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April 9, 2002 202-822-8444;
JAPAN CAN CONSTRUCT NUCLEAR BOMBS
USING ITS POWER PLANT PLUTONIUM
Opposition Leader Ozawas Statement is Technically
Politically Dangerous, Says Nuclear Control Institute
Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawas recent statement that Japan could easily
produce thousands of nuclear warheads using plutonium recovered from the
spent fuel of its commercial nuclear power reactors is technically accurate,
the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) confirmed today.
stated in a lecture delivered Saturday that if [China] gets too inflated,
Japanese people will get hysterical. It
would be so easy for us to produce nuclear warheadswe have plutonium at
nuclear power plants in Japan, enough to make several thousand such
[I]f we get serious, we will never be beaten in terms of military
power. His remarks were widely reported
in the Japanese press.
nuclear threat would be an extraordinarily dangerous policy for Japan,
abandoning Japanese rejection of nuclear weapons under the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it could destabilize all of Northeast Asia,"
said Dr. Edwin Lyman, scientific director and soon-to-be president of NCI, a
non-proliferation research and advocacy center.
However, it is important to note that on a technical level, Ozawa is
absolutely correct. Despite deliberately
misleading claims by plutonium-fuel advocates in Japans nuclear power
industry, the plutonium separated from spent nuclear fuel by means of
reprocessing---so-called reactor-grade plutonium---can indeed be used to
build reliable nuclear weapons with enormous explosive yield.
currently possesses some 38 tons of reactor-grade plutonium, of which 5 tons is
stored in Japan and the rest in France and Great Britain, where Cogema and BNFL
(the state-owned French and British reprocessing corporations) separated the
material from Japanese spent fuel. The
Japanese government says it intends to use the plutonium in reactors as
mixed-oxide, plutonium-uranium fuel (known as MOX or pluthermal fuel). However,
Japans plutonium fuel program has been hit with numerous difficulties,
including runaway costs, multiple accidents and public rejection of introducing
highly toxic MOX fuel in reactors. The result has been an enormous surplus of
Japanese separated plutonium building up over the last decade.
plutonium program is simply unnecessary for meeting its energy-security needs
because of an abundance of cheap, readily available and non-weapons-usable
uranium fuel, noted Paul Leventhal, NCIs president, who will retire and
become president emeritus on June 1.
Japans accumulation of plutonium is already viewed as a threat by its neighbors in the region,
including both Koreas and China. Ozawas
claim that Japan could build thousands of nuclear bombs from its reactor-grade
plutonium is as politically dangerous as it is technically correct. The best way for Japan to reassure its
neighbors of its peaceful intentions is not to plead that its plutonium is
innocent, but to halt the commercial plutonium program and to dispose of the
separated plutonium by immobilizing it in highly radioactive waste.
March 27, NCI hosted a seminar on Japan, Nuclear Weapons and Reactor-Grade
Plutonium, at which Dr. Marvin Miller, MIT senior scientist emeritus,
concluded that Japan is at least at the intermediate point, and most probably
at the high end of the weapons capability spectrum. While not implying and having no knowledge of
a clandestine Japanese nuclear weapons program, Miller found that the
competence of their scientists in related applications indicates that they
could make advanced weapons using reactor-grade plutonium if the political
decision is made to go ahead. He
concluded: In my judgment, the nuclear weapon states, particularly the United
States, should strive to keep Japan as far as possible from the need to
seriously consider this issue.At the same time, safeguards and physical
security on all existing weapons-usable materials, including reactor-grade
plutonium, need to be upgraded and their stocks decreased.
Over the past
two decades, Japanese plutonium advocates have raised suspicions by making
numerous false or misleading claims about the weapons potential of
reactor-grade plutonium. Nearly a decade
ago, Ryukichi Imai, former Japanese ambassador for non-proliferation, wrote
that the reactor-grade plutonium shipped from France to Japan "is quite
unfit to make a bomb." That same
year, Hiroyoshi Kurihara, former executive director of PNC (then Japans primary company for developing plutonium-fueled
reactors) stated that "many Japanese experts express the opinion that reactor-grade
plutonium could not be used for workable nuclear weapons." He speculated
it "can be merely a nuclear fireworks, namely it produces glare and a big
noise, but would not cause big disastrous effects of nuclear bombs...."
Such a weapon, he said, would "fizzle like a firecracker." In 1994, PNC distributed a video in which
"Pluto Boy," a cartoon character representing plutonium, reassures
the audience that a workable bomb cannot really be made from reactor-grade
plutonium. PNC was dissolved in 2000 in
the wake of the disastrous nuclear criticality accident, killing three workers,
at its Tokai-mura facility where fuel was being prepared for its Joyo
experimental plutonium breeder reactor.
denials, the ability to construct a weapon from plutonium separated from the
spent fuel of nuclear power plants was settled long ago. In 1976, the U.S.
government first declassified the information that reactor-grade plutonium
could be used to make weapons and could even be the basis for a national military
program. The following year, it
declassified the fact that the United States successfully detonated a nuclear
bomb made from reactor-grade plutonium at the Nevada Test Site in 1962. In 1990, Hans Blix, then the director-general
of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reversed the agencys
position on reactor-grade plutonium and acknowledged to the Nuclear Control
Institute that there is "no debate" at the IAEA that virtually all
isotopes of plutonium, including those that comprise reactor-grade plutonium,
are usable in nuclear weapons. The U.S.
Department of Energys current guidance states that nuclear weapons of all
levels of sophistication can be made from reactor-grade plutonium and that
proliferating states using designs of intermediate sophistication could
produce weapons with assured yields substantially higher than the kiloton-range
possible with a simple, first generation nuclear device.
information about Japans plutonium program is available on NCIs website at