrote to Dutch Parliament that “many countries see this condition (giving up enrichment and reprocessing) as discriminating and an unacceptable violation of their rights under the non-proliferation treaty”.

Another blow for the concept of Multilateral Approaches, which is seen by many proponents of nuclear power as one of the main ways to counter proliferation worries.

Earthtimes, 18 June 2209 / Laka Foundation, 18 may 2009

Discussion on new-build in Germany heats up. Germany's economy minister ruled out building new nuclear power stations but said the life of some reactors might be extended and the development of alternative technologies stepped up. "We need limited extensions until we are able to work with sensible alternative technologies in an economical and environmentally friendly manner," Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily in an interview, published on June 19.. "That includes the possibility of equipping existing nuclear power stations with state-of-the-art technology in order to make them even safer and more efficient," the conservative minister said. "But I see no need to build new nuclear reactors." General elections are due in September. On September 5, a nationwide demonstration will take place in Berlin.

Nuclear Reaction, 22 June 2009

Japan: MOX target delayed. Japanese plans for 16-18 reactors to be using mixed oxide (MOX) fuel by 2010 have been put back by five years, the country's Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPCO) has announced. Up until 1998, Japan sent the bulk of its used fuel to plants in France and the UK for reprocessing and MOX fabrication. However, since 1999 it has been storing used fuel in anticipation of full-scale operation of its own reprocessing and MOX fabrication facilities. Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd's (JNFL's) reprocessing plant under construction at Rokkasho-mura is scheduled for completion in August 2009, but earlier this year the company put back the completion date for its planned J-MOX fabrication facility from August 2012 to August 2015. Construction work on the fabrication facility is scheduled to begin in November 2009. Four shipments of reactor-grade plutonium recovered from used fuel have been sent back to Japan from European reprocessing plants since 1992. The most recent arrived in Japan from France in May 2009.

World Nuclear News, 12 June 2009

Australia: union action on radioactive waste. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has welcomed the support of Australia’s peak trade union body ACTU in pushing for an end to any federal government move to impose a radioactive waste dump on the Northern Territory and developing a credible and responsible approach to radioactive waste management in Australia. On June 4, the ACTU Congress in Brisbane passed a resolution critical of the government’s delay in delivering on a 2007 election commitment on radioactive waste management and called for an independent and public inquiry into the best options for dealing with radioactive waste.

“The ACTU’s active support in this issue is powerful and very welcome,” said ACF nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney. “The federal government was elected on a promise to scrap the heavy handed waste dump laws and make radioactive waste policy responsible and transparent.  It has failed to deliver on this promise and this resolution is an important reminder to the government and to Resources Minister Ferguson that the community expects better.”

The ACTU now joins a broad range of environment and public health groups, Indigenous organisations and state, territory and local governments concerned by the federal government’s lack of responsible and inclusive action on this issue.

ACF Press release, 5 June 2009

U.S.: doubts about decommissioning funds. Two days after Associated Press reported that operators of nearly half of the US' 104 nuclear reactors are not setting aside enough funds to cover projected decommissioning costs, the NRC has contacted owners of 18 nuclear power plants asking them to explain how the economic downturn has affected funds they must set aside to cover future decommissioning costs. The AP report said the shortfalls have been caused by a combination of falling investments and rising decommissioning costs. Plant operators are required to establish funding during a reactor's operating life to ensure the reactor site will be properly cleaned up once the plant is permanently closed, the NRC said, adding that its review of the latest reports from reactor operators "suggests several plants must adjust their funding plans." Tim McGinty, director of policy and rulemaking in the NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation said: "This is not a current safety issue, but the plants do have to prove to us they're setting aside money appropriately."

Platts, 19 June 2009

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Chernobyl still contaminating British sheep.

It exploded 23 years ago today more than 2,250 km away, but Chernobyl is still contaminating sheep in the United Kingdom. According to the government's Food Standards Agency (FSA), the number of farms and animals still under movement restrictions in the UK has hardly changed over the past year. New figures given in the House of Commons late April show there are still 190,000 sheep subject to restriction orders on 369 farms or holdings. The details are: Wales 355 farms 180,000 sheep; England 9 farms 3,000 sheep; Scotland 5 farms and 3,000 sheep.

Peat and grass in upland areas were polluted with radioactive caesium-137 released by the accident and brought to ground by rain. This is eaten by sheep and has persisted much longer than originally anticipated. The restrictions apply where concentrations of caesium-137 in sheep exceed 1,000 Becquerel of radioactivity per kilogram. Farmers have to mark the radioactive animals with indelible paint, and can't have them slaughtered for food until they fall below the limit.

N-Base briefing 611, 29 April 2009 / Sunday Herald, 26 April 2009

FirstEnergy finds hole in containment wall at rusty Pennsylvania reactor.

During a recent visual inspection inside the Beaver Valley Unit 1 reactor containment building, a rusty discolored bubble was discovered under the protective paint coating on the inside wall of the steel liner to the thick concrete containment. When the unbroken paint bubble was removed for further inspection, First Energy Nuclear Corporation (FENOC) found a corrosion hole had eaten through from the outside of the 3/8 inch (0.95 cm) thick steel containment liner wall. Inspectors could see the concrete wall on the other side. The containment's steel liner is a principle safety barrier designed to be leak tight to contain the radioactive gas generated under normal operations and accident conditions. FENOC says that a small piece of wet wood, trapped during the original construction and left in contact with the outside steel liner wall, was the cause of the severe corrosion. The plan is to weld a steel patch over the hole. With the reactor nearing approval of an unchallenged 20-year license extension application, the severity of the previously unnoticed corrosion caught Nuclear Regulatory Commission and company officials by surprise. The Beaver Valley reactor is located northwest of Pittsburgh.

Considering all the other debris pitched into the containment's concrete pours there is very likely more corrosion than can be found with visual inspection. Beyond Nuclear expects that NRC will issue a detailed information notice but fall short of its regulatory responsibility by not requiring industry action. In fact, NRC should require a prompt and thorough technical assessment of Beaver Valley's containment integrity in order to rule out the likely possibility that more unseen corrosion is still eating its way into the containment structure. Using state-of-the-art ultrasonic testing equipment, this could be done before the plant goes back on line and certainly before the agency approves the reactor's 20-year extension. Similarly, since debris was likely thrown into many more containment pours around the country, NRC should require an industry-wide scan of all the aging containment liners. Remember, FirstEnergy is the same company that operated its corroded Davis-Besse reactor with the hole in the head. And NRC is the same agency with its head in a hole that favored getting Davis-Besse back on line quickly despite graphic photos of severe corrosion that warned otherwise. In both cases, the NRC gambling of safety margins for production margins corrodes public confidence and increases the risks from nuclear accidents.

Beyond Nuclear Bulletin, 1 may 2009

UK: Wind farm demolished for nuclear power plant?

One of the oldest and most efficient wind farms in Britain is to be dismantled and replaced by a nuclear power station under plans drawn up by the German-owned power group RWE. The site at Kirksanton in Cumbria – home to the Haverigg turbines - has just been approved by the government for potential atomic newbuild in a move that has infuriated the wind power industry. Colin Palmer, founder of the Windcluster company, which owns part of the Haverigg wind farm, said he was horrified that such a plan could be considered at a time when Britain risks missing its green energy targets and after reassurance from ministers that nuclear and renewables were not incompatible.

The Haverigg site, on the fringes of the Lake District, was commissioned in 1992 and is believed to be one of only two of its type in this country. The scheme has been praised by Friends of the Lake District as a fine example of appropriate wind energy development and the turbines were financed by a pioneering group of ethical investors (now called the Triodos Bank). The site was subsequently expanded to a total of eight turbines. Haverigg was still one of the most efficient wind farms with a 35% "capacity factor" - or efficiency - compared with an average of 30%, said Palmer. It is a historically important wind farm for the UK, which played a key role in inspiring others.  

Meanwhile, a new report by the independent think-tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), has found that the UK Government's "obsession" with nuclear power is hindering development of sustainable energy alternatives which were better and cheaper. The report, 'The British Nuclear Industry - Status and Prospects', written by Dr. Ian Davis, states: "The Government's obsession with nuclear power is undermining and marginalizing more efficient and safer technologies - the real energy solutions." Renewable energy, greater energy efficient and other technologies could fill the gap when existing reactors became redundant.

The Guardian (UK), 28 April 2009 / N-Base Briefing, 29 April 2009

Kazakhstan: proposal to host fuel-bank sparks anti-nuclear protest.

On April 14, police in Almaty the capital of Kazakhstan, have prevented a small protest by opponents of a Kazak government proposal to host a “nuclear fuel bank” that would provide a secure supply to power stations across the world. It was never going to be a big demonstration, just 30 or so like-minded representatives of non-government groups involved in human rights and similar areas. But it did not even get off the ground. As they were setting out from their office for Almaty’s main square, three activists from the human rights group Ar.Ruh.Hak were detained by police. Seven members of the opposition party Azat and two journalists were picked up separately. All 12 were taken to a police station and released after making statements. In a statement, the seven NGOs which planned the protest meeting said the lack of government transparency on issues like the nuclear one should raise concerns. For opponents of the plan, the legacy of Semipalatinsk (a testing ground where over 450 atom bombs were set off by the Soviet authorities between 1949 and 1989) plus the risk that the fuel bank will not be secure, constitute serious objections. Kazakhstan is a major producer of uranium – it has about 20 per cent of the world's ore reserves.

The Fuel-Bank, which would be supervised by the IAEA would provide ‘a secure and controlled source of fissile material for peaceful use’ as the Agency likes to put it. Countries would no longer have ‘an excuse’ to develop uranium enrichment programs, which carry the risk of being uses for ‘non-peaceful meanings’. Countries would simply buy fuel from the bank when they needed it. After the IAEA first came up with the idea in 2005, Kazakhstan and Russia signed an agreement with the agency to look at setting up a storage facility in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, which has a uranium enrichment plant. Now Kazakhstan has offered its own facilities. President Nursultan Nazarbaev revealed the proposal when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the capital Astana on April 6 that prompted Kazak NGOs into action.

Institute For War And Peace Reporting,  17 April 2009

Nuclear safety in Canada.

Unlike the governments of other developed nations, the Canadian government and Parliament can now directly control the start-up and operation of nuclear reactors. This is the result of a recent Federal Court ruling that allows the government to remove the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) without cause. Unless the Supreme Court overturns this decision or parliamentarians pass legislation to remove this power from the government, protection from nuclear mishaps in Canada could depend on the political whims of sitting governments and Parliament.

The Federal Court ruled earlier in April that the Harper government had the right to remove without cause the then-president of the CNSC, Linda Keen. This means that the CNSC head serves at the pleasure of the government rather than until the end of an appointed term, subject only to good behavior. The incident that precipitated the court case was Keen's refusal, despite pressure from the Prime Minister and natural resources minister, to restart a reactor to alleviate a shortage of medical isotopes. Keen said the reactor did not met its licensing requirements. The government removed Keen as head of the CNSC, and Parliament voted to restart the reactor.

Toronto Star (Canada), 21 April 2009

IAEA Inspectors Asked to Leave DPRK.

On April 14, IAEA issued a statement on the situation in North-Korea: "The Democratic People´s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has today informed IAEA inspectors in the Yongbyon facility that it is immediately ceasing all cooperation with the IAEA. It has requested the removal of all containment and surveillance equipment, following which, IAEA inspectors will no longer be provided access to the facility. The inspectors have also been asked to leave the DPRK at the earliest possible time.
The DPRK also informed the IAEA that it has decided to reactivate all facilities and go ahead with the reprocessing of spent fuel." IAEA inspectors removed all IAEA seals and switched off surveillance cameras on April 15. They left the country the following day.

IAEA inspectors returned to monitor and verify the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facilities in the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea, after a report outlining the modalities reached between the Agency and the DPRK were approved by the IAEA on 9 July 2007.

The latest move by DPRK is a reaction on an April 13 statement by the United Nations' Security Council denouncing the North’s rocket launching as a violation of a resolution after the North’s first nuclear test in 2006 that banned the country from nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The Council called for tightening sanctions.

On April 29, North Korea said that it would start a uranium enrichment program, declaring for the first time that it intended to pursue a second project unless the United Nations lifted sanctions.

IAEA Press Release, 14 April 2009 / New York Times, 29 April 2009/  IAEA Staff report, 9 July 2007

Trouble for UAE-US nuclear agreement.

The president of the U.S.-UAE Business Council, Danny Sebright, expected U.S. president Barack Obama to issue a presidential determination that the nuclear agreement with the United Arab Emirates, signed in January, in the last days of the administration of former President George W. Bush, is in the best interests of the United States.  That would set the stage for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to formally notify Congress of the United States' intention to enter into the nuclear energy cooperation deal with one of Iran's neighbors, giving lawmakers 90 days to vote down the pact if they choose.

Under the "123 deal," similar to the one the United States signed last year with India, Washington would share nuclear technology, expertise and fuel. In exchange, the UAE commits to abide by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. The small oil-rich Gulf nation (the world's third largest oil exporter in 2007) promises not to enrich uranium or to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear bombs. The deal is part of a major UAE investment in nuclear, and it has already signed deals to build several nuclear power plants. The United States already has similar nuclear cooperation agreements with Egypt and Morocco, and U.S. officials said Washington is working on similar pacts with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan.

Lobby for the project is ongoing: a May 5, report on the economic benefits of US-UAE 123 Agreement said the UAE nuclear program would generate contracts worth more than US$41billion benefiting American companies that could participate as suppliers or as central leaders in consortiums bidding on projects. The sky is the limit.

However, opposition about the deal is growing rapidly after footage was made public in the U.S. On the tape, an Afghan grain dealer is seen being tortured by a member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi, one of the UAE's seven emirates. The ratification of the deal has been postponed.

Meanwhile, the UAE last year surpassed Israel as the United States' largest export market in the Middle East. Furthermore, the small country has become the third-biggest arms importer worldwide, SIPRI announced earlier in April. The figures from the UAE reflected what the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) described as a "worrying" regional trend of increased arms imports into the Middle East. The country accounted for 6.0 percent of the world's arms imports between 2004 and 2008, according to the new report from the (SIPRI) -- the same proportion as South Korea. Only China with 11 percent and India with 7.0 percent, had a larger share of the market, said the report. The UAE's position was all the more striking because in the previous study, covering the period 1999-2003, the UAE was only the 16th biggest importer of military equipment worldwide.

Middle East Online, 17 April 2009 / Reuters, 29 April 2009 / CNN, 29 April 2009 /, 5 May 2009

‘Near Miss’ at Sellafield’s High Level Waste Storage Tank Complex.

On April 2, an incident at Sellafield’s High Level Waste (HLW) Storage Tank Complex occurred, involving a loss of coolant water to all the storage tanks following the incorrect re-instatement of one of a number of control valves that had been isolated for maintenance. Because some of the storage tanks have a higher heat loading (the liquid HLW is physically hot as well as being highly radioactive) than others, efforts to re-instate the cooling water supply were directed first at the three tanks with the highest heat loading. Cooling was restored to the first of these after 75 minutes, and to all three tanks after 3 hours. Reporting today on the incident, Sellafield’s in-house Newsletter states that cooling was restored to all tanks within 8 hours. This is perilously close to the timescale of 10.5 hours catered for in the Sellafield site’s emergency plan (REPPIR).

Since the closure of Sellafield’s Calder Hall reactors in 2003, an accident involving the loss of coolant to the HLW tanks is designated as the ‘Reference Accident’ (worst credible accident) for Sellafield’s Emergency Plans under the Radiation and Emergency Preparedness and Public Information Regulations (REPPIR). The Reference Accident is described as being ‘a failure of the entire cooling water distribution system to the High Level Radioactive Waste Store following a single flange failure or leak from a length of pipe. The accident scenario assumes a failure to reinstate the cooling system within a period of 10.5 hours and that it has not been possible to isolate the failed section of pipe’.

The existing tanks, holding a significantly larger inventory of radioactive materials than were released during the Chernobyl accident, were commissioned between 1955 and 1990. They have long been subject of concern by the NII through the increasing failure of cooling components. Plans to construct and install new, smaller tanks are currently being assessed by Sellafield and the regulators.`

CORE Press release, 9 April 2009

IAEA: Still no successor for ElBaradei.

A total of five candidates have put themselves foward to succeed Mohamed ElBaradei as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The five come from Belgium, Spain, Slovenia, Japan and South Africa. The Japanese Ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna, Yukiya Amano, as well as South Africa's representative, Abdul Samad Minty, have reentered the contest after failing to win a majority in a first voting session among IAEA governing board members in March. The other three are:

* Jean-Pol Poncelet, a former Belgian Deputy Prime Minister who currently serves as a senior vice president at the French nuclear group Areva (responsible for sustainable development and the improvement of quality processes).

* Spanish nuclear expert Luis Echavarri, the head of the Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

* The fifth potential successor is the Slovenian Ernest Petric, a former ambassador in Vienna who currently serves as a judge on his country's constitutional court.

In a first session of voting among the 35 countries on the IAEA board, Amano narrowly missed the necessary two-thirds majority, while Minty had the support of only 15 countries.

The U.S. and European countries supported Amano, as they saw him as a nuclear-policy expert who is considered to be less politically outspoken than Minty or ElBaradei.

A new date for voting at the IAEA board has yet to be fixed. IAEA Board Chairperson Ms. Feroukhi is soon to initiate informal consultations on the nominations receive.

Dr. ElBaradei, who is to retire on November 30, is the IAEA´s fourth Director General since 1957. He was first appointed to the office effective December 1997. He follows Hans Blix, IAEA Director General from 1981 to 1997; Sigvard Eklund, IAEA Director General from 1961 to 1981; and Sterling Cole, IAEA Director General from 1957 to 1961.

EarthTimes, 27 April 2009 / IAEA Staff Report, 29 April 2009

China: warnings from within.

According to China's director of the National Nuclear Safety Administration, Li Ganjie, the quick expansion of China's nuclear energy production is far outpacing the regulation of its nuclear reactors. "At the current stage, if we are not fully aware of the sector's over-rapid expansions, it will threaten construction quality and operation safety of nuclear power plants," Li Ganjie told an International Ministerial Conference on nuclear energy.

The Communist Party newspaper Renmin Ribao on April 21 reported Ganjie saying in unusually strong terms that China has insufficient capacity to handle nuclear waste. Li said the storage of past nuclear waste was 'not entirely under control'. In a report presented to the IAEA-sponsored international conference on the future of nuclear power Li stated that nuclear safeguards in China are weak and insufficient to keep up with the country's need to develop nuclear energy and technology: there is a dearth of personnel, technical equipment, financing and investment.

Planetark, 21 April 2009 /, 21 April 2009

U.K.: Faslane leaks.

The revelation that there have been a series of radioactive leaks into the Firth of Clyde from the Ministry of Defence's Faslane nuclear submarine base has once again focused attention on the lack of regulation for military facilities. Documents released to Channel 4 News under Freedom of Information show there have been over 40 leaks in the last three decades and at least eight in the past 10 years. Military facilities have immunity from regulation and operate under 'letters of agreement' with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and their equivalent regulators in England and Wales.

SEPA is so concerned at the leaks and general waste management at Faslane that it would have considered closing the facility down if it had the power. A Ministry of Defence report said failure to abide by safety procedures at Faslane was a "recurring theme" and was a cultural issue that must be addressed. The report also accepted Faslane failed to use the 'best practicable means' to control waste, there was poor design of holding tanks, weld defects in piping, a lack of accurate drawings of the plant and low staffing levels.

N-Base Briefing, 29 April 2009

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Norway: New report on hypothetical Sellafield accident.

On 23 March, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority published a report on the possible consequences for Norway of an atmospheric release of radioactivity from the storage tanks for highly active liquid waste at Sellafield. The report shows that an accident could entail considerable fallout over Norway. The release of just 1% of the tanks' contents could result in levels of radioactive fallout in Western Norway that are five times higher than those measured in the worst affected areas of Norway after the Chernobyl accident.

If an accident caused the release of 10% of the tanks' contents, it is calculated that the fallout would be 50 times the maximum level experienced in Norway after Chernobyl. A major accident is of course considered to be less likely than more limited releases. However, the British authorities have not provided Norway with any specific information indicating that such an incident can be ruled out.

The report considers an accident involving the storage tanks for highly active liquid waste. These currently contain about 1000 m3 of radioactive waste from several decades of reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

Norway would be vulnerable in the event of a large release of radioactivity from Sellafield, both because of its geographical position and because of the prevailing weather conditions. The impacts of a major atmospheric release could be particularly severe. The Norwegian authorities consider that in the worst case, an accident at Sellafield could have significant impacts on agriculture, the environment and society for decades to come.

Ministry of the Environment (Norway), 26 March 2009

Australia: Queensland: The return of an anti-uranium state government.

PULL down the bunting, recork the champagne, throw out the sausage rolls -- there will be no celebration party for the Queensland uranium players. Labor is back. There will be no uranium mining for at least the next three years…so began a report in the conservative daily newspaper The Australian shortly after the recent Queensland state election. Uranium mining emerged as an issue in the 21st March election with the incumbent Labor party pledging to retain its long standing ban on mining while the conservative Liberal National Party (LNP) threw its weight behind an open slather mining policy. The Greens committed to legislate against the industry and ruled out any preference deals with the LNP on the back of their uranium policy. The uranium industry lobbied hard in the lead up to election and mobilized considerable media support for its spurious claims of employment and revenue benefits. National and state environment groups worked to keep the issue live and publicly rated the various party’s performance and promises against a range of issues, including their position on uranium mining. The return of an anti-uranium state government has been welcomed by campaigners as an important development in the continuing and very active national uranium debate.

Dave Sweeney, email, 29 March 2009

No new IAEA-DG, yet.

The IAEA Board again is inviting governments to nominate candidates for Director General. Neither of the two candidates that the Board voted upon on march 26, received the necessary two-thirds majority of votes during successive rounds of secret balloting. The Board’s Chair - Algerian Ambassador Taous Feroukhi noted that in accordance with the Board’s agreed procedure, the slate of candidates is considered to have been wiped clean. She said she will again be inviting Member State governments to nominate candidates on 30 March 2009, with nominations to be submitted within four weeks thereafter. The Board voted on two candidates - Ambassador Yukiya Amano of Japan, and Ambassador Abdul Samad Minty of South Africa. Under the Board’s agreed procedure, either or both of these candidates can be re-nominated by Member States.

The Director General is appointed by the Board of Governors with the approval of the General Conference for a term of four years. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei´s term of office expires on 30 November 2009. He has served as Director General since 1997. (see also: Nuclear Monitor 685, Briefs)

IAEA Staff Report, 27 March 2009

France: cancer-figures temporarily workers are increasing.

In February, a man perished at a building site at the nuclear reactor in Paluel, France. This was not given much attention, because he was "only" a temporary worker. There are 20.000 temporary contractors working in nuclear power stations in France. Without them, reactors would not keep going or get repaired. A confidential report by EDF reveals that 84% of the subcontractors in the nuclear industry would like to quit because of bad working conditions. Safety measures are minimal, and the employees are under enormous pressure since every day the reactor is offline (because of maintenance, for instance) costs EDF 1 million Euro's. Research by the Centre International de recherche sur le cancer shows that while temporary workers get 80% of the radiation, the employees of EDF get 20%. The group of EDF employees show an increase in cancer of "only" 8%, the subcontractors 40%.

Siné Hebdo (Fr.), 18 March 2009

Too little too late: Financial compensation for French test victims.

The French government says it will pay out at least 10 million euros (US$13.6 million), initially for one year, to people with health problems as a result of French nuclear tests carried out in the Algerian Sahara and in Polynesia, Defense Minister Herve Morin was quoted as saying on Tuesday, March 24. Some 150,000 people are estimated to have been affected.

France tested its first nuclear bomb on February 13, 1960 in the Algerian Sahara. Between 1960 and 1996, France carried out a total of 210 nuclear tests in Algeria, French Polynesia and the Pacific Ocean. Participants in the tests and people living in areas close to the testing zones have long complained of health problems including leukemia and other forms of cancer. France has for a long time refused to officially recognize a link between its testing of nuclear bombs and health complaints reported by both military and civilian staff involved in the tests.

Compensation in other countries:

  • Russia: Test veterans get a medal, pension, pride of place in parades and use of a special radiation hospital.
  • China: announced last year that military and civilian veterans would get pensions.
  • U.S.A.: Ronald Reagan introduced a compensation deal (the 'Radiation Exposure Compensation Act') in 1990 which has since paid out a total of US$1.4 billion.
  • Australia/New Zealand: Veterans with any illnesses known to be caused by radiation are entitled to subsidized private medical care.
  • U.K.: Government still insists veterans were not harmed and denies any responsibility.

AP, 24 March 2009 / Sunday Mirror (UK), 29 March 2009

India: first uranium delivery from France.

(April 1, 2009) Following clearance by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, first batch of 60 tons uranium ore concentrate imported from Areva NC France was received on March 31, by the Nuclear Fuel Complex, Hyderabad. India. This uranium ore would be processed and used in pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) in India.
India and France had entered into an accord for supplying reactors and fuel consequent to the Indo-US nuclear deal, the 123 agreement. As a first step, Department of Atomic Energy had entered into a contract with French Nuclear supplier AR EVA NC for the supply of 300 tons of uranium ore concentrate 31 March & 1 April 2009

Australia; Ranger:

The controversial Ranger uranium mine inside the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory is again under scrutiny following confirmation of the extent of a long standing and unresolved seepage problem at the operations main tailings dam. In February the Supervising Scientist, a federal agency set up to monitor the impacts of Ranger, confirmed the existence and extent of the seepage problem to a parliamentary Senate hearing. Around 100,000 litres of contaminant is leaking in an uncontrolled fashion from the dam every day. Australian environmental and anti-nuclear groups have been active in highlighting this and a series of other operational failures at Ranger in the national media. The timing of the leak has been highly embarrassing to mine operator Energy Resources of Australia (ERA – 68% owned by resource giant Rio Tinto) as the company has just applied for federal approval for a major expansion of the aging mine. ERA are seeking approval to build a new tailings dam and a large scale acid heap leaching facility to process low grade ore and waste rock stockpiles. The company has further flagged plans to construct an underground shaft from the base of the current open pit operation to exploit a lens of uranium ore that runs towards the Magela floodplain, a pivotal component of Kakadu’s unique wetlands environment. The expansion plans have been fiercely opposed by ERA’s critics who are calling on the federal government to veto the move and initiate an independent inquiry into the performance and environmental and social impacts of Australia’s oldest uranium mine.

Dave Sweeney, 28 March 2009

Quote of the month:

“We have continued to see incidents over the last few years that indicate that safety culture was not a priority through all the staff at all the plants,” NRC Chairman Dale Klein, 10 March, at the 21 annual Regulatory Information Conference of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) cited in Nucleonics Week, 19 March 2009


Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(May 7, 2004) Despite four years of public participation, expressions of opposition to and concern with the proposals by US agencies to "harmonize" with international transport recommendations, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Department of Transportation (DOT) adopted new regulations for radioactive transport in January 2004. NIRS and numerous other public interest, environmental and religious groups and individuals across the US are challenging a portion of the rule that reduces public protections by allowing more radioactivity to move on roads, rails, planes and waterways without regulatory control.

(609.5605) NIRS - Among other provisions that weaken public and worker protection from nuclear materials in transit, the regulations exempt various amounts of every radionuclide (radioactive forms of each element) from placarding, manifesting and tracking. A whole new category of exempt quantities "per consignment," which did not exist in previous regulations, is being adopted. In addition, the previously allowed exempt concentration level (70 bequerels per gram or approximately 2 nanoCuries per gram of any one or combination of radionuclides) is being replaced with different levels for each radionuclide. For more than half of the radionuclides, the exempt concentrations will increase, thus increasing the amount of unregulated nuclear material being shipped without any notice or regulatory control.

"At a time of heightened alert and concern about dirty bombs, the federal government is dramatically increasing the amount of nuclear material that can be transported routinely into and through the US without any labeling or controls. This is the exact wrong time for US agencies to let go of nuclear materials and wastes," stated Diane D'Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "It will make it harder to watch for and detect dirty bombs because there will be more false positives in everyday transport."

"Workers and the public will be exposed to radiation without their knowledge or consent. It is forced radiation exposure," charged David Ritter, Policy Analyst at Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.

Transport workers in both the rail and trucking industries and those involved in cleaning up accidents could be routinely exposed to radiation. First responders, customs agents and those who load and unload shipments will also come into contact with unlabeled nuclear materials. Since the materials could go to municipal and industrial landfills, incinerators and scrap recycling centers, workers at those sites could be regularly exposed to more radiation.

"NRC and DOT's generic exemptions will facilitate the deregulation of nuclear waste and use of contaminated materials to make household items and building supplies. That is the real motivation," said Dr. Judith Johnsrud of the Sierra Club, "to make it easier for other federal and even state nuclear agencies to treat nuclear waste as if it is not radioactive."

Neither NRC nor DOT can provide any meaningful justification for the exemptions for relaxing restrictions on nuclear materials. The exempt amounts are the same as those proposed by international nuclear advocacy organizations (IAEA and Euratom) to allow nuclear waste to be deregulated or "cleared." Once "cleared" from nuclear controls, the radioactive material can enter the marketplace as regular trash or be sold to recyclers to make consumer goods like cars and toys and to build civil engineering projects like roads, playgrounds or parking lots.

"It is not a coincidence. It's a deliberate attempt to by the Bush Administration agencies to bypass the American public's opposition to nuclear waste deregulation and get it into US law," said Michael Welch of the Redwood Alliance. "DOT and NRC are teaming up with the global nuclear power and weapons industry to make it cheaper to run and decommission nuclear reactors and support facilities."

The Environmental Protection Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy are all in the various stages of deregulating nuclear wastes over which they have jurisdiction.

"Removing existing requirements for labeling in transit will make it easier for those agencies to let nuclear wastes to get out into commerce. The public will be exposed both during transport and then again from the products and buildings made from contaminated materials," explained Dan Hirsch, President of the Committee to Bridge the Gap.

Since both US agencies share responsibility for radioactive transport in the US, they coordinated adoption of the same exemption regulations. NIRS et al are challenging the rules of both agencies. The DOT is expected to respond to the challenge by May 25, 2004. The case against the NRC is on hold in the 9th Circuit of US Federal Court until the DOT responds.

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