Japan's case for stockpiling plutonium risks being undercut by new, local moves to stop the nation's power plants from running on the bomb-usable material.
Japanese community officials described new legal steps in opposing the use of mixed-oxide fuel -- a plutonium-uranium blend considered potentially more hazardous than other reactor material -- as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government prepared to authorize the first reactivation of atomic sites since the 2011 Fukushima plant disaster. The city of Hakodate last week sued to stop work on a nearby MOX fuel reactor, and Shizuoka prefecture's governor said he wants to reverse his predecessor's approval of its use.
The moves came as Abe's administration prepared as soon as Friday to finalize an energy policy calling for the separation of additional plutonium from nuclear waste, the New York Times reported. This ties in with the planned launch of the Rokkasho reprocessing facility, which could generate yet more plutonium on top of 9 tons it has stockpiled thus far, enough to power 2,000 nuclear arms.
One nonproliferation expert said public opposition to MOX fuel is a relatively recent development in Japan. Relatively few Japanese reactors are slated to run on the material, and the new local steps could further undermine the case for Rokkasho's launch, Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Project in Washington, told Global Security Newswire on Tuesday.
"There really is no practical way to irradiate large quantities of the surplus plutonium anytime soon, with the reactors they have or are planning," said Sokolski. "Given how much plutonium they already have, plus what they intend to produce, the idea that you can eliminate these plutonium stocks in reactors is preposterous."
He also noted China's vocal opposition to any increased Japanese plutonium production.
Correction: This article was updated to more accurately characterize the plutonium-separation component of Japan's Rokkasho facility and to include additional explanation by Henry Sokolski.