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Japanese Plutonium Plant Undermines War on Terror, Sets Dangerous Precedent for Iran

Statement of Dr. Edwin Lyman, Senior Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists (March 31, 2006)

"The decision by Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) to begin production of separated plutonium at the Rokkasho-mura Reprocessing Plant (RRP) is both dangerous and reckless. It will further erode a nuclear non-proliferation regime already severely weakened by the Iran crisis, and will ultimately increase the risk that terrorists will obtain the materials needed to make nuclear weapons. This is a step backwards in the war on terrorism.

"Japan has already accumulated a stockpile of more than 40 metric tons of separated plutonium, enough to make thousands of nuclear weapons. Japan does not have a credible, realistic plan to dispose of the plutonium that it has already accumulated. The approximately four metric tons of plutonium that will be produced during the first trial run of the plant will simply be added to this stockpile, presenting a tempting target for terrorists.

"The unfortunate truth is that the techniques used to measure the inventory of plutonium in the plant are not precise enough to be able to determine whether a shortfall of enough material to make a simple nuclear weapon-roughly six kilograms-was the result of an intentional diversion or was due to random measurement errors. For a plant like the RRP, which may process 8,000 kilograms of plutonium per year, that requires the ability to detect a diversion of six kilograms, or less than 0.1 percent of the annual throughput. This is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack with a blurry magnifying glass.

"Operating a facility that is not justified on economic or resource grounds will provide cover for countries like Iran to proceed with their own uneconomical nuclear fuel production programs. However, if Japan had decided not to operate the RRP and acknowledged that it has no need for the plutonium produced by this facility, it would have sent a powerful message to Iran and other nations that non-proliferation considerations trump national pride.

"For its part, the U.S. government position on the RRP is completely illogical. The Bush administration has stated that separated plutonium stockpiles pose a proliferation threat, and it has proposed spending billions of dollars on a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership to develop more 'proliferation-resistant' alternatives to the process that the RRP will use-a program that will take decades. But it is refusing to take action to stop the near-term accumulation of separated plutonium at the RRP, using the weak argument that the U.S. 'cannot tell Japan what to do.' If the United States were really serious about halting the growth of separated plutonium stockpiles, it could have at least publicly asked Japan to refrain from contributing to this growth."

... Payvand News - 4/3/06 ... --

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