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Iran increases underground nuclear capacity sharply: diplomats

VIENNA | Thu Aug 30, 2012 10:04am EDT

(Reuters) – A U.N. watchdog report is expected to show that Iran has expanded its potential capacity to refine uranium in an underground site by at least 30 percent since May, diplomats say, adding to Western worries over Tehran‘s nuclear aims.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due this week to issue its latest quarterly report on Iran’s disputed nuclear program, which the West and Israel suspect is aimed at developing bombs. Tehran denies this.

Language used by some Israeli politicians has fanned speculation that Israel might hit Iran’s nuclear sites before the November U.S. presidential vote. Washington has said there is still time for diplomatic pressure to work, but it could be drawn into any war between the two Middle East foes.

The Vienna-based diplomats, giving details on what they believe the IAEA report will show, said Iran had completed installation of two more cascades – interlinked networks of 174 centrifuges each – since the previous IAEA report in May.

They said Iran may also have added centrifuges in another part of the fortified Fordow facility, buried deep inside a mountain to better protect it against any enemy strikes, but they gave no details.

Fordow, where Iran is refining uranium to a level that takes it significantly closer to weapons-grade material, is built to house roughly 3,000 centrifuges – machines that spin at supersonic speed to increase the fissile concentration.

The May report said Iran had installed a total of 1,064 centrifuges, of which 696 were operating, in some six cascades. The diplomats said Iran has since added at least another 328, a jump of about 30 percent from the May figure, and perhaps more.

Iran says it needs this higher-grade uranium for a medical research reactor in Tehran. It is enriching uranium to lower levels at its main such plant in Natanz, where diplomats say it is also installing more centrifuges.

While the newly added centrifuges at Fordow are not yet operating, the expansion reaffirmed Iranian defiance of international demands to suspend enrichment, which can have both civilian and military uses depending on refinement level.

“There is reason to be concerned by increased tempo of enrichment, the larger stockpile of enriched uranium and, most importantly, the additional centrifuges installed in the deeply-buried facility at Fordow,” said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute of Strategic Studies think-tank.

It may reinforce the belief in Israel that diplomatic and economic pressure is failing to make the Islamic Republic curb its uranium enrichment program.

Iran denies allegations it seeks a nuclear weapons capability and says all its atom work is for peaceful purposes. It has threatened wide-ranging reprisals if attacked.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Thursday told heads of state from developing countries at a meeting in Tehran that the country has no interest in nuclear weapons but will keep pursuing peaceful nuclear energy.

(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

Small modular nuclear reactor to be employed at DOE Savannah River Site

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March 5, 2012
Source: U.S. Department of Energy

The U.S. Energy Department and its Savannah River Site (SRS) announced three public-private partnerships to develop deployment plans for small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) technologies at SRS facilities, near Aiken, South Carolina. As part of the Energy Department’s commitment to advancing the next generation of nuclear reactor technologies and breaking down the technical and economic barriers to deployment, these Memorandums of Agreement (MOA) will help leverage Savannah River’s land assets, energy facilities and nuclear expertise to support potential private sector development, testing and licensing of prototype SMR technologies.

The Energy Department, Savannah River Site and Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) have entered into three separate agreements with Hyperion Power Generation Inc.; SMR, LLC, a subsidiary of Holtec International; and NuScale Power, LLC. The agreements will help these private companies obtain information on potential SMR reactor siting at Savannah River and provide a framework for developing land use and site services agreements to further these efforts.

“The Obama Administration continues to believe that low-carbon nuclear energy has an important role to play in America’s energy future,” said Secretary Chu. “We are committed to restarting the nation’s nuclear industry and advancing the next generation of these technologies, helping to create new jobs and export opportunities for American workers and businesses.”

The Energy Department has taken a number of steps to help jumpstart America’s nuclear industry and ensure that nuclear power continues to play an important role in the U.S. energy mix. As part of these efforts, the Department has worked to advance small modular reactors, which provide an important opportunity for America’s manufacturing sector to make and sell cutting-edge technology. Small modular reactors have the added advantage of passive safety systems, compact and scalable design and lower capital costs.

“We have a unique combination of nuclear knowledge and laboratory expertise, infrastructure, location and much more to make the Site a natural fit for advancing the small modular reactor technology,” said Dr. Dave Moody, DOE-SR Manager. “We are about reinvigorating SRS assets to impact national needs and influence new missions for the future of the Savannah River Site.”

By strengthening information sharing and access to site facilities and technical expertise, these MOAs will help break down engineering and testing barriers to advanced nuclear reactor research and development while providing these nuclear companies with the resources to support effective deployment plans.

Today’s announcement builds on the Energy Department’s work to develop nuclear power as a vital part of America’s all-of-the-above energy strategy:

• The Energy Department announced $10 million in new research funds earlier this month to solve common challenges across the nuclear industry and improve reactor safety, performance and cost competitiveness.

• In 2010, the Department signed a conditional commitment for $8 billion in loan guarantees to support the Vogtle project, where the Southern Company and Georgia Power are building two new nuclear reactors, helping to create new jobs and export opportunities for American workers and businesses.

• The Energy Department has also supported the Vogtle project and the development of the next generation of nuclear reactors by providing more than $200 million through a cost-share agreement to support the licensing reviews for Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor design certification. The Vogtle license is the first for new nuclear power plant construction in more than three decades.

• Promoting a sustainable nuclear industry in the U.S. also requires cultivating the next generation of scientists and engineers. Over the past three years, the Department has invested $170 million in research grants at more than 70 universities, supporting R&D into a full spectrum of technologies, from advanced reactor concepts to enhanced safety design.

The Memorandums of Agreement announced today do not constitute a federal funding commitment. The Energy Department envisions private sector funding will be used to develop these technologies and support deployment plans. The agreements, and the officials and offices involved with these activities, are separate and distinct from the Energy Department’s Funding Opportunity Announcement for small modular reactor cost-share projects announced earlier this year.

Source

Obama says not bluffing on Iran military option

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By Matt Spetalnick and Jeffrey Heller
WASHINGTON/OTTAWA | Fri Mar 2, 2012 8:14pm EST

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama issued his most direct threat yet of U.S. military action against Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon, but in a message to Israel’s leader ahead of White House talks he also cautioned against a pre-emptive Israeli strike.

“As president of the United States, I don’t bluff,” Obama warned Iran in a magazine interview published on Friday, three days before he will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington.

With the meeting expected to be dominated by stark differences over what Washington fears could be an Israeli attack on Tehran‘s nuclear sites, Netanyahu said he wanted to preserve the “freedom of action of the State of Israel in the face of threats to wipe us off the map.”

Monday’s talks are shaping up as the most consequential encounter of U.S. and Israeli leaders in years, with tensions further magnified by Republican presidential candidates slamming Obama over his Middle East policy.

Further complicating the talks is a trust deficit between the two men, who have had a rocky relationship.

There is mounting speculation that Israel, which fears that time is running out to stop Iran’s nuclear advance, could act militarily on its own in coming months unless it receives stronger reassurances from Washington.

Netanyahu is trying to convince Obama to more forcefully define the nuclear threshold that Iran must not cross, while the U.S. president wants to convince Israel to hold off on any unilateral strike and give sanctions and diplomacy more time to work.

Both leaders talked tough ahead of their meeting.

“I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say,” Obama said in an interview with the Atlantic magazine.

Obama repeated the U.S. refrain that “all options are on the table” but spoke in his most direct terms yet of a possible U.S. military response if sanctions and diplomacy fail to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

“It includes a military component. And I think people understand that,” Obama said when asked about U.S. intentions on Iran, which insists it is not trying to develop nuclear weapons.

While acknowledging Netanyahu’s “profound responsibility” to protect the Israeli people, Obama cited “potential unintended consequences” as he made clear that it would be unwise for Israel to go ahead with any attack on Iran.

“At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally, (Syria) is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?”

Obama cannot afford to be too tough on Netanyahu, with Republican presidential candidates ready to pounce on any sign of a rift with close U.S. ally Israel. But Obama’s aides are also worried that a new war in the Middle East could sow chaos and bring further spikes in global oil prices.

It was unclear, however, whether Obama’s sharpened rhetoric on Iran would be enough to placate Netanyahu, who was visiting Canada on Friday before flying to Washington on Sunday.

Netanyahu on Friday ruled out the idea of international talks to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, a possibility has raised in recent weeks as sanctions have started to take a heavier toll.

“I think the international community should not fall into this trap,” he told reporters in Ottawa after talks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

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