Japan will seek a nuclear pact with the United States that renews automatically while it continues reprocessing spent fuel and enriching uranium, rather than a long-term pact similar to one set to expire next year, government sources said Tuesday.
Ahead of the current 30-year bilateral pact’s expiration in July next year, the government envisions the new type of agreement because it has little time for talks amid vacancies in U.S. departments tasked with negotiations under President Donald Trump’s administration, the sources said.
Further, the government apparently wants to avoid facing potentially harsh demands from Washington, such as over large stockpiles of plutonium that have built up over years of reprocessing under the current pact, observers said. The plutonium can be used to produce nuclear weapons, posing a potential proliferation risk.
The bilateral agreement, which entered into force in July 1988, authorizes Japan for 30 years until July 2018 to establish a nuclear fuel recycling system in which spent fuel from nuclear reactors is reprocessed to extract uranium and plutonium, which is then recycled as fuel called mixed oxide, or MOX, for use in fast-breeder reactors or conventional nuclear reactors.
But the reprocessing project has faced growing uncertainty as most nuclear plants have suspended operations amid safety concerns following the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The trouble-prone Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Fukui Prefecture will also be decommissioned despite its envisioned key role in the fuel recycling plan.
If the pact is renewed with the envisioned automatic extension clause, it could be terminated anytime if either party gives notice six months in advance. But the government has judged that the United States is unlikely to greatly change its policy given that officials in charge of pact negotiations at the State and Energy departments have yet to be named, the sources said.