U.S. Believed Japan Could Produce Atomic Weapons in 1970s: Records

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Oct. 30, 2013, 8:02 a.m.

The United States in 1977 as­sessed that plutoni­um Ja­pan pro­duced for its nuc­le­ar-en­ergy pro­gram could be used to pro­duce weapons and ex­pressed that be­lief to the Ja­pan­ese gov­ern­ment, Ky­odo News re­por­ted on Wed­nes­day, cit­ing re­cently de­clas­si­fied dip­lo­mat­ic doc­u­ments.

A U.S. non­pro­lif­er­a­tion of­fi­cial in­formed a Ja­pan­ese en­voy based in Aus­tria the then-pre­val­ent the­ory that re­act­or-grade plutoni­um could not be used to fuel nuc­le­ar war­heads was in­cor­rect, ac­cord­ing to a Feb­ru­ary 1977 dip­lo­mat­ic missive sent from the Ja­pan­ese em­bassy in the United States to the Ja­pan­ese For­eign Min­istry.

Ja­pan­ese atom­ic spe­cial­ists at the time did not view plutoni­um with­drawn from used re­act­or fuel to be suited for use in mak­ing war­heads.

The United States back then was against a Ja­pan­ese gov­ern­ment plan to be­gin op­er­at­ing the na­tion’s first spent fuel re­pro­cessing fa­cil­ity. Today, Ja­pan’s mul­tiple re­pro­cessing plants have re­covered enough plutoni­um to fuel hun­dreds of weapons. The coun­try has so much of the ma­ter­i­al it can­not store it all on its own ter­rit­ory. There are cur­rently some nine tons of plutoni­um in Ja­pan while the United King­dom and France are hold­ing an ad­di­tion­al 35 tons of the Ja­pan­ese-pro­duced pro­lif­er­a­tion-sens­it­ive sub­stance.

Ja­pan has long-been con­sidered to be a nuc­le­ar-break­out state, mean­ing it has the tech­nic­al know-how and re­sources to de­vel­op a war­head should the gov­ern­ment make the polit­ic­al de­cision to do. However the is­land na­tion has forsworn nuc­le­ar arms pro­duc­tion since com­ing un­der at­tack by U.S. atom­ic bombs in World War II. The grow­ing threat posed by North Korea’s nuc­le­ar weapons pro­gram as well as China’s in­creas­ingly will­ing­ness to as­sert its ter­rit­ori­al claims in the re­gion has spurred some lim­ited talk in­side Ja­pan about wheth­er the coun­try should de­vel­op a nuc­le­ar mil­it­ary cap­ab­il­ity.

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