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In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Smuggling: Berlin.

(October 7, 1994) On 12 September German police have seized from a Zairean traveller radioactive material smuggled by plane from Moscow to Berlin -- the fifth such seizure since May. The 34-year-old man had 850 grams of radioactive material in his personal luggage.
The Zairean man told police that he took the granular substance known as uraninite -- a raw material found in uranium strip mines -- from his homeland to Berlin, where he has lived for some time. He brought it from Zaire to examine its potential commercial use," said Potsdam police spokesman. die tageszeitung, 13 Sept. 1994


Smuggling: Sofia. Bulgarian police have found 19 containers of radioactive materials, including plutonium, caesium and strontium, hidden by amateur thieves in two cellars in Sofia, an interior ministry official said on 14 September.
Six Bulgarians were arrested in a week-long police operation to recover the biggest haul ever reported in Bulgaria. One of the containers, holding caesium-137, gave off radiation 1,000 times the normal level. Another, containing plutonium-239, radiated 250 times the normal level.
Bulgarian police, amazed at the ignorance of the alleged thieves, found no evidence of any trafficking network. "There was no sign that they were connected with foreigners...or that a deal was done," said the official, who declined to be named. "None of them had specialized technical knowledge or education."
A senior official from the Bulgarian Atomic Energy Committee which supervises registration of all radioactive materials in the country, said the haul was probably stolen locally. "In Bulgaria small quantities of radioactive material have been produced mainly for medical usage. Most probably the material was stolen from Bulgarian industrial enterprises," said the committee's safety director Petar Todorov. "We cannot say how much there is before specialized studies are performed." He added that during the last year the committee had received information on 75 unregistered enterprises where sources of radioactivity were in use. "We have found some of them... in many cases it appears that without our knowledge and permission the material has been handed over for disposal or transfered to another place. Sometimes we know the new places, sometimes we do not." Greenbase, 14 September 1994


Indonesia has ruled out sabotage as the cause of a blast (see WISE NC 418.4145) that killed a laboratory worker at the site of a nuclear research reactor on August 31, a government minister said on 14 September. Research and Technology Minister Yusuf Habibie told parliament it was possible the explosion was triggered by the ignition of a methane-based gas that seeped from packages being removed from a storage room in the laboratory when the worker tried to light a cigarette. "It is also possible that the gas had filled the room and caused the temperature to rise to a critical level," he said. Habibie said general public safety had not been threatened because the explosion was outside the radioactive area of the plant at Serpong, 30 km (20 miles) from Jakarta and run by the Indonesian Atomic Energy Agency (Batan). The 30-megawatt test reactor at Serpong, provided by Siemens of Germany, has been in operation for four years.
Indonesia plans to start building its first nuclear power plant on the island of Java in 1996 once it completes a feasibility study into the $1.2 billion project. Critics say nuclear reactors are risky in earthquake-prone Indonesia, especially on Java where about 60 percent of the archipelago's 188 million people live. Greenbase, 14 September 1994


Iodine contamination is becoming "more and more frequent" at French PWR sites, according to Electricité de France (EdF), following the incident at Dampierre-1 (9 August) in which 62 maintenance personnel received minor internal doses of iodine-131 (see WISE NC 417.brief). Of 31 recent contamination events, a EdF official said, nine involved iodine. Ultility and regulatory officials say that more attention must be paid to contamination risks, especially in design of procedures for opening the primary system at the "delicate" point of outage start, when radioactive inventory is still high.
Dampierre's problem was not only the trapped iodine but also the unavailability of the unit's regular containment ventilation system for the better part of the day, which allowed the iodine to accumulate near the workers. But what's more, the plant radiation monitoring system was not working during the period that the gas was accumulating in the reactor building, because the corresponding electrical cabinet was being serviced. Technical specifications did not require availability of the monitoring system during such a reactor configuration, but these specifications might well be revised. Nucleonics Week, 1 September 1994


Armenia is due to reopen its Metzamor nuclear power plant next spring, after signing a protocol with Russia on financing repairs, First Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Lev Ryabyev told Reuters. He said that a protocol signed on September 6, 1994, by himself and Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Vigen Chitechyan "will put the plant back into operation in the first quarter of 1995." The Metzamor plant, some 25 km outside the Armenian capital, was closed in 1989 when Armenia was still part of the Soviet Union, after an earthquake in which 25,000 people were killed. The plant was not damaged by the earthquake but the West says there are inbuilt design problems with its two Soviet-made reactors that make reopening risky.
Armenia decided last year to put the nuclear power plant- back into operation, a project which will cost between $70 million and $100 million. The protocol with Russia promised Armenia a loan of 60 billion roubles (just under $30 million). Reuter on Greenbase, 8 September 1994


Bolivians protesting against the storage of German waste stored in the city of Patacamaya in Bolivia. The waste contains arsenicum and radioactive substances. The wind carries poiseness and radioactive dust to surrounding cities from the storage site, which is located 4,000 meter above sea level. Especially children are vulnerable, and are complaining about pain and inflammations. Süddeutsche Zeitung, FRG, 16 July 1994


Hungary claimes it found a site for permanently storing highly radioactive nuclear waste that could be an alternative to the material's increasingly controversial transport to Russia. The site, located about one km below ground in a aleurolite stratum at Boda in southern Hungary, has the capacity to store all of Hungary's nuclear waste for decades, said Erno Pungor, head of the National Committee for Technological Development (NCTD).
The main goal of the 'national target project' for the treatment and final disposal of radwaste from the Paks NPP are to develop financing for management and to obtain the required licenses. The budget for the first stage, to be implemented by 1996, is 325 million forints (US$3.2 million). At the site near Boda a deep research laboratory is being set up by MEV Mecsek Ore Mining Co. under a 1993 cooperation agreement between AECL of Canada and the Hungarian Ministry of Trade & Industry.
Some Paks fuel has been reprocessed at the Russian Mayak facility, but the bulk of the fision product waste are still stored at the national site at Puspokszilagyi in liquid form, awaiting availability of a industrial vitrification process.
Russia has been increasingly unhappy about a commitment made by the former Soviet Union in 1966 to accept Paks's spent nuclear rods and other nuclear waste. Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin signed an agreement during his visit to Budapest in April under which Russia will continue receiving Paks's spent rods. But Russian politicians ranging from environmentalists to nationalists, including the country's environment minister, have said they dislike the deal.
In the meantime, Paks is making arrangements for interim dry storage of spent fuel. Hungary has to prepare for a time when Russia will no longer accept Hungary's radioactive waste, Pungor said. "The fact that Russia has agreed to accept it is only temporary,' he said. Nucleonics Week, 1 September 1994 / Greenbase, Sept. 12, 1994


Israel not willing to sign NPT. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told his Egyptian counterpart on 28 September that Israel will not join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) until there are bilateral agreements between Israel and all countries in the region.
An Israeli spokesman said that when Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa asked Israel to join the pact, Peres replied that Iraq and Iran had signed the NPT, but that did not deter them from engaging in nuclear programs. "Iraq and Iran's fear of us is our deterrence," Peres said. Egypt has introduced an initiative at the U.N. General Assembly for a new resolution calling on all countries of the Middle East to join the NPT. Greenbase, 28 September 1994


Dismantling sub-training reactors Estonia. More than 200 Russian experts have begun dismantling the two 25 MW land based submarine training reactors at the Paldiski naval base in Estonia. The work is expected to be completed in September 1995. Under an agreement signed 30 July in Moscow, the fuel rods from both Paldiski reactors is scheduled to be removed at the end of October 1994. Submarine operator training will be transferred to Obninsk in Russia and will be done on simulators rather than actual reactors. Nucleonics Week, 1 September 1994


N-Bomb left behind. A nuclear bomb sits at the bottom of a mine shaft at a test site in Kazakhstan, forgotten in the confusion of the Soviet collapse. Novaya Yezhednevnaya Gazeta (New Daily Newspaper) said the 0.3 kiloton bomb, a relatively small device, contains about one kilogram of plutonium.
It was put at the bottom of a mine shaft at the Semipalatinsk test site in May 1991, only a few months before the abortive coup that brought about the Soviet collapse. The newspaper said plans to test the device evaporated along with the Soviet Union. The Russian military has since suggested using a chemical explosion that would create a 'cocoon' around the plutonium charge without setting it off.
The newspaper said 'desolation reigns' at Semipalatinsk, once one of the most secret Soviet military bases. "It has been turned into a trash heap," it said. Shepherds have stolen barbed wire that once surrounded the 18,500 square kilometer site, cattle now graze in contaminated areas, research centers and base housing have been looted, the paper said. Greenbase, 11 September 1994


Russia plans to build four small floating nuclear power plants in the next few years to supply electricity to distant corners of Siberia, nuclear industry sources said on Friday. "This will save us the expense of shipping coal or oil at high costs to these remote areas," Georgy Kaurov, spokesman for the atomic energy ministry, said. "The economic advantages are fabulous," he added.
The four stations are to be equipped with two KLT-40-type reactors, already used on nuclear ice-breakers and submarines. Kaurov said the small-capacity plants would move "from one port to another depending on each region's needs." But an official at the nuclear watchdog body Gosatomnadzor said the plants would remain moored to one fixed point. "Before launching this project, the atomic energy ministry has to submit plans to us for expertise," a Gosatomnadzor official said.
Another official, Sergei Yermakov of the nuclear industry group Rosenergoatom, said the project would take four or five years, provided local authorities agreed and funding was made available. "Once these two conditions are met, we'll start to implement the project," Yermakov said. He estimated the project costs at "billions of roubles" but declined to give a specific figure. Greenbase, 16 September 1994