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Plutonium clean-up workers at Hanford had inadequate protection from contamination

Hanford workers were given leaky respirators at contaminated job site, contractor’s documents reveal https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/hanford-workers-were-given-leaky-respirators-at-contaminated-job-site-contractors-documents-reveal/?fbclid=IwAR18g7iwSGZJNg63q1UKl8nmUbzP4WF0JD7pqTMte9_IVRDXwM5JoCZcESA

March 25, 2020 By Patrick Malone and Hal Bernton Seattle Times staff reporters

RICHLAND, Benton County — Bill Evans Jr. worked on the front lines of the Hanford cleanup. He supervised crews tasked with dismantling tanks, uncoupling pipes and painting over surfaces to stanch the spread of radioactive particles inside some of the most hazardous buildings at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site.

To keep themselves safe, they donned full-body protective suits, sometimes two. Battery-charged respirators hung by their sides, circulating filtered air through breathing tubes and into hoods.

In May 2016, seven years into his Hanford career, Evans had a seizure on his lunch break that left him dazed. It was the first of many that forced him to stop working. Since then, repeated seizures have overtaken his life, resulting in falls that dislocated his jaw, fractured his spine and sent him crashing through a glass pane that gashed his head and required 30 stitches.

Evans, 45, is convinced that the sudden onset of his illness was linked to his job. Last year, he got a surprising clue about what might have gone wrong. A document from his old employer, slipped to him by a colleague, stated that a respirator cartridge Evans frequently used had a bad seal caused by changes made to the gear at Hanford, and possibly exposed him to radioactive and chemical contamination.

“I was floored, surprised and angry,” Evans said. “Because I trusted that equipment. That equipment was my lifeline.”

Evans was one of an estimated 560 workers at the Plutonium Finishing Plant between 2012 and October 2016 who wore respirator gear that may have leaked, according to documents obtained by The Seattle Times. The project contractor, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Company, told workers on the job site about the safety lapse, which was also detailed in a November 2016 letter to be placed in affected workers’ medical files.

But the contractor did not directly reach out to workers, like Evans, who had already left the job, according to a spokesman for CH2M Hill. The letter ended up in the files of only 150.

UPDATE

In response to a Seattle Times investigation, advocates seek benefits for workers who wore leaky respirators at Hanford

March 26, 2020 Posted by | - plutonium, health, USA | Leave a comment

Plutonium contamination at Rocky Flats

How Colorado’s nuclear past is affecting its future, Colorado Springs INDY, GONE FISSION, by Heidi Beedle  25 Mar 20, IT WAS FEB. 25 AND BROOMFIELD City Council was done. It unanimously voted last month to withdraw from the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA), a proposed north-south toll road that would ostensibly help mitigate traffic congestion in the Northwest Metro Denver area. The route would have taken the road through the eastern edge of the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge, just south of the Boulder County line, bordering Arvada and Broomfield. The council vote was influenced by preliminary soil samples taken by the JPPHA in July 2019, specifically one sample that showed plutonium levels more than five times higher than the acceptable standard (the rest of the samples taken at that time were within acceptable standards). Before its current existence as a wildlife refuge, Rocky Flats was the site of a nuclear weapons plant, which has caused concern about plutonium contamination in the area. Forty-eight subsequent samples taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, showed levels well below cleanup standards of 50 picocuries per gram.

The city council vote is the latest installment in the ongoing conflict between concerned residents and public officials, and Rocky Flats and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). For decades, residents and at least two directors of Jefferson County Public Health, have claimed that plutonium released from the plant is responsible for the high rate of cancers in the area. These claims have been consistently disputed by CDPHE and the Department of Energy (DOE). ……..

Johnson was concerned about the instances of cancers in Jefferson County and questioned the official measurements of plutonium in the soils around Rocky Flats, finding in his own testing that plutonium levels in the soil were 44 times higher than reported by the Department of Public Health. Johnson grew increasingly concerned about an increase in cancer deaths in Jefferson County, and in a paper published in 1981, noted that a rise in certain kinds of cancers Johnson was seeing in Jefferson County, such as leukemia, “supports the hypothesis that exposure of general populations to small concentrations of plutonium and other radionuclides may have an effect on cancer incidence.” Johnson noted that “plutonium concentrations in the air at the Rocky Flats plant are consistently the highest (1970-1977) in the US DOE monitoring network,” based on his studies of the DOE’s own data. He also asserted that the DOE’s measurements were likely an underestimation.

Almost 40 years later, and the current head of the Jefferson County Public Health Department, Dr. Mark Johnson (no relation) has come to the same conclusion. In 2018 he spoke outagainst opening the wildlife refuge to the public, and he thinks the recent discovery of plutonium near the proposed parkway site should give people reason to reconsider. “

“There are clear studies that have shown there is an increased risk or rate of plutonium in the dirt there,” agrees Mark Johnson. “I have concerns already about the digging around with the subdivisions and the commercial enterprises that have gone into that area that were basically kicking up a lot of stuff — and we don’t know what is there.”

Carl Johnson was fired in 1981 for his persistent, outspoken criticism of the plant, but won a subsequent whistleblower lawsuit. Partly due to Johnson’s criticism, the FBI and the EPA began looking into operations at the Rocky Flats Plant starting in 1987. The investigation was aided by Jim Stone, an employee at the plant who also became a whistleblower over what he saw as grave safety violations……..


THOUGH EXHAUSTIVE DOCUMENTATION
 of waste sites and deposits exists, questions remain as to the effectiveness of the now-completed cleanup. Jon Lipsky, a former FBI agent who led the raid on Rocky Flats in 1989, criticized the decision to open the refuge to the public in 2016, and has claimed there is still work to be done. Originally, the DOE estimated it would take 65 years and $37 billion to clean up the site. It was completed in 2005 for $7 billion.

During the process, there were still surprises to be found. ……..

The questions of the lasting effects from the operations at Rocky Flats may never be answered to the satisfaction of residents like Hansen, who are dealing with serious health issues. Jeff Gipe, the artist behind the Cold War Horse memorial that was erected in 2015, is currently working on a documentary about the plant, Half-Life of Memory, which may draw more attention to the issue.

President Donald Trump, who has a good shot at re-election, has reduced the effectiveness of agencies like the EPA while also advocating for an increase in nuclear arms development.

In 2019, the federal government proposed a new plutonium pit production facility near Aiken, South Carolina. But that is presumably not our problem.  https://www.csindy.com/coloradosprings/how-colorados-nuclear-past-is-affecting-its-future/Content?oid=21526239

March 26, 2020 Posted by | - plutonium, environment, Reference, USA | Leave a comment

Is Cumbria about to become the world’s plutonium dump?

                                                        ****
A half-hearted attempt was made to claim that there was no breach of trust, since plutonium did not form part of the UK’s nuclear waste inventory, which while technically correct at the time, it was widely understood that plutonium was expected to be reclassified as waste at a later stage.  So while the NDA claim was true in a literal sense, it was also entirely disingenuous.  It was clear at the time that the NDA were embarrassed by this, particularly as they were about to ask Copeland, Allerdale and Cumbria to vote to continue the search process for a GDF site.  That process ended in January 2013 when Cumbria County Council vetoed the decisions of the two borough councils which had voted to proceed.
                                                      ****
While there have been a few smaller transactions of this type, it now appears that the NDA is offering to take ownership of a much larger quantity – 19 tonnes (21 US tons) of plutonium from Japan, in exchange for a substantial payment.  The UK and Sellafield where it is stored will then be faced with the problem of what to do with it.  It is almost inevitable that it will be reclassified as waste at some point, but it generates too much heat to begin to be buried until the year 2136 according to the NDA.
                                                         ****
The UK’s search for a GDF site has failed on three occasions, with a lack of public trust being one of the key reasons for the failures.  With this latest move by the NDA, public trust is likely to be further diminished.  Any claim that a UK GDF is for UK nuclear waste is clearly not to be trusted.

February 25, 2020 Posted by | - plutonium, politics, UK | Leave a comment

The plutonium dilemma – Japan and UK

What should be done with Japan’s plutonium now stored in the UK? ~ Research trip report. BY   by Caitlin Stronell, CNIC

From September 11 to 21, Ban Hideyuki and Caitlin Stronell from CNIC visited the UK in order to survey opinions on what should be done with Japan’s 21.2 tons of plutonium  presently stored at the Sellafield facility in the UK. As Japan does not have an operating reprocessing plant, spent fuel was shipped to the UK and France for reprocessing and fabrication into MOX fuel from the late 1970s. Including Japan’s 21 tons, a total of approximately 140 tons of separated plutonium are held in the UK, which has offered to take ownership of foreign owned plutonium on its soil, subject to acceptable commercial terms. There have already been several such cases of ownership transfers of plutonium. (For example, in January 2017 the UK took ownership of 600 kg of plutonium previously owned by a Spanish utility and 5 kg previously owned by a German organization.)

Last year Japan’s Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced that a dialogue concerning plutonium between the UK and Japan had begun. Although the details of this dialogue have not been released, ownership transfer may well be one of the discussion points. If Japan does go through with the ownership transfer, it will be an admission that the plutonium, which it has spent vast sums on extracting from the spent fuel, is not a precious resource at all, but material that now has to be disposed of, again at large cost. This would be another heavy blow against Japan’s reprocessing policy. However, how do people in the UK feel about accepting 21 tons of Japanese plutonium? This was what we tried to find out on our research trip.

Closely related to the issue of plutonium in both Japan and the UK is the issue of nuclear waste and we also wanted to find out about how the UK is planning to deal with this issue, especially in terms of siting a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).  Plans to site the GDF in Cumbria were rejected by the Council in 2013 and since then the national government has introduced a new system where smaller communities are able to request that they be considered as a GDF site. We wanted to find out how people were reacting to this and what the prospects are for the government being able to successfully site a GDF under this system.

We spoke to a large range of people directly concerned with these issues, of course anti-nuclear activists, but also a scientist involved in research on direct disposal methods for plutonium, as well as a number of people who work at Sellafield and local councilors for the area. Their answers to the question of what to do with Japan’s 21 tons of plutonium were varied and, in some cases, a little unexpected. For example, I was expecting that Prof. Neil Hyatt of Sheffield University, who is conducting cutting edge research on plutonium disposal, would be more open to accepting Japan’s plutonium, but he expressed some hesitation, saying that if the UK government agrees to take ownership of such a large amount of plutonium, it will break trust with local people by increasing their waste burden.

Divided opinions

We also noticed a split opinion between the two Cumbrian Councillors we interviewed. Cumbria is the county where the Sellafield Site is located and the nuclear industry obviously plays an important part in the local economy and politics………

The NDA is also tasked with siting the GDF for radioactive waste, which has proved to be a difficult task indeed, as it is all over the world, including in Japan where little progress has been made. There have been three attempts so far in the UK to try to decide on a site for the GDF, none of which have yielded results and so a new process for finding a GDF site began in January 2019.  This process allows any community, no matter how small, to express an interest in starting a dialogue regarding hosting a GDF.  …….

These and many other campaigns led by local communities show that the authorities and industry claims of transparency and safety cannot be trusted and in this sense it was easy to understand comments by Cr. Celia Tibble regarding the public reaction if the UK government were to accept Japanese plutonium. It would be seen as another lie and breach of trust…….

Conclusion

I thought that there were many similarities between the situation in Japan and in the UK regarding nuclear fuel cycle policy. Both countries must deal with massive amounts of plutonium, extracted at huge cost and risk, which now has no apparent use. Both the governments of Japan and the UK try to convince themselves and the world that it can be used as MOX fuel, but without a fabrication plant or sufficient MOX reactors, this solution is totally unconvincing. In the UK, it seems at least some industry people are facing up to this reality. In Japan, however, the government, at least at a policy level, hasn’t even faced up to the reality that plutonium is not a resource. Transferring ownership of its 21 tons of plutonium held in Sellafield to the UK would be an important step in facing up to this reality and could open the door to more practical and constructive discussions on how to reduce the plutonium stockpile. These discussions will not be easy and require an honest and concerted effort on the part of local and national governments, industry, communities and citizens.    https://cnic.jp/english/?p=4681

February 17, 2020 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, UK | 1 Comment

New Mexico not keen to take South Carolina’s plutonium wastes

November 25, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, USA | Leave a comment

The failure of nuclear reprocessing and the “Plutonium Economy”

Paul Richards The Plutonium Economy failed.  nuclear fuel cycle watch australia, 25 Oct 19

No one on the planet has been able to run unspent nuclear fuel through twice, and make it economically viable, let alone the countless times needed to make it ecologically viable.

It costs more to run unspent fuel through once more than to

• mine uranium,
• process for shipping
• process into yellowcake
• make into rods
• ship rods onsite to reactors

There is little to NO CHANCE of doing that again, and again.

Business history shows this wasn’t possible when;

• uranium was at its peak in price in 1980

2019, about to enter the third decade of the 21C, where commodities exchanges show nuclear fuel it is;

• LOWEST PRICE than in all of economic history,

and yet it still can’t compete with any other energy sources.

Nuclear apologists are a joke, delusional.

The nuclear sales executives of the nuclear estate have been busy rebranding, white and greenwashing their product is ever since Ronald Reagan announced The Plutonium Economy failed.

In point of fact, carbon fuel, gas spinning a turbine, has been producing cheaper energy fully levelized for three decades than any nuclear reactor.

Large scale

• solar PV and
• on-offshore wind turbines
• reached PARITY with
• carbon fuel NATURAL GAS

late last decade on an LCOE basis.

For this whole decade these;

• renewable systems
• fully lifecycle factored
• are cheaper than even carbon fuels
• NATURAL GAS

October 26, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, reprocessing | Leave a comment

USA’s stranded plutonium nuclear wastes

Post & Courier 30th Sept 2019  Dogged by faulty assumptions and lacking political will, the federal
government squandered billions of dollars and an opportunity to dispose of the nation’s most dangerous nuclear material by chasing a massive construction project in South Carolina that was doomed from the start.
Instead, the U.S. Department of Energy stranded a huge stockpile of plutonium — the lethal metal at the core of nuclear weapons — at a federal installation on the state’s wooded western edge, with plans to
leave it there for decades.   https://www.postandcourier.com/news/how-the-us-government-wasted-billion-and-stranded-tons-of/article_24bc000a-da1d-11e9-bb44-87644323c969.html
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October 4, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Removal of one metric ton of plutonium from Savannah River Site South Carolina

One metric ton of plutonium removed from massive nuclear facility in SC,  https://www.wspa.com/news/one-metric-ton-of-plutonium-removed-from-massive-nuclear-facility-in-sc/     by: Georgiaree Godfrey
Posted: Aug 8, 2019 / 09:06 PM EDT Updated: Aug 9, 2019 / 0JACKSON, SC (WSPA)- The South Carolina Attorney General announced earlier this week the successful completion of the removal of a portion of the plutonium being stored at the Savannah River Site in Aiken.

The Savannah River Site has been in the state since the late 1950’s and was originally home to a nuclear bomb making facility, but over the years the site has taken on the role of several different operations, including the storage of plutonium.

Savannah River Site is now home to a nuclear laboratory and facility to reuse the nuclear material left behind from the Cold War. Over the years the storage of that plutonium has become a concern.

“A lot of pollution left over from that so the main mission of the Savannah River Site for a long time has been the cleaning up of the contamination that exists,” explained Tonya Bonitatibus, the Executive Director of Savannah Riverkeeper. Savannah Riverkeeper monitors the quality of the Savannah River, which is used for drinking water for more than 1 million residents.

The United States Department of Energy notified the state’s attorney general of the removal of one metric ton of plutonium from the Savannah River Site.

In 2016, Congress passed a law to remove the plutonium if production goals to reuse the material were not met.

The plutonium removed so far is the first step in a wider cleanup after the state won a lawsuit against the DOE.

Bonitatibus continued, “The Savannah River Site has been the dumping ground for nuclear waste. It just has because nobody wants it. So it ends up being stored here leaking into the coastal plain and groundwater.”

The National Nuclear Security Administration says, “The material removed from the Savannah River Site (SRS) in Aiken, South Carolina, will be used for national security missions and is not waste.”

NNSA also released a removal plan that designated Texas and New Mexico as the destinations for the removed plutonium.

The ruling outlined that one metric ton of the plutonium would be removed each year. The process could take another 5 to 7 years to remove the plutonium being stored.

The removal was supposed to be completed by January 1, 2020. The process is 6 months ahead of schedule, according to NNSA.

Savannah River Site is located on land in Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties.

August 10, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium | Leave a comment

Settlement Talks Collapse in $200-Million Lawsuit over Savannah River Plutonium

BY DAN LEONE,  3 May 19, After settlement talks collapsed, a federal judge this week cleared the way for a long-awaited decision in a $200-million lawsuit between South Carolina and the Department of Energy over the federal government’s failure to remove plutonium from the state. The… (subscribers only)  https://www.exchangemonitor.com/settlement-talks-collapse-200-million-lawsuit-savannah-river-plutonium-2/

July 4, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, Legal, USA | Leave a comment

Strong opinions at forum about producing nuclear weapon cores at the Savannah River Site

Opinions on nuclear project at SC plant clash at public forum, Post and Courier, By Colin Demarest cdemarest@aikenstandard.com, Jun 28, 2019  NORTH AUGUSTA — Vocal support for producing nuclear weapon cores at the Savannah River Site sharply contrasted with questions, criticism and pushback Thursday night at a government-led public forum.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration wants to produce 50 of the weapon components each year at the sprawling complex near Aiken. The cores, known as plutonium pits, use one of the world’s most dangerous substances to trigger a series of explosions that unleash the deadly potential of nuclear weapons.

Supporters tout the economic benefits of the project, which would create about 1,000 jobs and provide a new anchor for SRS after the government abandoned its long-delayed efforts to finish a facility designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear power plants.

Critics, however, remain skeptical of the proposed mission and worry about the potential risks to the environment and workers’ health.

A slew of officials, including Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon, Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker and Jim Marra of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, voiced support for the effort, offering their takes on why SRS is the correct fit for the looming weapons-oriented mission.

Encouragement also came from several chambers of commerce, University of South Carolina Aiken, and state and federal lawmakers.

……… Nuclear watchers and other groups, however, took aim at the effort’s multibillion-dollar projected cost, as well as potential dangers from exposing the environment and workers to plutonium.

What is the environmental impact of a nuclear weapon?” Glenn Carroll, with Nuclear Watch South, said Thursday. “The absolute and wholesale destruction of the environment. Every human, every animal. Every plant.”

The anticipated costs of pit production have raised eyebrows in Washington, D.C. A congressional budget report published this year estimated pit production would cost $9 billion over the next decade.

Among other things, SRS Watch Director Tom Clements said the pit production process was off to a “rocky start.”

The project is not funded by Congress, it’s not authorized by Congress,” he said.

Clements, alongside Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch New Mexico, hosted a pit production forum earlier this month at the Aiken Municipal Building. He and others urged opponents to push back against the plan.

The public “can be effective against bad Department of Energy ideas, like the pit production one,” Clements said at the time.

One Aiken resident on Thursday described the pit production effort at SRS as hurried, and a woman representing The Human Family organization expressed concerns about earthquakes and becoming a target of terrorism.

………. The NNSA terminated the MOX project — which was over-budget and congressionally controversial — on Oct. 10, 2018. The government had shoveled almost $8 billion into the effort by that point, but it remained years and billions of dollars away from completion. 

Clements on Thursday told the audience the Energy Department and others are attempting to “sweep the MOX debacle under the rug.”

The NNSA hosted the meeting to collect public comments on pit production and a related environmental assessment. https://www.postandcourier.com/news/opinions-on-nuclear-project-at-sc-plant-clash-at-public/article_3abec846-99aa-11e9-bf78-e395a709cf68.html

June 29, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, politics, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

New research into plutonium workers’ internal radiation exposure.

May 23, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, employment, Reference, UK | 1 Comment

USA preparing Hanford vitrification plant to deal with 56 million gallons of radioactive waste

May 14, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Long delay before Savannah River Plutonium Disposal can start

May 9, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

U.S. Dept of Energy pledges to remove plutonium from Nevada

Energy Department says it will remove plutonium from Nevada, abc,By SCOTT SONNER, ASSOCIATED PRESS,  Apr 30, 2019,U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is pledging to expedite the removal of weapons-grade plutonium secretly hauled to Nevada last year as the state and Trump administration remain locked in a court battle about whether the shipment was legal.

The Energy Department intends to start removing the highly radioactive material in 2021 and finish by the end of 2026, Perry said in an April 24 letter to U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat.

He also assured her in the letter released Tuesday that his department won’t ship any more plutonium from South Carolina to the Nevada Nuclear Security Site north of Las Vegas.

Nevada still is seeking a formal court order preventing any shipments because it says the agency’s track record shows it cannot be trusted. It also has a related case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A federal judge in South Carolina has ordered the U.S. government to remove a metric ton (2,204 pounds) of plutonium from the Savannah River site by Jan. 1, 2020, and haul out an additional 5 metric tons (11,020 pounds) in future years.

Nevada sued in November, accusing the Energy Department of failing to do the necessary environmental reviews before adopting a plan last August to ship the plutonium to the state.

The department disclosed in January that it already had shipped half a metric ton (1,102 pounds) of the material before Nevada sued but kept it secret for national security reasons…….

The Energy Department has said it plans to forward the plutonium to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico by the “2026-2027 timeframe.” https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/energy-department-remove-plutonium-nevada-62738713

May 2, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Japan’s plutonium surplus, its history, and its danger

Ed. Note: Many in Japan are now seeing this info for the first time since their PRESS has be limited by Abe’s Gov’t which is “in bed” with the Nuclear Industry.   

Japan’s Plutonium Overhang, Wilson Center, Nuclear Proliferation International History Project Jun 7, 2017 By William Burr   Plutonium, a key element of nuclear weapons, has been an issue in U.S.-Japan relations for decades. During the administration of Jimmy Carter, the Japanese government pressed Washington for permission to process spent reactor fuel of U.S. origin so that the resulting plutonium could be used for experiments with fast breeder nuclear reactors. The government of Japan wanted to develop a “plutonium economy,” but U.S. government officials worried about the consequences of building plants to reprocess reactor fuel. According to a memo by National Security Council staffer Gerald Oplinger, published for the first time by the National Security Archive and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, the “projected plants would more than swamp the projected plutonium needs of all the breeder R&D programs in the world.” That “will produce a vast surplus of pure, weapons grade plutonium … which would constitute a danger in itself.” Indeed, as a result of reprocessing activities since then, Japan possesses 48 tons of plutonium and could be producing more, with no clearly defined use, when a new reprocessing facility goes on line in 2018………

    • The risk of nuclear of proliferation was a significant element in Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign, which raised questions about the hazards of nuclear energy and attacked the Ford administration for ignoring the “deadly threat posed by plutonium in the hands of terrorists.” Not long after his inauguration, Carter signed

Presidential Directive 8,-which declared that “U.S. non-proliferation policy shall be directed at preventing the development and use of sensitive nuclear power technologies which involve direct access to plutonium, highly enriched uranium, or other weapons useable material in non-nuclear weapons states, and at minimizing the global accumulation of these materials.”

Consistent with this, Carter called for an indefinite deferral of commercial reprocessing and the recycle of plutonium in the U.S. and restructuring U.S. breeder reactor programs to develop “alternative designs to the plutonium breeder.” He also directed U.S. nuclear R&D spending to focus on the “development of alternative nuclear fuel cycles which do not involve access to weapons useable materials.” …….
Since the 1988 agreement Japan’s nuclear plans have gone awry. The Fukushima disaster raised questions about nuclear energy as a power source while the Monju fast breeder reactor turned out to be a tremendously expensive boondoggle, which the Japanese government decided to decommission in late 2016 (during more than 20 years it operated only 250 days). The government remains interested in developing plutonium-fueled fast reactors but that is a remote prospect. Plans to use plutonium in a mixed oxide (MOX) reactor fuel have come to naught. At present, therefore, Japan has no clearly defined use for the 48 tons of separated plutonium that it owns, some 11 tons of which are on Japanese territory.
The surpluses, which emerged as anticipated, continue to worry arms control experts, including some, such as Robert Gallucci, who were involved in the 1980 debate. Terrorists would need only a few kilograms of plutonium for a weapon with mass destruction potential.   In the meantime, the Rokkasho reprocessing facility is scheduled to go on-line in 2018. The industrial scale facility is slated to separate 8 tons of plutonium maximum annually, although Japan has no specific plans for using most of it. 2018 is the same year that the 1988 U.S.-Japan agreement is slated to expire, although whether the Trump administration has any interest in renegotiating it remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the South Korean government, which cannot reprocess, under existing agreements with Washington, asks why it cannot do what Japan has been doing.

When NSC staffer Gerald Oplinger wrote that the plutonium surplus would constitute a “danger in itself,” he probably assumed an environmental hazard and possibly a proliferation risk and vulnerability to terrorism. He did not mention the latter risks, although the reference to surpluses of “weapons grade” material evoked such concerns. While Japanese reprocessing plants would be producing reactor-grade plutonium, it nevertheless has significant weapons potential.  On the question of Japan’s nuclear intentions, the documents from this period that have been seen by the editor are silent; it is not clear whether U.S. officials wondered whether elements of the government of Japan had a weapons option in the back of their mind. Any such U.S. speculation, however, would have had to take into account strong Japanese anti-nuclear sentiment, rooted in terrible historical experience, Japan’s membership in good standing in the nonproliferation community, and that since the days of Prime Minister Sato, the “three Nos” has been official national policy: no possession, no manufacture, and no allowing nuclear weapons on Japanese territory.  According to a 1974 national intelligence estimate, Japan was keeping “open” the possibility of a nuclear weapons capability and had the resources to produce weapons in a few years, but the intelligence agencies were divided over the likelihood of such a development. The CIA, State Department intelligence, and Army intelligence saw such a course of action as highly unlikely without a collapse of U.S. security guarantee and the emergence of a significant threat to Japan’s security.

Sources for this posting include State Department FOIA releases as well as recently declassified records at the National Archives, including the records of Gerard C. Smith and Secretary of State Edmund Muskie. Many documents on Japan from the Smith files are awaiting declassification review.

Documents in this release:…..https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/japans-plutonium-overhang

April 18, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment