Japan has plutonium, rockets and rivals. Will it ever build a nuke? via PRI’s The World

Patrick Winn

There are few substances more freakish than plutonium. Seldom found in nature, the metal is pewter gray, absurdly heavy and so radioactive that, if you held a lump on a cold day, it would gently warm your hands.

It’s also some of the most dangerous stuff in existence. A chunk weighing just 17 pounds — if weaponized — could immolate New York City. A pickup truck filled with plutonium holds enough raw power to potentially end civilization as we know it.

Most of the world’s nuke-ready plutonium is held by a few countries with powerful militaries: the United States, Russia, Israel, India, China, Pakistan, France and the United Kingdom.

And then there’s Japan.

Japan is perhaps the most pacifist, large nation on Earth. It also happens to own 100,000 pounds of primo, weapons-grade plutonium. That could be enough to create more than 5,000 nuclear bombs.

All of this plutonium has been processed, Japanese officials say, with the intention of generating electricity. Moreover, every last lump is monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, says Tomohiko Taniguchi, a special adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.


Only 1 in 10 Japanese people want their government to acquire nuclear weapons. The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still resonate. Conventional wisdom says that disdain for nuclear weapons is baked into the Japanese psyche.

But Japan’s identity is also in flux, and there are scattered groups working hard to tilt the status quo. They often pop up on street corners in Tokyo, yelling at passersby, determined to jolt their fellow Japanese from a pacifist slumber.


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