The Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) on 5 July endorsed a call for stricter management of its fuel recycling programme to reduce its plutonium stockpile. The annual “nuclear white paper” is seen as a response to increasing US pressure.
Japan has pledged not to stockpile plutonium for which it does not have a planned use, but its recycling programme has faced a series of technical and political delays, both before and after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Japan’s stockpile of plutonium has raised security concerns in Washington, which is currently seeking denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. JAEC chairman Yoshiaki Oka said the determination to tackle the stockpile is Japan’s initiative and not a response to US pressure.
JAEC is compiling guidelines to better manage and reduce the plutonium stockpile, including some government oversight in setting a limit on plutonium reprocessing and a study into how to steadily minimise plutonium processing abroad. Japan has nearly 47t of plutonium; 37t tonnes of which is in France and Britain, where used fuel from Japanese nuclear plants has been reprocessed into plutonium-based mixed oxide (mox) fuel pending the launch of Japan’s much delayed Rokkasho reprocessing facility. Oka said he was not aware of any outstanding problem with the USA over the plutonium issue, but added that Japan is taking into consideration the importance of maintaining “relationship of trust with the USA”.
The Rokkasho plant is now scheduled to begin operation in 2021. But there is concern that this would add to the plutonium stockpile unless Japan has 16-18 reactors back online and burning mox fuel by then.
Photo: Rokkasho reprocessing plant (Photo: JNFL)