Japan’s agreement with the United States on bilateral cooperation in civilian uses of nuclear power will be automatically renewed when its 30-year term expires in July.
As neither of the two governments sought to renegotiate the deal half a year prior to the expiration date, the current agreement will remain in place as is.
All of Japan’s nuclear power projects, from nuclear power plants to research and development projects concerning atomic energy, are based on this agreement.
The most notable feature of the pact is that it allows Japan to reprocess spent fuel from nuclear power plants to extract plutonium.
But the fact that the agreement allows Japan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel should not be used by the Japanese government as a pretext for pursuing a reprocessing program.
Japan already has enough plutonium to make some 6,000 atomic bombs similar to the one dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945.
Japan has no plausible plan to reduce its stockpile.
In 2015, Japan decided to decommission the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor. The decision has effectively destroyed Japan’s hopes of establishing a nuclear fuel recycling system.
Japan currently has some 47 tons of plutonium including amounts extracted in Britain and France for Japan under reprocessing contracts.
The Japanese government and the power industry entertain the idea of mixing such plutonium with uranium for burning in ordinary reactors. But most of the operable nuclear reactors in Japan have been offline since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Under the U.N. Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Japan is the only country without nuclear arms that is allowed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.
Japan should start serious and concrete efforts to reduce its stockpile of plutonium in line with its international promise not to hold any surplus plutonium.
Transferring the material to Britain and France and asking the United States to develop a viable disposable method are ideas that merit serious consideration.
The reprocessing plant in Rokkasho was originally scheduled to be completed in 1997. But the time frame was moved back again late last year, by some three more years to the first half of fiscal 2021, in the 23rd postponement.
The project has been plagued by a slew of problems and troubles and the estimated construction cost has nearly quadrupled from the original estimate to 2.9 trillion yen ($26.12 billion).
Read more at EDITORIAL: Japan should not pursue nuke fuel reprocessing despite U.S. OK