Japan Pushes Plan to Stockpile Plutonium, Despite Proliferation Risks via The New York Times

OKYO — Just weeks after Japan agreed to give up a cache of weapons-grade plutonium, the country is set to push ahead with a program that would produce new stockpiles of the material, creating a proliferation risk for decades to come.

Though that additional plutonium would not be the grade that is most desirable for bombs, and is therefore less of a threat, it could — in knowledgeable hands and with some work and time — be used to make a weapon. The newly created stockpiles would add to tons of other plutonium already being stored in Japan.

“The government made a big deal out of returning several hundred kilograms of plutonium, but it brushes over the fact that Japan has so much more,” said Sumio Mabuchi, an opposition lawmaker who served as adviser to the government in the early days of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. “It’s hypocritical.”
Japan’s intent to grow its plutonium inventory is also becoming a new irritant in Tokyo’s relations with its Asian neighbors, threatening to further destabilize a region already mired in disputes over territory and wartime history. This month, China accused Japan of stockpiling plutonium and uranium “far exceeding its normal needs.” The implication is that Japan wants to retain the plutonium in case it decided to pursue its own nuclear weapons program.

For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other proponents of recycling, the risks are outweighed by the benefit of more energy independence — a goal of Japanese leaders for decades. While uranium remains widely available, and cheap, the Abe administration says Japan’s nuclear program should not be vulnerable to disruptions of supply or a possible rise in costs.

The plutonium that will remain is dedicated to the recycling project, which is decades behind schedule because of technical problems and opposition to recycling. “It is absurd that Japan is still seeing plutonium recycling as a ticket to energy security,” said Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Besides a drive for energy independence, critics say the Japanese government is continuing to push recycling because the nuclear establishment remains powerful and because of the tremendous investment the government and utilities have made. The Rokkasho facility alone has taken $22 billion and more than 20 years to build.

Japan agrees to hand over nuclear material to United States via CNN

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