First quarter of 2003
"plutonium gap" at Japan's Tokai plant highlights proliferation
risks of reprocessing
Introduction by WISE-Paris, January 29, 2003
The Washington based Nuclear Control Institute reacted strongly to
the stunning revelation by the Japanese government on 28 January 2003
that over 200 kg of plutonium have gone unaccounted for in its nuclear
reprocessing plant at Tokai-mura (see http://www.wise-paris.org/english/othersnews/year_2003/othersnews030128b.htm)
l). The information has been released by the Japanese authorities after
15 years of investigations.
The following is the press release issued by the Nuclear Control Institute
on 28 January 2003.
|NUCLEAR CONTROL INSTITUTE Washington, DC
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
CONTACT: Steven Dolley
GAP" AT JAPAN'S TOKAI PLANT
HIGHLIGHTS PROLIFERATION RISKS OF REPROCESSING
The disturbing revelation yesterday by the Japanese
government that plutonium recovered over twenty-five years of operations
at the Tokai-mura Reprocessing Plant is 206 kilograms short of the amount
predicted demonstrates the inherent inadequacy of safeguards at facilities
handling large quantities of bomb-usable nuclear material, according
to Nuclear Control Institute, a Washington DC-based nonproliferation
research and advocacy center.
"This is not just a minor accounting
error. We're talking about an enormous amount of plutonium, enough to
make 30 to 40 atomic bombs," noted Dr. Edwin Lyman, NCI President.
"Until the discrepancy is resolved, one cannot rule out the possibility
that the plutonium was diverted for weapons use by states or terrorists.
When one is dealing with nuclear-bomb materials, the proliferation and
terrorism risks of sloppy management are simply too great to tolerate."
Japan has offered various explanations, including
measurement and estimation errors, 'hold up' in the plant's process
equipment and leaks into waste streams. Regardless of how it occurred,
however, the Tokai 'plutonium gap' demonstrates that safeguards technology
is incapable of fulfilling the objective of allowing timely detection
of plutonium diversion. Japan and the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) have apparently been aware of this problem for many years, yet
have been unable to resolve it.
While the IAEA says that it is satisfied with the
Japanese government explanation that about half the missing material
ended up in liquid waste, about 100 kilograms of plutonium still remain
unaccounted for. Japan should immediately shut down the Tokai plant
and undertake a full clean-out and accounting under IAEA supervision.
To be credible this process must be transparent and open to scrutiny.
There is ample precedent for this cleanout. In
the mid-1990s, NCI revealed that some 74 kilograms of plutonium were
"held up" in process lines at the Tokai Plutonium Fuel Production
Facility (PFPF), leading to extended clean-up and inspection operations
estimated to cost on the order of $100 million. Even after this major
effort, Japan was still unable to account for 10 kilograms of the missing
Japan should also cancel plans to operate a much
larger reprocessing plant at Rokkasho-mura beginning in 2005, according
to NCI. "If similar problems occurred at Rokkasho, which would
have a far greater annual throughput than Tokai, some 240 kilograms
of plutonium could go unaccounted for every year," Dr. Lyman estimated.
The Tokai plutonium gap is the latest in a number
of serious setbacks to Japan's controversial plutonium fuel program.
Last year, Japanese electric utilities indefinitely postponed plans
to load mixed plutonium-uranium fuel (known as "MOX" or "pluthermal")
into their reactors, in the wake of a quality-control scandal. On Monday,
a Japanese appeals court blocked efforts to restart the Monju breeder
reactor, which experienced a serious sodium leak accident in 1995.
"Japan has already accumulated a 38-ton
stockpile of separated plutonium from its domestic and overseas reprocessing
operations, and they have no safe way to utilize it," Dr. Lyman
noted. "Given the threat of nuclear terrorism and the proven inability
to manage plutonium safely or securely, the Rokkasho reprocessing plant
poses a threat to the entire world and should never operate."
Additional information on the dangers of plutonium
and reprocessing are available on NCI's website at http://www.nci.org/pu-repro.htm