Saturday, September 15, 2007

Murky nuclear issue lurks in Syria - Part 2

Does Syria have a nuclear weapons program?
(Part 1 is here.)

The New York Times offered a little more light and a report on some right wing heat about the still murky situation in Syria. The picture that is emerging is that Israel bombed a Syrian nuclear facility last week and shared pictures of it prior to its destruction with top U.S. government national security officials.

For their part the Israelis have imposed a media blackout on the topic, but that hasn't stopped U.S. officials from talking. The new development is that a senior U.S. nonproliferation official, speaking to wire service reporters in Rome, Italy, gave the story a new spin linking it to North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Andrew Semmel, a top official on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, said that Syria may have a number of “secret suppliers” for a covert nuclear program, and that North Korean technicians were currently operating inside Syria. The NYT also reported there is some skepticism about what the North Koreans were really doing in Syria and whether that country had the ability to support a nuclear weapons program. The one thing Semmel didn't do while turning up the heat was to allege that Syria was serving as a transit point for nuclear materials from North Korea to Iran. In fact, that's the one scenario that no has mentioned. The NYT wrote;

Mr. Semmel did not specify whether the technicians in Syria were specialists in nuclear technology; North Korea has long supplied Syria with missile technology. Some weapons experts said they were skeptical that Syria was in league with North Korea to build a secret program.

Damascus is not thought to have made serious efforts in the past to develop nuclear weapons, and those experts said it was unlikely that the Syrians could afford such a program or had the technical expertise to sustain it.

Where things get ripe for political attacks on the Bush administration's foreign policy is that this international incident comes just as the U.S. is seeking the next steps in the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program.

The speculation about possible North Korean activities inside Syria is giving new emphasis to the Bush administration’s diplomatic efforts to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program.

North Korea’s government put itself in the picture by condemning the Israeli air strikes which suggests that some or all of their nuclear experts in Syria may have been killed in the bombing raid. The NYT reports the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua cited a North Korean Foreign Ministry official on Tuesday as calling the Israeli strike “a very dangerous provocation, little short of wantonly violating the sovereignty of Syria and seriously harassing the regional peace and security.”

The whole situation drew the attention of right wing spoiler and former U.N. ambassador John Bolton. After completing his recess appointment at the U.N. in 2006, he did not seek Senate confirmation and instead spends his time tossing political grenades over the White House fence whenever the opportunity presents itself to do so. Bolton told the NYT, “It would be a big mistake for the State Department to push ahead with the six-party process without this being resolved."

Bolton is wrong. It makes sense to keep the secretive North Korean regime firmly engaged in the six party talks because that's the only way any possibility exists for the light of reason to reach into their way of thinking. The Foreign Policy Magazine blog has an excellent analysis on this point.

The North Korean government really isn't a political state, though it sometimes acts like one. It is more of a crime syndicate which has organized itself, albeit focusing on family members, to function like a government. You're not talking to a political presence there, you are talking to a group of crime bosses who have gotten their hands on nuclear weapons and ICBMs. The only way to get their attention is to prove is not in their interests to keep them.

This still leaves unresolved what the North Korean nuclear experts were doing in Syria. If Syria wasn't building its own nuclear weapons capability, what was the Damascus regime doing?

In a separate report the NYT reported that a U.S. State Department team of diplomats completed a rare, on-site visit to North Korea to continue discussions about that regime's commitment to dismantle its nuclear program. The team commented only obliquely about the Syrian incident.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. nuclear negotiator with North Korea, said such reports are an ''important reminder of the need to accelerate the process we're already engaged in,'' referring to the six-nation talks to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs and the weapons themselves.

He said said that the United States still planned to go ahead with an agreement for food and fuel aid to North Korea in exchange for its decision to dismantle its nuclear program. Getting North Korea to pull out of places like Syria clearly has been added to the agenda of the six-party talks.

** UPDATE ***

The Washington Post has a report this morning (Saturday 9/15) that fills in some details. Most importantly, the Post report said reports that North Korea may be assisting Syria with a possible nuclear program will not derail efforts to implement a deal to end North Korea's nuclear programs. The chief U.S. negotiator said yesterday that the reports emphasized the need to complete the agreement.

"The reason we have the six-party process, and the reason we have put together a number of pretty serious countries in this process, is to make sure that the North Koreans get out of the nuclear business," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill told the Washington Post in advance of a new round of talks next week in Beijing. "At the end of all this, we would expect to have a pretty clear idea of whether they have engaged in proliferation in other countries."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sarkozy to take AREVA private

Germany isn't keen on giving up its stake

The Times of London reports French President Sarkozy set in motion the privatization of Areva, the world's biggest builder of nuclear power plants, asking officials to assess plans for a merger with Alstom, the French engineering group. The global giant would be worth close to (USD) $50-60 billion.

The move set Paris on collision course with Berlin, which wants Siemens, the German engineering group, to maintain a 34% stake in Areva Nuclear Power. The French State controls 87 per cent of Areva.

Areva was created in 2001 from the merger of France's Atomic Energy Commission with Framatome, the reactor builder, and Cogema, the nuclear fuel specialist. Anne Lauvergeon, its chairman, has won plaudits for turning it into a competitor for Westinghouse, the American group.

* * *

'We have big plans for nuclear energy,' Mr Sarkozy said at a meeting with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor at a meeting in Meseberg, Germany.

The Times also reports . . .

There is resistance in the French administration to the privatization of Areva's nuclear waste treatment and uranium enrichment activities. Berlin is also hostile to what German officials suspect is a French plot to freeze them out of Areva. The French group has an option which runs until 2012 to buy Siemen's stake in Areva Nuclear Power. But Mrs Merkel made clear her determination for Siemens to retain its stake when she met Mr Sarkozy.

What this looks like to me is that given Germany's green's political hostility to nuclear energy, the French want to get Areva into the open market and away from the clutches of the German government. Why Merkel wants to keep her nation's stake in the company, when its some of its politicians are talking about shutting down its reactors, makes sense when you realize Merkel has opposed the shutdowns.

Deutsche Well reported last week that although Germany decided years ago to phase-out nuclear power, politicians from the country's governing parties continue to argue about how and when it will happen.

* * *

The nuclear phase-out Germany agreed upon under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government of Social Democrats and Greens would result in the last reactor being shut down in 2020. The nuclear industry continues to push for Germany to reverse its decision to phase out nuclear power. Germany will have to face to issue of whether to continue to use nuclear power as it develops measures to limit global warming.

India's nuclear program may get a boost from France

AREVA waits for its opening

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will be India’s chief guest at the Republic Day parade on Janaury 26, 2008, which is a short four months from now, according to India news media reports.

An invitation to Sarkozy means India is looking for French investment in nuclear energy assuming that the India-US nuclear agreement is done by then. AREVA, the French nuclear conglomerate, would like to sell nuclear reactors to India. See my previous post on this subject here.

Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin was the chief guest on the same occasion, where a number of important agreements between India and Russia were signed.

France is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) and has vowed to support India at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). France is also eying India’s arms market, especially the combat aircraft that India wants to buy. French aircraft manufacturer Dassault is likely to make a bid for the deal.

These are called "offset sales" and come into play whenever there is a major foreign policy trade agreement especially one that measures in the billions involving nuclear reactors. U.S. jet fighter manufacturer Boeing would like to sell its products to India if the U.S. nuclear deal now pending with India ever reaches fruition. Boeing also competes head-to-head against Europe's Airbus for sales of commercial airliners to India. Boeing's new 787 will start deliveries to customers in 2008.

Those types of deals are unlikely right now because the Indian parliamentary system is fragile enough that left wing communists and right wing groups, with entirely different agendas, are opposed to the deal and have threatened to pull out of the government triggering an election. The leftists are determined to prevent the U.S. from diminishing India's "nonaligned" status, a legacy of the Cold War. The right-wing sees the U.S. deal as having a potential impact on India's drive for nuclear self-sufficiency especially in terms of pushing back on any international controls on India's dual-use "fast reactor" program.

The India-U.S. pact requires negotiated agreements with the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It does not need approval from India's Parliament.

The pact would allow the U.S. to sell nuclear fuel and technology to India, which has been cut off from international atomic markets for the past three decades because of its refusal to sign nonproliferation accords and its testing of nuclear weapons.

So here comes France with its own proposal. If the U.S. can't make a deal, fine. Then France can enter the open space left by a U.S. foreign policy failure. India's minority political parties aren't likely to object to a straight-forward trade deal that leaves India's refusal to sign the nonproliferation treaty intact.

Murky nuclear issue lurks in Syria

Did Israel just take pictures earlier this week?

What's going on in Syria? On Wednesday a flight of Israeli warplanes may or may not have bombed a Syrian nuclear facility. According to a blizzard of conflicting news media reports, Israel sent its air force deep into Syrian territory earlier this week, but neither the Israelis nor the Syrians are talking about what happened. Not that it is a secret anyway.

According to wire service reports published in the New York Times, and a speculative article in the Washington Post, Israel either took pictures of a Syrian nuclear facility or took pictures and then bombed it. No one is sure.

Most information has come from outside: A U.S. official confirmed to wire services this week that Israeli warplanes had staged a strike. The official, who would not speak publicly according to the AP report in the NYT, said the target was Iranian-made weapons stored in northeastern Syria and destined for militants in Lebanon.

The Washington Post reported that Israel had gathered satellite imagery showing possible North Korean cooperation with Syria on a nuclear facility. It cited an unidentified former Israeli official as saying the airstrike was aimed at a site capable of making unconventional weapons.

Israel usually makes public statements when its armed forces carry out an operation as visible as an air strike. This time they said nothing and the news came from the Syrian government which claimed a bombing raid had taken place inside their borders. Israeli news media available in English are also unhelpful. The Jerusalem Post quoted other media sources and a fistful of angry declarations from Syrian sources.

The most vocal objections came from North Korea which the Washington Post reports is believed to have shared nuclear technology with Syria. The Post reported Thursday,

North Korea may be cooperating with Syria on some sort of nuclear facility in Syria, according to new intelligence the United States has gathered over the past six months, sources said. The evidence, said to come primarily from Israel, includes dramatic satellite imagery that led some U.S. officials to believe that the facility could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons.

The Post also had this evaluation of the possibility of Syria obtaining nuclear weapons.

Syria has signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty but has not agreed to an additional protocol that would allow for enhanced inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency., which offers information on weapons of mass destruction, said that "although Syria has long been cited as posing a nuclear proliferation risk, the country seems to have been too strapped for cash to get far."

If you put all the pieces on the table, what you get is this -- Israel sent its war planes into Syrian territory. They bombed something, but not before taking pictures of it first, and they shared the pictures with U.S. national security officials.

Once you've gotten into the terrifying arena of bombing nuclear facilities, disinformation undoubtedly comes into play. It is unlikely that the general news media is going to get a definitive answer on the raid. From the point of view of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, the North Koreans may turn out to be as much of a rogue nation as Pakistan when it comes to selling enriched uranium like it was a package of girl scout cookies.

Part 2 update here

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Craig's fall from grace impacts nuclear lab

Republicans lose Craig’s vote on Conference Committee

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's fall from power has an impact on advocacy for nuclear energy in the Senate. Paul Menser, the business reporter for the Idaho Falls Post Register, wrote a long piece today analyzing this impact. The paper's online edition is only accessible to paid subscribers so here are some highlights following my analysis.

The resignation of Idaho Senator Larry Craig in Boise, ID, on 9/1, who is a staunch supporter of nuclear energy programs, means republicans lose an influential, senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. His replacement won’t have his seniority or power.

Craig made his resignation effective 9/30, but is it is unlikely he will participate in floor votes as a “lame duck,” even if he returns to Washington from Boise. An outraged Senate Republican leadership removed him from committee assignments and will not appoint him to a House-Senate Conference Committee on the Energy appropriations bill, assuming one convenes before September 30th.

Craig’s replacement for Idaho’s Senate seat, expected to be Idaho Lt. Governor Jim Risch, has little knowledge of nuclear energy issues despite the presence of DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in eastern Idaho. Given his “placeholder” status in Idaho’s Senate seat, it unlikely Risch will be named to replace Craig on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Mike Crapo, Idaho’s other senator, is the founder and Co-chair of the Senate Nuclear Cleanup Caucus. However, he doesn’t serve on any energy or appropriations committees. Perhaps the biggest downside is the end of Craig’s advocacy for nuclear R&D programs at the INL and for the industry’s drive to expand the scope of loan guarantees.

At the monthly dinner meeting of the Idaho Section of the American Nuclear Society, held in Idaho Falls last week, several lab managers and scientists told me they are just starting to assess the impact of Craig's fall from power. They are in general agreement it will be more difficult to find advocacy for the lab's nuclear R&D mission in the Senate now that Craig is gone.

The most significant impact could be on funding for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant, a proposed R&D high temperature gas cooled prototype reactor planned for construction in the next decade. While the Department of Energy has released funding for engineering design studies, a decision to build it is still years in the future. It takes sustained support by a senior member of the Senate, sitting on the Appropriations Committee, to get that kind of capital construction money. Craig's empty seat could present the project with new and unexpected challenges to its future.

Highlights: Idaho Falls Post Register for 09/13/07

The possible departure of Sen. Larry Craig, the site's longtime champion on Capitol Hill, could pose challenges for the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Late-night comedians might be having a field day with Larry Craig, but if Idaho's senior senator does in fact resign, it will be no laughing matter at Idaho National Laboratory.

Though it has gotten help from other members of the state's congressional delegation, INL has consistently looked to Craig as its leading champion. In 16 years, his seniority and committee assignments have allowed him to exercise a remarkable amount of clout.

* * *

"We're just heartbroken about the influence we would lose in Congress," said Steve Laflin, president of the Partnership for Science and Technology, a local group that lobbies for INL. "Whoever is named as a replacement is not going to have the seniority. ... To lose that and start over is just painful."

* * *

Craig's position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which he has held since 1998, has given him the clout to get projects funded at INL.

* * *

Craig's most notable achievement might have been getting INL designated in the 2005 Energy Policy Act as the site for the multi billion-dollar Next Generation Nuclear Plant, said John Revere, legislative director for six years for Rep. Mike Simpson.

* * *

Craig's nuclear accomplishments

Helped secure more than $2.2 million in appropriations for Idaho National Laboratory since 2002.

* * *

Stabilized and expanded the mission of INL to designate it as the Energy Department's lead nuclear laboratory, employing 8,452 people, and accounting for 19,860 INL operations-related jobs in Idaho.

Obtained authorization in the 2005 Energy Policy Act for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant to be in Idaho.

Streamlined regulations for licensing of new nuclear plants in the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

Obtained provision in the 2005 Energy Policy Act for the export of highly enriched uranium to Canada for manufacture of technetium-99, used extensively in medical procedures.

* * *

Developed and authorized the national nuclear energy university program to train nuclear scientists at Boise State University, the University of Idaho and Idaho State University.

* * *

Craig also managed to turn environmental groups, as well as their fish, into endangered species. According to an Associated Press report published on August 30th . . .

He attempted to force the Bonneville Power Administration, which manages dams along the Columbia River, to eliminate funding for an agency that counts young salmon crossing dams.

He's attached a rider to a pending federal spending bill to uphold a Snake River management plan that a federal judge has said is illegal because it doesn't protect endangered salmon.

"He's consistently made a nuisance of himself on every environmental issue since he's been there," said Janine Blaeloch of the Seattle-based Western Lands Project. "The legislation he's supported has left public lands policy in the Dark Ages."

Idaho environmental groups like the Snake River Alliance, which have opposed new nuclear missions for the Idaho National Laboratory, may feel Craig's departure means they can breathe a bit easier. Fate has other plans for them. Their new nuclear issue is a whole lot closer than Arco, ID. I t's just 100 miles southeast of Boise in the Bruneau highlands where Alternative Energy Holdings, Inc., (AEHI), a penny stock outfit from Virginia, says it wants to build a 1,600 MW nuclear reactor there. With Larry Craig no longer around to absorb some of the group's energies, it may mean AEHI will get a whole lot more attention it would rather not have.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Abstract - Reactors Set for Alberta Tar Sands

Energy Alberta Reaches for the Brass Ring

By Dan Yurman, Contributing Reporter
Fuel Cycle Week V6 N245 September 11, 2007

Energy Alberta, an entrepreneurial merchant utility, said in late August that it had filed an application with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to build a nuclear power plant in Alberta that would be fully operational in 10 years. The firm, which is based in Calgary, Alberta, said its application is for ACR-1000 advanced CANDU reactors to be located 19 miles west of Peace River in the tar sands region of northern Alberta, and 240 miles northwest of Edmonton.

The firm will team with Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd. (AECL) to build the units to produce a total of 2,200 megawatts of electricity. The primary customers for the plant’s energy are thought to be oil firms mining the tar sands in the region who will use it to make steam to extract the tar-like bitumen from subsurface strata. For their part the oil companies weren’t so sure.

* * *

Is Anyone Interested?

Mr. Henuset refused to name the primary customer for the reactors. He said one unnamed customer could use up to 70% of the plant’s combined output. Several oil companies have expressed interest in using the energy from a nuclear reactor to mine the tar sands. The firms include Royal Dutch Shell and Husky Energy. Shell said it has not made a decision on how it will meet its energy requirements. Kurtz Kadatz, a spokesman for Sure Northern Energy, a Shell subsidiary, said it is too early to discuss the commercial power sources the firm will use. Sure Northern was acquired by Shell last year for C$500 million and its tar sands project is close to the proposed location for Energy Alberta’s nuclear plant.

Other oil companies sounded downright uninterested in Henuset’s proposed plant. Mostly, their reasons are it is too far in the future. Greg Stringham, VP at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the oil companies in the region have been courted for years by people with the idea of building a nuclear power plant there. At this time, he said, “nuclear is further out in the future than the planning cycle for oil sands projects.”

* * *

Jon Lau, CEO of Husky Energy Inc. backed off of previous media reports that his firm is actively interested in a nuclear power plant. He told wire services the firm’s interest “has been largely overstated.” Last January he said nuclear energy was an option the firm might consider and more recently he said his firm was providing input to a design for one. The company is now pulling back from “buy” to “neutral.” Graham White, a spokesman for Husky, told wire services, “We are no more or less interested in nuclear as an alternative than any other company in the oil sands.”

Opposition Forms Early

Government officials in Alberta aid they were keeping an open mind on the proposed nuclear plant, but that could change depending on how the political winds blow. Alberta Premier ED Stelmach says the “jury is still out” on whether the plant should be built. “We have to first decide whether we’re open to nuclear energy.”

* * *

Environmental groups did not sign up for the Alberta provincial government’s cautious approach to the plant. Elena Schacherl, a member of a new citizens group opposed to the plan, said Energy Alberta is too small to build a nuclear power plant and is “unprepared.” She argues the designs for the ACR-100 reactors aren’t done and nobody’s ever built one. Her group plans an education campaign to turn Alberta residents against the reactor.

* * *

AECL to Build Eight More Reactors by 2020

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) told Bloomberg wire service on September 7th it plans to build eight more reactors by 2020 as orders are starting to come in. The Canadian firm, which is a Crown Corporation, plans to expand in countries where it has previously built plants including Canada, China, Argentina, and Romania.

The firm is promoting its ACR-1000 plant. AECL is also applying for approval from U.K. regulators for its designs. Another example of the demand for the plants comes from Ontario’s power system operator which said August 29th it will spend C$60 billion over the next 20 years to add new nuclear plants and other sources of energy. Several other potential customers are looking at the reactor including utilities in New Brunswick which are studying a C$3 billion plant.

Please contact the publisher for a sample copy or to purchase the full text of this issue at:

International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC Tel: 202-547-8300 Web:

Abstract - Australia plays a pivotal role in global energy issues

Nuclear Energy, Climate Change, Dominate APEC Meeting

By Dan Yurman, Contributing Reporter
Fuel Cycle Week V6 N245 September 11, 2007

It was a busy week for Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard. He hosted the 21-nation Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney, signed a GNEP deal with U.S. President George Bush, and successfully closed on negotiations with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin to sell uranium to that country. Along with way Australia also signed up for a climate change program that includes China. Howard’s reward for all this heavy lifting was to see new challenges to his political leadership and strong commitment to nuclear energy. Yet, he accomplished a great deal in a few days and may have set his country on a course to build a uranium enrichment plant.

On GNEP Howard stood side-by-side with Bush accepting the U.S. invitation to join an international arrangement to enrich uranium and lease it to other countries. The terms of the deal will be completed at a ministerial level summit in Vienna, Austria, later this month. In a joint statement with Bush, Howard said, “Australia intends to participate in the global nuclear energy partnership . . . which involves R&D to develop safer nuclear reactors.”

* * *

GNEP’s objectives include the global management of enriched uranium, leasing nuclear fuel, and return of spent nuclear fuel to the country of origin. Howard’s engagement with GNEP raises the issue of whether Australia will now take other nation’s spent fuel. The country’s geologically stable, bone-dry outback region has long been considered for storage of spent nuclear fuel, but national politics have always stopped the government from taking action along those lines.

Australia’s foreign minister Alexander Downer denied Australia will take in spent nuclear fuel from other nations. The Wilderness Society director, Virginia Young, told the Age, a major newspaper in Australia, the government has already paved the way and taken the first steps for spent fuel to be brought in from other countries.

* * *

Downer didn’t let these criticism deter him. He also addressed another element of GNEP saying Australia was “open to persuasion” about developing its own uranium enrichment facility. He acknowledged that other countries in southeast Asia might be nervous about Australia becoming an exporter of nuclear fuel, and he said a uranium enrichment plant would have to be “commercially viable.” Downer said there are no immediate plans to build a plant, but also said the government is keeping its options open.

* * *

Australia has some of the world’s largest deposits of uranium. Some industry observers feel it is just a matter of time until the nation decides it wants to move up the value chain in the fuel cycle and earn more for its resource exports by enriching the mined uranium to be used in commercial nuclear reactors. The country earned $658 million (US) on nuclear exports in 2006 according to the World Nuclear Association. The value of its uranium exports have increased every year since 1998.

Russian uranium deal is done

On Friday September 7th Australia’s Prime Minister Howard signed a deal with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin to export Australian uranium to fuel Russian nuclear power plants. Howard promised the deal will prohibit Russia from re-selling Australia’s uranium to Iran. During a joint press conference, Premier Putin said his country would not sell Australia’s uranium to Iran nor to any other country for “military purposes.” He said Russia already has an “excessive supply of military-grade uranium” which is its reprocessing and selling to U.S. nuclear power plants. Specifically, he said Russia has 500 tons and is selling 30 tons a year to the U.S. He added that Russia plans to build 30 nuclear power plants over the next 20 years and needs Australia’s uranium to fuel them.

* * *

Can this dog hunt?

Despite all the top dog policy level announcements about things nuclear, and associated media fireworks, there is the practical question whether Australia will be able to deliver the uranium in the near term. Uranium producers have gained a significant export customer with Russia, and their stock has taken off, but they may not be able to satisfy export demand until two Australian state governments end their opposition to new mines.

* * *

Labor is Divided in its Anti-Nuclear Stand

Labor appears to have some cracks in its facade over its opposition to nuclear energy. It turns out the Labor opposition party is divided about Howard’s nuclear rendezvous with destiny according to the ‘Australian’ newspaper. This revelation came when one of the party's state ministers said Labor's stance on nuclear is “hypocritical.” Victorian Environment Minister Gavin Jennings conceded at a climate change round table in Brisbane last week that there was "a degree of hypocrisy" about Labor’s position. He said it made no sense to export uranium, but to oppose nuclear reactors in Australia. Victoria is one of Australia’s states that bans uranium mining.

* * *

Countries reach deal on climate change

Nations attending the APEC summit this week reached an agreement to “slow, stop, and then reverse” climate change. The multi-lateral agreement sets nonbinding goals to improve energy use. The agreement is significant because China is expected to accept the climate change goals set at the APEC meeting. The U.S., Russia, China, and Japan, who are part of APEC, are among the world’s leading contributors of greenhouse gases.

Leaders at the 21-nation summit targeted a 25% reduction in energy intensity by 2030. They also agreed to plant 50 million acres of trees by 2020 to absorb greenhouse gases. The targets were backed by Australia and the U.S. One of key terms of the agreement is that richer nations are expected to accept more of the costs than developing nations in cutting carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

* * *

The APEC agreement is likely to have an significant impact on upcoming international efforts to address climate change. In December the U.N. climate convention will hold its annul summit in Bali, Indonesia. The key agenda item is development of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.

Please contact the publisher for a sample copy or to purchase the full text of this issue at:

International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC
Tel: 202-547-8300 Web:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remember 09/11/01

All content in this post is (c) 2001 The Record, (Bergen County, NJ)

Remember 9/11/01

September. 11, 2001 - the end of the world as we knew it.

In the aftermath of the attacks amid the chaos and rubble where the World Trade Center twin towers once stood, Record photographer Thomas E. Franklin captured an unforgettable image of hope - three New York City firefighters raising the American flag. This poignant photo has resonated in the hearts and minds of Americans and people around the world Standing defiantly against the gray and white landscape of devastation, these dust-covered men and the vivid red, white, and blue of Old Glory instantly became a symbol of American patriotism.

The Record's photo of these three heroic rescuers - Brooklyn-based firefighters George Johnson of Rockaway Beach, Dan McWilliams of Long Island (both from Ladder 157), and Billy Eisengrein of Staten Island (Rescue 2) - also became a global message that life, and America, would go on.

The photo, which appeared Sept. 12 in The Record, has since graced the pages of many other newspapers as well as national newsmagazines. Network television has repeatedly displayed the photo during its round-the-clock disaster coverage, comparing it to the famous image of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II.

Franklin, an eight-year veteran of The Record, took the photo late in the afternoon of Sept. 11, after spending hours at the scene. He was walking toward the debris of the World Trade Center when he spotted the firefighters.

"The shot immediately felt important to me," Franklin said. "It said something to me about the strength of the American people and about the courage of all the firefighters who, in the face of this horrible disaster, had a job to do in battling the unimaginable."

More information on the photo here

AEHI still "invisible" to NRC's radar screen

NRC chairman - agency "not engaged" in licensing dialog with AEHI

Idaho Statesman reporter Ken Dey spoke with NRC Chairman Dale Klein at a nuclear industry conference taking place in Boise, ID, this week. Dey asked Klein about Alternative Energy Holdings (AEHI) proposed AREVA EPR for a location on southwestern Idaho near Mountain Home AFB.

Here's the dialog . . .

Q: We have one nuclear plant proposed by Alternate Energy Holdings (a Virginia company that has never built a nuclear power plant but says it wants to build a 1,600-megawatt one in Owyhee County). Do you have any thoughts on that plant, which would be new and not built on an existing site?

A: There are very few green-field (new) sites that have been discussed. We have had very little conversation with this particular activity. There's only been, I think, two letters sent. Our staff is not engaged. It's not on our radar screens very brightly lit. We're aware of it, but there's not much really happening.

Read the whole interview here or listen to it here.

Nuclear industry "inching" along - Reuters

Progress in football is measured in inches or yards,
in the nuclear business it is measured in megawatts

Wire service headlines are either famously conservative, screamingly obvious, or glaringly sensational. Today we get two of the three in a Reuters report which is titled, "U.S. nuclear industry inches toward new construction ." I've never thought of the process of building a nuclear power plant as being measured in "inches."

Still it is a good report which captures the huge challenges facing the nuclear industry including the dead hand of past failures which haunt potential investors. That said there is some optimism in the air and from an unusual source - the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has oversight on every inch of every plant.

"It's going to be significantly different from how it was in the 1970s," said Bill Borchardt, who will oversee the licensing process to build new nuclear plants at the NRC.

The agency now sees itself an an enabler of efficient and effective regulation. Utilities get a streamlined licensing process and a faster path to construction if they use reactor designs already licensed by the NRC. Utilities that want to use new reactor designs, like AREVA's EPR, have to license the design and then the plant, which will cost a lot more. What matters is when the plant actually starts generating those megawatts, and that's the real nature of progress in the industry. For its part AREVA plans to build lots of standardized EPRs in the U.S. once they get the green light from the NRC.

U.S. companies are expected to file about 30 anticipated new reactor license applications at the NRC by the end of 2008. Most of the building interest is southern states like Georgia, Virginia, Alabama and Florida,

* * *

The NRC is expected to take about three years to process applications, and construction could take another three-to-six years, putting the first new U.S. reactors online sometime around 2015. A new reactor costs $4-5 billion to build.

No license applications have been filed with NRC since the mid-1970s. A plant license, which costs about $50 million, is just the start of a multi-billion dollar process that involves massive quantities of steel, concrete and reactor equipment.

"The decision to build is where the real money kicks in and I think they'll enter into that gradually," Borchardt said.

The Reuters report has an insightful quote from Wall Street about how the current turnaround plays in determining the fate of nuclear energy. There is only one real opportunity and this is it. Critics will be looking for any delays in licensing or construction to "prove" that the turnaround is failing. There will be delays because of all the first-of-a-kind engineering issues facing the utilities. No one has built a new nuclear plant in the U.S. for 30 years. Credit TVA for finally completing a unit at Browns Ferry earlier this year, but that was not a new plant.

Richard Cortright, a managing director at Standard and Poor's rating service, told Reuters, what's at stake.

"If it's a relatively smooth process you're going to have a lot more nuclear plants. If it's disrupted and a political nightmare it could spell the finality of this industry. Nuclear power is now seen as a candidate to replace electricity generated from coal, which accounts for about half of U.S. power supplies but also makes up about 40 percent of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions."

* * *

To minimize construction delays, the NRC has set up a streamlined process that allows companies to obtain a license to construct and operate a nuclear plant in one stop. To get the Combined Construction and Operating License, applicants must use pre-approved designs from builders like Westinghouse and General Electric, which standardize plant construction. Constellation and AREVA are planning to request a license from the NRC for the EPR reactor which they will then build using standard design and construction processes.

It is unlikely you will ever see a "stick built" nuclear plant again built and regulated an "inch" at a time.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Canada plans spent fuel reprocessing under GNEP

The country's nuclear industry is eager to get into the business

The Toronto Globe & Mail reports that Canada will eventually get into the business of reprocessing spent fuel. Gary Lunn, Canada's Natural Resources Minister, said September 5th, "reprocessing spent fuel from a CANDU reactor is not something we do now, but there is no question that as the technology evolves, it's something we'll see in the years ahead."

He made his comments in the context of responding to reporters' questions whether Canada will join the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). So far top Canadian government officials have only said they will attend the GNEP Ministerial meeting next week. They have not committed to a decision.

Gary Lunn is apparently way out in front of the headlights of Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Lunn told the newspaper spent reprocessing would be part of a deal cut to join the GNEP program with the U.S., Australia, France, U.K., and Russia.

"We're very seriously looking at our options but a final decision has not been made on it yet," Mr. Lunn said. "There are some benefits that we would want to be looking for, but I believe there could be some advantages for Canada to be an official member of the GNEP."

Lunn's remarks spun up the nuclear industry which enthusiastically supports him. Murray Elston, president of the Canadian Nuclear Association, told the newspaper the domestic industry is eager to get into the business of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. He said that as a result of rising uranium prices, reprocessed fuel and enriched uranium will be "the fuel of choice worldwide." Elston said the next step is to join GNEP and get into the business.

Elston, speaking at an energy conference at Niagara Falls, said the federal government undertook an exhaustive review of nuclear-waste disposal issues, including the possibility that the industry would reprocess domestically produced waste.

"Now, Mr. Harper is now talking to the folks in Australia about not only accessing the value of energy which is still in our materials here, but the prospect that having sent the uranium to other areas, that we could then repatriate it to make it available for more energy for the external market,"

He added that the "repatriation" of the waste would allow poor, undeveloped countries to purchase nuclear reactors without them - and the rest of the world - having to worry the disposal of the radioactive waste.

Uranium production & AECL Reactors

Canada is one of the world's largest producers of uranium. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced the country had improved a plan for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel.. Spent fuel would be kept at the reactor for the first 30 years and then moved to a central underground facility.

Harper attended the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this week meeting with U.S. President George Bush who is eager to have other nations join GNEP. The price of admission to the "club" is that major uranium producers would need to accept return of leased nuclear fuel and either reprocess it or store it long-term. This is the cornerstone of the GNEP program which is "cradle-to-grave" management of nuclear fuel. The twin objectives of GNEP are to reduce the development of nuclear weapons by rogue nations and to establish an international program for secure management of nuclear fuel including reprocessing and long-term storage.

Canada will participate in the GNEP Ministerial meeting set for Vienna, Austria, on September 16th according to a statement from the Foreign Affairs Secretary Maxime Bernier. He told the Globe & Mail on September 6th, "Canada is reviewing the proposed GNEP statement of principles and a decision on participation will be made shortly." However, both Harper and Bernier stressed they would not make the decision to join GNEP while attending the APEC summit.

One of the key elements of GNEP is the "fast-cycle" reactor which is not yet proven commercially that could compete in international markets with the CANDU reactor made by Atomic Energy Canada Ltd (AECL). The crown corporation has recently introduced a new reactor design based on the CANDU platform, but which is more efficient.

Harper said Canada is still considering its options. With a huge chunk of market share in the international uranium market, and the potential growth of international sales for AECL, the prime minister is taking his time.

"We have to ensure our uranium industry and our nuclear industry are not left out of any international opportunities."

Harper is tap dancing right now trying to figure out if GNEP will take Canada for a ride or whether there is a pony in the deal. His nation has a big stake in making sure GNEP doesn't undercut its uranium exports nor AECL reactor sales. At the same time, GNEP has other objectives including nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, that his nation already supports. If reprocessing other nation's spent fuel keeps weapons grade materials out of the hands of rogue nations, he will have to weigh that at the Vienna meeting.

GNEP Ministerial Meeting Goals

Platts reports the US and four other countries participating in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership have scheduled a second ministerial meeting for September 16 in Vienna, Austria, where they will adopt goals for the initiative, a U.S Department of Energy Department official said last week.

Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon, in remarks prepared for the World Nuclear Association Annual Symposium in London, said the US, China, France, Japan and Russia will sign a statement of principles that will serve as the foundation for involvement in the partnership by the five countries and any others who join in the future. Australia joined GNEP last week during the APEC summit.

Spurgeon said, "There is now worldwide momentum for a significant expansion of nuclear power. For economic reasons, for environmental reasons, and for energy security reasons, it is of paramount importance that we work to bring the vision of a renaissance of global nuclear energy to fruition. Implementing this vision is the cornerstone of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership."

Environmental group asks is GNEP right for Canada?

Energy Probe, a Toronto-based anti-nuclear environmental group, objected to Harper's plans to get involved with reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. Norm Rubin, a researcher with the group, said reprocessing is more dangerous than just storing spent fuel rods at a reactor. He said the reprocessing methods produce a radioactive and hazardous corrosive liquid that contains all the elements that would have been contained in the stored rods. He said the decision Harper made recently on long-term storage for spent fuel from CANDU reactors never included an option to import spent fuel from other countries.

* * *

Political opposition in Canada was more direct on the policy issue. According to the Globe & Mail, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion charged Canada would become a "nuclear waste garbage dump" if the federal government agrees to import spent nuclear fuel from other countries under a proposed international partnership.

"I am concerned about Prime Minister Harper going off to Australia and having discussions behind closed doors to potentially broker a deal - a deal that would have all of the waste generated from the uranium we sell to the world, back on our doorstep for disposal," Mr. Dion told a meeting of the Ontario Energy Association. "Imagine - we would become a global nuclear waste garbage dump."

Now the nuclear industry hates the word "dump," and with good reason. So don't expect it to embrace Mr. Dion if he comes to power. Unlike the U.S., the nuclear industry in Canada is a quasi-government corporation which means Mr. Dion is stuck with a major source of export revenues, and the jobs that go with them, whether he likes the source or not.

* * *

And so it goes. Idaho Samizdat will provide updates on the GNEP ministerial meeting as information becomes available. DOE press release here.

Economist leader on nuclear energy

U.S. nuclear expansion will have global impacts

The Economist has nuclear energy as its cover story this week with several articles on the subject.

A "leader" in the Economist parlance is a "cover story" and represents a major commitment by the newspaper to the subject or issue. It includes an editorial and news coverage.

There are actually three articles conveniently grouped on the newspaper's web site. The story line goes like this.
  • A nuclear revival is welcome so long as the industry does not repeat its old mistakes
  • Attitudes to nuclear power are shifting in response to climate change and fears over the security of the supply of fossil fuels. The technology of nuclear power has been changing, too
  • America's nuclear industry is about to embark on its biggest expansion in more than a generation. This will influence energy policy in the rest of the world
If you want a pretty thorough review of where things are going, it will be worth the time it takes to read through all three pieces. No math required.

Thailand wants to build four nuclear reactors

An unstable military administration should not build reactors

Thailand said this week it wants to build four nuclear reactors according to an Associated Press report published in the International Herald Tribune.

Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand said he envisioned the first nuclear plant becoming operational by 2020 and that as many as four would likely built to make them cost effective.

The construction of a nuclear reactor in Thailand requires first the country return to political stability with free elections and second an end to separatist violence. Otherwise, the reactor construction site just becomes a target for whichever group has the most insane ideas about making a political point with explosives.

Thailand is currently governed by a military administration following a coup that overthrew the elected government in 2006. It is facing separatist violence in its southern ethnic Malay-Muslim provinces.

The U.S. Department of State is calling for a return to democratic rule in Thailand and "unfettered" participation for media and all political parties. In January 2007 U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce made the following comment about the official U.S. position on the situation in Thailand.

I am of course familiar with the four reasons the coup leaders provided on the night of the coup: healing social divisions, restoring a system of independent checks and balances, fighting corruption, and ensuring due respect for the monarchy. Frankly, I had hoped that such matters could be resolved without the military leaders resorting to a coup. The question now is how the Thai people can move forward from this point and restore a system of democratic governance. We have encouraged the Royal Thai Government to lift martial law, restore full civil liberties, draft a new constitution, and return to elected government as quickly as possible.]

You should not build nuclear reactors in countries that are politically unstable any more than you should build them on earthquake faults. Otherwise, there is too much risk in the equation.

* * *

Last month, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' annual Ministers on Energy meeting agreed to set up a network to explore nuclear safety issues after acknowledging that some of its members were exploring civilian nuclear energy as an alternative energy source.

Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are among ASEAN members that have stated their intention to build nuclear power plants in the next decade.

Environmentalist have warned that nuclear power would be unsound in a region where earthquakes, landslides and floods are routine. Indonesia, for example, is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

* * *

In July, a magnitude-6.8 quake caused malfunctions and leaks at Japan's northern Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world's largest in terms of capacity. The International Atomic Energy Agency said key parts of the facility sustained little damage in the quake, though it said further observation was needed to determine any long-term effects.

* * *

A Philippine official had said recently that ASEAN will set up a safety watchdog to ensure that nuclear power plants in the region are not used to produce weapons or aid terrorists and other criminal groups. Malaysia reportedly said in July it will build a facility to monitor nuclear technology developments in Southeast Asia and to help keep the region free from weapons of mass destruction.

Update 01/11/08

Reuters reports that state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) said at least four firms were interested in building nuclear power plants in Thailand.

French state-owned nuclear giant Areva, General Electric, Mitsubishi Corp. and Toshiba Corp had made presentations to executives and the nuclear power committee, a senior EGAT official told Reuters.

Thailand expects to build four atomic plants, each with a capacity of 1,000 MW, as part of a 15-year power development plan.

Brazil to select third reactor site in 2008

Four additional 1,000 MW plants planned by 2015

World Nuclear news reports the Brazilian government will decide in 2008 where to build new nuclear power plants, Othon Luiz Pinheiro, president of Eletronuclear, told an industry conference in Rio de Janeiro.

He said, "This will be a very important decision since we plan to build our next six nuclear plants on a single site." He said that putting many reactors on a single site would allow for economies of scale.

Brazil plans to add 8 GWe of nuclear generating capacity by 2030.

In November 2006 the government announced plans to complete Angra 3 and also build four further 1000 MWe nuclear units from 2015. An additional four reactors could follow by 2030.

Angra 3 construction approval was confirmed by Brazil's National Energy Policy Council in June 2007. The Angra 1 and 2 units currently generate 4% of Brazil's electricity.