Friday, 3 August 2018

How Japanese ‘peaceful’ plutonium could end up in British bombs


Just ten days before the 73rd commemoration of the day the United States deliberately dropped an atomic bomb containing around 6 kilogrammes of the nuclear explosive plutonium on the southern Japanese city of Nagasaki (on 9 August 1945), killing at least 65,000 instantly, the current Japanese Government’s Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) made an important announcement (on 31 July) on ‘The Basic Principles on Japan’s Utilization of Plutonium.’ (

Alongside this on the same day, the Japanese Government’s Office of Atomic Energy Policy –located inside the Cabinet Office - published an 11-page ‘Status Report of Plutonium Management in Japan – 2017, which revealed that out of 47,300 kilogrammes of plutonium owned by Japan, only 10,500 kilogrammes of

which was held domestically and the rest -  approximately 36,700 kilogrammes  is held abroad, with 15,500  located in France and the biggest single overseas managed  consignment, 22,200 kilogrammes, held at Sellafield in the UK. It adds the detail:” “Approximately, 0.6 ton (600 kgs )of plutonium from the remaining spent fuel

contracted out to the UK is expected to be added to the stockpile around by 2019,

when the reprocessing facility in the UK (THORP, at Sellafield) is scheduled to be closed.” (

The fact that enough fissile plutonium to make around 4,440 nuclear warheads is being held on behalf of Japan at Sellafield is important, considering the documented (see for example: and record of successive  British government deliberately proliferating by blurring the distinction between civil and military activities across nearly 70 years of nuclear activities.


The 31 July statement opens by asserting “Japan has been using nuclear energy exclusively for peaceful purposes and upholding the principle of not possessing plutonium without specific purposes under the Atomic Energy Basic Act.”


While this may we well be accurate for atomic activities inside of Japan, it is certainly not true for Japanese-owned nuclear materials sent to the UK for processing and long- term management.


The JAEC statement also stresses “While taking into account recent circumstances surrounding the use of nuclear energy not only in Japan but also in the world, Japan, cooperating with the international community and attaching greatest importance to nuclear non-proliferation, follows the policies below as it promotes the utilization of plutonium, in order to enhance transparency of its peaceful use.” This is doubtful, to put it kindly.


It goes on to announce, inter alia, that “Japan will reduce the size of its plutonium stockpile. …and will “work on reducing Japan’s plutonium stockpile stored overseas through measures including promoting collaboration and cooperation among the operators.”


The new “Status Report of Plutonium Management in Japan” boldly asserts that

“Japan upholds the principles of not possessing plutonium without specific purposes guided by the policy of peaceful use. ..” adding  “Given the importance of

enhancing transparency and gaining public understanding on use of plutonium at

home and abroad, Japan has published the status report of management of

unirradiated separated plutonium (hereinafter referred to as “separated plutonium”)

including usage and stockpile both within and outside of Japan since 1994. Moreover,

Japan has also reported the status annually to the IAEA in conformity with the

“Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium.”  ( for 2018 declaration see


On plutonium controls, JAEC asserts that ”Under the Treaty on the non- proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), based on the Comprehensive Safeguards

Agreement concluded with the IAEA and its Additional Protocol, Japan accepts

safeguards by the IAEA on all nuclear materials including plutonium in Japan.(emphasis added-DL)

It adds : “The IAEA’s Board of Governors held in June 2018 has affirmatively concluded that the safeguards implemented by the IAEA in 2017 found that all nuclear material

remained in peaceful activities (The broader conclusion) on the basis that there are

no indication of the diversion of declared nuclear material from peaceful nuclear

activities and no indication of undeclared nuclear material or activities in Japan.”


The majority of the remainder of report then details the quantities, quality and locations of plutonium stocks held inside Japan. But the vast bulk of Japan-owned plutonium is managed outside its borders, in France and the UK


It concludes pointing out that “in Feb.1994, the nine countries, i.e. US, Russia, UK, France, China, Japan, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland started to deliberate on the establishment of an international framework aimed at enhancing the transparency of plutonium utilization. In Dec.1997, these nine countries decided on the Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium that provided the basic norms about plutonium management, transparency through publication of the amount of plutonium held in each country and the importance of non-proliferation.

In Mar.1998, the IAEA published for the first time the amount of plutonium held in

each country and the policy of each country about plutonium utilization reported to the

IAEA under the Guidelines.” (


In the build up to the July 31st atomic announcement by the JAEC, an important public policy forum on plutonium was held on 28 June in Tokyo An account was published by Kyodo News -‘How not to reduce Japan's plutonium stockpile’ July 13, 2018 ( written by  Alan J. Kuperman, associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin,  founding coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, and a former senior policy research associate wither Nuclear Control Institute in Washington DC.

Kuperman explained the context of the Tokyo symposium thus: )Facing U.S. pressure and the expiration on July 16 [2018] of the initial term of the 1988 U.S.-Japan nuclear agreement, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission is expected to propose plans to reduce Japan's massive 48-ton stockpile of unirradiated plutonium by boosting the use of plutonium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in nuclear power reactors.” J. Kuperman)

 “ Japan and the United States extended a bilateral nuclear agreement Tuesday that has served as the basis for Tokyo’s push for policies emphasizing the recycling of nuclear fuel.

The pact, which entered into force in July 1988, has authorized this nation to reprocess spent fuel, extract plutonium and enrich uranium for 30 years. As neither side sought to review it before the end of its term the deal will remain effective, leaving Japan the only country without nuclear arms that is allowed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

The passing of the initial 30-year period does raise uncertainty over the future of the pact, as it can now be terminated at any time six months after either party notifies the other.

The United States is perceived to be concerned about Japan’s stockpiles of plutonium, though Tokyo has limited its research, development and use of nuclear energy to peaceful purposes.

“Japan will do all it can to maintain the nuclear nonproliferation regime while keeping the (Japan-U.S.) nuclear pact,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters.

“It will be important to make efforts toward reducing the large amount of plutonium that Japan possesses,” Kono added.”

(“Japan and U.S. extend nuclear pact as Tokyo looks to reduce plutonium stockpile,” Kyodo/Japan Times, July 17, 2018;

Kuperman proposed five point plan to deal with Japan’s  plutonium stockpile. His third point  reads as follows:, 2nd from”

“Nearly half of Japan's stockpile, 22 tons, is in Britain, which has offered to take ownership for a price, as it did for Germany, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands. Overnight, Japan could cut its stockpile by 46 percent. Japanese utilities (and their customers) would also save money by avoiding the expense of storing plutonium abroad and then fabricating it into MOX, which costs eight times more than traditional uranium fuel.”

He concludes: “By transferring the British plutonium, and disposing of unusable domestic stocks, Japan would be left with a more manageable quantity of 15 tons in France and two in Japan, which could be dispositioned faster using both MOX and disposal as waste. Japan could thus eliminate its plutonium stockpile in perhaps five years, if it also terminated the overpriced, dangerous, and incomplete domestic facilities for reprocessing and MOX fabrication. Japan could switch to disposing its spent fuel as waste, exactly as all other countries (except France) that previously used MOX in multiple thermal reactors already have done.

Assuming Japan does not secretly wish to preserve a nuclear-weapons option, this roadmap could reduce its plutonium stockpile rapidly. If Japan instead expands use of MOX fuel as the JAEC recommends, thereby increasing its domestic plutonium, neighboring countries will understand the message and respond accordingly.”

But how might the Japanese-owned plutonium held abroad, especially the UK, be covered by the same nonproliferation framework applied to nuclear explosive material in Japan? Demonstrable experience suggests it will not be segregated from military use material, and against the Japanese constitution, could be diverted to bomb or other military use.

It is now established that the spent nuclear fuel discharged from the Magnox nuclear plant  the UK sold Japan in the late 1950s at Tokai Mura  was co-processed (ie reprocessed together) - based on the calculated burn-up of the irradiate fuel - with  SNF from UK Magnox reactors of broadly similar burn up, including the two dedicated military production reactors at Calder Hall at Sellafield and Chapel Cross in Scotland, on whose  basic design the  Tokai plant was based. The reprocessed plutonium was thereafter  allocated  to  owner customers by weight, not isotopic composition, by adopting a principle of fungeability (astonishingly permitted by the IAEA and other regional regulators), under which customers do not  get the same  atoms of plutonium back, but it is allocated by weight from the overall stockpile held at Sellafield in different isotopic  bands.

The result is a net gain in directly weapons-useable  plutonium for the military, including plutonium from nominally civil reactors  in the UK and overseas, including Japan and Italy, where the UK sold its only other reactor export, the now shut Latina plant.

Tokai Mura generated electricity from 1966 until it was decommissioned in 1998. In a detailed 70-page analysis presented to the International Plutonium Conference held in Omiya in 1991, I explained how the plutonium from this reactor – as reprocessed at the UK reprocessing factory at Sellafield – with almost total certainty was added to the UK military stockpile of nuclear explosive materials for the British nuclear warhead programme. Some might also have been exported to the US, for use in its nuclear weapons programme, under a 1959 mutual cooperation agreement on atomic energy matters between the US and UK.( NukeInfoTokyo, No.26, Nov/Dec 1991;

I suggested at the time that this was contrary to Japan’s “Three Non-Nuclear Principles of not possessing, not producing and not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons, in line with Japan’s Peace Constitution.” (Statement by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato at the Budget Committee in the House of Representatives, December 11th,1967.)

This solemn statement was repeated by a successor Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, four years ago, demonstrating continuity of the importance of the pledge at the highest level of Japanese diplomacy and politics: “People must never forget, nor repeat, the horrors caused by nuclear weapons here in Hiroshima 66 years ago. On behalf of the Government of Japan, I pledge that Japan, the only country to have experienced nuclear devastation in war, will observe its Constitution and firmly maintain the Three Non-Nuclear Principles for the sake of the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons and the realization of eternal world peace. (“Japan’s atomic ambivalence over nuclear relations with UK,” by CNIC· August 6, 2015;

I have explained the problems of the light water reactor SNF sent to Sellafield under contracts drawn up in the mid-1970s to be reprocessed in THORP in the following recent blog: 'Mark-your-own-homework' nuclear "safeguards" proposed by UK Government as part of Brexit plans” (

It essentially points out how the UK, as a self-appointed nuclear weapons state, has aggregated to itself the permission to withdraw  any - or indeed all - of the  plutonium under nominal IAEA safeguards”  from these safeguards for unspecifield “national security” reasons. The US, Russia, France and China each have similar exclusion clauses: in this way the self-appointed global nuclear police in the declared nuclear weapons states have unfettered permission to  proliferate from civil nuclear programmes to aggrandize their own  nuclear WMD programmes entirely with the permission of the UN’s global nuclear watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as long as notification is made to the Agency of these intended withdrawals.

The do-as-we-say, not-as-we-do nature of this is stunningly hypocritical, yet remains inexplicably unchallenged by the non-nuclear weapons states.

In the UK new developments are covered by the negotiations to establish a so-called ‘domestic’ safeguards regime. The Business and Energy department (BEIS) published its Nuclear Safeguards Regulations for consultation on 9 July 2018. Chapter VIII on ‘Civil Activities’ contains the following section on exemptions to safeguards coverage:


Withdrawal from civil activities


173. Regulation 33 prohibits an operator from withdrawing qualifying nuclear material from civil activities except with the prior written consent of the Office for Nuclear Regulation. This is a key obligation that the UK has undertaken though its current Voluntary Offer Agreement and will undertake in its future Voluntary Offer Agreement.

The Japanese foreign ministry should be worried that the UK is enshrining its permission to proliferate with plutonium - including that reprocessed from SNF sent to the UK for reprocessing. Tokyo should be sending a diplomatic demarche to London forthwith.



Japan Announces Policy Change on Plutonium Overhang

1 comment:

  1. The general public and electorate-malleable politicians don't give a s!!t about proliferation [in the 'super-safe UK]. More to the point, they don't give a s!!t about where their energy comes from as long as it's there 24/7 at the flick of a switch or at the fuel pumps.

    You probably sense that GE-H's PRISM reactor will be the preferred choice for the disposition of our 140 tonne of plutonium and it will chug away for 60 years on the fuel created, supplying all of the 24/7 electricity need for a populations size that of Lancaster, Preston and Liverpool combined. And all of that from a secured site the size of a retail park.

    It would be sensible to pay 70% less for this 24/7 option than offshore windfarms, occupying 300 square km of pristine, near-shore seabed and delivering a truly atrocious product that will forever require foassil-fuelled back up: