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Turkey buys Nuke from Japan and France
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The $22bn (£14bn) contract is Japan's first successful bid for an overseas nuclear project since a tsunami wrecked the Fukushima power station.

The deal was signed by visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it would transform relations with Japan into a "strategic partnership".

"What happened at Fukushima upset all of us. But these things can happen. Life goes on. Successful steps are being taken now with the use of improved technology," the Turkish prime minister added.

The deal comes as part of renewed efforts to promote Japanese nuclear technologies abroad, despite concerns over safety.

One of the Japanese firms included in the consortium is Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, one of the companies behind the Fukushima plant damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Turkey is also prone to earthquakes, and the government cited Japan's expertise in earthquake protection as one of the factors in signing the deal.

The other firms are Itochu Corporation and French utility group GDF Suez.

Japan is looking to boost exports of its technological expertise as it attempts to increase economic growth and escape two decades of near stagnation.

Fast-growing Turkey, meanwhile, is planning to invest in domestic energy generation to reduce its dependence on imports as the economy expands.

The new nuclear plant will be Turkey's second. It is currently dependent on imported oil and gas to meet 97% of its energy needs.

Solar trade war
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The European Commission has proposed a tough 47pc “anti-dumping” tariff to penalise the imports, it emerged on Wednesday.

The move would benefit European manufacturers, who allege their Chinese rivals - whose panels are as much as 45pc cheaper - are unfairly subsidised by Beijing.

Chinese solar panel production quadrupled between 2009 and 2011, exceeding global demand, and EU manufacturers say China has now captured 80pc of the European market.

However, action against the Chinese imports is fiercely opposed by European solar panel installation companies which have thrived on the cheap supply and claim that hundreds of thousands of jobs could be at risk.

On Wednesday night Britain said it was “working hard to ensure the Commission’s response, and any measures imposed, are proportionate and take account of wider effects on the industry”.

The EC is expected to consult with member states before taking a formal decision on penalties in early June.

China’s ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, Yi Xiaozhun, told Reuters that the move would “send the wrong message to the world that protectionism is coming”.

The plans come at a time when Chinese relations are already tense for both Britain and the wider EU.

The EU, China’s largest export market, has already clashed with China over a series of trade issues. In September, the EC launched its anti-dumping probe into Chinese solar panels, prompted by complaints from primarily German and Italian companies who have struggled to compete against the cheap imports.

In November, the EC escalated its action with an anti-subsidy investigation. Both investigations will take nine months at the end of which it will report back to member states and decide whether to impose provisional duties.

China retaliated to the investigations with an inquiry into European exports of polysilicon, a key component for solar panel makers.

The Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy said reports of the EC’s provisional anti-dumping duties were “extremely worrying” and warned that levies over 15pc could destroy 85pc of the European market for solar panels.

It said that “punitive tariffs, no matter at what level, would cause irreversible damage” to the solar power industry in Europe.

Britain’s energy minister Greg Barker told a UK confererence on solar power late last month that the technology would be “at the heart of the UK’s energy mix” but admitted the Chinese issue was the “elephant in the room”.

He urged solar companies to continue lobbying against the proposals through their trade associations.

Self repairing concrete
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Experimental concrete that patches up cracks by itself is to undergo outdoor testing.

The concrete contains limestone-producing bacteria, which are activated by corrosive rainwater working its way into the structure.

The new material could potentially increase the service life of the concrete - with considerable cost savings as a result.

The work is taking place at Delft Technical University, the Netherlands.

It is the brainchild of microbiologist Henk Jonkers and concrete technologist Eric Schlangen.

If all goes well, Dr Jonkers says they could start the process of commercialising the system in 2-3 years.

Concrete is the world's most widely used building material. But it is prone to cracks, which means that structures need to be substantially reinforced with steel.

"Micro-cracks" are an expected part of the hardening process and do not directly cause strength loss. Fractures with a width of about 0.2mm are allowed under norms used by the concrete industry.

But over time, water - along with aggressive chemicals in it - gets into these cracks and corrodes the concrete.

Longer life

"For durability reasons - in order to improve the service life of the construction - it is important to get these micro-cracks healed," Dr Jonkers told BBC News.

Bacterial spores and the nutrients they will need to feed on are added as granules into the concrete mix. But water is the missing ingredient required for the microbes to grow.

  Concrete is the world's most popular building material, but cracking is a problem

So the spores remain dormant until rainwater works its way into the cracks and activates them. The harmless bacteria - belonging to the Bacillus genus - then feed on the nutrients to produce limestone.

The bacterial food incorporated into the healing agent is calcium lactate - a component of milk. The microbes used in the granules are able to tolerate the highly alkaline environment of the concrete.

"In the lab we have been able to show healing of cracks with a width of 0.5mm - two to three times higher than the norms state," Dr Jonkers explained.

"Now we are upscaling. We have to produce the self-healing agent in huge quantities and we are starting to do outdoor tests, looking at different constructions, different types of concrete to see if this concept really works in practice."

The main challenge is to ensure the healing agent is robust enough to survive the mixing process. But, in order to do so, says Dr Jonkers, "we have to apply a coating to the particles, which is very expensive".

The team is currently trying to reduce the cost this adds to the process. But he expects an improved system to be ready in about six months.

The outdoor tests should begin after this; the team is already talking to several construction firms that could provide help.

The concrete will then have to be monitored for a minimum of two years to see how it behaves in this real-world setting.

"Then, if everybody's happy, we can think about trying to commercialise the product," said the TU Delft researcher.

Even if the healing agent adds 50% to the concrete cost, this makes up just 1-2% of the total construction cost. Maintenance is a much higher percentage of this total cost, so Dr Jonkers expects big savings through extending the concrete's service life.

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