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Japan – 37 tons of deadly plutonium, and planning to produce more

Other countries, including the United States, have scaled back the separation of plutonium because it is a proliferation concern and is more expensive than other alternatives, including long-term storage of spent fuel.

Fuel reprocessing remains unreliable and it is questionable whether it is a viable way of reducing Japan’s massive amounts of spent fuel rods

 Japan’s plutonium stockpile — most of which is stored in France and Britain — has swelled despite Tokyo’s promise to international regulators not to produce a plutonium surplus.

Japan to make more plutonium despite big stockpile, Fox News  June 01, 2012 Associated Press TOKYO  Last year’s tsunami disaster in Japan clouded the nation’s nuclear future, idled its reactors and rendered its huge stockpile of plutonium useless for now. So, the industry’s plan to produce even more has raised a red flag.

Nuclear industry officials say they hope to start producing a half-ton of plutonium within months, in addition to the more than 35 tons Japan already has stored around the world. That’s even though all the reactors that might use it are either inoperable or offline while the country rethinks its nuclear policy after the tsunami-generated Fukushima crisis.
“It’s crazy,” said Princeton University professor Frank von Hippel, a
leading authority on nonproliferation issues and a former assistant
director for national security in the White House Office of Science
and Technology. “There is absolutely no reason to do that.”
Japan’s nuclear industry produces plutonium — which is strictly
regulated globally because it also is used for nuclear weapons — by
reprocessing spent, uranium-based fuel in a procedure aimed at
decreasing radioactive waste that otherwise would require long-term
storage.
The industry wants to reprocess more to build up reserves in
anticipation of when it has a network of reactors that run on a
next-generation fuel that includes plutonium and that can be reused in
a self-contained cycle — but that much-delayed day is still far
off……
In the meantime, the country’s post-Fukushima review of nuclear policy
is pitting a growing number of critics who want to turn away from
plutonium altogether against an entrenched nuclear industry that wants
to push forward with it.
Other countries, including the United States, have scaled back the separation of plutonium because it is a proliferation concern and is more expensive than other alternatives, including long-term storage of spent fuel.
Fuel reprocessing remains unreliable and it is questionable whether it is a viable way of reducing Japan’s massive amounts of spent fuel rods, said Takeo Kikkawa, a Hitotsubashi University professor
specializing in energy issues.
“Japan should abandon the program altogether,” said Hideyuki Ban,
co-director of a respected anti-nuclear Citizens’ Nuclear Information
Center. “Then we can also contribute to the global effort for nuclear
non-proliferation.”
Von Hippel stressed that only two other countries reprocess on a large
scale: France and Britain, and Britain has decided to stop. Japan’s
civilian-use plutonium stockpile is already the fifth-largest in the
world, and it has enough plutonium to make about 5,000 simple nuclear
warheads, although it does not manufacture them.
Because of inherent dangers of plutonium stockpiles, government
regulations require industry representatives to announce by March 31
how much plutonium they intend to produce in the year ahead and
explain how they will use it.
But, for the second year in a row, the industry has failed to do so.
They blame the government for failing to come up with a long-term
policy after Fukushima, but say they nevertheless want to make more
plutonium if they can get a reprocessing plant going by October.
Kimitake Yoshida, a spokesman for the Federation of Electric Power
Companies, said the plutonium would be converted into MOX — a mixture
of plutonium and uranium — which can be loaded back into reactors and
reused in a cycle. But technical glitches, cost overruns and local
opposition have kept Japan from actually putting the moving parts of
that plan into action.
In the meantime, Japan’s plutonium stockpile — most of which is stored in France and Britain — has swelled despite Tokyo’s promise to international regulators not to produce a plutonium surplus.
Its plutonium holdings have increased fivefold from about 7 tons in
1993 to 37 tons at the end of 2010. Japan initially said the stockpile
would shrink rapidly in early 2000s as its fuel cycle kicked in, but
that hasn’t happened.
Critics argue that since no additional spent fuel is being created,
and there are questions about how the plutonium would be used, this is
not a good time start producing more. They also say it makes no sense
for Japan to minimize its plutonium glut by calling it a “stockpile”
rather than a “surplus.”
“It’s a simple accounting trick,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist with
the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s laughable. And it sends the
wrong signal all around the world.”….
“There really is a credibility problem here,” said Princeton’s von
Hippel, who also is a member of the independent International Panel on
Fissile Materials. “They keep making up these schedules which are
never realized. I think the ship is sinking beneath them.”
http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/06/01/japan-to-make-more-plutonium-despite-big-stockpile/#ixzz1wfhGu8I7

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June 2, 2012 - Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, reprocessing

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