July 19, 1999

Open Letter to Prime Minister Keizu Obuchi, Government of Japan

We write to you as the Government of Japan prepares to launch a precedent-setting plutonium fuel transport from Europe to Japan---setting the stage for dozens of larger shipments now planned over the next two decades involving more than 50 tons of plutonium.

These dangerous shipments, and the controversial plutonium program which drives them, are unnecessary and unjustifiable given the environmental, public health and nuclear-proliferation risks that they pose. We ask that the Government take the prudent step of canceling future transports and terminating its reprocessing and plutonium programs. In this way, Japan could fulfill its ambition to be a world leader in environmental protection and in the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

The Japanese Government, in consultation with Mitsubishi, Toshiba and the power utilities TEPCO and KEPCO, negotiated behind closed doors with Britain, France and the United States, to resume transporting plutonium from Europe to Japan. These will be the first commercial-scale transports of fabricated plutonium/uranium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel to Japan from the plutonium factories at la Hague (France) and Sellafield (UK). The initial shipment involves a transport from both Britain and France of 40 MOX fuel assemblies containing a combined total of about half a tonne of highly radiotoxic, weapons-usable plutonium---enough material for at least 60 nuclear weapons.

This plutonium shipment is the first since the controversial shipment of pure plutonium oxide that was made seven years ago, from France to Japan, aboard the Japanese flagged vessel "Akatsuki Maru". Global concern about the safety and security of that shipment caused an international outcry and led over 50 nations to condemn, and in some cases prohibit, this transport from their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). The Japanese government sought to quell the controversy by promising to make details more transparent and to keep the shipment more than 200 miles away from other nations coasts. Those promises were not honored, and the shipment proceeded under circumstances of great secrecy. There was no consultation with enroute states regarding route and emergency plans. That transport, as well as nuclear waste shipments since then, have sailed inside EEZ waters of a number countries.


The Japanese government, together with the UK and France, are now replicating the mistakes and magnifying the risks of the Akatsuki Maru shipment. Despite repeated requests from governments and non-governmental organizations, the Japanese government refused to conduct an international environmental impact assessment of this plutonium shipment as required under customary international law and the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (articles 204, 205, 206). Nor have the Japanese, British and French governments met the legitimate demands of dozens of potentially affected enroute nations for consultation and concurrence on route, emergency, and salvage plans, as well as issues related to liability and compensation.

Outstanding safety concerns have not been resolved regarding the adequacy of the transport containers to be used. These concerns are all the more serious given the fact that each of the freighters is carrying a quarter tonne of plutonium, some 7 tonnes of high explosive ammunition and an estimated 1,100 tonnes of fuel oil. These ingredients comprise a recipe for disaster in the event of an accident or an attack.

We are also deeply concerned that the Japanese Government and nuclear industry radically changed their transport plan to exclude the requirement that the plutonium shipment be protected by a dedicated, armed escort vessel "on government service." Instead, Japanese officials managed to win U.S. approval for an inadequate plan in which two lightly armed British civilian freighters--- PNTL's "Pacific Pintail" and "Pacific Teal"---escort each other rather than be escorted by the dedicated Maritime Safety Agency gunboat, the "Shikishima," that was built and used to escort the 1992 shipment at U.S. insistence.

The revised security arrangement violates Japanese obligations under the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. The two relatively slow and lightly armed freighters, manned with civilian guards from the UKAEA Constabulary, are not capable of repelling an attack by terrorists or a nation determined to hijack atom-bomb material. Both ships will be carrying plutonium and each therefore will be a target for seizure. Furthermore, the ships lack radar- directed anti-missile armaments despite a 1988 U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff assessment that maritime transports of plutonium would be vulnerable to "small, fast craft, especially if armed with anti-ship missiles."

We now have reason to believe, based on a legal analysis, that the Japanese and British governments misled the U.S. government by stating that the PNTL vessels are "under government service." There is no legal basis to the claim that these commercial freighters are "under government service" to the United Kingdom. Thus, Japan has failed to meet its security and transport obligations under the terms of the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.

Given that the plutonium fuel contained in this shipment is classified under international regulation as "direct-use" nuclear weapons material, capable of being fashioned into a nuclear bomb in one to three weeks, the security lapses attending this shipment are irresponsible and inexcusable. The Japanese Government and nuclear industry may wish not to publicly acknowledge that this material is suitable for use in weapons, but they cannot pretend the facts away.

Against these harsh facts, we challenge the government to test the evidence used to justify Japan's ongoing plutonium program. For years, Japanese plutonium separation ("reprocessing") has been intended to guarantee plutonium fuel for future breeder reactors. The Akatsuki Maru plutonium shipment of 1992 was claimed to be urgently needed to fuel Japan's new Monju breeder reactor. Yet, when that shipment was underway, it was announced that, in fact, the plutonium was only to be held for future use. Actually, the 1.7 tonnes of plutonium delivered in that shipment have never been used but remain stockpiled in Japan. Monju has been shut down after a severe accident in 1995, and Japan has no serious plans to construct a new breeder reactor. Now the in-country stockpile of weapons-usable plutonium stands at over 5 tonnes---equivalent to at least 600 nuclear weapons.

The Japanese government and nuclear industry are now seeking to justify their separation of dozens of tonnes of plutonium in Europe and Japan by designating its use as fuel in conventional light- water reactors. Given that these reactors were specifically designed and constructed to use low-enriched uranium, which is unsuitable for weapons, the introduction of weapons-usable plutonium in these reactors makes no sense. Plutonium MOX fuel is some ten times more expensive than conventional low-enriched uranium fuel. MOX fuel also complicates reactor operation, significantly magnifies the risk of cancer fatalities in the event of severe reactor accidents, and makes storage of nuclear waste more difficult.

At the same time, Japan's plutonium program should be assessed from an international perspective. First, the world plutonium industry is collapsing due to growing concerns about the associated environmental, public health, economic and nuclear proliferation risks. During the last year, the Belgian government canceled 'post-2000' reprocessing contracts, the Swiss government has prohibited future reprocessing, and the German government has committed to ending reprocessing. Besides Germany, Japan is the single largest client of both the French and British state-controlled plutonium industries. Starved of new contracts, these industries are at risk of shutting down. Why is Japan prepared to single-handedly sustain the British and French plutonium industries despite the growing consensus that plutonium is unjustifiable from a commercial standpoint and antithetical to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament?

Finally, Japan should carefully consider the ominous signal that its plutonium program sends to its neighbors. As the economic rationale for plutonium erodes, its weapons potential becomes all the more obvious. Given the clear lack of commercial justification, the military potential of Japan's growing stockpile of weapons-usable plutonium causes anxiety in East Asia, and in the wider international community. Despite Japanese denials, nuclear- weapon experts unanimously agree that plutonium in commercial forms can be used to construct nuclear weapons. In fact, for this very reason, Japan does not want other countries to launch plutonium-use programs which would lead to their possession of weapons-usable material. The spread of plutonium programs will lead to a new and deadly phase of nuclear proliferation---one which could make the new century far more dangerous than the one we have survived.

We believe that Japan has a clear choice: It can terminate its plutonium program and assume leadership in the international drive to ban the production and use of plutonium. Or it can be the driving force for global plutonium commerce. The latter course is perilous both for Japan and for the international community.

In 1999, the Japanese Government and nuclear industry have the opportunity to review and revise their plutonium program during the drafting of Japan's revised "Long Term Nuclear Energy Plan". By canceling future MOX shipments and following the lead of Germany, Belgium and Switzerland in forgoing reprocessing contracts, the Japanese government can take a decisive and courageous step into the new millennium.

Thank you for your attention to this matter of grave international concern.


Damon Moglen                                                                Paul Leventhal
Greenpeace International                                                  Nuclear Control Institute

Maureen Eldredge                                                            Martin Butcher
Alliance for Nuclear Accountability                                   British-American Security
                                                                                         Information Council

Daniel Hirsch                                                                   Michael Mariotte
Committee to Bridge the Gap                                           Nuclear Information and
                                                                                       Resource Service

Gordon Clark                                                                   Robert K. Musil, Ph.D
Peace Action                                                                    Physicians for
                                                                                         Social Responsibility

Linda Gunther                                                                   Todd Perry
Safe Energy Communication Council                                  Union of Concerned

Susan Shaer                                                                       Rep. Nan Grogran Orrock
Women's Action for New Directions                                  Women Legislators' Lobby

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