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UN atomic watchdog experts arrive in Japan

IEA warns Merkel on nuclear decision
Berlin (UPI) May 23, 2011 - Germany threatens European energy security by pressing ahead with its plan to drop nuclear power, the director of the International Energy Agency, Nobuo Tanaka has said. Because Europe's energy market is increasingly connected, the German policy decision affects the entire continent, Tanaka said in an interview with the Financial Times Germany newspaper. Berlin should come to a joint decision on nuclear power with its European partners, he said. "Otherwise sustainability and supply security are sacrificed in the whole of Europe," said the head of the IEA, which has headquarters in Paris and advises 28 industrialized countries on energy security.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in March, at the height of the Japanese nuclear crisis, ordered comprehensive stress tests for all 17 German reactors and decided to shut down the seven oldest, most of them built during the 1970s, for at least three months. Merkel, who in the fall of 2010 decided to prolong the use of nuclear power in Germany, said her government would look for ways to drop the energy source "as soon as possible." She won't unveil a timeframe for the nuclear phase out in Germany until next month but it's widely expected that some of the reactors may not be coming back online.

Experts expect the government's new energy strategy, to be unveiled next month, to bank on renewables, efficient coal- and natural gas-fired power plants and a modernization of Germany's aging power grid, which is seen unfit to transport large amounts of renewable power through the country. Tanaka said Germany's energy security will suffer if it decides to shut down reactors. "The dependency on other resources," such as coal and gas, "will increase," he said. Dropping nuclear power, he warned, would also lead to higher power prices. Four German grid operators warned Merkel that her decision to shut down reactors could lead to widespread blackouts in the winter, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported Monday.

Days with little sun and low winds could lead to outages in Germany's industry-heavy southern states, grid operators warned. "A safe supply to customers in these cases could be severely compromised," they said. The German position is almost unique in Europe. While several countries, including nuclear powerhouse France, have vowed to double-check their reactors for safety, they haven't gone as far as dropping the energy source. Only four of Germany's 17 reactors are currently producing power, with seven idling because of the moratorium, five undergoing maintenance and another one shut down since the summer of 2009. Critics of nuclear power say the current mix proves that a greater share of renewables could replace the reactors sooner than previously believed.
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) May 23, 2011
A team of specialists from the UN atomic watchdog arrived in Japan on Monday to join other international experts investigating Japan's nuclear crisis.

A six-strong delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flew to Tokyo's Narita airport from Vienna in preparation for a fact-finding mission from May 24 to June 2.

In all, a 20-member mission will compile a report on the emergency to be presented to IAEA member states next month at a ministerial-level conference in Vienna.

Tokyo has said the IAEA team is likely to visit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 and has leaked high levels of radiation into the environment.

But Jim Lyons, director of the IAEA's division of nuclear installation safety, said the itinerary was not finalised.

"We are going to be mostly in Tokyo but I think we're going to try to visit the site," Lyons told reporters ahead of their departure from Vienna. "That's the plan."

Asked which other sites the experts would visit, he replied: "I don't know. There are a lot of negotiations going on to determine where we can go."

The IAEA announced last week the mission, headed by Mike Weightman, chief inspector of nuclear installations in Britain, would comprise 20 experts from 12 different countries.

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), which runs the power plant, forecast later in the day that the planned construction of a system to treat radioactive water from the reactors was unlikely to be completed until mid-June.

TEPCO has asked French nuclear group Areva to set up the system, which is designed to remove radioactive particles from the water and is a key step to repairing cooling systems and preventing further leakage of radioactive water.

Contaminated water has spilled into the Pacific while engineers have been battling to bring the plant into stable "cold shutdown", which is expected to happen some time between October and January.

earlier related report
TEPCO shares close down 8.99% after record loss
Tokyo (AFP) May 23, 2011 - Shares in beleaguered utility Tokyo Electric Power closed 8.99 percent lower in Tokyo trade Monday after the company posted the biggest ever loss for a Japanese non-financial firm.

TEPCO posted a record $15 billion loss for the financial year ended March and its under-fire president resigned to take responsibility for the worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago.

Shares in the utility closed at 334 yen, down nearly 85 percent since the day before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, triggering reactor meltdowns.

The firm posted an annual net loss of 1.247 trillion yen ($15 billion), the biggest ever for a non-financial Japanese firm. The company did not give an earnings forecast for the current financial year.

It warned the "significant deterioration" in its financial position "raises serious uncertainty" about its ability to continue as a going concern.

It faces huge costs from damage to facilities as well as in procuring replacement fossil fuels on top of compensation claims that some analysts estimate to be as high as 10 trillion yen.

"The company said it has priced in as many costs as possible, but unfortunately, investors do not believe those words so uncertainty remains strong and shares are likely to continue being volatile," a senior portfolio manager at a Japanese asset management firm told Dow Jones Newswires.

The loss for Japan's biggest utility comes amid heavy criticism over its handling of the emergency. The prospect of massive compensation claims prompted the government to devise a rescue plan using public and industry funds, with no ceiling set on payments.

"For TEPCO to pay compensation and to continue operating freely as a corporation, a limit to its damage payments would need to be established," said Nomura Securities analyst Shigeki Matsumoto.

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Leaders of Japan, China, S. Korea meet in Fukushima
Tokyo (AFP) May 21, 2011
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