China Sees ‘Imbalance’ in Japan’s Plutonium Plans, Despite Upcoming Cuts

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at the World Forum in The Hague on March 24, the first day of a two-day Nuclear Security Summit. Beijing continues to have concerns over Japan's plutonium stockpile.
National Journal
Sebastian Sprenger
March 31, 2014, 8:27 a.m.

THE HAG­UE, NETH­ER­LANDS — China is wary of Ja­pan’s plutoni­um-stock­pil­ing plans, des­pite new ef­forts to ship some of the ma­ter­i­al to the United States.

Miao Wei, Beijing’s min­is­ter of in­dustry and in­form­a­tion tech­no­logy, de­livered that as­sess­ment dur­ing a press con­fer­ence here last week, at­ten­ded mainly by Chinese me­dia.

Dur­ing the Tues­day event — held as a two-day Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit of world lead­ers wrapped up — Miao was asked to present the Chinese gov­ern­ment’s view of a new ini­ti­at­ive un­der which U.S. of­fi­cials will help Tokyo re­pat­ri­ate hun­dreds of kilo­grams of sens­it­ive U.S. nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als from the Fast Crit­ic­al As­sembly in Tokai.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate and also sup­port the Amer­ic­an ef­forts to re­cov­er sens­it­ive nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als over­seas, and we are also pleased to see that the calls of the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity have been re­paid,” said the Chinese min­is­ter, speak­ing via in­ter­pret­er.

“But as we un­der­stand, Ja­pan still has stock­piles of oth­er sens­it­ive nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­al,” Miao con­tin­ued. “So we hope that Ja­pan can ad­dress the con­cerns of the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity as quickly as pos­sible, and take real steps to ad­dress the im­bal­ance between its real needs for de­vel­op­ing nuc­le­ar en­ergy and its stock­pil­ing.”

Some non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ex­perts see risk in Ja­pan’s stock­pil­ing of nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als, es­pe­cially as the planned Rokkasho mixed-ox­ide fuel fa­cil­ity is ex­pec­ted to gen­er­ate tons of ad­di­tion­al plutoni­um. The ma­ter­i­al, if stolen, could be used by ter­ror­ists to fash­ion atom­ic arms.

A num­ber of ob­serv­ers in and out­side of Ja­pan also think the grow­ing plutoni­um stock­pile con­sti­tutes a de­terrent of sorts against ag­gres­sion from any would-be ad­versar­ies, as the ma­ter­i­als could give Tokyo a lat­ent cap­ab­il­ity to pro­duce atom­ic weapons.

Ja­pan­ese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, who sep­ar­ately spoke to re­port­ers at the bi­en­ni­al con­fab, has de­fen­ded his coun­try’s course. He ar­gued that all of Ja­pan’s plutoni­um is needed for nuc­le­ar-en­ergy pro­duc­tion and that the In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency is provid­ing strict over­sight.

“We vol­un­tar­ily have dis­closed in­form­a­tion about our man­age­ment of plutoni­um and the in­form­a­tion is more de­tailed than ad­vised in in­ter­na­tion­al guidelines,” Ky­odo News quoted Abe as say­ing.

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