Japan Signs Protocol on Heightened Nuclear-Material Security Standards

A container of mixed-oxide fuel is unloaded in June from a vessel at the Takahama nuclear energy plant in Japan's Fukui prefecture. Tokyo late last month signed a provision to an international nuclear security convention that spells out heightened safeguards for member countries.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
July 7, 2014, 11:01 a.m.

An in­ter­na­tion­al pact on heightened se­cur­ity stand­ards for nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als got one step closer to be­ing im­ple­men­ted when Ja­pan signed on late last month.

The is­land na­tion’s sign­ing of the Amend­ment to the Con­ven­tion on the Phys­ic­al Pro­tec­tion of Nuc­le­ar Ma­ter­i­al means that an­oth­er 22 coun­tries are re­quired to do the same be­fore the pact can enter in­to force, ac­cord­ing to a Fri­day In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency press re­lease.

To date, 77 na­tions have signed the amend­ment, which was draf­ted in 2005 and re­quires sig­nat­or­ies to take cer­tain steps to safe­guard ci­vil­ian atom­ic fa­cil­it­ies and stock­piles of nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­al. The meas­ures ap­ply to ma­ter­i­al in act­ive use, in stor­age and in trans­it. The amend­ment also provides a frame­work for na­tions to co­oper­ate in rap­idly re­spond­ing to in­cid­ents where atom­ic ma­ter­i­als go miss­ing or are stolen.

The United States has yet to rat­i­fy the amend­ment, as im­ple­ment­ing le­gis­la­tion re­mains stuck in Con­gress.

IAEA Dir­ect­or Gen­er­al Yukiya Amano in a Monday speech in Vi­enna said achiev­ing the entry in­to force of the amend­ment was “a ma­jor piece of un­fin­ished busi­ness in in­ter­na­tion­al ef­forts to en­sure that nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­al is prop­erly se­cured.”

Miles Pom­per, a seni­or re­search as­so­ci­ate with the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies, in a Monday phone in­ter­view said the im­me­di­ate im­pact of Ja­pan sign­ing the amend­ment would be min­im­al un­til the ac­cord goes in­to ef­fect. “These things are only as good as your do­mest­ic reg­u­la­tions are,” he said. “But it’s one more sign that the Ja­pan­ese are tak­ing nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity more ser­i­ously.”

Ja­pan pos­sesses one of the world’s largest stock­piles of ci­vil­ian plutoni­um, which has be­come a source of con­cern for non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ad­voc­ates and neigh­bors such as China. In an at­tempt to prove its non­pro­lif­er­a­tion bona fides, Tokyo earli­er this year pledged to re­pat­ri­ate to the United States hun­dreds of kilo­grams of weapons-sens­it­ive atom­ic sub­stances.

Henry Sokol­ski, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Policy Edu­ca­tion Cen­ter, ar­gued the real non­pro­lif­er­a­tion con­cern in Ja­pan lies out­side the scope of the ma­ter­i­als-se­cur­ity con­ven­tion al­to­geth­er — namely, that Tokyo might one day de­cide to de­vel­op nuc­le­ar arms.

“While it cer­tainly would be churl­ish to dis­miss any up­grades to nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity, it also would be a mis­take to think that this is a ma­jor leap for­ward in the pre­ven­tion of the pos­sib­il­ity of nuc­le­ar use,” he told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire. “It’s a step for­ward, and not a leap.”

Pom­per said Ja­pan’s sign­ing of the amend­ment could help build crit­ic­al mo­mentum to­ward get­ting the re­main­ing hol­d­outs, such as Wash­ing­ton, to rat­i­fy the 2005 pro­vi­sion.

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