September 21, 2021

After Rare Protest, China Cancels Plans for Uranium Plant

The decision not to proceed with the plant in Guangdong Province, less than 60 miles from Hong Kong, came after hundreds of people turned out on Friday and “took a walk” through the city of Jiangmen carrying banners showing their opposition to the proposed plant, which would have been capable of processing half the fuel needed for China’s nuclear power needs. Unsanctioned gatherings are banned in China, but participants said the police did not intervene to stop the protest.

The Jiangmen City government Web site said Saturday the project had been “canceled,” and Southern Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party in Guangdong, said the decision was made “out of respect for public opinion.”

The protest in Jiangmen was the latest display of growing public disquiet about environmental hazards, which could frustrate China’s ambitious plans for nuclear power and technology. The catastrophic failures at nuclear power plants in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, also kindled anxiety in China about its expansion of nuclear power.

That expansion is a major part of China’s plans to decrease reliance on coal, and the government has indicated that by 2020 it wants nuclear reactors to provide about 5 percent or more of the country’s power, up from about 2 percent now.

The government has also faced widespread public outcry over the air pollution enshrouding Beijing and many other major Chinese cities, forcing officials to begin instituting a series of measures to try to control emissions.

Word of the planned protest against the proposed Guangdong plant had spread rapidly in recent days on Chinese social media despite government attempts to censor the discussion on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Opponents were also planning another protest for Sunday.

Some opponents were outraged the public was given only 10 days to comment on the plans, while others said they were upset that the public had no apparent role in deciding where the plant would be located.

Chris Buckley contributed from Hong Kong, and Andrew Jacobs contributed from Beijing.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/world/asia/china-uranium-plant.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Japan Courts the Money in Nuclear Reactors, Selling Them Abroad

Japanese industrial conglomerates, with the cooperation of the government in Tokyo, are renewing their pursuit of multibillion-dollar projects, particularly in smaller energy-hungry countries like Vietnam and Turkey. The effort comes despite criticism within Japan by environmental groups and opposition politicians.

It may seem a stretch for Japan to acclaim its nuclear technology overseas while struggling at home to contain the nuclear meltdowns that displaced more than 100,000 people. But Japan argues that its latest technology includes safeguards not present at the decades-old reactors at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant, which continues to leak radiation.

While Fukushima Daiichi could not withstand the magnitude 9 quake and the tsunami that ravaged much of Japan’s northeast coast in March, Japanese officials argue, their nation has learned valuable lessons — and has good nuclear track record withstanding most earlier earthquakes.

“Many countries of the world are seriously exploring the use of nuclear power, and we have assisted them in improving nuclear safety,” Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, said at an address at the United Nations General Assembly recently. “We will continue to answer to the interest of those countries.”

Mr. Noda’s government considers foreign reactor projects a way to help stimulate Japan’s export-led economy, which had been struggling even before March’s natural and nuclear disasters. Tokyo’s backing— including financial assistance to the customer countries — has become critical in negotiating deals, especially as global confidence in nuclear safety has faltered in Fukushima’s wake.

The World Nuclear Association, a trade industry group, says the world’s stock of 443 nuclear reactors could more than double in the next 15 years, but analysts say that expansion will require strong support from the governments on both sides of any deal.

In early September, after a six-month hiatus following the earthquake, the Japanese government restarted talks with Vietnamese officials on a 1 trillion yen ($13 billion) project to build two reactors in southern Vietnam. The terms include possible Japanese financial aid.

The project would involve a new government-supported company whose largest shareholder is Tokyo Electric Power, operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant. The industrial conglomerates Toshiba and Hitachi, which supplied reactors to the Fukushima plant, are also investors. Ichiro Takekuro, a former executive of Tokyo Electric, is the president of the new company, called International Nuclear Energy Development of Japan.

The Vietnam project, if it proceeds, would join a roster of about two dozen other nuclear plant projects that Japanese makers are bidding or working on in countries including the United States, China, Turkey and Lithuania.

Japan’s nuclear drive is a contrast to the recent announcement by Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering conglomerate, that it would stop building nuclear power plants. Siemens, with headquarters in Munich, is responding to Germany’s decision this year to phase out nuclear power — largely in reaction to Japan’s calamity.

But makers of nuclear reactors from other countries, including Areva of France, General Electric of the United States, Russia’s state-owned Rostacom and several government-backed Chinese conglomerates like China National Nuclear, are pursuing new contracts. Within Japan, Tokyo’s effort has already drawn protest from nuclear opponents.

“The Japanese government’s promotion of nuclear exports is clearly a double standard and a mistake,” the environmental group Friends of the Earth Japan, said in September.

The opposition Liberal Democratic Party has also called for more debate on the nuclear export initiative by Mr. Noda and the ruling Democratic Party, although opinion in both parties remains divided.

“Some people are asking: Why is Japan trying to export something it rejected at home?” said Itsunori Onodera, a Liberal Democratic lawmaker and director of a parliamentary foreign policy panel charged with approving bilateral nuclear agreements. “Even if Japan ultimately does decide to continue nuclear exports, there needs to be more debate on the issue.”

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Europe Treads Carefully on Stress Tests for Nuclear Plants

BRUSSELS — European regulators agreed Wednesday that new safety tests for the region’s 143 operating nuclear reactors, called for in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Japan, would include some man-made disasters as well as natural ones.

But the European Commission said there would be a separate process to check whether nuclear operators could adequately thwart acts of terrorism, because of sharp differences among governments about encroaching on sensitive areas of defense and security.

The E.U. Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger told a news conference that the tests would be robust.

“The quality and the depth of this stress test is such as to fulfill the requirements of the European citizen to live in a safe environment,” said Mr. Oettinger. “All of this will be done in as transparent way as possible.”

Greenpeace, an environmental group that opposes nuclear power, strongly disagreed.

The tests “won’t be independent, won’t cover plans for emergencies and won’t always tell us whether some of Europe’s most obvious terrorist targets are protected or not,” said Jan Haverkamp, a nuclear policy adviser at Greenpeace.

Britain, France and the Czech Republic were among countries that had fought hardest to water down the tests, said Mr. Haverkamp.

France relies on nuclear power for about 80 percent of its electricity and is a major exporter of nuclear technology. Britain generates around 18 percent of its electricity from nuclear but faces the prospect of a worsening energy shortfall if forced to shut its reactors. The Czech Republic still mines uranium for sale to nuclear power generators.

Still, the prospect of a nuclear meltdown in Japan has triggered public protests in Europe against atomic power, which remains a hugely sensitive matter after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986. The German government reversed a previous decision to extend the life of its nuclear plants.

E.U. governments had called for the tests in March, in the wake of the disaster in Japan. Although they remain voluntary, the European Commission recommended that the 14 member states with reactors producing electricity begin testing for so-called man-made events by June 1.

Those tests would in some cases be more rigorous than routine safety checks.

For example power plants built to withstand earthquakes of a magnitude of six on the Richter scale would be tested for earthquakes of a higher magnitude, although it would be up to national authorities to define how much tougher to make the criteria.

The tests also would include peer-review teams composed of seven people, drawing from regulators from all 27 E.U. countries and the European Commission. Those teams would have leeway to conduct inspections inside nuclear plants.

According to the commission, the key goal of the tests is to prevent the kind of accident in Europe that struck the reactors at Fukushima, Japan, after the earthquake and tsunami knocked out the power supply that was necessary to cool the fuel rods.

The commission said nuclear operators would need to describe what would happen if their reactors lost power for “several days” and what measures were in place if primary back up systems powered by batteries also failed.

The tests would include a review of containment systems to ensure they could withstand an air crash or the explosion of a nearby oil tanker, whether as a result of an accident or a terror attack. The tests would also seek to ascertain whether there were adequate systems to put out any resulting fire from explosions occurring near nuclear power plants.

E.U. authorities still need to set a schedule for checking whether reactors could withstand a wider range of terror attacks, possibly including cyber attacks. Those tests are far more sensitive because governments want to avoid revealing any vulnerabilities of their reactors.

The commission said that reactors failing the tests should be shut down and decommissioned if safety upgrades were too difficult or too expensive. But it acknowledged that it had no authority to order such shutdowns.

The European Commission said national operators and regulators had agreed to make their findings public, despite initial concerns in Paris and London that publishing certain information might encourage attacks. Governments would present a final report on the tests at the end of year.

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Japan to Cancel Plan to Build More Nuclear Plants

Mr. Kan’s announcement came as Japan allowed residents of evacuated areas around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to briefly revisit their homes for the first time since the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March caused the nuclear accident at the plant.

Tuesday’s decision will mean the abandonment of a plan that the Kan government released last year to build 14 nuclear reactors by 2030 and increase the share of nuclear power in Japan’s electricity supply to 50 percent. Japan currently has 54 reactors that before the earthquake produced 30 percent of its electricity.

The cancellation of the planned nuclear plants is the second time that Mr. Kan has suddenly announced big changes in Japanese nuclear policy without the usual endless committee meetings and media leaks that characterize the country’s consensus-driven decision-making process. Mr. Kan appears to be seeking a stronger leadership role after criticism of his government’s sometimes slow and indecisive handling of the Fukushima accident.

Last week, Mr. Kan asked a utility company to suspend operations at the Hamaoka nuclear plant, which sits atop an active earthquake fault line, about 120 miles southwest of Tokyo. After three days of delays, the utility, the Chubu Electric Power Company, finally agreed Monday to shut down the plant until a wave wall could be built and other measures taken to strengthen its defenses against earthquakes and tsunamis.

The announcement Tuesday came just days after Mr. Kan said Japan remained committed to nuclear power. His apparent pull- back may be driven partly by public opinion, which has significantly soured on nuclear power since the Fukushima accident.

Even before the announcement, the disaster had damped the nuclear industry’s hopes for a worldwide revival of reactor building. With demand for electricity and concerns about global warming both growing, the industry had projected rapid expansion, but Japan’s nuclear crisis had already caused several countries to become skittish about nuclear power. Germany, for instance, declared a temporary moratorium on building new plants.

Still, several experts and nuclear industry representatives said Tuesday that they expected demand in two important markets — China and India — to remain strong even though those counties had said they would proceed more cautiously. Both nations have rapidly growing demand for electricity, and neither has nearly enough domestic fuel to meet its needs.

Nils J. Diaz, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a consultant for companies that want to build reactors, said he did not think the prime minister’s announcement would cause “a domino effect.” And Jonathan Hinze, vice president for international operations at the Ux Consulting Company in Roswell, Ga., which tracks the market for reactors, added that Japan’s suspension of new reactor building was less damaging than it seemed because many in the industry had doubted that Japan would have the demand to justify that much construction.

A downturn in reactor construction would hurt Japanese companies that export nuclear plant designs and components, including Toshiba, which owns Westinghouse, and Hitachi, which is in a worldwide partnership with General Electric. Companies in France and South Korea also have a big stake in reactor building.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kan said Japan would retain nuclear and fossil fuels as energy sources, but vowed to add two new pillars to Japan’s energy policy: renewable energy and conservation. While Japan has been a global leader in energy conservation, it lags behind the United States and Europe in adopting solar and wind power, and other new energy sources.

“We need to start from scratch,” Mr. Kan told reporters. “We need to make nuclear energy safer and do more to promote renewable energy.”

The wording seemed to at least leave open the possibility that some new nuclear plants could be built in the future.

On Tuesday, Japan was reminded of the human costs of the Fukushima disaster, when the first group of 92 people paid two-hour visits to their homes in Kawauchi, within the 12-mile zone around the plant that was evacuated after the nuclear crisis.

The residents wore white antiradiation clothing and traveled in buses under tight supervision by nuclear officials. They retrieved belongings like photo albums and the tablets traditionally used in Japan to honor dead relatives in household Buddhist shrines, according to local media reports.

The government appeared to agonize for weeks over whether to allow even brief trips. Officials were concerned about whether civilians could be kept safe from exposure to potentially high radiation doses near the plant.

Complicating their decision was the lack of scientific knowledge on the health effects of the radiation doses now found in many of the evacuated areas. Some scientists say radiation levels even in many evacuated areas are too low to cause immediate illness, while others worry that the incidence of cancer could rise over the long term.

Last week, the government staged a trial run; officials played the role of returning residents to see if the trips could be made safely. Screened for radiation on their return, those participating were found to have been exposed to a dose of up to 25 microsieverts during the two-hour visit.

Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting from Washington, and Andrew Pollack from Los Angeles.

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Deal for Skype Lifts Stocks

Companies have built up a record amount of cash since the recession, and they have begun to use it for acquisitions, dividends and stock buybacks. Technology companies have particularly big cash hoards. The purchase of Skype is Microsoft’s largest deal in its history.

Stronger-than-expected earnings reports are also lifting stocks. Dean Foods, Activision Blizzard and others reported earnings that beat analysts’ expectations.

In early trading, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 59.98 points, or 0.5 percent. The Standard Poor’s 500-stock index was up 8.06 points, or 0.6 percent. The Nasdaq composite index rose 17.56 points, or 0.6 percent.

European stock markets and the euro rose on hopes that Greece would get another financial bailout to help it avoid a restructuring of its debts.

A restructuring — a renegotiation of existing debt deals — could have repercussions for Europe’s financial system, causing losses at banks holding Greek bonds. Germany’s DAX and the CAC 40 in France rose 1.3 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 1 percent.

Earlier in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 closed up 0.3 percent to 9,818.76, with shares of Chubu Electric Power rising 1.9 percent after the Japanese utility agreed to a government request to shutter three nuclear reactors at the Hamaoka coastal power plant.

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Japan Scraps Plan for New Nuclear Plants

Mr. Kan’s announcement came as Japan allowed residents of evacuated areas around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to briefly revisit their homes for the first time since the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March caused the nuclear accident.

Tuesday’s decision will abandon a plan that the Kan government released last year to build 14 more nuclear reactors by 2030 and increase the share of nuclear power in Japan’s electricity supply to 50 percent. Japan currently has 54 reactors that before the earthquake produced 30 percent of its electricity.

The cancellation of the planned nuclear plants is the second time that Mr. Kan has suddenly announced big changes in Japanese nuclear policy without the usual endless committee meetings and media leaks that characterize the country’s consensus-driven decision making. Mr. Kan appears to be seeking a stronger leadership role after criticism of his government’s sometimes slow and indecisive handling of the Fukushima accident.

Last week, Mr. Kan asked a utility company to suspend operations at the Hamaoka nuclear plant, which sits atop an active earthquake fault line, about 120 miles southwest of Tokyo. After three days of delays, the company, Chubu Electric Power, finally agreed on Monday to shut down the plant until a new wave wall was built and other measures could be taken to strengthen it against earthquakes and tsunamis.

Mr. Kan said Japan would retain nuclear and fossil fuels as energy sources, but vowed to add two new pillars to Japan’s energy policy: renewable energy and conservation. While Japan has been a global leader in energy conservation, it lags behind the United States and Europe in adopting solar and wind power, and other new energy sources.

“We need to start from scratch,” Mr. Kan told reporters. “We need to make nuclear energy safer and do more to promote renewable energy.”

Mr. Kan had also previously called for Japan to sell its nuclear technology to emerging nations as a new source of export income. However, the Fukushima accident has prompted a global rethinking of nuclear energy and may drive customers away from Japanese suppliers to rivals in places like South Korea.

Mr. Kan also appeared to pull back from his earlier vows to remain committed to nuclear power. His apparent about-face may be driven partly by public opinion, which has soured on nuclear power since the Fukushima accident.

On Tuesday, Japan was reminded of the human costs of the disaster, when the first group of 92 people paid two-hour visits to their homes in the town of Kawauchi, within the 12-mile zone around the plant that was evacuated after the nuclear crisis.

The residents wore white anti-radiation clothing and traveled in buses under tight supervision by nuclear officials. They retrieved belongings such as photo albums and the small tablets traditionally used in Japan to honor dead relatives in household Buddhist shrines, according to local media reports.

The Kan government appeared to agonize for weeks over whether to allow even such brief trips. Officials were concerned about whether civilians could be kept safe from exposure to potentially high radiation doses around the plant.

Complicating their decision was the lack of scientific knowledge on the health effects of the radiation doses now seen in many of the evacuated areas. Some scientists say radiation levels even in many evacuated areas are too low to cause immediate illness while others worry that incidence of cancer could rise over the long term.

Last week, the government staged a trial run, in which officials played the role of returning residents, to see if the trips could be made safely, and within the time allotted. Screened for radiation on their return, those participating were found to have been exposed to a dose of up to 25 microsieverts during the two-hour visit.

That is well above the 3.8 microsieverts per hour that Japan has used in some cases as a threshold for deciding such safety issues as whether to allow children to play outside while at school.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=02dfa48fd9b9537c47cc317f6135a739

After Japanese Crisis, New Urgency to Develop Radiation Drugs

But the two men — who were injured in a nuclear fuel accident in Japan in 1999, not during the current crisis — did not die right away. Drugs and procedures unavailable when the atomic age began kept Mr. Ouchi alive for 82 days, and Mr. Shinohara for about seven months.

As radiation spreads in Japan from crippled nuclear reactors, with workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant potentially exposed to extremely hazardous levels, experts say that progress has been made in developing treatments for radiation poisoning. But there is still much work to do.

The crisis has put a spotlight on some small biotechnology companies developing drugs to treat people exposed to radiation. Some say they are accelerating their efforts in light of the problems in Japan.

Most of the companies are working under contracts from the United States government, aimed at treating people after a military or terrorist attack involving a nuclear or radioactive weapon. Such drugs would also be of use in a nuclear power plant accident, particularly for the nuclear plant workers, who might be exposed to the highest doses.

“There would definitely be a zone around ground zero where you could save a lot of people with these drugs,” said Mark H. Whitnall, program advisor for radiation countermeasures at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Bethesda, Md.

Based on tests using animals, he said, the drugs under development would allow people to survive doses 20 to 40 percent higher than what is now considered lethal. “We’d like to do a lot better,” he said.

The Japanese crisis has caused brief upticks in the shares of some of the companies focusing on this research, like Cleveland Biolabs. Some 5.6 million shares of Aeolus Pharmaceuticals changed hands on a single day after the crisis began, many times the usual trading volume.

“It was crazy, just crazy,” said John McManus, chief executive of the company, which is based in Mission Viejo, Calif. In February, it received a federal contract worth up to $118 million to help it develop a drug to protect the lungs from radiation damage.

Several of the companies say they want to make their drugs available for use in Japan, but the government there has not ordered any. The drugs in question have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and it is unclear whether anyone in Japan, even workers at the Fukushima plant, have been exposed to enough radiation to warrant such treatments.

Most of the drugs in development are two to five years away from possible regulatory approval, federal officials say, and even once approved there would still be some slight uncertainty about how well they would work in people. Because it would be unethical to expose people to high levels of radiation in a clinical trial, the F.D.A. allows approval of this type of drug if it proves effective in two species of animals and is shown to be safe in people at doses corresponding to those used in the animals.

Getting federal support for the research is one thing. It might be tougher to get the federal government to buy large quantities to be stockpiled for use in an emergency.

A cautionary tale is that of Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals, which was developing a steroidlike compound that was championed by Defense Department scientists. But in 2007, after the company spent $85 million on development, the Department of Health and Human Services decided not to buy the drug, saying it did not meet technical requirements.

Hollis-Eden’s stock price collapsed and has never recovered. The company dropped the drug and changed its name to Harbor BioSciences.

Some federal officials and experts say that Health and Human Services decided it needed drugs that could be effective even if not given until 24 hours after exposure, reasoning that in the event of a terrorist attack it would be hard to get the drug to people immediately. The Hollis-Eden drug did not meet that requirement.

The department plans a big purchase, but not of an experimental drug developed by a tiny company. Rather, it is looking to buy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Amgen’s Neupogen or a similar drug, including generic versions of Neupogen that have been approved in Europe, according to Robin Robinson, director of the department’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Neupogen helps the body build infection-fighting white blood cells, which can be depleted by radiation. The drug is approved to help prevent infections in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, but the F.D.A. has issued an “emergency use authorization” that would allow the drug to be used to treat radiation exposure.

Biodefense work has largely fallen to small biotechnology companies because they need the money, especially at a time when investors are averse to risk. Federal research grants can help defray the costs of developing a drug for commercial uses. In the case of radiation treatments, the commercial use would mainly be to protect cancer patients from the side effects of radiation therapy.

“It’s significant funding for a biotech company like ours,” said Ram Mandalam, chief executive of Cellerant, a private company that won a federal contract worth up to $153 million over five years to develop a drug using stem cells to help bolster the immune system after radiation exposure.

Radiation can have various health effects, depending on the dose and form. For nuclear power plant accidents, the major exposure for the public would come from radioactive isotopes, and there already are some approved drugs for these that are in the federal stockpile.

Potassium iodide can help prevent thyroid cancer that can be caused by iodine-131, which has been detected in some milk, produce and tap water in Japan. Elevated levels of radioactive iodine have also been detected in milk in Washington State and California but the levels are still far too low to pose a health threat, the Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday. It has stepped up monitoring of radiation levels.

Exposure to cesium-137 can be treated with Prussian blue, a pharmaceutical version of an industrial dye, while plutonium exposure can be treated with DTPA. Both drugs bind to the isotopes and help the body to excrete them.

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