The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Plutonium being collected in China and Japan? Fears of another nuclear arms race

Confronting plutonium nationalism in Northeast Asia,
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 
Fumihiko Yoshida , 30 June 16,   Although President Obama trumpeted his commitment to nuclear disarmament at this year’s Washington Nuclear Security Summit and more recently during his visit to Hiroshima, the White House has so far only discussed in whispers a far more pressing nuclear weapons-related danger—that Japan and China may soon be separating thousands of nuclear bombs worth of plutonium from nuclear spent fuel each year. If this level of production occurs, South Korea and other countries will likely try to go the plutonium route. If President Obama is to have a lasting legacy of nuclear threat reduction, his administration needs to do far more than it has to clarify just how harmful this plutonium proliferation would be to keeping peace in East Asia and the world.

Japan has already accumulated about 11 metric tons of separated plutonium on its soil—enough for about 2,500 nuclear bombs. It also plans to open a nuclear spent fuel reprocessing plant at Rokkasho designed to separate eight tons of plutonium—enough to make roughly 1,500 nuclear warheads a year—starting late in 2018. The Japanese plutonium program has raised China’s hackles. China’s new five-year plan includes a proposal to import a reprocessing plant from France with the same capacity as Rokkasho. Meanwhile, South Korea insists that it should have the same right to separate plutonium as Japan has.

Each of these countries emphasizes that it wants to separate plutonium for peaceful purposes. Yet in each country, there are skeptics who respond whenever this argument is made by a neighbor. China and South Korea suspect that Japan’s large stockpile of plutonium and its plans to operate the Rokkasho plant are designed to afford Tokyo some latent form of nuclear deterrence, i.e. a nuclear weapon option. A huge new Chinese commercial plutonium separation program could give Beijing an option to make far more nuclear weapons than it already has. It is unclear what Russia might make of all of this, or North Korea. One possibility is that either might use such “peaceful” plutonium production as an excuse to further expand its own nuclear arsenal. China might do the same as deterrence to Japan. If Seoul joined in, it would be even more difficult to cap North Korea’s nuclear program………

The Obama administration and Congress need to speak more clearly. As Countryman said, “(t)here is a degree of competition among the major powers in East Asia. It is a competition that in my view extends into irrational spheres…”

The United States can stop Japan from separating more plutonium and the spread of “plutonium nationalism” in East Asia only by bringing security issues to the front burner in politics and diplomacy. If the United States clearly announces that operations at Rokkasho constitute a security concern, Japan is almost sure to listen. Having the plutonium discussion between Japan and the United States is critically important; the Abe administration puts a high priority on security issues and is also very pro-United States.

Now is the time to speak clearly on these security issues—before China and Japan lock themselves into a plutonium production rivalry that will make cooperation between them and South Korea on pressing issues, including North Korea’s nuclear program, all the more difficult to secure.

July 4, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, China, Japan | Leave a comment

U.S. would back a rethink of Japan’s plutonium recycling program: White House 

KYODO MAY 21, 2016 WASHINGTON – The United States would back a change to Japan’s nuclear fuel reprocessing program because there are concerns it may lead to an increase in its ally’s stockpile of unused plutonium, a senior White House official said. … (registered readers only

May 23, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment

Dangerous, pointless nuclear race in East Asia

The plutonium plans of each of the three East Asian countries, reinforced by worst-case assumptions about the intentions of the others, are further destabilizing an increasingly unstable region.

The ultimate goal, however, should be to end the costly, dangerous, pointless industry of plutonium separation. The U.S. has pursued that goal since 1974, when India used plutonium from its nominally civilian breeder reactor development program to launch a nuclear weapons program. Since that time, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other countries have abandoned their reprocessing programs and the United Kingdom has decided to do so as well.

A Little-Known Nuclear Race Taking Place in East Asia Is Dangerous and Pointless 5 Apr 16   Frank von HippelSenior Research Physicist, Emeritus, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University   Fumihiko YoshidaVisiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace   

plutonium238_1Plutonium was first produced and separated during America’s World War II nuclear weapons project. Its destructive power became apparent at the end of the war when, in one-millionth of a second, one kilogram of plutonium in the Nagasaki bomb fissioned and destroyed the city below.

Today, a number of countries — including France and Japan — are separating plutonium from the spent fuel of their reactors and building dangerous stockpiles of this weapon-usable nuclear material with no good economic purpose.

Japan, the only non-nuclear weapons state that separates plutonium today, has accumulated almost 50 metric tons. Last month, Japan shipped more than 700 pounds of mostly weapons-grade plutonium — enough for about 50 nuclear bombs — to a more secure location in the U.S. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been simultaneously pushing through a law to guarantee funding for a new spent fuel “reprocessing” plant designed to separate hundreds of tons of plutonium for use in reactor fuel.

Meanwhile, China’s new five-year plan includes a proposal to buy a reprocessing plant from France that will separate plutonium that will probably accumulate like Japan’s. And South Korea insists that it should have the same right to separate plutonium as Japan.

These plans and desires are troubling. As President Obama said during the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, “We know that just the smallest amount of plutonium — about the size of an apple — could kill hundreds of thousands and spark a global crisis … We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists.”

Nuclear scientists working on weapons in the U.S. during World War II had a vision that plutonium could have a peaceful use. They proposed a plutonium “breeder” reactor that would convert uranium-238 into chain-reacting plutonium whose fission could power civilization for millennia. During the 1960s, this vision infected the global nuclear energy establishment. Since the 1970s, industrialized countries havespent about $100 billion on attempts to commercialize breeder reactors. Fortunately, this effort failed. We now understand the increased dangers of nuclear terrorism and proliferation that would have resulted had plutonium, a nuclear weapons material, become a commodity like petroleum. Conventional reactors are fueled by low-enriched uranium that is not usable in weapons.

In the absence of breeders, however, France has been continuing to separate plutonium and using it to fuel some of its conventional reactors; Japan has been trying less successfully to do the same.

The plutonium-uranium “mixed oxide” fuel produced in this way costs 10 timesmore than the low-enriched uranium that is the primary fuel for conventional reactors. But France’s government insists that Électricité de France continue to fund the bankrupt government-owned company AREVA to separate plutonium from EDF’s spent fuel. Meanwhile, Japan’s government is obliging its utilities to separate more plutonium as well. Globally, including failed plutonium programs in Russia and the United Kingdom, a surplus of more than 250 tons of plutonium — enough for 30,000 Nagasaki-type nuclear weapons — has been accumulated in civilian plutonium programs.

How can one explain the continuing interest in France, Russia, Japan, China and South Korea in separating plutonium? Institutional inertia is most of the answer in France and Russia but, in East Asia, the original use of plutonium — nuclear weapons — is also a factor. In South Korea, demands that the nation should have the right to be able to separate plutonium peak after North Korean nuclear tests. Security experts in Japan also increasingly justify its plutonium program as providing a latent nuclear deterrent against North Korea and China. China’s nuclear energy establishment is still enthralled with breeder reactors, but some analystsworry that China could use the reprocessing plant it plans to buy from France to quickly build up its nuclear weapons stockpile to the same scale as those of Russia and the United States.

The plutonium plans of each of the three East Asian countries, reinforced by worst-case assumptions about the intentions of the others, are further destabilizing an increasingly unstable region.

The United States cannot dictate to any of these countries. But it has a lot of leverage by virtue of being South Korea and Japan’s most important military ally and its agreements on peaceful nuclear cooperation with both.

 The Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of Japan and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy can continue indefinitely, but either country can terminate it starting in 2018. On March 17, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman indicated that the U.S. was planning on using this leverage to force a discussion of Japan’s plutonium program. At the very least, the U.S. should demand that Japan focus on disposing of its already separated plutonium before separating more. After all, Japan’s Toyota invented the “Just-in-Time” system for minimizing inventories.

In the recently completed negotiations over the renewal of the U.S.-Republic of Korea Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, the two countries kicked the issue of South Korea’s demand for the right to reprocess spent fuel down the road by launching a joint 10-year study of the “feasibility” of South Korea’s proposed program.

If the U.S. cannot convince France to hold off selling a reprocessing plant to China, it should at least insist that, as a part of the deal, both countries commit to “just-in-time” plutonium separation — that is, no stockpiling.

The ultimate goal, however, should be to end the costly, dangerous, pointless industry of plutonium separation. The U.S. has pursued that goal since 1974, when India used plutonium from its nominally civilian breeder reactor development program to launch a nuclear weapons program. Since that time, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other countries have abandoned their reprocessing programs and the United Kingdom has decided to do so as well.

The U.S. must continue to press the holdouts.

April 6, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, ASIA, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Plutonium shipped from Japan to go to Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), New Mexico

wastes-1Plutonium from Japan to be disposed of underground in New Mexico, Japan ship radiationTimes, KYODO APR 2, 2016   U.S.-bound plutonium that has recently been shipped out of Japan will be disposed of at a nuclear waste repository in New Mexico after being processed at the Savannah River Site facility in South Carolina, according to an official of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

“The plutonium will be diluted into a less sensitive form at the SRS and then transported to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for permanent disposal deep underground,” said Ross Matzkin-Bridger, who is in charge of the operation at the NNSA, a nuclear wing of the Department of Energy.

“The dilution process involves mixing the plutonium with inert materials that reduce the concentration of plutonium and make it practically impossible to ever purify again,” he said in a recent phone interview.

The official made the remarks ahead of the latest Nuclear Security Summit, sponsored by President Barack Obama, which began Thursday in Washington.

On Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan will give up more highly enriched uranium (HEU) as part of what Obama hailed as an unprecedented bid to tighten control over unused nuclear material…..

Japan received the plutonium and HEU fuels from the U.S, Britain and France from the late 1960s to early 1970s for research purposes in the name of “Atoms for Peace.” The nuclear fuel delivery, however, has generated controversy in South Carolina since it was reported that it was en route to the U.S. government-run SRS facility in the state.

South Carolina is “at risk of becoming a permanent dumping ground for nuclear materials,” Gov. Nikki Haley said in a recent letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, calling for the shipment to be stopped or rerouted…….

In the statement, the Japanese government made a new pledge to remove and transfer HEU fuels from the Kyoto University Critical Assembly (KUCA), another Japanese research institute, to the United States for down-blending and “permanent threat reduction.”…….

the materials recently transferred from Japan are only the tip of the iceberg. Currently, Japanese utilities possess over 47 metric tons of separated plutonium, which is equivalent to about 6,000 nuclear bombs

April 4, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, wastes | 1 Comment

US govt no longer worried about Japan’s plutonium stockpiling as weapons proliferation risk?

U.S. official changes stance on Japan’s nuclear policy   By Seima Oki / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent , 29 Mar 16, WASHINGTON — U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman said in a press conference by telephone on Monday that Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle project, which reuses spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants to extract plutonium, does not raise concerns about nuclear nonproliferation, effectively changing his earlier position on the matter.

At a hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on March 17, the assistant secretary in charge of international security and nuclear nonproliferation had voiced his concerns about Japan’s nuclear policy and said that it would be desirable for Japan to halt its nuclear fuel reprocessing project.

In the press conference, Countryman said that Japan was a pioneer in the civilian use of nuclear energy and that no other country was closer or more important as a partner to the United States than Japan.

Japan’s stockpiling of plutonium has been criticized by China at U.N. meetings and on other occasions. To this, Countryman said that Japan has been proceeding in a transparent manner, which was understandable to the rest of the world.

He also expressed his stance that the U.S. government will cooperate with Japan as an ally to wipe out anxiety in the international community.Speech

March 30, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, politics international, USA | Leave a comment

Armed UK vessels secretly take weapons grade plutonium from Japan to USA

The Pacific Egret and its escort ship Pacific Heron are reportedly lightly armed UK flagged vessels and arrived in Kobe port from Barrow-in-Furness, England on March 4th. The Egret docked in Tokai for pre-transport logistics last week. Both ships after departing Tokai port will sail together most likely through the South Pacific to the east coast of the United States.

ship radiationNPT and Nuclear Security Risks’ Exposed by Secret Plutonium Shipment: NGOsMarch 18, 2016 Tokyo- (PanOrient News) A coalition of five non-governmental organizations warned today that a shipment of weapons-grade plutonium scheduled to
depart the port of the Japanese Tokai nuclear station in Ibaraki prefecture this coming weekend highlights the failure, but also the proliferation risks, of the current Japanese nuclear policy. 

A cargo of 331kg of plutonium will be loaded on to the Pacific Egret, an armed British nuclear transport ship, prior to departure under armed escort to the United States. It will be the largest shipment of separated plutonium since 1.8 tons of plutonium was delivered to Japan by controversial Akatsuki-maru in 1992. The two month voyage to the Joint Base Charleston-Weapons Station will then see the plutonium dumped at the Department of Energy Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina. The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for the shipment, has identified that storage in Japan poses a security risk justifying its removal.

The organizations, Citizen Nuclear Information Center (Japan); Green Action (Japan); Savannah River Site Watch (U.S.); CORE (England), and Greenpeace, said in a statement they condemn the shipment as a dangerous distraction from the major problem in Japan which is its overall nuclear energy policy, where over 9 tons of plutonium remains stockpiled and there are plans to produce many tons more during the coming decade. The representatives of the five organizations have worked together over the past quarter century against Japan`s plutonium and nuclear fuel cycle program.

 Two-hundred and thirty six kilograms of the Tokai plutonium was supplied to Japan from the UK, with 2 kilograms from France and the remainder from the U.S. for neutronic testing purposes at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency Fast Critical Assembly facility at Tokai-mura in Ibaraki, the statement said noting that the facility has been used as a basis for Japan`s failed fast breeder reactor program, in particular the MONJU reactor.For more than five decades, Japanese nuclear policy has been based on the production and use of plutonium as a nuclear fuel. However, “the failure” of both its breeder program and plans to use plutonium as mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in light water reactors, has led to Japan acquiring the largest stockpile of weapons usable plutonium of any non nuclear weapon state.

For the U.S. and Japanese government, the Tokai shipment will be mistakenly hailed as demonstrating their commitment to reducing the threat from fissile materials, the statement noted. Both Prime Minister Abe and President Obama plan to announce the ‘success’ of the removal from Japan, at the fourth Nuclear Security Summit from March 31st -April 1st in Washington, D.C., while Japan will be desperate to avoid any discussion of the proliferation and security threat posed by its plutonium fuel cycle program.

“If 331 kg of plutonium warrants removal from Japan on the grounds of its vulnerability and in the interests of securing nuclear weapons material, then there is no credible justification for Japan’s current program and future plans to increase its plutonium stockpiling. Hailing a shipment of hundreds of kilograms of plutonium as a triumph for nuclear security, while ignoring over 9 tons of the weapons material stockpiled in Japan and in a region of rising tensions, is not just a failure of nuclear non proliferation and security policy but a dangerous delusion,” said Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, who is currently in Japan. ……..

The Pacific Egret and its escort ship Pacific Heron are reportedly lightly armed UK flagged vessels and arrived in Kobe port from Barrow-in-Furness, England on March 4th. The Egret docked in Tokai for pre-transport logistics last week. Both ships after departing Tokai port will sail together most likely through the South Pacific to the east coast of the United States.

March 19, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, reprocessing, safety, USA, wastes | 1 Comment

Failure of Japanese nuclear reprocessing plan. What to do with all that plutonium?

NPT and Nuclear Security Risks’ Exposed by Secret Plutonium Shipment: NGOs, March 18, 2016 Tokyo- (PanOrient News) “……..In total, Japan`s current stockpile is around 46,700 kg, of which 9,528kg is located in Japan, the remaining balance being stored in France and the UK. The shipment from Tokai port will reduce its stockpile to 9,197 kg. Less than 8kg is sufficient for one nuclear weapon. While the Tokai shipment consists of weapons grade plutonium, and the vast bulk of Japan`s remaining stockpile is designated reactor-grade plutonium, from a security and non proliferation perspective there is no practical distinction and reactor-grade plutonium is capable of being used for the manufacture of nuclear weapons — a point highlighted by Shigeru Ishiba, a former Liberal Democratic Party Defense Minister, when speaking in 2011 described Japan`s nuclear energy program as “a tacit nuclear deterrent”, the statement said.

Sellafield-reprocessingTwo reactors, Takahama 3 and 4, owned by Kansai Electric, began operation in January and February 2016 loaded with plutonium MOX fuel, with unit 3 operating with 24 assemblies containing 1,088kg of plutonium and unit 4 with 4 assemblies containing 184kg of plutonium. Unit 4 shutdown due to an electrical failure three days after start up, while unit 3 was forced to shutdown on March 10th following a court order. Both reactors remain shutdown and are subject of a court injunction preventing operation issued by the Otsu district court, Shiga prefecture on March 9th. They are expected to be non operational for many months. Of the 26 reactors under review by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), Ikata-3, Genkai-3 and Tomari-3 are all intended to operate with plutonium MOX fuel.

“On current plans, and if ever the Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant begins operation, Japan`s program could yield as much as 93,000kg by 2025 – most of which will remain unused. The reactor program in Japan is in crisis with no credible program for either restarting most reactors or using large amounts of this plutonium. If ever there was a time to abandon its current doomed nuclear energy policy, it is now. The Obama administration in its last year has an opportunity to step up and actively reduce the spiraling proliferation dynamic in East Asia – this should be top of the agenda in Washington instead of being ignored. The next step is to challenge the basis of the U.S.-Japan nuclear cooperation agreement which runs to 2018 – approval for Japan to continue acquiring plutonium must be reversed,” said Burnie.

The Department of Energy has no plans for final disposal of the Japanese plutonium, which will be added to the existing stockpile of 13 tons at the SRS, demonstrating that the shipment is largely a commercial dumping operation to secure funds for the beleaguered weapons material production site near Aiken, South Carolina, as pointed out by Savannah River Site Watch, the organizations said…….  .

March 19, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, reprocessing, wastes | Leave a comment

Plutonium and ” fourth generation nuclear power”

Bill Gates’ Nuclear Pipe Dream: Convert Depleted Uranium to Plutonium to Power Earth for Centuries, Truth Out Tuesday, 15 March 2016 By Josh Cunnings and Emerson UrryEnviroNews | Video Report Cunnings: “………..EnviroNews Editor-in-Chief Emerson Urry chatted with the esteemed nuclear industry expert and whistleblower Arnie Gundersen to explore whether Gates’ plan is a good idea or not.

plutonium_04Emerson Urry: Let’s go back to Bill Gates again, [and] the fourth generation nuclear power. I’ve heard him out there speaking about this, and essentially his ambition to, let’s say, convert Paducah, Kentucky [to plutonium]. What can you tell us about Paducah, Kentucky? We understand it went bankrupt a couple years back, and I think there is quite a bit of radioactive material still there. We’ve heard at one point in time it was also one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters from the Freon — not to mention having four allocated coal-fired power plants. What can you tell us about Paducah, Kentucky? What does the situation on the ground look like there, and how do you think they will deal with all that?

Arnie Gundersen: Paducah didn’t have centrifuges, it had gaseous diffusion, and there’s no need for the plant anymore, so the plant has to be decommissioned and destroyed. What’s happened is, the way they shut the plant down was, to be nice, sub-optimal. And what they allowed it to do was for all that uranium to cake inside the pipes. So, had they done it in a more orderly fashion, the plant could have been much cleaner when they went to shut it down — but they didn’t. So, the Paducah site is a very expensive cleanup that is going to take 20 or 30 years to decontaminate. You know, it’s like all of these bomb legacy sites — Hanford in Washington State…

Urry: … that has the plutonium leak in AY-102 correct? Which has that been ratcheted down? Have they been able to ratchet down AY-102?

Gundersen: No. Hanford is going to take 70 years and cost 110 billion dollars to clean up. So, here we are paying over half of a century for the legacy of building bombs for five years in 1940. And so, Paducah is another one of those sites. It was built to enrich uranium. Why did we do that? Because we had a bomb program. And now we’re stuck with these huge costs that are underfunded or unfunded by Congress. That plant is going to sit there for 30 years. It will create a lot of employment for a lot of people knocking it down, but it also is highly radioactive, and it’s got to be done so cautiously, and it’s a really difficult problem.

Cunnings: There’s no known disintegration of plutonium small enough that doesn’t possess the ability to cause cancer. To be clear, there is no safe amount to be exposed to whatsoever.

Plutonium, though a naturally occurring element was virtually non-existent on planet earth before the dawn of the nuclear age. Now, each of the roughly 400 uranium-powered nuclear reactors in the world create approximately 500 pounds of plutonium each year — or enough to create about 100 nuclear warheads each.

Coming from a “humanitarian” concerned with curing diseases, the notion that plutonium is the way to save ourselves from a runaway climate catastrophe seems the epitome of oxymoronic — utterly and woefully contradictory. But stay tuned for more on that topic, as in episode 14 of this series we examine whether or not we really need nuclear to solve the climate quandary.

But, in the meanwhile, let’s just say that Bill Gates’ nuclear ambitions go beyond mere ideas. He actually possesses financial holdings in one very dangerous situation indeed — a situation that is presently causing residents around St. Louis, Missouri to live under an all-out nuclear nightmare. And that scenario will be the topic of discussion in the next episode of our short series.

So please, tune in tomorrow for part three, where we explore the scary situation at hand in the Westlake Landfill in St. Louis, Missouri. Signing off for now, this is Josh Cunnings……

March 16, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Armed transport ships spotted in Panama Canal, headed for secret mission to later transport plutonium

ship radiationUK-Flagged Ships Set to Transport Plutonium from Japan to US Located in Panama Canal Ships on Secret Mission to Carry 331 Kilograms of Plutonium to US DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina as Part of Nuclear Security Summit Preparation; Plutonium to be Stranded at SRS 

Two armed transport vessels on a secret mission to retrieve weapons-grade plutonium in Japan and transport it to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina have been located in the Panama Canal. The spotting of the ships confirms their route to Japan and that their mission is plutonium transport, according to the public interest group Savannah River Site Watch, whose personnel have tracked such ships for more than 20 years.
The specialized nuclear transport ships are slated to carry 331 kilograms of plutonium to the U.S. as part of alleged nuclear non-proliferation efforts in connection to the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit. The ships had vanished from the public eye on their departure on January 19 from the United Kingdom.
The Pacific Egret and Pacific Heron, based in Barrow-in Furness, UK and operated by the private company Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited (PNTL), entered the canal on the afternoon of February 5 and exited into the Pacific Ocean after a 9-hour transit. Webcams operated by the Panama Canal were cut off as the ships approached the canal entrance, an ineffectual and ridiculous effort to hide their passage from the public and that did nothing to enhance the security of the empty ships.
As 236 kilograms of the plutonium originated in the UK, the US has failed to present any justification for its transport to South Carolina, where DOE is struggling to find a “disposition” path for 13 metric tons of plutonium already at SRS. 93 kilograms are of US-origin and 2 kilograms originated in France. The materials were sent as far back as the 1960s to Japan for testing of “fast” nuclear reactors. At the Nuclear Security Summit in March 2014, the US and Japan pledged to remove plutonium and highly enriched uranium from the facility where the material is stored at the Tokai nuclear site.
“We strongly object to foreign-origin plutonium coming into South Carolina when DOE’s program to manage surplus weapons plutonium is in shambles,” said Tom Clements, director of Savannah River Site Watch (SRS Watch). “As DOE’s plutonium fuel (MOX) project has totally failed, it’s time for DOE to live up to its commitment to remove plutonium from South Carolina and not bring in more with no viable disposition path out of the state.”
After an intense 5-day ship-spotting effort led by Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE), based near the UK’s Sellafield nuclear site, and joined by SRS Watch, the ships were detected upon entering the crowded waters on the approach to the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. The navigation beacons (Automated Information System – AIS), which had been turned off before the ships departed the UK, were turned on as the vessel neared the entrance of the canal. Both public interest organizations had predicted on the ships’ departure that they were bound for Japan and would travel via the Panama Canal.
The empty vessel are expected to arrive in Japan in about 25 days to pick up the plutonium now stored at the Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) at Tokai. In an environmental document prepared by DOE and released on December 28, 2015, up to 900 kilograms of plutonium in a number of countries is slated to be taken to the Savannah River Site for storage and unknown disposition, an issue which is causing growing concern in South Carolina.
At the Nuclear Security Summit in March 2014, the US and Japan pledged to remove plutonium and highly enriched uranium from the Fast Critical Assembly. The upcoming shipment will not be concluded before the summit in Washington, DC on March 31-April 1.
While some will celebrate this removal of the plutonium from Japan, it will do nothing to address the fact that Japan now has a plutonium stockpile of about 10.5 metric tons, according to SRS Watch. “While officials may declare the plutonium removal a non-proliferation success at the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit, the fact remains that Japan’s plutonium stockpile and efforts to increase that stockpile through operation of a new reprocessing plant pose far greater proliferation risks,” said Clements. “To focus on the real risks of weapon-usable plutonium in Japan, the summit must issue a demand that Japan halt its program to reprocess spent fuel and cease accumulation of more plutonium.”
On the 55-day return voyage to the naval port in Charleston, South Carolina, DOE has said that the ships carrying their plutonium cargo would not utilize the Panama Canal given the security risks associated when passing near land.
To document the passage of the ships through the Panama Canal, numerous screen shots and screen photos were made of a site that tracks vessels – Many of those images are posted at the bottom of the photo section on the SRS Watch website.

February 10, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, safety, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA | Leave a comment

Risky Plutonium-Mixed Fuel used in Japan’s new nuclear reactor restart

plutonium_04Japan Restarts Nuclear Reactor Using Plutonium-Mixed Fuel, By MARI YAMAGUCHI, ASSOCIATED PRESS, 29 Jan 16, Japan on Friday restarted a nuclear reactor that uses riskier plutonium-based MOX fuel, the first of that type to resume operations under stricter safety rules introduced after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Japan’s large stockpile of plutonium has raised international nuclear security concerns, and the government has come up with the idea of burning it in reactors to reduce the amount.

The No. 3 reactor at Takahama nuclear plant in western Japan, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co., went back online Friday. Dozens of people protested outside the plant in Fukui prefecture, where preparations for a restart of another reactor, No. 4, are also underway.

Fukui has more than a dozen reactors, the biggest concentration in one prefecture, causing safety concerns for neighbors including Kyoto and Shiga, whose Lake Biwa is a major source of drinking water for western Japan.

Two reactors that use conventional uranium fuel were restarted last year in southern Japan. Japan started burning MOX, a plutonium-uranium hybrid fuel, in some of its conventional reactors in 2009. Experts say conventional reactors can safely burn MOX for up to one-third of their fuel, but it emits more radiation and could interfere with control rods when they are needed to suppress the nuclear chain reaction.

Japan has enough plutonium, mostly from reprocessed spent fuel, to make 6,000 bombs.

Nearly five years since a massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, about 100,000 people still cannot return to nearby areas. Workers at the plant continue to struggle with its decommissioning, which will take decades.

Aiming to help business by generating energy, Japan’s government is pushing to restart as many reactors as possible after they are deemed safe. Forty remaining workable reactors are still offline for safety checks.

Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at

Her work can be found at

    January 30, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, technology | Leave a comment

    The danger of transporting plutonium

    plutonium_04Too much of a bad thing? World awash with waste plutonium Paul Brown 24th January 2016 

    As worldwide stocks of plutonium increase, lightly-armed British ships are about to carry an initial 330kg of the nuclear bomb metal for ‘safekeeping’ in the US, writes Paul Brown. But it’s only the tip of a global ‘plutonium mountain’ of hundreds of tonnes nuclear power’s most hazardous waste product.

    Two armed ships set off from the northwest of England this week to sail round the world to Japan on a secretive and controversial mission to collect a consignment of plutonium and transport it to the US.

    The cargo of plutonium, once the most sought-after and valuable substance in the world, is one of a number of ever-growing stockpiles that are becoming an increasing financial and security embarrassment to the countries that own them.

    So far, there is no commercially viable use for this toxic metal, and there is increasing fear that plutonium could fall into the hands of terrorists, or that governments could be tempted to use it to join the nuclear arms race.

    ship radiation

    All the plans to use plutonium for peaceful purposes in fast breeder and commercial reactors have so far failed to keep pace with the amounts of this highly dangerous radioactive metal being produced by the countries that run uranium-fulled nuclear power stations.

    The small amounts of plutonium that have been used in conventional and fast breeder reactors have produced very little electricity – at startlingly high costs.

    Japan, with its 47-ton stockpile, is among the countries that once hoped to turn their plutonium into a power source, but various attempts have failed. The government, which has a firm policy of using it only for peaceful purposes, has nonetheless come under pressure to keep it out of harm’s way. Hence, the current plan to ship it to the US.

    Altogether, 15 countries across the world have stockpiles. They include North Korea, which intends to turn it into nuclear weapons.

    UK’s Plutonium represents a massive cost – but no balance sheet liability recorded

    The UK has the largest pile, with 140 tons held at Sellafield in north-west England, whereplutonium has been produced at the site’s nuclear power plant since the 1950s, also using spent fuel from civilian nuclear plants such as Hinkley Point and Calder Hall. The government has yet to come up with a policy on what to do with it – and, meanwhile, the costs of keeping it under armed guard continue to rise.

    Like most countries, the UK cannot decide whether it has an asset or a liability. The plutonium does not appear on any balance sheet, and the huge costs of storing it safely – to avoid it going critical and causing a meltdown – and guarding it against terrorists are not shown as a cost of nuclear power.

    This enables the industry to claim that nuclear is an attractive and clean energy-producing option to help combat climate change.

    The two ships that set off from the English port of Barrow-in-Furness this week are the Pacific Egret and Pacific Heron, nuclear fuel carriers fitted with naval cannon on deck. They are operated by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd, which ultimately is owned by the British government.

    The presence on both ships of a heavily-armed security squad – provided by the Civil Nuclear Constabulary’s Strategic Escort Group – and the earlier loading of stores and the craning on board of live ammunition point to a long, security-conscious voyage ahead.

    Sent to the US for safekeeping

    The shipment of plutonium from Japan to the US falls under the US-led Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), or Material Management & Minimisation (M3) programme, whereby weapons-useable material such as plutonium and highly-enriched uranium (HEU) is removed from facilities worldwide for safekeeping in the US.

    The cargo to be loaded onto the two UK ships in Japan consists of some 331kg of plutonium from Japan’s Tokai Research Establishment.

    This plutonium – a substantial fraction of which was supplied to Japan by the UK decades ago for ‘experimental purposes’ in Tokai’s Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) facility – is described by the US Department of Energy (DOE) as “posing a potential threat to national security, being susceptible to use in an improvised nuclear device, and presenting a high risk of theft or diversion”. Or, as another US expert put it, “sufficient to make up to 40 nuclear bombs”.

    Under the US-led programme, the plutonium will be transported from Japan to the US port of Charleston and onwards to the Savannah River site in South Carolina.

    Tom Clements, director of the public interest group Savannah River Site Watch, has condemned this import of plutonium as a material that will simply be stranded at the site, with no clear disposition path out of South Carolina. He sees it as further evidence that Savannah River is being used as a dumping ground for an extensive range of international nuclear waste.

    Prime terrorist material’ at risk

    The British group Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE) has for decades tracked the transport of nuclear materials round the world.

    Their spokesman, Martin Forwood, said: “The practice of shipping this plutonium to the US as a safeguard is completely undermined by deliberately exposing this prime terrorist material to a lengthy sea transport, during which it will face everyday maritime risks and targeting by those with hostile intentions.

    “We see this as wholly unnecessary and a significant security threat in today’s volatile and unpredictable world.” The best option, CORE believes, would have been to leave it where it was, under guard.

    From DOE documents, this shipment will be the first of a number of planned shipments for what is referred to as ‘Gap Material Plutonium‘ – weapons-useable materials that are not covered under other US or Russian programmes.

    In total, the DOE plans to import up to 900kg of ‘at risk’ plutonium – currently held in seven countries – via 12 shipments over seven years. Other materials include stocks of HEU – the most highly enriched plutonium (to 93%), also being supplied to Japan by the UK.

    The voyage from Barrow to Japan takes about six weeks, and a further seven weeks from Japan to Savannah River – use of the Panama Canal having been ruled out by the DOE in its documents on the shipment. Previously, the countries near the canal have objected to nuclear transport in their territorial waters.

    January 24, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, safety | Leave a comment

    Nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)- what needs to be done?

    Analyses of the accidents by the DOE have documented a lack of a ‘safety culture’ at WIPP.

    The current regulatory period of 10,000 years is short relative to the 24,100-year half-life of plutonium-239, let alone that of uranium-235, which has a half-life of 700 million years.

    Policy: Reassess New Mexico’s nuclear-waste repository, Nature  Cameron L. Tracy,  Megan K. Dustin & Rodney C. Ewing 13 January 2016

    Waste Isolation Pilot Plant WIPP

    Proposals to bury plutonium from nuclear weapons must address chemical interactions and intrusion risks. More than 600 metres below ground near Carlsbad, New Mexico, is the world’s only operating deep geological repository currently accepting transuranic nuclear waste: that contaminated by elements heavier than uranium. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), run by the US Department of Energy (DOE), is used to dispose of laboratory equipment, clothing and residues from the nation’s nuclear-defence programme. In the past 15 years, around 91,000 cubic metres (equivalent to covering a soccer field to a depth of about 13 metres) of such transuranic waste, mostly of relatively low radiation levels, has been placed there.

    The main contaminants are long-lived isotopes of plutonium (mainly plutonium-239, with a half-life of 24,100 years, and plutonium-240, with a half-life of 6,560 years) and shorter-lived isotopes of americium and curium. In rooms carved out of a 250-million-year-old salt bed, the waste is stored in hundreds of thousands of plastic-lined steel drums. The repository is now at about half of its planned capacity and is to be sealed in 2033.

    The DOE is responsible for performing safety assessments to ensure that WIPP will not exceed limits on exposure to radioactivity, as set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for 10,000 years.

    But new demands are emerging. An arms-control agreement with Russia made in 2000 obliges the United States to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons1. Following the terms of the agreement, the United States planned to convert the material into a fuel — mixed (uranium and plutonium) oxide, or MOX — to burn in commercial nuclear-power plants. But faced with soaring construction costs for a MOX fabrication facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the DOE has commissioned evaluations of alternatives2.

    The most recent report3, published in August 2015, recommends burying the weapons’ plutonium at WIPP. Judging the repository’s performance to have been “successfully demonstrated”, the DOE’s Red Team expert panel proposes that the 34 tonnes of weapons plutonium can be added to WIPP once it has been diluted to low concentrations comparable to that of the transuranic waste at WIPP.

    In fact, WIPP’s safety record is mixed. Continue reading

    January 18, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

    Large shipment of plutonium to travel from Japan to South Carolina

    ship radiationJapan to send huge cache of plutonium to South Carolina under nuclear deal: report RAW STORY  05 JAN 2016 Japan will send a huge cache of plutonium — enough to produce 50 nuclear bombs — to the United States as part of a deal to return the material that was used for research, reports and officials said Tuesday.

    The plutonium stockpile, provided by the US, Britain and France decades ago, has caused some disquiet given that Japan has said it has the ability to produce a nuclear weapon even if it chooses not to.

     Some 331 kilograms (730 pounds) of the highly fissionable material will be sent by ship to a nuclear facility in South Carolina by the end of March, Kyodo News reported Monday in a dispatch from Washington that cited unnamed Japanese government sources.

    The shipment, which comes ahead of a nuclear security summit in Washington in March, is meant to underscore both countries’ commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and is part of a deal they made in 2014.

    It will be one of Japan’s most significant overseas movements of plutonium since it transported one tonne from France in 1993 to be used in nuclear reactor experiments.

    That shipment triggered an outcry at the time from countries citing environmental and security concerns.

    A Japanese official confirmed the amount of plutonium to be sent to the US and said that preparations for the shipment are under way. “But we can’t comment on further details, including the departure date and route, for security reasons,” the official in the nuclear technology section at the education ministry told AFP Tuesday.

    The material has been stored at the Nuclear Science Research Institute northeast of Tokyo, he added…….

    January 6, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, USA | Leave a comment

    Disposal of plutonium; burial is cheaper than MOX processing

    MOXFlag-USAflag-UKnuClear news No.77, September 20156. Plutonium Conundrum A US Energy Department-commissioned study, which has been leaked to the Union of Concerned Scientists, concludes that it would be cheaper and far less risky to dispose of 34 metric tons of U.S. surplus plutonium at a federal nuclear waste repository in New Mexico than convert it into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for commercial nuclear power plants at the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina.

    The unreleased report describes in detail the delays and massive cost overruns at the half-built MOX facility, located at the federal Savannah River Site. High staff turnover, the need to replace improperly installed equipment, and an antagonistic relationship between the local federal project director and the contractor are only some of the factors undermining the project. The new report also notes that there are “no obvious silver bullets” to reduce the life-cycle cost of the MOX approach.

    According to UCS, a better alternative to turning the surplus plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel would be to “downblend” it, a method the Energy Department has already used to dispose of several metric tons of plutonium. It involves diluting the plutonium with an inert, nonradioactive material and then sending it to the nuclear waste site in New Mexico, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), for burial. The new report’s analysis supports that assessment. …….

    The US report is bound to have a negative impact of the UK Government’s preferred management option for its plutonium stockpile which is to convert it into Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel. (See ‘Slow Progress on Plutonium Stockpiles’ Nuclear News No.76).
    Don Hancock of the Albuquerque-based Southwest Information and Research Center, which closely monitors WIPP, also opposes the MOX project. But he’s sceptical about WIPP as a viable alternative and said the Energy Department should review other options, including storing the plutonium at the Savannah River Site or the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, where thousands of plutonium pits are already warehoused. He said: “The [DoE and] the Union of Concerned Scientists may be confident that WIPP will reopen in a few years, but I don’t see any real basis for that,” Hancock said. “Going from one bad idea to another bad idea is not the solution to this problem.” (3)

    August 29, 2015 Posted by | - plutonium, reprocessing | Leave a comment

    Japan’s highly dangerous plutonium stockpile

    Japan’s plutonium stockpile worries Oxford specialist, Global Post, Xinhua News Agency Aug 17, 2015  NEW YORK, — The handling of Japan’s huge plutonium stockpile remains a challenge for the whole world, an Oxford environmental expert has warned.

    When Japan marked the 70th anniversary of Nagasaki’s obliteration by a plutonium bomb on Aug. 9, its own cache of weapons-usable plutonium was more than 47 metric tons, enough to make nearly 6,000 warheads like the one that flattened the Japanese city, Dr. Peter Wynn Kirby of University of Oxford wrote in an op-ed on Monday’s New York Times……..

    Japan’s 48 standard reactors burn uranium fuel, a process that yields plutonium, a highly radioactive and extremely toxic substance.

    Although these reactors were shut down after the Fukushima tragedy, Japan still stores nearly 11 tons of plutonium on its territory, with the rest in Britain and France. Stockpiling plutonium in Japan remains hazardous given seismic instability in the country and the risk of theft by terrorists, warned Kirby…..

    As a byproduct of burning uranium, plutonium itself can be processed in so-called fast-breeder reactors to produce more energy. That step also yields more plutonium, and so in theory this production chain is self-sustaining — a kind of virtuous nuclear-energy cycle, noted Kirby.

    “In practice, however, fast-breeder technology has been extremely difficult to implement. It is notoriously faulty and astronomically expensive, and it creates more hazardous waste,” wrote Kirby.

    Many other countries that experimented with fast-breeder reactors, including the United States, had phased them out by the 1990s. But Japan continued to invest heavily in the technology, noted Kirby.

    While Japan’s record with nuclear waste is abysmal, no other country has found a safe or economically sustainable way to reuse such substances, especially not plutonium, he noted. Given Japan’s many vulnerabilities, particularly seismic activity, nuclear waste should no longer be stored in the country, he argued. “The Japanese government should pay its closest allies to take its plutonium away, permanently.”

    Britain and France respectively holds 20 tons and 16 tons of Japan’s plutonium under contracts to reprocess it into usable fuel. Under current arrangements, this fuel, plus all byproducts, including plutonium, are to be sent back to Japan by 2020.

    “Japan should pay, and generously, for that plutonium to stay where it is, in secure interim storage. And it should help fund the construction of secure permanent storage in Britain and France,” he said.

    The Japanese government should also pay the United States to remove the nearly 11 tons of plutonium currently in Japan, he argued.

    “Handling Japan’s plutonium would be a great burden for receiver countries, and Japan should pay heftily for the service. But even then the expense would likely amount to a fraction of what Japan spends on its ineffectual plutonium-energy infrastructure,” wrote the specialist.

    Making Japan free of plutonium stockpile, thus preventing nuclear catastrophe as a result of earthquakes, would be in the whole world’s interest, he concluded.

    August 23, 2015 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment