U.S., Japan to Cooperate on Nuclear-Material Removal, Energy Research

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, right, seen last October being welcomed by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the latter's offices in Tokyo. Moniz and Yosuke Isozaki, an adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on Monday announced new cooperation on nuclear security initiatives at a 53-nation summit in the Netherlands.
National Journal
Sebastian Sprenger
March 24, 2014, 9:56 a.m.

THE HAG­UE, NETH­ER­LANDS — The United States will help Ja­pan re­move hun­dreds of kilo­grams of weapons-grade nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als and aid the is­land na­tion in nuc­le­ar-en­ergy re­search.

Seni­or of­fi­cials from both coun­tries an­nounced those plans on Monday here at a two-day Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit, a gath­er­ing of 53 world lead­ers aimed at bol­ster­ing safe­guards against the theft or ter­ror­ist use of sens­it­ive atom­ic ma­ter­i­als.

U.S. En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Ern­est Mon­iz called the bi­lat­er­al agree­ment with Tokyo a “very sig­ni­fic­ant nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity pledge and activ­ity” at a joint press brief­ing with Yosuke Isoza­ki, a spe­cial ad­viser to Ja­pan­ese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe. An an­nounce­ment of plans to re­move weapons-us­able plutoni­um was widely ex­pec­ted to be a sum­mit out­come.

The bi­lat­er­al agree­ment un­veiled on Monday en­com­passes both plutoni­um and highly en­riched urani­um at Ja­pan Atom­ic En­ergy Agency’s Fast Crit­ic­al As­sembly in Tokai, which is used for re­search on fast-re­act­or tech­no­logy. The sub­stances are slated to be turned in­to non-sens­it­ive ma­ter­i­als in the United States.

The move “af­firms that most cut­ting-edge [re­search and de­vel­op­ment] can be ac­com­plished without weapons-us­able ma­ter­i­al,” Mon­iz said. He noted that the cre­ation of a “sus­tain­able nuc­le­ar-en­ergy in­dustry” also is a goal of the ef­fort.

Mon­iz and Isoza­ki took no ques­tions from the press.

New “en­hance­ments” are planned for the Fast Crit­ic­al As­sembly to en­able an ex­pan­ded re­search fo­cus on the trans­mu­ta­tion and dis­pos­i­tion of nuc­le­ar waste, ac­cord­ing to a joint state­ment. U.S. re­search aid, coupled with a 10-year ex­ten­sion to Wash­ing­ton’s of­fer to ac­cept spent fuel, will en­able Ja­pan to “pro­mote the ba­sic study of nuc­le­ar en­ergy,” Isoza­ki said.

Miles Pom­per, a seni­or re­search as­so­ci­ate with the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies, said re­mov­al of all weapons-grade ma­ter­i­als from the Fast Crit­ic­al As­sembly is a “good thing” be­cause it takes the site off the list of pro­spect­ive tar­gets for ter­ror­ists. But he cau­tioned that Ja­pan still has tons of re­act­or-grade plutoni­um, and is on track to pro­duce even more, once the Rokkasho mixed-ox­ide con­ver­sion plant goes on­line.

“They are cre­at­ing more of a plutoni­um prob­lem, even as they are giv­ing some away,” he said.

Mean­while, the En­ergy De­part­ment’s Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion on Monday an­nounced that re­mov­al was com­pleted of roughly 20 kilo­grams of ex­cess highly en­riched urani­um and sep­ar­ated plutoni­um from Italy, as well as an un­spe­cified amount from Bel­gi­um.

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