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July 21/00 - Construction of nuclear power plants in China grinds to a halt.

Christian Science Monitor

by Kevin Platt

China's nuclear-power program loses steam

Sources say the next five-year plan may
pull the plug on building more atomic plants.

BEIJING -- China has long vowed to become one of the biggest nuclear-energy powers on the planet. Less than three years ago, it was touting plans to spend as much as $100 billion on new nuclear plants.

But today, there is a battle going on in Beijing's corridors of power over the future of atomic energy in China. Some Chinese officials are indicating that an unpublished ban on the import of commercial reactors may be extended for the foreseeable future.

"China has declared a moratorium on new [nuclear power] plant orders for the next three to four years," says Michael Marriotte, who monitors China's energy plans for the Washington-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

Indeed, a Western diplomat says there are growing reports that China, which now has three commercial nuclear power units operating and eight more under construction, may impose a ban on any new facilities for the duration of the next five-year plan, which covers the period 2001-2005.

If the ban is extended indefinitely, it could mark the beginning of the end for US and other Western nuclear-plant builders whose markets have dried up at home. If lifted, the Chinese market could spark a major renaissance for the nuclear industry, say American and European experts in the field.

Just a few years ago, China looked like the nuclear industry's salvation. American plant designers had state-of-the art technology but "faced dying demand in the US," says Wu Yong, an executive at Westinghouse Electric China.

And China saw the rapid development of nuclear plants "as an important status symbol of a major world power," says a Western diplomat based in Beijing. It wanted to build as many as 50 new plants to meet the energy needs of its fast-growing economy.

The government-run China Daily reported in November 1997 that "China is spending $60 to $100 billion in constructing nuclear power stations in the next 25 years." It added that "US companies will take a big slice of the Chinese market."

With so much money at stake, Westinghouse and other major energy companies lobbied long and hard for Washington to lift a standing ban on nuclear-technology transfers to Beijing. The ban was imposed in the mid-1980s after US intelligence reports that China was supplying nuclear technology to Pakistan, North Korea, and other countries believed to be focused on developing atomic weapons.

It was lifted in early 1998, after President Clinton certified that Beijing was no longer engaged in nuclear [weapons] proliferation.

But just as the signing of the US-China nuclear-cooperation pact seemed to be opening Beijing's doors to sales of American plants, China's first major nuclear facility malfunction caused its first environmentally conscious premier to order a slowdown in new plant construction.

After a July 1998 incident at the Qinshan nuclear power plant in eastern Zhejiang province, Premier "Zhu Rongji said, 'Let's put nuclear power on hold right now and put our emphasis on other power sources'," says the Western diplomat.

Daniel Lipman, an executive at Westinghouse's headquarters in Beijing, says the freeze on new orders applies to all foreign plant builders, and is not aimed specifically at the US.

Qinshan, China's first domestically built plant, was shut down for more than a year after mechanical defects were found in its reactor, the diplomat says.

He says that bolts, monitoring tubes and fuel rods had been damaged due to faulty construction of the reactor, and adds: "Qinshan opened Chinese eyes to the complexity of building these things." An official at the China National Nuclear Corp., the country's top nuclear regulatory agency, says "there were no injuries or any leak of radiation during the incident at Qinshan."

The official, surnamed Jin, adds China National has since ordered stepped-up inspections of all nuclear power plants and fuel suppliers.

Although China's potential suppliers of nuclear technology in the West are alarmed at the ban on wholesale plant imports, they need not fear the rise of "No Nukes" protests.

"I've never seen any sign of an anti-nuclear movement here," says the diplomat.

Dai Qing, one of China's most ardent environmental activists, says there's a good reason for the lack of an anti-nuclear outcry following the Qinshan shutdown.

"Nuclear power stations and their operations are classified as top secret by the state," says Ms. Dai, who is also an investigative reporter. "Even China's leading nuclear scientists could find no outlet in the state-run media here to publish anti-nuclear articles," she adds.

Indeed, not until after Qinshan resumed operations last autumn did Chinese newspapers gave sketchy accounts of a "mechanical hitch" at the site.

The lack of an anti-nuclear movement here added to the halo surrounding the Chinese market for Western plant manufacturers.

In China, Mr. Marriotte says, "when the public knows nothing about nuclear technology or its dangers, there's not going to be any fear of broad-based opposition to new plants."

Westinghouse and other American power companies hope that China will revive plans for high-speed development of nuclear power, and they have many allies within the Chinese government.

"Many provinces would like to build nuclear power plants because they bring the central government's investment, new jobs, etc.," says the diplomat.

In Beijing, "the Chinese have competing government agencies in regulating nuclear power," he says. "All these entities have a different opinion and a different vested interest in promoting nuclear power or putting it on the back burner."

The Western diplomat and Chinese officials agree that the short-term future of nuclear power expansion will depend on the depth of Premier Zhu's determination to slow down the nuclear industry and his ability to withstand pressure from pro-nuclear forces in the Communist Party and government.

But after Zhu, who is slated to retire in 2002, steps down, the issue of rapid nuclear power growth could again become an open question.

"China still has the potential to become the largest market in the world for nuclear power stations," the diplomat said.

For the dwindling number of plant makers, "There's really nowhere else to go except Asia," Marriotte adds.

Peer de Rijk, a nuclear power expert at the Amsterdam-based World Information Service on Energy, says China's decision on whether to extend or end its ban on new plant orders could break or make the remaining nuclear energy firms in the US and Europe."China's decision on the moratorium will be one of the most important factors in the future of the nuclear power industry," he says.

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July 15/00 - Ottawa tells Canadians fairy tales about weapons plutonium.

Hamilton Spectator
page D 13

by Gordon Edwards

Plutonium from Russian nuclear weapons is to be transported to Chalk River, Ontario, this summer, in the form of CANDU reactor fuel (MOX).

But Canadians are being told fairy tales, not facts, to justify the import of weapons-grade plutonium. Some of these fables follow:

When these untruths are uttered or printed, as they frequently are, Ottawa fails to correct the record.

Why is the government of Canada so cavalier with the truth?

In a 1977 brief to former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, entitled Time to Stop and Think, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) emphasized the problems associated with plutonium recycling. We asked Ottawa to conduct a national inquiry into nuclear hazards and benefits, to separate fact from fiction for the good of all Canadians.

Some 23 years later, we're still waiting for a glimmer of light from the dark tower on Parliament Hill.

Reluctant to phase out nuclear power, as Germany, Sweden and Switzerland are doing, our government uses large amounts of taxpayers' money to keep the CANDU business going, without consulting the electorate or even telling them the whole truth.

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July 20/00 - Another ''safe'' grain of spent nuclear fuel found on Scottish beach.


LONDON - Scotland's environmental watchdog said yesterday a radioactive particle has been found on a public beach near the Dounreay nuclear reprocessing facility in northern Scotland but it did not present a danger to people.

"We do not believe the radioactivity level of the particle warrants the appropriate authority closing the beach," a spokesman for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) told Reuters.

Workers from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), which operates Dounreay, found the particle of irradiated fuel, roughly the size of a grain of sand, at Sandside Beach on July 17.

Similar particles have been found on the private foreshore at the Dounreay facility at the rate of about one per month since 1983. The particles exited the plant during the 1960s and 1970s.

SEPA said it had assessed the level of danger posed by the particle found on July 17 if ingested by a human.

"Calling for the beach to be closed was one of the options considered, but rejected," the spokesman said. Dounreay is located in the far north of Scotland in a sparsely populated area.

In March last year the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) said radioactive particles from Dounreay could cause fatalities if ingested in sufficient quantities.

SEPA said it would take "several thousands of the low level radioactive particles of the kind found on the public beach to be ingested over a six month period to cause a fatality".

But, a number of particles found on the Dounreay foreshore, where there is no public access, have had much higher radioactive levels and one of these particles by itself could cause serious injury, SEPA said.

The National Radiological Protection Board concluded in 1998 the main risk to health was from eating locally caught shellfish. Since October 1997 there has been a government ban on fishing within two kilometres of Dounreay.

Dounreay was at the cutting edge of nuclear technology when built in the 1950s, but is set to close by 2006.

Mounting health and safety criticism and a catalogue of errors which included using household polyfilla and plaster of paris to solidify liquid waste helped prompt the government in June 1998 to shut the plant on economic grounds.

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July 20/00 - British-designed solar powered lamp to shed light in Africa.


by Bill Rosato

LONDON - The British inventors of a solar powered lamp promise that it will provide cheap, reliable, ecologically friendly light to millions of African homes.

The New Scientist journal reported yesterday that the Glowstar lantern produced by a British non-profit development organisation called Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) was launched commercially in July after tests in Kenya.

But at about $105 the cost of the lantern may be prohibitive. The annual gross national product per capita in sub-Saharan Africa is $510, according to World Bank figures.

A spokeswoman for ITDG, which will be selling the lantern at cost price, said the organisation would be teaming up with micro-finance agencies so villagers can buy it in affordable instalments.

"Obviously $100 is a lot of money but is you look at how much money they spend over time on kerosene, batteries and candles and the fact that the lantern is expected to last five years the purchasers will save money in the long term," the spokeswoman told Reuters.


"We are a British-based charity who are not in it to make a quick buck. We are looking to improve the lives and livelihoods of people in rural communities in the developing world by giving them access to affordable, appropriate and renewable energy options," she added.

ITDG was currently looking throughout East Africa for a company that could assemble and distribute 5,000 of the lanterns in Kenya by December.

A clockwork radio which drew plaudits for its originality and Third World potential in 1996 has found that its major market is the United States. It has failed to make inroads in Africa due to its cost.

The Glowstar uses a special microchip that constantly ensures the battery remains charged and controls how much solar energy is transferred from the solar panel.

"Existing systems don't do this effectively. As a result, performance gradually drops off and within six months the system is dead," the Glowstar's designer, Kieron Crawley, said in the New Scientist.

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July 20/00 - Canada's Ballard company plans 8 fuel cell units for Europe.


by Claire-Louise Isted

FRANKFURT - French engineers Alstom and Canada's fuel cell specialist Ballard will install eight fuel cell demonstration units in Europe over the next two years, the companies' joint venture said yesterday.

The first of the eight 250 kW Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) units - at Berlin-based utility Bewag's Treptow heating plant site - started its five years of operation in June. The second unit will be installed later in the year for Basel-based Swiss utility EBM.

Energy companies are increasingly looking to energy-efficient fuel cells as part of a trend to decentralise electricity production from traditional power stations.

Fuel cells take up less space than power plants and produce no harmful emissions, enabling smaller units to be set up near residential consumer sites.

"Fuel cells operate at high efficiencies and ...combined with renewable energy forms, lay the foundation for a future hydrogen-based energy industry," the head of the Berlin project, Bewag's Martin Pokojski, told Reuters.

Alstom and Ballard formed their German joint venture Alstom-Ballard AG in 1998.

The company said it will also install systems for the Belgian consortium Promocell and the Dutch utility Nuon. Alstom-Ballard's key account manager Ralf Keitil declined to reveal the names of the remaining four companies as discussions were not yet concluded.

The Berlin unit is the world's second in the 250 kW class after an identical unit installed for Cynergy in Indiana. The U.S. unit also started operating this year.

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July 07/00 - Chernobyl needs $62 million in 2001, even after closure.


KIEV - Ukraine's Chernobyl power plant, site of the world's worst nuclear accident, needs about $62 million next year to maintain safety after it closes down, officials said yesterday.

Chernobyl officials said in a statement that most of the funds were required for safety and maintenance work, but other expenses included building storage areas for processed nuclear fuel, facilities for processing nuclear waste, and social payments.

Ukraine plans to close its only remaining operating Chernobyl reactor on December 15. The other three reactors have already been shut down.

Ukraine said it would finance construction of facilities needed for a safe closure, including storage sites for liquid and solid nuclear waste, but it has asked foreign governments to help.

The overall cost of the closure is unclear, but analysts say it could amount to more than $2 billion. The full decommissioning of the station will take up to 50 years, they say.

Volodymyr Bronnikov, acting head of Ukraine's state nuclear energy company Energoatom, told Reuters that over the next 10 years Ukraine would need at least $900 million to decommission Chernobyl and ensure safety at the three closed reactors.

A further $770 million will be needed to build a new concrete sarcophagus to cover the fourth Chernobyl reactor destroyed by the 1986 blast which sprayed clouds of radioactive dust across Europe. Chernobyl officials say the existing sarcophagus is no longer a reliable long-term shield.

Western-led donors agreed at a meeting in Berlin on Wednesday to pledge most of the $768 million needed for the sarcophagus, but officials warned political fallout from the disaster was not over.

Delegates from 37 governments, led by the G7 leading industrialised nations, and the European Union boosted promised contributions to $715 million from the $393 million already pledged, allowing work to start on the steel-latticed concrete "tomb" due for completion in 2005.

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July 11/00 - Russia still interested in Cuba nuclear power project.


MOSCOW - Russia is still interested in helping Cuba complete construction of a nuclear power station started nearly 20 years ago but abandoned eight years ago, the trade ministry said in a statement yesterday.

"Russia is interested in setting up a joint venture at the Juragua nuclear power station, as it would facilitate repayment of earlier Russian credits to Cuba to finance the project... through sales of energy to be generated by the station," it said.

"Currently a Russian government expert council is examining the project," it added.

Russia and Cuba announced plans in May 1999 to create a joint venture to finish building the twin pressurized Juragua light water reactor station in south central Cuba.

Work at the plant was started in the early 1980s but abandoned in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The ministry said yesterday that completion of the plant's first reactor would require over $600 million, but did not say where the money would come from or when work may restart.

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July 11/00 - US military ponders cleanup of plutonium-laden soil.


by Mike Gordon

HONOLULU - Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fear the Department of Defence will not do enough to clean up plutonium-contaminated soil on tiny Johnston Island in the Pacific, where three failed nuclear missile tests exposed the wildlife refuge to radiation 38 years ago.

This week, the Defence Department is to present its proposed level of radiation cleanup for the island, the largest of four islands in the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

The clean-up of the island about 700 miles southwest of Honolulu is tied to the military's departure from the island after decades of use as a refueling station and, later, as a major Pacific storage site for chemical weapons.

Johnston Island was used as a launch site in 1962 for 36 high-altitude nuclear missile explosions. However, one blew up on the launch pad and two others above the island, contaminating the soil with plutonium.

Military officials have put all the contaminated soil behind a fenced area on the island and currently have 45,000 metric tons of so-called "hot soil."

Defence officials are working with the Fish and Wildlife service as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but have not reached an agreement with them as to what level of contamination will be safe to leave behind after the cleanup. They also have not settled on how the soil would be cleaned and wildlife protected.

Rob Shallenberger, a deputy project leader with the wildlife service office in Honolulu, told Reuters the military must take responsibility because the island had been a pristine refuge for seabirds and marine life when it took over in 1934.

He said defence officials have discussed various cleanup options: Burying any contaminated soil under coral, sealing it in concrete or removing it entirely.

Shallenberger said he was worried about undiscovered pockets of contamination beneath the surface.

"What is most spectacular at Johnston is the coral reef," he said. "It is a wonderful marine system isolated in the Pacific. It is a special area," he said.

"Things will leach into it. The question is what the affect will be. We are very concerned that we know very little about what happens in the marine environment under these circumstances," Shallenberger said.

Harry Stumpf, an environmental engineer with the Defence Threat Reduction Agency, which is organising the cleanup for the Defence Department, said the agency had proposed a cleanup level of radiation that "is safe for unrestricted use".

"One of the options we are considering is to leave the material on site in a stabilised form," he said. "Basically, bury it."

That could cost about $2 million, he said. Removing the soil and burying it in a remote location would cost more than $40 million.

"It would have to be shipped by barge to Honolulu, then to the U.S. through a populated port and then across public highways by truck or train," Stumpf said. "We would have to get special authorisation from congress to do that. I don't think it would be well received."

Defence officials, the Fish and Wildlife service and the EPA hope to reach an agreement by this fall but Shallenberger was sceptical.

"We don't have a lot of expertise in this, so we're having to learn on the run," he said. "I am concerned we might make assumptions that don't turn out to be true."

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July 11/00 - Japan, UK to discuss falsification of data on plutonium fuel.


TOKYO - Japanese and British government officials will meet today to discuss a controversial consignment of nuclear fuel, a Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) official said yesterday.

The MITI official said the meeting would be held between Anna Walker, director-general of energy at the British Department of Trade and Industry, and Hirobumi Kawano, the head of the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy, an arm of MITI.

The issue came to a head in February when Japan's second-largest power utility, Kansai Electric Power Co Inc, demanded that British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) take back a consignment of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel after it discovered that the state-run British nuclear fuel supplier had falsified data.

The revelation that BNFL had tampered with data on nuclear fuel destined for Kansai Electric's nuclear reactors caused an uproar in Japan and led Kansai Electric to postpone the use of MOX fuel in 1999.

The two governments are expected to agree that the nuclear fuel should be returned to Britain.

MITI Minister Takeo Hiranuma was quoted by Kyoto news agency last Friday as saying: "We are close to an agreement with the British government on the return of the fuel."

MOX fuel is a blend of uranium and plutonium recycled from spent nuclear fuel that can be used at existing nuclear power stations after modifications to the plant are made.

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July 11/00 - India and Thailand to cooperate on nuclear energy development.


NEW DELHI - India and Thailand yesterday pledged to cooperate in promoting the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes and also boost economic relations.

Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and his Thai counterpart Surin Pitsuwan signed a bilateral investment agreement and an agreement on cooperation for the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.

The agreement on atomic energy aims at cooperation in areas like reactor utilisation and nuclear waste management and radiological and environmental safety.

India which carried out nuclear explosions two years ago has been running a decades-old programme on boosting civilian nuclear energy.

Vichien Tejapaiboon, chairman of Thailand's Board of Trade told a meeting of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry that although a bilateral trade target of $2.0 billion had been set, only $800 million was achieved in 1999.

Some of India's main items of exports to Thailand are oilmeals, gems and jewellery, castor oil, marine products, machinery and instruments. India's imports from Thailand are textile yarn, electronic goods and newsprint.

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July 12/00 - Seattle City Light seeks green power proposals.


by Nigel Hunt

SEATTLE - Municipal utility Seattle City Light said that it is seeking proposals to provide up to 100 average megawatts of electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and other "green" power sources.

The utility said that would provide enough power to light 82,500 homes. Proposals are due August 25, 2000.

The city currently gets 60 percent of its power from four large hydroelectric plants.

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July 13/00 - Germany backs Ukraine on new funding despite Chernobyl dispute.


by Susanne Hoell

LEIPZIG - Germany will support Ukraine in its efforts to secure future International Monetary Fund backing for its economy, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma yesterday.

His assurance came despite a continued dispute between the two governments over Kuchma's decision to replace the unstable Chernobyl reactor with two new nuclear plants, a move Schroeder's centre-left government resists.

Ukraine hopes the IMF will restart a stalled three-year $2.6 billion loan, suspended last September over the sluggish pace of reforms in the former Soviet Union republic.

"We shall support this wish," Schroeder told reporters after talks with Kuchma in the eastern German city of Leipzig.

He also said Ukraine could expect up to 300 million marks ($146 million) of export credits from Germany's Hermes loan scheme.


Schroeder told reporters Germany would honour a decision by his predecessor Helmut Kohl to contribute to international funding for a replacement to Chernobyl but repeated his insistence the German cash be channeled to other power forms.

Kuchma said the two plants would be built in any case.

"These two plants will be completed, regardless of the conditions," Kuchma, speaking through a German translator, told reporters after the talks in the eastern city of Leipzig.

The Chernobyl plant, which in 1986 sprayed radio-active clouds of dust over Europe in the world's worst nuclear accident, is scheduled for final closure on December 15.

Kuchma argues that only nuclear plants can bring enough power on stream cheaply enough and in time to replace lost energy from the Chernobyl reactor, which the West is separately helping Kiev encase in a new steel-latticed concrete "tomb".

Schroeder's government last month agreed a landmark deal with its energy industry to close down its 19 nuclear reactors by around the mid-to late-2020s, fulfilling the central election pledge of his ecologist Greens coalition partners.

Group of Seven and European Union countries are due in the autumn to decide on funding for the new K2 and R4 reactors, which are nearly fully built.

While German funding represents only a small part of the overall costs of some $2 billion, a European Union government official warned at a donor conference for the Chernobyl tomb in Berlin this month that the row could still derail the replacement plan.

The IMF is expected within weeks to make a decision on additional future aid to Ukraine, thrown into doubt over a separate incident of previous misreporting of reserve levels by Kiev in its struggle to win cash from the global lender.

Senior Ukrainian officials are due this month to travel to Washington to seek to persuade the IMF to renew lending.

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July 13/00 - Europeans ready to pay extra for green energy, according to report.


by Stefano Ambrogi

LONDON - Over half of households in the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden are willing to pay more for "green" energy, UK-based analysts Datamonitor said yesterday.

In a new report, entitled "Marketing Green Energy in Europe", based on the results of interviews with 2000 households in the three countries, the agency concluded that there is an increasing trend towards actively adopting green values within the home.

And consumer demand for green energy - generated from renewable sources such as biomass, wind, wave and solar power - will increase as a result, it found.

The survey found that 62 percent of German customers would be willing to pay an up to two percent more for greener alternative energy.

In the United Kingdom and Sweden the findings were almost as high at 55 percent and 61 percent respectively.

In addition the report found no evidence linking earnings to a conscious choice to opt for greener power.

In Germany, 73 percent of those surveyed in the lowest income bracket said they would be willing to pay up to two percent more, while a third of those on higher incomes would pay up to 10 percent more.

"Suppliers are missing a valuable sales and marketing opportunity and should be targeting their green energy tariffs to a wider audience as interest in environmentally friendly products spans a large and varied gamut of consumers," the report concluded.

It also found that in Sweden consumers would be incentivised to switch to green energy with offers of perks such as free Internet access. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they would be more likely to switch if offered a green tariff instead of gift tokens or air miles.

Findings in the UK and Germany showed similar results, said Datamonitor.

The highest level of switching is expected to be seen in Germany, the United Kingdom and Netherlands the report found, while customers interested in trying a green tariff would be prepared to switch to a company that markets itself as "green" and only sells renewable energy.

At the end of 1998, approximately 35,000 German households were on a green tariff and by the end of 1999, that figure had risen to 230,000.

Datamonitor forecasts, based on a survey of utility executives, expect that by 2005 this will have risen to 650,000 households and the report predicted corresponding rises for the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

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July 13/00 - Members of Congress ask NRC to delay restart of New York reactor.


NEW YORK - On the eve of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) impending decision on Consolidated Edison Inc.'s application to restart its idled Indian Point 2 nuclear reactor, three members of the U.S. Congress asked the agency to delay its decision.

The New York Representatives, Sue Kelly, Benjamin Gilman and Nita Lowey, who have been working with the NRC to ensure the safety of Indian Point 2 prior to restart, have asked the federal agency to deny Con Ed's restart request prior to replacing the unit's steam generators.

Indian Point 2, in Buchanan, N.Y., on the shores of the Hudson River about 35 miles north of New York City, shut on February 15 when radioactive water leaked from a crack in one of the thousands of tubes inside one of the steam generators.

A steam generator, which stands about 70 feet high and 40 feet wide, transfers heat from the reactor systems to the power-generating portion of a nuclear power plant.

After repairing the leaky steam generator tube, Con Ed asked the NRC for permission to restart the reactor in early June. The NRC, which was expected to make a decision by the end of June, has delayed due to the time needed to evaluate the hundreds of pages which constitute Con Ed's application.

After the radiation leak, the NRC opened investigations to discover the causes of the incident, which shed light on several problems with Con Ed's operation of the plant.

The investigation also uncovered past problems with the NRC's oversight of Con Ed as the operator of the plant, leading the agency to open an internal investigation into its own past activities.

After the NRC opened the internal investigation, the New York Representatives asked the U.S. Inspector General to open an investigation of the NRC.

And, the New York Representatives also asked the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) to study the history and safety of Indian Point 2.

In their July 11 letter, the Congress members asked the NRC to delay any decision on Con Ed's restart application until after the Inspector General and the GAO have completed their investigations.

In the past, the NRC's Regional Administrator, Hubert Miller, has said the agency would coordinate its efforts with the Inspector General, but would not necessarily wait for the Inspector General to file its report before deciding on Con Ed's application.

Many wholesale electricity traders said the NRC would have to make a decision soon or it will likely not matter because the traders expect Con Ed will withdraw its application.

"Con Ed only needs the plant in service for the months of July and August. Even if the NRC gives the go ahead, the plant won't be on line until the third week of July at best," one Houston-based electricity trader said.

"Once we get into the fourth week of July, it really won't be worth the political and financial trouble for Con Ed to keep fighting. They'll probably just withdraw their application and start replacing the steam generators," the Houston-based trader said.

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July 13/00 - France floats idea of single Europe nuclear weapons force.


ROME - French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said in an interview published yesterday that Europe someday may need a single nuclear power to speak as a deterrent force for whole continent.

But in the interview with Rome's La Repubblica newspaper, he said it was still too early to say what role France and Britain, the European Union's only nuclear powers, would have in it.

Vedrine, whose country just took over the rotating EU presidency, was asked if France would be willing to renounce its nuclear military power in the name of a united Europe.

"Nuclear weapons are an extreme guarantee of survival," he was quoted as saying.

"To assure the credibility of dissuasion, there is a need for a single dissuader who can affirm in a convincing way: 'If you threaten the vital interests of my country, you will in turn expose yourself to a vital risk'," he said.

"Peace is guaranteed by this mechanism. To transfer this position to a European level there is a need that the dissuader be credible and therefore speak in the name of a single European people,"he said.

"Maybe one day this question will formulate itself in these terms. Today it is not this way. Neither France or Great Britain have a place in this logic."

Vedrine also spoke of President Jacques Chirac's recent call for a "pioneer group" of states forging ahead with closer integration before other EU members.

Asked if Franco-German agreement on the proposal could alienate other countries, Vedrine said:

"(Chirac) has made proposals. Nonetheless it would not be up to France or Germany to decide by themselves. In the ongoing debate, there are proposals that regard the entire Union and others that aim at the idea of an engine group, a core group or a group of pioneers..."

Asked if he felt it was impossible for Britain to take part in this group, Vedrine said:

"I think in effect it would be impossible to exclude any country 'a priori' ... The debate must continue and we will need time before everything becomes clear."

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July 14/00 - ''Nurture (pollutants) not nature (genetics) causes most cancer''.


by Gene Emery

BOSTON - Scandinavian researchers found that the main causes of cancer are the substances to which people are exposed, not their genes, according to a report in Yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine.

The scientists from Sweden, Denmark and Finland studied nearly 90,000 pairs of twins and found that heredity accounted for 42 percent of prostate cancers, 35 percent of colorectal cancers, and 27 percent of breast tumours.

The figures show most people are not destined to develop cancer because of their genetic makeup, Dr. Robert N. Hoover of the U.S. National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland, wrote in a Journal editorial about the study.

But the scientists, led by Paul Lichtenstein of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, also concluded that the sizable role that heredity plays in the development of some types of tumours "suggests major gaps in our knowledge of the genetics of cancer."

In the past, doctors suspected that 80 to 90 percent of cancers were caused by environmental factors such as tobacco, alcohol, radiation, infections, pollutants, workplace chemicals, diet and drugs, according to the Journal citing National Cancer Institute data.

The Scandinavian work, "provides new and valuable information for the nature-versus-nurture debate," Hoover said.

To develop the estimates, Lichtenstein and his colleagues relied on the premise that inherited tumours are more likely to appear in both identical twins because they share the same genetic makeup.

Cancers caused by the environment are more likely to be shared by non-identical twins, who typically have 50 percent of their genetic material in common.

The researchers gathered twin and cancer data from Swedish and Danish twin registries, along with Finland's Central Population Register, producing a database four times larger than any previous study, Hoover said.

In general, the Lichtenstein team found twins share a similar cancer risk, whether or not they are identical.

"This was especially evident for cancer of the stomach, colourectum, lung, breast and prostate," they said.

Although the Lichtenstein team found that heredity played no role in cancers of the cervix or uterus, it accounted for 22 percent of the ovarian and 27 percent of the breast cancers.

In other categories for both men and women, heredity was found to be the source of 36 percent of pancreatic cancers, 31 percent of bladder cancers, 28 percent of stomach tumours, 26 percent of lung cancers, and 21 percent of leukaemias.

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July 14/00 - Argentine firm signs contract to build Australian research reactor.


CANBERRA - Australia's nuclear agency and Argentine company INVAP yesterday signed the contracts to build a nuclear reactor in Sydney's Lucas Heights suburb, the Australian federal government said yesterday.

INVAP, joined by Australian companies John Holland Construction and Engineering and Evans Deakin Industries Ltd , won the contract to build the controversial reactor facility last month for A$278.5 million in 1999 dollars.

The construction of the research facility in a metropolitan area has been condemned by opposition parties and the environmental group Greenpeace Australia.

The Democrats have called for an independent inquiry into the awarding of the contract, which Senator Natasha Stott Despoja said puts public and environmental safety at risk.

"Officials have had trouble getting to and from the site to sign the contract, clearly showing the problems waste transport or evacuation in the event of a nuclear accident may pose," Stott Despoja said in a statement.

"The government's determination to fast-track the contract approval and announcement process has further increased the urgency for an inquiry."

The Senate will vote on the call for an inquiry on August 14 when parliament resumes.

The reactor, scheduled to be commissioned in 2005, will repace an existing reactor commissioned in 1958.

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July 17/00 - US radiation safety limits not based on science - General Accounting Office.


by Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON - A disagreement between federal agencies over what level of radiation exposure is safe for humans was not based on scientific evidence and could cost taxpayers billions in unnecessary spending, said a congressional study.

The study, by the General Accounting Office (GAO), raised questions about what standards should be used when cleaning up decommissioned nuclear power plants and weapons facilities as well as building the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste storage site in Nevada.

Current standards assume there is no safe level for radiation exposure, but many scientists say that radiation is harmless below a certain threshold, the report found.

Research on low-level radiation is ongoing. Current standards of acceptable radiation exposure are based on extrapolations from studies on much higher doses.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which oversees the nation's nuclear power plants, says exposure should not exceed 25 millirem per year, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a standard of 15 millirem, with ground water levels not to exceed 4 millirem.

The difference between the two levels is relatively small. A routine chest X-ray contains 6 millirem, and Americans are exposed to an average of 300 millirem each year, the report found.

Dosages above 30,000 millirem are known to cause cancer, and levels of 400,000 millirem, associated with an atomic bomb explosion, can cause death in days or weeks.

Although the difference between the NRC and EPA standards is small, it could mean millions of dollars in cleanup costs.

The Nevada Test Site, where atomic bombs were detonated for more than four decades, would cost $131 million to clean up to the NRC's standards. It would cost $240 million to clean the site to meet the EPA's 15 millirem level, and more than $1 billion to approach 4 millirem.

"The question is, is it justified to spend the money if you're not sure there's going to be some benefit derived from spending that money?" said Wayne Fitzgerald, lead investigator on the report.

Sen. Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, said Congress should force the two agencies to come up with a uniform standard or give responsibility to one agency.

Domenici said the cost to achieve the EPA's 4 millirem level may be prohibitive.

"The more we look at it, the more we're going to come to the conclusion that it's absolutely irrational," Domenici said.

A bill that would limit the EPA's authority to issue radiation standards was vetoed by President Bill Clinton in April. An attempt to override the veto failed by one vote in the Senate in May.

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July 17/00 - Japan power utilities to launch green energy fund.


TOKYO - Japan's electric power industry has unveiled a programme on that will allow customers to contribute to a wind and solar power promotion fund when they pay their electricity bill.

Under the scheme, expected to be launched this autumn, electric power utilities will match their customers' contributions with equivalent donations of their own, a spokesman for the Federation of Electric Power Companies said.

Although details have yet to be worked out, the fund will be used to subsidise wind and solar energy, considered an effective means of curbing carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.

The Japanese government pledged in 1997 to trim emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide by an average of six percent in the 2008 to 2012 period from 1990 levels.

The relatively high cost of renewable energy, however, is hindering its widespread use. Japan's electric power industry has advocated nuclear power as the best means of cutting carbon dioxide emissions, but public opposition to new nuclear plants has escalated after a series of mishaps in recent years, including a chain reaction at a uranium processing plant last September that killed two workers.

The government, which is reviewing its nuclear policy, is widely expected to revise downward its target for the construction of new nuclear power plants.

Japan's 51 commercial nuclear reactors currently supply about one-third of the country's electricity.

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July 12/00 - Britain is to take plutonium fuel (MOX) back from Japan


by Miho Yoshikawa

TOKYO - British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) agreed yesterday to Japanese demands that it take back a shipment of nuclear fuel after it faked its data, but the return of the toxic matter could take as long as three years.

"I welcome the fact that MITI and the British Department of Trade and Industry were able to agree on a policy of shipping back the MOX fuel to Britain," Japan's Minister of International Trade and Industry Takeo Hiranuma said.

Japan's second-largest power utility, Kansai Electric Power Co Inc, had demanded that BNFL take back a consignment of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel after the state-owned nuclear fuel reprocessor falsified data.

The revelation that BNFL had tampered with data of the fuel destined for Kansai Electric's nuclear reactors caused an uproar in Japan and an indefinite delay in the country's start of MOX fuel use.

In addition to taking back the fuel, BNFL would compensate Kansai Electric, Anna Walker, director-general of energy at the British Department of Trade and Industry, said after talks with Japanese trade ministry officials.


BNFL announced in London that the compensation would amount to about 40 million pounds ($60.53 million).

BNFL Chief Executive Norman Askew said the deal with Kansai gave the British company a fresh start in its troubled relations with customers.

"This clearly is a major step and I think it shows a lot of confidence by customers in Japan," Askew told BBC radio.

However, it would take two to three years before the MOX fuel could be shipped back to Britain, Walker said.

"The complexity of the issue means that realistically two to three years will be needed," Walker said.

She said the fuel would be taken back to Britain aboard an armed ship, and the governments involved would have to discuss the issue with countries along the route of the shipment.

Walker said Kansai would lift a ban on purchases from BNFL imposed in January, and welcomed Kansai's decision, saying the ban had blocked new business for BNFL.


Satoshi Azumi, Kansai Electric manager, told reporters that BNFL had agreed to pay a little more than half the 40 million pounds immediately in cash. The rest would be paid later in cash or deducted from the cost of producing a new batch of MOX fuel.

Azumi said no date had been set for a decision on which option Kansai Electric would chose, but he was cautious on the chances of a new contract from one of BNFL's main customers.

"This clause in the agreement in no way binds us to asking BNFL to make new MOX fuel for us," Azumi said.

The MOX fuel to be taken back to Britain had been received last year for a Kansai reactor. A second batch was never shipped after it was discovered its data were also falsified and the fuel rods contained foreign objects.

MOX, or mixed oxide, fuel combines plutonium and uranium oxide recycled from spent nuclear fuel. It can be used at existing nuclear power stations after modifications.

MOX fuel is considered desirable by power plant operators because it reduces uranium consumption and is a way to use the plutonium produced by burning other sorts of nuclear fuel.

Anti-nuclear activists say MOX fuel is not economical.

The discovery of the faked data came at an extremely sensitive time for Japan, following its worst nuclear accident last September at a nuclear fuel processing plant that led to the death of two workers.

The scandal caused by the faked MOX data has seriously damaged BNFL since Japan is the company's main customer. Japan power companies have delayed plans to begin using MOX fuel.

Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc had planned to begin burning MOX fuel early this year.

At the government's suggestion, TEPCO, the largest Japanese power utility, decided to reconfirm the accuracy of the data for its own MOX fuel, although it was made by a Belgian company.

Officials deny bombs would be produced

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