By Suresh Seshadri
MADRAS, India - India's prime minister lashed out at nuclear powers on Tuesday for thwarting the transfer of nuclear energy technology to the rest of the world.
"India deplores the hurdles placed in the area of technological transfers," Atal Behari Vajpayee told scientists at the inauguration of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Kalpakkam, near the southern city of Madras.
Controls on dual-use technologies, which could be used for civilian nuclear and space programmes, have been imposed on India because of their potential military spin-offs.
Under a 1992 Nuclear Suppliers Group accord, recognised nuclear states and others agreed only to sell reactor technology to countries that permit international inspections. That effectively ruled out countries developing nuclear arms such as India.
Indian officials have said that New Delhi, which conducted nuclear tests in May, could relax its opposition to the global regime on nuclear arms control if it could win access to such technologies.
"On the one hand, traditional nuclear weapon states want to keep the destructive power of nuclear technology in their own hands and resist nuclear disarmament," Vajpayee said.
"On the other hand, they restrict the enormous benefits of peaceful nuclear energy from reaching humanity at large."
Vajpayee said India was seeking a regime which permitted the maximum possible international cooperation and collaboration in the fields of research and development and high technology.
Harnessing nuclear technology to ensure energy sufficiency was important to India for both national development and national security, he said.
"Here I'm not referring only to our recent exercise of our nuclear option for national defence," he added. "Control over energy sources, their development and transportation is no longer only a business or technological matter, it has become a contentious issue in regional and global politics."
"The politics of energy has become the subtext of much international relations," he said.
Vajpayee said his government would give full support to India's nuclear scientists in developing nuclear technology.
India's Atomic Energy Commission Chairman R. Chidambaram said excavation work to build two new 500-megawatt reactors at Trombay, near Bombay, would begin next month.
India has 10 nuclear power units, but none is larger than 200 megawatts and the electricity generated from nuclear power meets only two percent of domestic demand.
Chidamabaram said the Kalpakkam reprocessing plant would have the capacity to convert up to 100 tonnes a year of spent fuel from the Madras atomic power station into plutonium.
The plutonium would be used in the country's fast breeder reactor programme, he added.
India currently has an experimental fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam and plans to build a prototype commercial fast breeder reactor, near the existing facility, early in the next millennium.
In May, India, carried out its first tests of nuclear arms since 1974, prompting world outrage and a set of retaliatory tests by archrival Pakistan. The tests resulted in economic sanctions being levied against both nations.
Gazette (Montreal)VASTERAS, Sweden - Swedish opposition leader Carl Bildt said he expected talks on phasing out Sweden's nuclear power programme to be so complex that the issue would not be important in the near term.
"It's so legally complicated ... and so financially complicated for the government budget that it's difficult to see how they plan to do it," Bildt told Reuters in an interview.
The Social Democrat government plans to phase out nuclear power by 2010, in keeping with a 1980 referendum, but the first closure of a nuclear power station, scheduled for July 1 this year, was suspended by the courts.
Bildt's party, the conservative Moderates, shares an economic platform with two other parties in the run-up to Sunday's general election.
A deal with the Centre Party, which has so far not aligned itself with the Social Democrats or the Moderate-led non-socialist bloc could tip the balance in favour of the conservatives.
But the Moderates' opposition to the nuclear phase-out flies in the face of the Centre Party's anti-nuclear stance.
Bildt criticised the Centre Party and the Social Democrats for not budgeting properly for the costs of phasing out Sweden's nuclear power.
He said the Centre Party had recently put a price tag of five billion Swedish crowns ($631.2 million) to seven billion crowns on the phase-out.
"These billions of crowns must come from savings elsewhere," he said.
But he said the nuclear issue would be bogged down for so long in the courts before coming to a resolution that it should not stop the Moderates and Centre Party cooperating.
Abigail Schmelz, Stockholm newsroom,
+46-8-700 1003, fax +46-8-211601,
SOFIA - Bulgaria's cabinet adopted on Monday the country's new energy strategy until 2010 envisaging an investment of more than $946 million during its first stage until 2001, energy committee chiefs said.
The President of the Bulgarian Energy Committee Ivan Shilyashki said after the cabinet's meeting that the four 440-megawatt reactors from one to four at the Soviet-made nuclear plant at Kozloduy would be closed by 2012.
"The programme envisages closing reactors one and two in the period 2004-2005 and reactors three and four in the period from 2008 to 2012," Shilyashki told a news conference.
The Balkan state, which relies on Kozloduy for 46 percent of its electricity, has been struggling to counter pressure from the European Union to close down the four oldest reactors and vowed to keep them upgrading.
EU's External Commissioner Hans van den Broek urged Bulgaria during his visit to Sofia on Friday to close its two oldest reactors in 2002 and the remaining two small reactors - two to three years before the end of their life time which is 2010 and 2012 respectively.
Under the country's new energy plan a fund for decommissioning the four reactors will be set up after January 1, Shilyashki said.
Another fund for building a radioactive waste storage facility at the Kozloduy site will be also established after January 1.
A decision for the construction of a new nuclear power reactor of 600 megawatts will be taken after 2005, Shilyashki said, adding that the unit's location had not been decided yet.
The country's biggest thermal power plants at the biggest Maritsa East mining complex will be upgraded by 2005 in a bid to improve their energy efficiency.
A new 600-megawatt plant replacing an old unit at the Maritsa East One complex will be built up and plans envisage to be run by a joint venture between a foreign and a Bulgarian firm.
Bids for setting up a joint venture to run the thermal power plant in the Black Sea port of Varna will be accepted by the end of October, officials said.
A new hydro electric plant, Gorna Arda, in southern Bulgaria will be built expecting to produce 160 megawatts.
Bulgaria will restructure and gradually privatise its state-controlled energy sector, Shilyashki said.
One of the first bigger generating units to be sold will be the thermal power plant in the Danube port of Rousse, he said.
Liberalisation of energy prices will take place after 2001, Shilyashki said.
The state will keep ownership over construction and transiting gas network and its compressors' stations, officials said, adding that gas transmission systems servicing households would be private, as well as natural gas trade.
Shilyashki said the cabinet had also adopted a law on energy which defined restructuring and reflected Bulgaria's efforts to join the European Union.
TOKYO - Japan will not abandon its "fast-breeder" nuclear power programme even though its only prototype plant has been closed for nearly three years, the head of Japan's nuclear research body said on Wednesday.
"I don't think Japan will ever scrap its fast-breeder nuclear reactor as was in the case of France," said Yasumasa Togo, president of the state-run Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp (PNC).
France announced the closure of its Superphenix fast-breeder nuclear reactor last year which anti-nuclear activists called "a dangerous dinosaur".
Japan's PNC, which carries out research and operates nuclear plants, came under severe public criticism for a string of accidents at its facilities and subsequent attempts to cover up the extent of damage from the accidents.
In December 1995 an estimated two to three tonnes of liquid sodium leaked from a cooling system of the Monju fast-breeder reactor on the Sea of Japan coast, forcing a manual shut down.
Monju has been shut since the accident.
The worst accident was an explosion in March 1997 at a bituminisation facility - where low-level waste was mixed with asphalt for permanent storage - which exposed 37 workers to small doses of radiation.
The incidents drew intense public scrutiny and criticism of the firm, both in Japan and abroad, for its failure to quickly and accurately report nuclear accidents.
The state-run firm has been pressing for Japan's ambitions to boost electricity output from nuclear plants to 42 percent of total power needs by 2010.
Apart from the prototype fast-breeder reactor and a reprocessing plant, Japan has 52 light-water reactors across the country. Nuclear plants now supply one-third of Japan's total power output.
NEW DELHI - India on Wednesday approved an accord with Russia for setting up two 1,000 megawatt reactors in southern Tamil Nadu state and extended an interest-free loan to Nuclear Power Corp for preparing the project report.
"The cabinet has accorded approval for the supplement to the IGA (Inter-Governmental Agreement) of 1988...and for transfer of the amount for the detailed project report as interest-free loan to the Nuclear Power Corporation," it said.
The agreement allows planning and executing a programme to harness and develop nuclear energy for generating electricity on a commercial basis, the statement said.
The government approval allows "transfer of the funds required for the detailed project report and preliminary expenses as an interest free loan to the Nuclear Power Corporation".
The project consists of two light water power reactors at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. the statement said.
India and the former Soviet Union signed an agreement in November 1988 to build the two reactors at an estimated cost of $3.0 billion but the collapse of the Soviet Union delayed the project.
The new agreement is a supplement to the 10-year-old pact and replaces Russia with Soviet Union.
The project report for the construction of the power plants would be prepared in the next two years and construction would take another six years.
India has 10 nuclear power units but none is larger than 200 megawatts and the electricity generated from them accounts for only two percent of domestic demand.
By Patrick Connole
WASHINGTON - A coalition of 24 states on Wednesday asked new U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to suspend collection of $6.5 billion in nuclear waste fund fees until the Department of Energy actually starts removing waste.
On behalf of 68 state utility regulators, the Minnesota Department of Public Service said the states asked Richardson to limit payment of the nuclear waste fund fees for any given year to each utility's share of those funds appropriated by Congress, preventing a siphoning off of the consumer payments.
"Payment of the unappropriated portion of the fee (now 84 cents on the dollar) would be deferred until the DOE fulfils its obligation to remove nuclear waste from electric power plants," said the Minnesota office statement, which summarized the letter to Richardson.
The DOE didn't comment on the Richardson letter.
Earnings on accumulated, deferred nuclear-waste-fund payments exceeding the U.S. Treasury rate would be retained to benefit consumers.
"By keeping payments out of the U.S. Treasury, we stop Congress from spending the unappropriated portion on other things. This would preserve the equivalent of $90 million of waste-disposal funding for each of the 73 power plants from which nuclear waste must be removed," said Minnesota Public Service Commissioner Kris Sanda.
The move by the states was the latest salvo in an ongoing battle to force the DOE to start removing tons of hazardous waste from nuclear power plants owned by electric utilities.
Last month, a group of 36 states petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to mandate that the DOE ship the waste to a permanent storage facility. The states believe a 1982 federal law ordered the DOE to start disposing of spent nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear power plants no later than Jan. 31, 1998.
The 1982 act created the DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, and required consumers to pay one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by nuclear energy.
The Supreme Court hasn't acted yet on the states' petition.
The states alleged that after 16 years of collecting nuclear waste fund fees, the federal government has received $15 billion in payments by U.S. electricity consumers.
In turn, the states charged that Congress has rolled most of the money into the federal government's general fund for spending on other programmes, with DOE spending only $5 billion of the sum to build a national waste facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
"Since 1982, over $7 billion of NWF (nuclear waste fund) payments have been diverted. An additional $6.5 billion, including interest, will be diverted between now and 2010, the earliest date DOE says it will begin waste disposal," the Minnesota statement said.
Earlier this year, the Energy Department offered to defer collection of the fees in exchange for the utilities surrendering all present and future legal rights over the federal government's obligation to dispose of nuclear waste.
The states said the Richardson letter "in no way alters DOE's statutory and contractual obligations to transport, store and dispose of spent nuclear fuels from power plants."
The states reserved the right to continue court action against the DOE.
By Jonathan Lynn
STOCKHOLM - By the time Sweden votes in a September 20 general election, a programme to phase out nuclear power by 2010 was supposed to be underway.
About a dozen miles (20 km) from the Danish capital Copenhagen, across the Oresund strait, one of two reactors at Barseback was due to be shut down by July 1, the first phase in a government approved nine billion Swedish crown ($1.15 billion) programme.
But a Supreme Administrative Court ruling in May suspended the closure while the courts review the programme. This means it is uncertain when - or if - the closures will go ahead.
The judicial review, at the request of Barseback's owner, private power company Sydkraft AB, has underlined divisions among Sweden's parties which could make it much harder to form a working government after the vote.
For Sydkraft, partly owned by Norway's Statkraft and PreussenElektra, a unit of Germany's Veba AG, the issue is simply one of business.
Sydkraft says the closure of its reactors now would give an unfair advantage to its competitor, state-owned Vattenfall AB.
The government and Sydkraft are discussing ways of compensating Sydkraft for the loss of the Barseback 1 reactor, which accounts for 15 percent of its production capacity.
This could be simply some kind of financial compensation, while another option would be to give Sydkraft a stake in Ringhals, another nuclear plant owned by Vattenfall.
"If the government presents a concrete offer of compensation then the board will consider this," says Sydkraft spokesman Stieg Claesson.
The minority Social Democrat government, backed by a large majority in parliament, agreed the phase-out last year, and confirmed it in February, despite opposition from Swedish industry and unease in the unions.
The party line from Prime Minister Goran Persson and Industry Minister Anders Sundstrom is that nuclear power will still go once the judicial review is completed.
But the party's election manifesto makes no mention of nuclear power, instead talking vaguely of an "ecologically sustainable Sweden".
For the Social Democrats, the commitment to abandon nuclear power was essential to preserve an informal alliance with the opposition Centre Party, whose support it needed to get its budgets through parliament.
The rural-based Centre Party is strongly environmentalist.
Its new leader, Lennart Daleus, is a former chairman of the Swedish section of ecology movement Friends of the Earth, in which role he masterminded a 1980 nuclear referendum in Sweden.
In 1980 Swedes voted to phase out nuclear power.
The Centre Party highlights the abolition of nuclear power in its manifesto, as do two other parties which often back the Social Democrats - the ex-communist Left Party and the Greens.
Daleus has not said whether he favours a new alliance after the election with the Social Democrats or with the main opposition Moderates, saying he is aiming for a government of the centre - the small non-socialist parties.
Both the Moderates and one of the small opposition parties, the Liberals, want to keep nuclear power, arguing the economy cannot afford to do without it.
Squaring that circle will be hard.
"Barseback is our biggest problem," said Liberal Party leader Lars Leijonborg.
"We think it is a very unfortunate decision to quickly close down Barseback and we are completely against it," he told Reuters recently.
"But at the same time I understand it is an important question for the Centre Party to carry through the closure. I think we'll find a solution, but I can't say how."
Daleus argues that the Social Democrats, Left Party and Centre Party are still likely after the election to be able to muster a majority in favour of closing Barseback, whatever government is in power.
THE PRICE OF POWER
The Social Democrats, whose manifesto cites cheap electricity as one of the strengths of the Swedish business climate, may have cause to reflect, however.
In 1997 the 12 reactors supplied over 46 percent of Sweden's electricity, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The loss of that source would put upward pressure on Swedish prices, as would a proposal by the Green's to impose an additional tax on nuclear power to make it unprofitable.
Some economists argue the cost of decommissioning and demolishing the reactors could be much higher than the nine billion crowns allocated by the government.
A Swedish government could also argue that retaining Swedish reactors is safer for the country as a whole, even if the citizens of Copenhagen are uncomfortable.
Sweden imports power through the Nordic electricity pool from Finland, which in turn buys power from Russia and the Baltic states.
Increased Swedish demand for power imports would encourage the use of Soviet-designed reactors across the Baltic Sea from Sweden, which are less safe and reliable than Sweden's own.
LONDON - A global building boom of nuclear power stations is unlikely in the next 10 years, although rising fears about global warming may stimulate a demand for the near zero emission energy source, an OECD report says.
The "dash for gas" by electricity generators keen to exploit a relatively cheap and clean energy source, and moves to liberalise the electricity sector were both seen as reasons for the lack of investment in the nuclear sector.
While nuclear power can contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases, as agreed at the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty in December 1997, it is still too early to tell whether decisions taken at Kyoto "will trigger significant expansion of nuclear energy capacities," the report says.
But, increasing public concern about protecting the atmosphere from growing C02 emissiosn may boost nuclear energy's appeal in the long term.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development annual 1997 report said that although new nuclear plants are not being built existing reactors are having their lifespans extended.
"There is growing confidence in some countries that lifetimes of 40-50 years will be achieved." the report says.
Highlighting a cautionary point the OECD study said that nuclear safety and regulation was coming under increased pressure as competition in many electricity markets hots up.
"An increasingly competitive economic environment has led the nuclear industry to seek ways to maximise output....there is pressure to reduce staff as well as those safety margins", the report says.
In 1997 some 350 nuclear power plants were connected to OECD domestic grids providing around 24 percent of the electricity.
CANBERRA - Australia's Labor opposition would stop mining company Energy Resources of Australia Ltd developing a controversal uranium mine at Jabiluka if it was returned to government in the October 3 election.
In a joint letter to ERA chief Phillip Shirvington, Labor's resources and energy spokesman Stephen Smith and environment spokesman Duncan Kerr said Labor could not support the incomplete mine because it contravened Labor's "no new mines" policy.
"Unless all relevant Commonwealth and (Northern) Territory approvals were already in place which would require the proposed mine to be regarded as an existing mine, mining at Jabiluka will not be allowed to occur on Labor's return to government," said the letter.
"At the commencement of this election campaign, Labor's understanding ... is that all the relevant approvals in respect of Jabiluka are not in place or finalised in a way which would require it to be regarded as an existing mine."
Labor's policy prevents the development of new mines and only allows uranium to be exported from Australia's two existing mines.
But the mine already had 15 sales contracts "approved in terms that would qualify for the issue of an export permit," Shirvington told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
Campbell Anderson, managing director of ERA's majority shareholder, North Ltd , said at a briefing on Tuesday that North had all the legal approvals to go ahead with Jabiluka and as majority owner of ERA would sue if a Labor government tried to stop the mine.
"If they don't let it go ahead, I guess we'll sue them," he said at a briefing to analysts and reporters.
The mine is expected to generate A$12 billion in revenue during its 28-year life, making Australia one of the world's leading uranium producers.
The Labor Party letter said this position could be reviewed if ERA had "relevant compelling material or legal determination", but failing this, a new Labor government would refuse uranium mining and exports from Jabiluka.
The Jabiluka mine is located in an area excised from Kakadu National Park, a world heritage area in Northern Australia, and it has been the subject of environmental protests and legal challenges.
ERA, which owns the nearby Ranger uranium mine, is still negotiating final approval for the safe disposal of its Jabiluka mine tailings.