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IRAN

Deal to implement Iran nuclear plan reached

Iran and world power representatives have agreed on how to implement a landmark deal on containing Tehran's nuclear programme, but stamps of approval from each country are still needed before it can take effect.

Deal to implement Iran nuclear plan reached
Iranian heavy water plant visited last month by UN inspectors. Photo: Hamid Foroutan/AFP

Two days of talks in Geneva between high-level Iranian and EU negotiators "made very good progress on all the pertinent issues," Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told AFP on Friday.
   
Iran's deputy chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi, who on Friday evening wrapped up two days of intense talks in Geneva with Ashton's deputy Helga Schmid, agreed.
   
"We found solutions for all the points of disagreement," he told Iranian state-run TV.
   
The EU represents the so-called P5+1 group of world powers — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany in the decade-long nuclear negotiations with Iran.
   
Top US nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman also briefly met with Araqchi and Schmid on Thursday.
   
Negotiators had previously said they want to implement the groundbreaking November 24th deal, which aims to rein in Tehran's nuclear programme in exchange for some sanctions relief, by January 20th.
   
But Araqchi said on Friday that although differences on how to put it into action had been ironed out, "the implementation of the Geneva agreement depends on the final ratification of the capitals".
   
He would not confirm that the target implementation date remained January 20th, noting that too would be decided by the each country's government, who he said would soon each issue a statement on the issue.
   
Mann confirmed to AFP that the progress made in Geneva this week "is now under validation at (the) political level in capitals".
   
Western powers and Israel fear Iran is seeking to develop the atomic bomb under the guise of a civilian nuclear programme, but Tehran has always denied this.
   
Under the November deal, Iran agreed to curb parts of its nuclear drive for six months in exchange for receiving modest relief from international sanctions and a promise by Western powers not to impose new measures against
its hard-hit economy.
   
Technical experts from both sides have since November held several sessions in Geneva aimed at fine-tuning the deal.
   
But when experts held four days of talks last month in Vienna —  home of the International Atomic Energy Agency — the Iranians walked out after Washington expanded its sanctions blacklist against Tehran.
   
This week in Geneva, Araqchi and Schmid pored over three outstanding issues, repeatedly breaking off discussions so Schmid could consult with each of the six countries she represented, Araqchi told Iranian TV Thursday evening.
   
The negotiations had been "good, constructive and intense," he said Friday, without revealing which issues had been debated.
   
Meanwhile, diplomatic sources have said disagreement over a new generation of nuclear centrifuges, which could potentially enable Iran to rapidly purify uranium to a weapons-grade level, might prove a hurdle to rolling out the
agreement.
   
The latest round of talks in Geneva came as Iranian leaders voiced concerns at the slow pace of implementation.
   
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani warned in a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Thursday against "seeking excuses that would create problems in the negotiation process," Iran's ISNA news agency
reported.
   
He also called on "certain countries . . . to respect their own commitments (under the Geneva deal) and avoid new strictures that would shadow their goodwill".
   
The interim deal is meant to buy time for diplomacy to clinch a lasting agreement to allay Western suspicions that Iran is covertly developing nuclear weapons.

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NUCLEAR POWER

‘Truly historic’: Switzerland shuts down a nuclear power station for first time

One of four Swiss nuclear power stations was permanently disconnected on Friday after 47 years of service, marking a first in Switzerland, as the country begins to gradually phase out atomic energy.

'Truly historic': Switzerland shuts down a nuclear power station for first time
AFP

The decision to press the “off” button for good at the ageing Muhleberg plant in western Switzerland came amid soaring upkeep costs, and leaves the wealthy Alpine nation with three remaining nuclear plants in service.

“This is the first ever decommissioning of a power reactor in Switzerland,” Swiss energy company BKW, the plant operator, said in a statement.

Since it was commissioned in November 1972, the plant had pumped out some 130 billion kilowatts per hour of electricity, which is enough to cover the current electrical consumption of the Swiss capital Bern's some one million inhabitants for more than a century, BKW said.

The shutdown of the plant officially began at 12:30 pm (1130 GMT), with the decisive button-push transmitted live on Swiss television.

But the full decommissioning process is expected to take around 15 years, with reuse of the site likely possible from 2034.

'Truly historic'

“This is truly a historic day,” Swiss Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told public broadcaster RTS earlier this week.

“The halt of the Muhleberg nuclear plant provides opportunities (for growth) of hydraulic energy and solar power,” she said.

The plant had become the site of repeated protests amid a raging debate about nuclear safety in Switzerland that intensified following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

In the aftermath of Fukushima, Switzerland announced plans to phase out nuclear energy and close its four plants, but no clear timeline has been set.

In early 2013, Muhlberg's operating license was even extended indefinitely, but just months later, its operator announced its plans to shut it down.

But the decision to close the plant, which has covered around five percent of Switzerland's energy consumption, was not politically motivated, BKW said.

“This was a business decision,” the company told AFP in an email.

“If we had wanted to keep running our plant in the long term, we would have needed to invest heavily to respond to the technical requirements stipulated by the Swiss Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI),” it said.

But the closure does mark a clear first step in Switzerland's planned nuclear phase-out, leaving three plants in operation: Gosgen, Leibstadt and Beznau.

The latter houses two reactors, including one that turned 50 earlier this month, making it Europe's oldest functioning reactor and the third oldest in operation worldwide.

But despite their advanced age and Switzerland's stated ambition to gradually exit nuclear — which accounts for about a third of its current power generation — there are no immediate plans to shut down the remaining  reactors.

In a popular vote three years ago, the Swiss rejected a call to speed up the phaseout of the plants by decommissioning all reactors over the age of 45.

As a result, the reactors can run for as long as ENSI deems them safe, or for as long as their operators find it financially viable to invest in the required safety upgrades.

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