Category Archives: China

In the news (August 21 – 27 2013)

Welcome back, dear readers. Atomic Reporters is building momentum ahead of launch. We’re pleased to report that page views and visits both reached records in August. Readers from 29 countries perused our compendium of links. In the weeks ahead, you can look forward to new website features including a regular “Ombudsman Column” that will endeavor to review accuracy in the nuclear realm. Thanks for your continued support. Here are your weekly links:

Nuclear Energy

News broke as Atomic Reporters went to press that Entergy would shut down its Vermont Yankee reactor by 2014. Here’s the statement in which Entergy cites the “transformational shift in supply” of natural gas as well as the high cost structure of the plant as reasons to decommission. The company further announced that it’s open to a settlement on the future of its Indian Point plant, Reuters reported.

As if Fukushima were not bad enough for Japan’s nuclear industry, there’s another battle brewing that could have adverse effects on Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the company that built the $680 million generators for the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik wrote that Edison International, while seeking damages from Mitsubishi, is also preparing ratepayers to share its pain over the shutdown so that Wall Street gets its 5.5% return on invested capital through 2022.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided the time was right to boost his nation’s nuclear industry by taking a six-day tour of Bahrain, Kuwait, Djibouti and Qatar, AFP reported. The trip follows an agreement between Japan and Hungary to boost nuclear-technology cooperation, according to Kyodo News. While Japan’s Foreign Ministry denies that the Fukushima meltdowns are having any impact on nuclear exports, a Bloomberg News editorial shows that the disaster does have an effect on public perception:

“If Abe wants to redeem Japan’s nuclear industry, jump-start its economy, and perhaps increase the odds of removing the radioactive pall over Tokyo’s bid to land the 2020 Olympics, he needs to start at ground zero and work up from there.”

In China, the Dongfang Electrical Machinery Company claims to have built the world’s biggest nuclear generator, Xinhua reported. The 1,750 MW generator will be used at the Taishan plant, jointly operated by French EDF and Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding.

India’s Kudankulam nuclear power plant may begin feeding 400 MW of electricity onto the grid by the end of this month, wrote The Hindu’s P. Sunderarajan, even as protests continue.

Saudi Arabia outlined ambitious plans to spend $100 billion to build 16 nuclear reactors by 2030, Dawn’s Syed Rashid Husain reported.

Questions:  The fortunes of nuclear power continue to ride a roller coaster and the challenge for reporters is to keep focus on the main issues: that atomic energy is among interim energy options on a planet choking in its own carbon emissions while its safety failures result from arrogance, impunity and plain greed.  

Fukushima & Nuclear Safety

The International Atomic Energy Agency will tell its membership in September that, despite Fukushima, nuclear power is safer than ever, wrote Reuters’ Fredrik Dahl.

Meanwhile at the stricken plant, Bloomberg’s Jacob Adelman reported that Japan’s government repeated its pledge to take the lead in managing the disaster and that Russia has reiterated offers of technical assistance. The Christian Science Monitor’s David Unger reported that Fukushima is eroding confidence in nuclear power.

Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun took issue with the Nuclear Regulatory Authorities discussion of a fault line running beneath the Kansai Electri Power Co.’s Oi nuclear plant and called for a “scientific approach” to determining risk. The lack of trust in Tepco and Japanese regulatory authorities has pushed citizens to try taking nuclear safety into their own hands. Eliza Strickland at National Public Radio produced a report on Safecast, the radiation-monitoring network trying to give people the information they need to feel safe in their environments.

Over at Vice, Brian Merchant reports on Japan’s troubled nuclear history by looking at Gojira, the atomic technology stand-in known as Godzilla to the West: “Perhaps the on-going disaster at Fukushima, concerns with US’s aging fleet of nuclear power plants, and the bluster over Iran’s nuclear program have rekindled our atomic anxiety …  so as long as we continue to experiment with nuclear technology, we can be sure another Godzilla will arise.”

Questions:  Is the nuclear industry capable of keeping its own house in order, or, does the continued Fukushima crisis merely show that Japan was too late in asking for help from the global “nuclear family?”

Nuclear Security

Nigeria is cracking down on the use of radioactive sources used in oil and gas exploration, Emeka Anuforo reported in The Guardian.  Russia has lost track of two strontium-powered radioactive thermal generators used for lighthouses, the Barents Observer’s Thomas Nilsen reported. The units have likely been washed out to sea, Russia told the IAEA.

David Waller, last seen as Deputy Director General at IAEA, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Times in which he stumps for muon tomography. The new detection technology developed at Los Alamos will reduce atomic-terrorism threats, he wrote.

Finally, the Armenian News Agency assures the world that the U.S. sees “no basis to doubt” security of its nuclear power plant. Eleven DOE officials concluded a visit to Armenia.

Questions:  What’s a muon and how much does it cost to detect one at a port? After questions arose over the cost effectiveness of the last portal-monitor rollout, who is poised to profit from the next nuclear-security boondoggle? Who is policing the police?

Iran & Nuclear Safeguards

Iran’s President Rouhani continues to shake-up his nuclear negotiating team. IAEA stalwart Ali Asghar Soltanieh will be replaced by Reza Najafi. The disarmament-affairs diplomat seems groomed for the Vienna post, having weighed in not only on  nuclear issues, but also outer space affairs. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei met with Omani King Sultan Qaboos in Tehran this week and reiterated calls for a Middle East weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone, Fars News Agency reported.

Iran-Contra reporter Robert Parry wrote for Consortium News that Bradley Manning may have helped avert war with Iran by exposing the U.S. relationship to IAEA director general Yukiya Amano. Manning, who leaked more than 200,000 U.S. State Department cables to Wikileaks, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu of The Jewish Express wrote that recently declassified photos of the Dimona nuclear plant may mean Israel will become less secretive about its atomic program.

Down in southeast Asia, Robert Kelley and Francis Wade write in AlJazeera that Myanmar’s continued failure to sign an Additional Protocol agreement with the IAEA continues to be of concern.

Finally, from the archives of the truly bizarre, American media were gripped by a Sierra Leone man alleged to have brokered a uranium deal with Iran. Jim White at Empty Wheel and Nima Shirazi at Wide Asleep in America give the government sting a proper treatment.

 Questions: Has the political will to pursue the goal of a Middle East WMD-free zone been sacrificed to militarism in a region that continues to demonstrate all the stability of a dynamite-laden truck with poor brakes winding down a mountain pass? Is Iran’s support for the initiative genuine and will Myanmar really come clean about its own nuclear ambitions?

Other News of Note

Laura Poitras, writing in Germany’s Der Spiegel, revealed how the National Security Agency is eavesdropping on international decision makers. The International Atomic Energy Agency has been a visible target. Vienna is home to one of two CIA “Special Collection Service” outposts mentioned in the article: “The Americans are also highly interested in intelligence on the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA. The IAEA has been given a red “1” in the area of arms control.”

Questions:  What kind of changes will the latest revelations prompt in Vienna? Readers familiar with the IAEA say the agency isn’t very security conscious and that NSA wouldn’t have to work very hard to acquire information. Would not weekly conference calls on an open line to discuss safeguards-sensitive matters, including Iran plans, be a very easy target?

Tuesday Bonus

Uranium Rush was an “educator approved” game from the 1950s. Players begin with $15,000 and prospect for uranium in an area determined by a spinner (mountain, hills, or desert). Claims can be purchased for $1000 each and may be auctioned off or tested for uranium. This involves an electric “Geiger counter” that produces a buzzing sound if uranium is discovered. The claim is then sold to the federal government for $50,000. Players alternate turns until all claims have been staked and the person with the most money is declared the winner

uraniumrushbox

In the news (August 6 – August 12 2013)

Letting the data flow

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced to the visiting new head of the  Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Lassina Zerbo, that China will open the flow of data from CTBTO monitoring stations on its soil to the organization’s data centre in Vienna.  “Yesterday, the world’s main nuclear weapons monitoring organization announced that China has agreed to begin sharing data from 10 stations on its territory. Seven stations register seismic waves and infrasound waves; three stations in Beijing, Lanzhou, and Guangzhou detect radionuclide,” reports Richard Stone.

The Question:   Monitoring any possible future DPRK nuclear tests will certainly be enhanced by China’s decision; but does it reflect support for the new head of the CTBTO – and what’s the quid pro quo? Or does it suggest China may be considering taking a more prominent seat at the nuclear non-proliferation table?

Preparing for the worst

At the behest of the United States Air Force, defence industry juggernauts Boeing and Raytheon are competing to construct a failsafe satellite communications system that would prepare for the worst by allowing the  President to remain in touch with his military assets even in the event of a nuclear attack – this despite the Air Force facing the need to reduce its budget by $500 billion over the next decade a consequence of so-called sequestration that limits federal spending in the U.S.

The Question: Perhaps more than twenty years after the end of the Cold War it would not be eminently more sensible to find more productive investment opportunities and ring fence military anomie..

Energy

More than two years after the Fukishima Daiichi NPP’s disaster, the Japanese government has decided to take a more direct role in clean-up duty that previously had been left in the hands of the plant’s operators TEPCO. Following rat attacks, blackouts and evidence of contamination entering the ocean from the site Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with cabinet ministers last Wednesday, telling them that “We must deal with this at the national level.” Critics and analysts see this move as a belated admission of the flaw in letting the same company that is partially to blame for the power plant’s inadequate preparedness for the disaster itself manage the clean up. .

The Question: Trojan effort has been expended by a small army of workers in the ongoing clean up, often working under hazardous conditions, but would a response to the disaster have been better served by a crowd sourced response, i.e. unlimited international consultation and hands on support from international experts response, together with citizen oversight?

Nuclear Disarmament

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence revealed that it has begun the process of dismantling Britain’s nuclear weapons stockpile. While the rate of three Trident warheads a year might seem rather leisurely, the end goal of “no more than 180 (weapons)” means that England is taking concrete steps to meeting its international disarmament obligations. What’s more, fewer of the nation’s missiles will remain operational aboard its four Vanguard-class submarines. Of course, the practical distinction between 160 and 120 seaborn warheads is still a little bit unclear. And we can only hope it will remain that way.

The Question:  Three down and more than two hundred to go. Do UK actions point to general reluctance among nuclear-weapon states (NWS) Nuclear Weapons States to pay little more than lip service to their NPT obligations.  

Iran

Iran’s newly appointed, Hassan Rouhani, continues to make moves towards conciliation with the West; on the nuclear front at least. The Guardian reports that the country’s new president is willing to negotiate with the US on aspects of its developing nuclear programme. Of course, the pall of US enforced sanctions would still hang over any proceedings, if they do actually happen. Rouhani himself has said that “There has been contradictory behaviour and messages. We never approved the US’s carrot and stick approach.” He’s also facing pressure from hardliners over his allegedly pro-western choice of picks for his proposed cabinet

The Question: Given the current impasse in U.S. politics will the hardliners in Washington and Tehran be the eventual winners?

Errata:

Citing perhaps the greatest putdown to a national-security journalist who over-relied on anonymous sources (he was “” A kind of official urinal in which ministers and intelligence and defense chiefs could stand patiently leaking“), filmmaker Adam Curtis examines the intelligence shibboleth. The story,   “Bugger: Maybe the real state secret is that spies aren’t very good at their jobs and don’t know very much about the world,” looks at the inaccuracies constructed and construed by Britain’s MI-5 before being punted to bumbling reporters. The read is interwoven with archive-video clips including a 7-minute shot of Kim Philby’s Soviet state funeral.

Over at the Middle East Policy Council, Gareth Porter has written a baroque analysis about why the IAEA’s so-called “Alleged Studies” documents may be bunk. His list of eight red herrings that should trigger the agency’s smell-test alarm may be only accessible to Total Wonkerrs.

The Questions:  Do databases and predictive algorithms reduce or increase the resource intensity of intelligence gathering? Computation was hailed to improve economic efficiency. How has security-clearance proliferation undermined stability? Why are the “Alleged Studies” documents assumed to be the element that “overwhelmingly” has shifted American public opinion toward confrontation with Iran, according to Porter? What percentage of the American public (or Congress for that matter) knows what IAEA stands for? 

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