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Secret negotiations over Mongolia becoming repositary for nuclear waste

the idea has become a political lightning rod, with the opposition Green Party charging that a waste facility could become an environmental and safety nightmare….

the draft agreement, which has not been released but reportedly included a passage referring to Mongolia as a future destination for spent fuel……

“Mongolia is not an awfully democratic state,”

Senior U.S. Official Denies Talk of Foreign Nuclear Waste Site in Mongolia, NTI Global Security Newswire, Sept. 30, 2011, By Elaine M. Grossman WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. Energy Department official on Wednesday disputed reports that the Obama administration has sought Mongolian support for construction of a storage site for international spent nuclear fuel in the Central Asian nation (see GSN, March 30).

The assertion — made by a high-ranking official who asked not to be named in addressing a diplomatically sensitive issue — directly countered remarks offered last spring by a veteran State Department official who leads U.S. nuclear trade pact negotiations.

The diplomat, Richard Stratford, told a Washington audience in March that Energy Department leaders had made initial contacts with their counterparts in Ulaanbaatar about potential cooperation on a range of nuclear fuel services that Mongolia would like to develop for international buyers.

Among the possible features of a joint project, Stratford said, could be the creation of a repository for U.S.-origin fuel that has been used by Washington’s partners in the region, potentially including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

If brought to fruition, the proposal would be “a very positive step forward,” he said at the time, because no nation around the globe thus far has successfully built a long-term storage facility for dangerous nuclear waste…..

Adding Value

An evolving concept of nuclear fuel “leasing” would have the Mongolians build on their existing uranium ore resources to ultimately provide reactor-ready fuel to foreign nations and, additionally, stand ready to take back used uranium fuel rods once they are depleted, according to reports.

The idea, said the more junior Energy official, is that Mongolia could “potentially add long-term storage as part of the value of that uranium resource to potential buyers.”

Even if foreign-origin spent fuel cannot be stored in Mongolia, the nation’s talks with its international partners might yet allow for U.S., Japanese or other companies to build facilities in the Central Asian nation to produce Mongolian fuel for sale abroad, which could later be returned to Ulaanbaatar for storage after it is used.

The Mongolian Embassy in Washington on Thursday declined comment……

As a developing nation, Mongolia might derive substantial economic benefit if it agreed to accept foreign spent fuel. However, the idea has become a political lightning rod, with the opposition Green Party charging that a waste facility could become an environmental and safety nightmare.

A number of quiet steps toward international collaboration, though, have already taken place.

Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman in September 2010 signed a memorandum of understanding with Mongolian Foreign Minister Gombojav Zandanshatar, pledging future cooperation on civil nuclear power. Japan was also a party to the draft agreement, which has not been released but reportedly included a passage referring to Mongolia as a future destination for spent fuel……

“Certain people at the Department of Energy do believe Mongolia will agree to host a waste repository and are having relevant discussions,”nuclear expert Jeffrey Lewis, stated in another post the following month. Lewis directs the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies….

The crisis in Japan was mounting just as word began to leak in the news media that Ulaanbaatar was in the midst of closed-door discussions about jumping headlong into the nuclear energy market, a prospect that took many Mongolians by surprise. Revelations that the nation might construct a storage site somewhere in its expansive territory for foreign nuclear fuel further stoked public anxiety there.

In July, Kyodo News reported that the head of Toshiba — the Japanese parent company to U.S. nuclear energy firm Westinghouse — had written to Poneman to voice his company’s continued support for the largely secret “Comprehensive Fuel Supply” or “CFS” effort in Mongolia, despite industry setbacks posed by the Fukushima disaster……

“Mongolia is not an awfully democratic state,” said one U.S. expert who asked not to be named, citing controversy over the issue. “The ways in which they are engaging in this [discussion] shows how they are not fully democratic.”

Growing political outcry and public protests forced the Mongolian president, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, to address in greater detail exactly what Ulaanbaatar was discussing with foreign capitals.

On Sept. 9 he issued a decree prohibiting formal talks about “cooperation on nuclear disposal with any country or international organization,” unless such negotiations are authorized by the country’s national security council, Kyodo News reported.

Depending on the level of U.S. assistance permitted by a trade pact, Washington could conceivably exert a great amount of leverage over how Mongolia proceeds in entering the nuclear energy market.

Mongolian-origin fuel could actually become regarded as U.S.-origin material “if it is enriched or fabricated into fuel on U.S. soil,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist in the Global Security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Another way it could occur is if the fuel is irradiated in a reactor that has used any U.S. technologies or equipment.”…

http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/gsn/nw_20110930_6350.php

October 1, 2011 - Posted by | ASIA, secrets,lies and civil liberties, wastes

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