Monday, March 24, 2014

Japan's Plutonium Stockpiles

Interesting news from yesterday about Japan's plutonium stockpiles:
M. D. Shear & D. E. Sanger (2014, March 23). Japan to Let U.S. Assume Control of Nuclear Cache. The New York Times,

THE HAGUE — Japan will announce Monday that it will turn over to Washington more than 700 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium and a large quantity of highly enriched uranium, a decades-old research stockpile that is large enough to build dozens of nuclear weapons, according to American and Japanese officials.

… At various moments right-wing politicians in Japan have referred to the stockpile as a deterrent, suggesting that it was useful to have material so that the world knows Japan, with its advanced technological acumen, could easily fashion it into weapons.

The nuclear fuel being turned over to the United States, which is of American and British origin, is a fraction of Japan’s overall stockpile. Japan has more than nine tons of plutonium stored in various locations and it is scheduled to open in the fall a new nuclear fuel plant that could produce many tons more every year….
Why does Japan’s Plutonium Stockpiling Matter?

In 2010, “Japan had more than 46 tons (8.7 Tons in Japan, approximately 37 tons in Europe) of separated plutonium in stock, but its MOX recycling program has made little progress.” (Suzuki, 2010). 46 tons of plutonium equals to 41,730 kilograms.

Argonne National Laboratory reports that the US stockpiled about 110,000 kilograms (kg) of plutonium between 1944 and 1994, and about 100,000 kg remains in inventory.

Majia here: So Japan has stockpiles of plutonium that are about 40% of the US stockpiles.

Keep in mind this figure for Japan is the official number. Japan may have more given its stockpiling craze. (see my links at the bottom of this post for background)

Japan has a major fuel storage problem and spent fuel management purportedly has been a driver in Japan’s 'reprocessing' goals, according to Suzuki who contributed a chapter on Japan’s plutonium breeder program to Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status: A research report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials. Japan hopes to draw down its plutonium stockpiles by mixing it in with uranium fuel to produce MOX.

However, it is widely recognized that the amount of plutonium stored around Japan is at problematic levels.

Yet, Japan wants to keep on processing plutonium at Rokkasho and convened a secret panel to authorize it within its government.

 Tuesday, May 29, 2012: Latest Update on Japan's Proposal to Re-Start Re-Processing of Nuclear Fuel:

Asahi: Panel backs nuclear fuel reprocessing after talks with industry officials May 24 2012

Mainichi: Yoroku: Dismantling the 'black boxes' of Japanese nuclear power
(sorry cannot find link now, but covered at my blog

May 29 Mainichi: Atomic Energy panel members call for independent probe into secret meetings

[excerpt] "Some members of a Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) panel working out new nuclear energy policy have called for a third-party probe into revelations that business operators in favor of the nuclear fuel cycle project were invited to secret meetings before an assessment was altered to help promote the project..."
Japan’s LDP leadership is cathected to plutonium, the element of death.

Piers Williamson summarizes a speech given May 31st, 2012 by Professors Frank von Hippel (Princeton University) and Gordon MacKerron (University of Sussex) on the issues associated with reprocessing and stockpiling this volume of enriched fuel. Williamson's summary is published as “Plutonium and Japan’s Nuclear Waste Problem: International Scientists Call for an End to Plutonium Reprocessing and Closing the Rokkasho Plant” and appeared in the Asia Pacific journal.

Williamson notes academics like von Hippel are claiming that Japan has a credibility problem when it comes to its unwillingness to stop enriching plutonium (see

Williamson notes that it would be very easy for Japan to quickly assemble nuclear weapons.

It seems probable Japan has a just-in-times nuclear weapons program. Think about it: why would Japan need to actually assemble the weapons before they are needed when it is so much more efficient to simply build them with vital parts stored strategically for that very purpose. Of course, Japan may actually have hidden nuclear weapons; but I’m betting on just-in-time. 

That raises the question: Where does Japan store all of its plutonium? Where do you store 8.7 tons of separated plutonium?

Plutonium was produced at the Tokai complex. It is probably stored there.

Tokai is a huge complex and they’ve been processing fuel there for a while. See background on Japan’s reprocessing

Tokai had earthquake damaged and has had reports of radioactive water leaking and a fire. 

Was plutonium stored at Fukushima? 

Why is the US suddenly taking a renewed interest in drawing down Japan's plutonium supplies?

There are many unanswered questions here that suggest that the secrecy at Daiichi may stem from more than Japan's traditional 'face saving.'


Piers Williamson Japan’s Nuclear Waste Problem: International Scientists Call for an End to Plutonium Reprocessing and Closing the Rokkasho Plant.  The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Vol 10, Issue 24, No 4, on June 11, 2012.

Suzuki, Tatsujiro. Japan’s Plutonium Breeder Reactor and its Fuel Cycle. In Thomas B. Cochran, Harold A. Feiveson, Walt Patterson, Gennadi Pshakin, M.V. Ramana, Mycle Schneider, Tatsujiro Suzuki, Frank von Hippel Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status: A research report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (53-61). February 2010.

Trento, Joseph. United States Circumvented Laws To Help Japan Accumulate Tons of Plutonium, on April 9th, 2012 National Security News Service



Russian Chernobyl Expert Warns of Dire Consequences for Health Around Fukushima: Dense populations and risk of plutonium releases could mean Fukushima accident worse than Chernobyl, prominent Russian scientists says

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