2016: Japan’s Plutonium Fuel Cycle

Asia Pacific Journal / Japan Focus, Volume 14 | Issue 5 | Number 2
March 1, 2016
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus.

Nuclear Proliferation in Plain Sight: Japan’s Plutonium Fuel Cycle–A Technical and Economic Failure But a Strategic Success

Shaun Burnie, Frank Barnaby, withTom Clements, Aileen Mioko Smith and Kendra Ulrich

Five years after the March 11th 2001 earthquake and tsunami destroyed four reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi site, Japan's nuclear industry remains in crisis. Three reactors are operating as of February 1st 2016, a reduction of 94% of reactors since 2011. Prospects for a restart of even half of the 54 reactors formerly operating are almost zero. For decades the center of the nations nuclear and energy policy was based on the utilization of plutonium to fuel fast breeder reactors, together with the use of plutonium MOX fuel in commercial power reactors. The program has absorbed trillions of yen yet has utterly failed to deliver the energy security used to justify it. The contradictions and technical and financial obstacles, all of which have been evident since the 1970's, have reached a new critical juncture. Key elements of Japan's plutonium program are on the edge of complete failure – from the MONJU fast reactor to the Rokkasho Mura reprocessing plant. Major developments in the last months would suggest that fundamental change is on the horizon. However appearances are deceptive. The nuclear establishment is putting in place mechanisms to try and save a program that was always much more than 'just' energy security, but also national security. It is Japan's de facto nuclear weapons status that will increasingly come to the fore, as the justification for the peaceful use of plutonium is exposed further as a delusion. As nuclear proliferation and conflict points escalate in East Asia, Japan's stockpiling of thousands of kilograms of weapons usable plutonium with no credible peaceful use is driving further proliferation in the region. Two years before the extension of the U.S. Japan nuclear cooperation agreement, the legal basis for the nations plutonium program, the time for a rethink, long past, is more urgent than ever.

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