Monthly Archives: February 2016

Armed with new U.S. money, NATO to strengthen Russia deterrence

Reuters | Robin Emmott – Brussels | Feb 5, 2016

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference during a meeting of the NATO foreign affairs ministers at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 1, 2015.  REUTERS/Yves Herman

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference during a meeting of the NATO foreign affairs ministers at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Backed by an increase in U.S. military spending, NATO is planning its biggest build-up in eastern Europe since the Cold War to deter Russia but will reject Polish demands for permanent bases.

Worried since Russia’s seizure of Crimea that Moscow could rapidly invade Poland or the Baltic states, the Western military alliance wants to bolster defenses on its eastern flank without provoking the Kremlin by stationing large forces permanently.

NATO defense ministers will next week begin outlining plans for a complex web of small eastern outposts, forces on rotation, regular war games and warehoused equipment ready for a rapid response force. That force includes air, maritime and special operations units of up to 40,000 personnel.

The allies are also expected to offer Moscow a renewed dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council, which has not met since 2014, about improved military transparency to avoid surprise events and misunderstandings, a senior NATO diplomat said.

U.S. plans for a four-fold increase in military spending in Europe to $3.4 billion in 2017 are central to the strategy, which has been shaped in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The plans are welcomed by NATO whose chief, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, says it will mean “more troops in the eastern part of the alliance … the pre-positioning of equipment, tanks, armored vehicles … more exercises and more investment in infrastructure.”

Such moves will reinforce the message from U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech he delivered in Estonia in 2014, that NATO will help ensure the independence of the three Baltic states, which for decades were part of the Soviet Union.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas openly described Russia as a threat in comments to Reuters last June, but many European countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are wary of upsetting the continent’s biggest energy supplier.

With such concerns paramount, diplomats and officials say NATO will not back requests for permanent bases by Poland, which has a history of fraught relations with Russia.

“I am a great proponent of strong deterrents and to improve our resilience, but I do think that the best way to do it is to do it on a rotational basis,” Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told Reuters.

Stoltenberg has also said he will not be “dragged into an arms race.”

Russia has made clear it would regard any moves to bring NATO infrastructure closer to its borders a threat and the Kremlin has warned it would take “reciprocal steps.”

Western powers’ relations with Russia have deteriorated over the almost two-year-old conflict in Ukraine but the West also need Russia’s help in dealing with terrorism and the battle against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

PERSISTENT, NOT PERMANENT

If approved by Congress, Washington says one U.S. armored brigade combat team’s vehicles and equipment will be stored in warehouses in Germany and the east, from Bulgaria to Estonia.

Moving equipment nearer a potential front is seen as crucial to be able to combat quickly Russia’s surface-to-air missile batteries and anti-ship missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave that can prevent forces from entering or moving across air, land and sea.

A study by the RAND Corporation, a U.S. defense think tank, found tat Russia could overrun the Baltics states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania within three days, leaving NATO and the United States no good options to respond.

While avoiding a return to the Cold War when 300,000 U.S. service personnel were stationed in Europe, NATO generals describe it as a “persistent” but not a “permanent” presence, and want to adhere to a 1997 agreement with Moscow not to station substantial combat forces on the NATO-Russia border.

Some diplomats say NATO’s plans recall allied support for West Berlin in the 1950s, when British, French and U.S. forces ensured the Soviet Union could not control all Berlin, although this time many more countries would rotate through.

“You will have small contingents in the east as a symbolic presence. It means you are not just attacking Estonia, but Britain, France or the United States,” said one NATO diplomat.

That drives home the commitment enshrined in NATO’s founding treaty that an attack on one ally is an attack on all, meaning all 28 NATO nations would be required to respond in the case of any potential Russian aggression.

“NO RAMSTEIN IN POLAND”

Details of the plan are far from finalised and the defense ministers meeting next week in Brussels will seek political agreement among all allies before mapping out the strategy. Issues such as how NATO nuclear weapons in Western Europe could play into any potential conflict are extremely sensitive.

Allies say there will not be permanent NATO bases in Poland or the Baltics despite strong campaigning by the new conservative Polish government. Warsaw will host the next summit of NATO leaders in July and sees offers of British and French troops for exercises as signaling a permanent presence, though diplomats deny this is the case.

“There will not be another Ramstein in Poland,” said one NATO diplomat, referring to a large U.S. Air Force base in southwestern Germany.

Poland will, however, be expected to host NATO allies at its bases temporarily and share some costs.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott, Editing by Paul Taylor and Timothy Heritage)

 

U.S. National Academies report on reducing the use of HEU in research reactors

IPFM BLog | January 28, 2016

A committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. The congressionally mandated report urges the U.S. government to take a number of steps to reduce the use of HEU in research reactors.

The report calls for development of a long-term national strategy that would ensure that the future need for neutrons in civilian applications can be met with sources that do not use HEU. It recommends that the United States continue to develop very high-density LEU fuels that could be used in U.S. high-performance research reactors and closely monitor LEU fuel development programs in other countries to evaluate their potential use in U.S. reactors.

The report recommends pursuing an interim solution to reducing the use of HEU. It would involve the following steps:

  1. Conversion of U.S. high-performance research reactors to dispersion silicide fuel enriched to the lowest practical level;
  2. Downblending of 20 MT of HEU designated for civilian research reactors to the lowest practical enrichment level;
  3. Continuing the effort toward the long-term goal of eliminating HEU usage in civilian applications.

The NAS report also supports expanding international cooperation on HEU minimization and makes some specific recommendations regarding the management of the HEU minimization program in the United States.

Ukraine and France discuss cooperation in nuclear energy

WNN | 01 February 2016

French diplomats met with Ukrainian parliamentarians last week to discuss increased cooperation between the two countries in nuclear energy. Ukrainian nuclear power plant operator Energoatom announced on 29 January that a meeting with the parliamentary Committee on the Fuel and Energy Complex, Nuclear Policy and Nuclear Safety had been held the previous day on the initiative of the French embassy in Kiev.

The meeting was chaired by the committee’s first deputy chairman, Alexander Dombrowski, and was attended by Energoatom representatives and French embassy officials, including Frédéric de Touchet, first counselor to the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of France to Ukraine – Isabelle Dumont – and Vincent Falkoz, an economic advisor at the embassy.

They discussed in particular, Energoatom said, “the need to develop nuclear energy as a low-carbon source in response to the requirements of the new global climate agreement”, as well as the Ukrainian nuclear sector’s increasing independence from its traditional partner, Russia.

The Ukrainian side was represented by Sergiy Bozhko, chairman of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine, Vladimir Pishniy, vice president of Energoatom, and Konstantin Zapaishchikov, advisor to the president of Energoatom – Yury Nedashkovsky.

“The French embassy has proposed a parliamentary committee partnership aimed at studying France’s experience in implementing EU directives and French legislation concerning nuclear energy,” Energoatom said.

They also discussed the possibility of joint participation in addressing issues of global nuclear safety, “which is important in the context of ‘post-Fukushima’ measures carried out at nuclear power plants in Ukrainian and around the world”, the company added.

Dombrowski invited the French delegates to committee hearings next month “for a more detailed study of the actual situation facing nuclear energy and nuclear safety in Ukraine”.

Energoatom noted that Ukraine and France “are the European leaders” in terms of the share of nuclear energy in their respective electricity generation mix. Last year, nuclear power accounted for more than 55% of Ukraine’s electricity production, making the country second in Europe only to France, where the share of nuclear power was 75%.

In November last year, Energoatom and French engineering group Areva signed a memorandum of understanding “to reinforce cooperation between the two companies for safety upgrades of existing and future nuclear power plants in Ukraine, lifetime extension and performance optimization”. It was signed by Michael Cerruti, commercial director of Areva’s Reactors and Services Business Group, and Energoatom’s Nedashkovsky. Cerruti said after the signing that the MOU demonstrates Areva’s engagement in Ukraine and its capacity to provide services for all types of nuclear reactors, including Russian-design VVER units.

Energoatom opened an office in Brussels in November 2014 tasked with adapting Ukrainian regulations to European standards; cooperating more closely with European institutions, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Euratom, the nuclear watchdog of the EU; and expanding Energoatom’s range of partners for joint projects in Ukraine and Europe.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

Rosatom to raise global presence, open Mumbai office

Russia & India Report | Alessandro Belli | 1 February 2016

Evgeny Griva, DG of Rosatom South Asia, speaks in an interview with RIR about future collaboration between the two countries in the nuclear power sector, in India and abroad.

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Evgeny Griva. Source:Press Photo

Rosatom has been actively building its network of regional offices. How many offices does Rosatom now have abroad, what are the network development plans? Do you plan to establish a representative office in India?

Rosatom is now actively expanding its global footprint. The State Corporation is opening regional offices. Rosatom is expanding its branch network to strengthen its global footprint in accordance with its long-term development strategy of increasing the foreign orders portfolio up to US$190 billion. This is the ambitious but achievable goal of Rosatom for the next 5 years.

Rusatom-International Network Company is in charge of developing and managing Rosatom’s regional network. The regional offices aim to promote products and services offered by Rosatom and explore new businesses. Regional centres are usually located in the countries of strategic interest to Rosatom, and are responsible for information collection, situation monitoring and analysis of potential opportunities.

Rosatom regional centres are already operating in South Africa, Eastern, Central and Western Europe, Central and Southeast Asia and Latin America. Work is now underway to establish an office in Dubai in order to promote products and services of Russian nuclear industry enterprises in the Middle East and North Africa. In order to strengthen the presence of Rosatom State Corporation in South Asia, the process of opening a regional office in Mumbai, India, is being finalized, which will also ensure supervision of our projects in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

What is the current status of the Kudankulam nuclear plant construction? When do you intend to launch unit 2, and is there any progress with construction of power units 3 and 4?

The NPP Kudankulam project includes the construction of six power units with VVER-1000 type reactors. The first unit of Kudankulam NPP was commissioned in autumn 2013, according to latest safety requirements. By the beginning of the scheduled preventive maintenance (SPM) the nuclear plant had generated 6873 million units of electricity, and the turbine generator had been in operation for 9267 hours. The installed capacity of the Indian nuclear power plants reached 5780 MW. This is the world’s first nuclear power plant which has implemented, and successfully operated, “post-Fukushima” tightened security measures. The generation tariff for Kudankulam NPP is maintained at the level set by the Indian Government in 2010-2011 without any escalation. This rate is considered to be one of the most competitive in India. The first SPM has now successfully complete, the turbine is running, and the unit is expected to be connected to the grid within a few hours.

The second unit assembly is finished. The hot run stage is complete. The physical launch is scheduled by the Indian party for mid-2016.

On April 10, 2014 a Master Framework Agreement (MFA) was signed, along with the agreed technical and commercial proposal for procurement and services of Kudankulam NPP units 3 and 4. An Additional Agreement was signed during the Russia-India Summit in December 2015, which makes the MFA applicable for the installation of the second phase of the station. The first and most important contract within this MFA has also been signed; the delivery contract of long-lead equipment and priority delivery equipment from Russia. Besides, the top-priority design is practically complete, and the engineering documentation development contract has been signed.

On September 7, 2015 Atomenergomash holding, the power plant division of Rosatom State Corporation, signed the comprehensive delivery contract for reactor equipment for power units 3 and 4 of Kudankulam NPP.

The permit for excavation works and foundation pit preparation has now been obtained from the Indian regulatory body.

During the recent visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Russia, it was announced that the signing of the MFA for the construction of units 5 and 6 is planned in Q1 2016. What is the status of this project?

The technical and commercial proposal for installation of Kudankulam power units 5 and 6 has already been provided to the Indian party. Atomstroyexport JSC and the Indian Nuclear Energy Corporation are currently involved in detailed discussions of the project, and the Master Framework Agreement with regard to the Indian requirements concerning further enhancement of the project safety and localization.

Based on the talks between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Modi, an agreement was reached on allocation by India of one more site for a Russian- designed nuclear power plant apart from Kudankulam NPP which is already under construction. What is the progress in this area?

Apart from the Kudankulam NPP, Russia and India are considering the possibility of building a number of other nuclear power plants. These are all practical steps to implement the most important document signed on December 11, 2014: “Strategic Vision of Strengthening Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy between the Russian Federation and the Republic of India”.

An agreement has been reached on the allocation by the Indian party of one more site for construction of six new nuclear reactors of Russian design. We hope to get more detailed information about the site from the Indian party soon.

During the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Moscow, Rosatom signed a production localization programme in India for Russian-design nuclear plants. What does this envisage?

During the December 24, 2015 visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Moscow, an Action Programme was indeed signed between the State Corporation Rosatom and the Atomic Energy Department of the Government of India on localization of production in India for nuclear power plants of Russian design.

The Action Programme includes areas of cooperation in the field of joint machinery production, especially the production of equipment which can be supplied to nuclear power plants, and cooperation in the field of joint development, mastering and technological support for implementation of end-to-end production technologies of products for heavy and power engineering industries.

The Indian Government strategy of localization of production, including the nuclear industry, is under the “Make in India” initiative, aimed at supporting the Indian manufacturer. We fully support this commitment of the Indian Government and we believe this is a good opportunity for further development of cooperation between both countries in the nuclear industry, as well as for implementation of current and future construction projects of Russian design reactors at the Kudankulam site and in other locations.

Which task forces in the nuclear energy area are currently active within Russian-Indian cooperation and what are they doing? Are there discussions about cooperation between Russia and India in third countries on the agenda?

The Russian-Indian Coordinating Committee on cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy was established in December 2014 and is committed to monitoring the whole scope of bilateral cooperation.

To perform the tasks, three joint working groups on the nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear energy and scientific-technical cooperation were set up within this Committee in 2014. Furthermore, based on the decision signed in December 2015, a fourth working group on the localization of production in India has already been established and is operating successfully.

We are pleased to note that the Russian nuclear power industry is supporting India in the implementation of its national program for the development of the nuclear sector. We reaffirm our commitment to the agreements about the further development of cooperation in the peaceful uses of atomic energy.

Hitachi sees over 1tn yen in business for Japan companies

Nikkei | January 25, 2016

TOKYO — A nuclear power project in the U.K. will generate more than 1 trillion yen ($8.42 billion) in orders for Japanese businesses, it was learned Sunday, giving a shot in the arm to exports by an industry suffering from a lack of orders at home since the Fukushima accident of 2011.

More than 3 trillion yen is budgeted for the project if joint venture Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy constructs four advanced boiling water reactors — and an even higher sum if six reactors get the nod. Hitachi has invited 40 or so Japanese companies to a meeting at the British Embassy here to explain details.

Hitachi has not revealed the invitees. But Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and JFE Holdings unit JFE Steel, both strong in pipes used to transfer heat from the reactors, appear likely to attend. So does Japan Steel Works, with a wealth of experience in forged steel products used in reactors.

Also expected are water supply pump manufacturer Ebara as well as Kurita Water Industries and Kubota. Shimizu and Kajima, which have experience building housing structures for nuclear plants in Japan, will also likely go.

While Hitachi-GE will handle the reactor core, Japanese companies are expected to undertake key technologies for operating the nuclear plant, giving Japan about 40% of the project total.

(Nikkei)

Third reactor restart spurs fears over shaky Kansai evacuation plans

The Japan Times | Eric Johnston | January 29, 2016

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A protester near the Takahama nuclear plant on Friday holds a placard denouncing the restart. | KYODO

Kansai Electric Power Co. on Friday restarted its Takahama No. 3 reactor, the nation’s third unit to go back online under new safety regulations but the first to run on mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, which contains plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel.

The restart has revived concerns, especially in neighboring Kansai, about the feasibility of plans to evacuate residents within 30 km of the plant in the event of an accident. It is also unclear where the spent fuel from the reactors will eventually be stored.

The restart was largely welcomed by local businesses and the town of Takahama, which rely on the subsidies and service industry trade that nuclear power brings.

“The restart of the Takahama No. 3 reactor came after it met stringent safety standards, and we hope the central government will continue to persuade people of the importance of nuclear power and that Kepco will make safety their top priority. We also hope that, after being offline for so long, the restart will help restore the local economy,” said Takahama town head Yutaka Nose in a statement following the 5 p.m. restart.

In the neighboring port city of Maizuru in Kyoto Prefecture, Mayor Ryozo Tatami said Kepco needs to make sure that restarting the reactor won’t lead to an accident. He also called on Tokyo to strengthen its disaster planning for such an event. The Takahama plant’s No. 4 reactor is expected to be restarted next month.

The Takahama plant lies on the Sea of Japan coast in southern Fukui Prefecture, with only a few access roads in and out of the area. About 180,000 people live in 12 towns and cities within 30 km of the site, in Fukui, Kyoto and Shiga.

While plans exist on paper to evacuate some Fukui residents to Hyogo, Kyoto, and Tokushima prefectures, many municipalities there don’t have detailed plans for receiving evacuees. This could possibly mean the only relief might come from Maizuru, which hosts the Japan Coast Guard and a Maritime Self-Defense Force base within 30 km of Takahama.

“We’ll cooperate in the evacuation of people by sea in the event of an accident, and we want to secure the safety of fishing boats. We’ll also respond to requests from the local governments for training exercises,” said Kousaku Higaki, Commander of the 8th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, which is based at Maizuru, on Thursday.

But the plans assume people will have the physical ability to flee. “There is no evacuation plan in place for the tens of thousands of people with special needs — inpatients and outpatients at hospitals and various facilities, those in day care, and those with handicaps living at home. When others can flee, there are no vehicles to transport these people nor medical care prepared at the evacuation site,” said Aileen Mioko Smith, executive director of the antinuclear group Green Action.

“Restart of the Takahama plant is a human rights injustice toward children and those with handicaps,” she said.

Kansai officials critical of the restart include Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada, who said Thursday he did not feel adequate local consent had been obtained due to concerns about evacuation issues. That same day, Shiga Gov. Taizo Mikazuki said there was a lack of sufficient disaster planning.

On Friday, Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura added his voice to the opposition, saying the rules for disposing spent nuclear fuel — the lack of mid-term and final storage facilities — remained unclear. The city of Osaka owns about 9 percent of Kepco’s stocks.

Fukui hopes the two restarts will translate into more central government subsidies for hosting the plant. The prefecture received ¥30.6 billion in nuclear related subsidies in fiscal 2014. The latest available figures for Takahama show it received over ¥35 billion between 1974 and 2013.

Kepco says that by restarting Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors it will mean an extra ¥144 billion in annual revenue, which will allow it to reduce utility rates, a critical move given the upcoming deregulation in April that will open up the household electricity market to more competition for suppliers. Nearly 130 firms are preparing to enter the market, and some have announced prices that undercut Kepco’s current rates.

But anti-nuclear activists say it is not just a matter of price, and that many people may choose to go with suppliers of electricity from renewable energy or other nonnuclear sources.

“The household electricity market will open up to more competition, especially from firms selling non-nuclear generated electricity. Customers will move away from Kepco if it tries to sell power from its nuclear plants, and the company won’t be able to survive,” said Kiyoko Kubo of Wakasa Net, an antinuclear group based near Takahama.

The restarts also mean Kepco must once again confront the question of what to do with spent fuel, an issue that is rapidly becoming one of local and national concern.

The spent-fuel storage pools for the Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors are expected to be full in about eight years. Kepco plans to remove the fuel and nuclear waste to a mid-term storage facility for a half century before transporting them somewhere else for final storage.

In a recent meeting with Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, Kepco President Makoto Yagi said Kepco wants to begin operating a mid-term storage facility outside the prefecture by around 2030. The utility aims to choose a site for the facility by 2020.

That presents a problem. Kepco promised Nishikawa that spent fuel from the Takahama reactors will not be stored within the prefecture but in one of the utility’s other service areas. This means Shiga, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Osaka, Wakayama, Mie or Gifu.But there are certain conditions a potential storage site has to meet. For transportation reasons, Kepco wants it located in a prefecture with port facilities. That eliminates Nara, Shiga, and Gifu prefectures. Second, Yagi says that local consent to build and store the waste is crucial.

That is potentially an even bigger problem. Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada has strongly opposed building a facility in his prefecture. Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui appears opposed as well, saying he does not want Kepco in charge of the facility. Mie and Hyogo prefectures have said they are not considering hosting a facility at present.

Only Wakayama appears to be a possibility at the moment. In 2009, the port city of Gobo hinted it might be interested in hosting a mid-term facility. Kepco did a survey and agreed it was possible to build there, but nothing has happened since then.

TEPCO delays robotic surveys at Fukushima nuclear reactors

The Asahi Shimbun | Hiromi Kumai | January 29, 2016

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The Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has postponed inspections by robots to finally confirm the location and state of melted fuel at two damaged reactors of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The camera-equipped robots were scheduled to enter the containment vessels of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors within fiscal 2015, which ends in March. But TEPCO said Jan. 28 that a series of unexpected circumstances, such as poor visibility caused by murky radioactive water, have ruined that plan.

The robot for the No. 1 containment vessel will be redesigned, and the remote-controlled survey will be conducted in fiscal 2016, the utility said, without offering a more specific timetable.

Nuclear fuel assemblies in the No. 1 to No. 3 reactors are believed to have melted and fallen to the bottom of the containment vessels following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Radiation levels inside the containment vessels remain extremely high, making them too dangerous to be approached by workers.

The remote-controlled robotic probe was seen as crucial in determining conditions inside the containment vessels for the eventual decommissioning of the nuclear plant.

TEPCO conducted a preliminary survey using an industrial endoscope in the containment vessel of the No. 1 reactor. It found accumulated waste turned the water murky and blocked the view.

For the No. 2 reactor, TEPCO had planned to locate the melted nuclear fuel using a robot last summer. But decontamination and cleanup work near the entrance to the containment vessel proved difficult. That prevented TEPCO from carrying out robotic survey as planned.

By HIROMI KUMAI/ Staff Writer