October 13, cialis 2015

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

An adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama expressed concerns about Japan’s plan to reprocess its spent nuclear fuel, pills citing the ever-increasing plutonium stockpile already in the nation’s possession.

“In the case of Japan, where there is already a sizable stockpile of separated plutonium, we would prefer not to see it grow,” John Holdren said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo.

Holdren, who advises Obama on science and technology issues, was in Japan for a meeting of the Joint High-Level Committee on U.S.-Japan Science and Technology Cooperation.

The Obama administration has called on all nations to minimize the amount of plutonium possessed because it could be converted for use in nuclear weapons. U.S. officials feel that limiting plutonium is important to promote nuclear nonproliferation and prevent terrorist acts using nuclear weapons.

“The United States has taken the position that it is preferable that countries that are currently not reprocessing should not go into it,” Holdren said. “Since reprocessing leads to separated plutonium and, in principle, separated plutonium can be used to make nuclear weapons, our general view is that less reprocessing in the world is better than more.”

Japan has commissioned Britain and France to reprocess its spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium. At the end of 2014, Japan had a plutonium stockpile of 47.8 tons, stored both in Japan and abroad. At the end of 2000, Japan’s plutonium stockpile was 37.2 tons.

As part of its nuclear fuel recycling program, Japan has been pushing its pluthermal plan that involves mixing plutonium with uranium to produce plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.

However, the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has clouded the future of the pluthermal project. That, in turn, has led to an increase of Japan’s plutonium stockpile to an amount that could produce about 6,000 nuclear warheads.

Although Japan has scant prospects for moving ahead with the pluthermal program, it has not abandoned plans to start up its own spent fuel reprocessing facility. Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. is seeking to complete such a reprocessing facility in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, by March 2016.

Regarding the reprocessing facility, Holdren said: “Japanese authorities are in the process of looking at whether they will approve starting the Rokkasho plant. That is a decision for the Japanese authorities, not for the United States, to make.”

In autumn 2012, the Democratic Party of Japan-led government headed by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda came out with a new energy policy to shut down all nuclear plants in the nation. U.S. officials raised concerns with their Japanese counterparts about the handling of excess plutonium because the Noda administration did not provide a clear stance regarding the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

In early September 2015, 14 U.S. experts, including Joseph Nye, a Harvard University professor who once served as assistant secretary of defense, submitted a letter to the U.S. Energy Department calling on the United States to abandon its own plan to construct a MOX fuel plant and to persuade Japan to suspend plans to operate the Rokkasho facility.

The letter also urged the U.S. government to ask China and South Korea to review their own plans to one day construct a spent fuel reprocessing facility.

The U.S. think tank Nonproliferation Policy Education Center was involved in putting together the letter signed by the 14 experts, including Henry Sokolski, the NPEC executive director.

The letter said that “in addition to saving money, ending the current MOX program would be in the (United States’) national security interest.”

The position of the U.S. government has been not to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from reactors. Instead, its long-term plan is to store such spent fuel in a specialized facility before constructing a final disposal site.

Washington has also signed an agreement with Moscow about reducing their respective nuclear arsenals. Under that agreement, a MOX production plant to be constructed in North Carolina would process 34 tons of plutonium extracted from dismantled nuclear weapons. The MOX fuel would then be used in nuclear plants.

However, rising construction costs have pushed back those plans. The projected cost is now about $7.7 billion (about 930 billion yen), several times the initial estimate. Although the initial planned completion date was autumn 2016, there will be a major delay in completing the project.

(This article was written by Takashi Oshima in Tokyo and Tetsu Kobayashi in Washington.)

 

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