"Efforts to stem the tide of nuclear proliferation were dealt a huge blow today, as Japan commenced active tests at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant", said Hideyuki Ban, Co-Director of the Tokyo based Citizens' Nuclear Information Center.
The plant, located in Aomori Prefecture in the north of Japan's largest island, began separating plutonium from spent nuclear fuel for the first time at 2:58pm Japan time.
"While the world's attention is diverted by the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, Japan has strengthened the position of countries which wish to develop weapons-usable technologies. Japan wants to be treated as an exception, but it is ignoring the international ramifications of its actions."
"Japan has justified its reprocessing policy on the grounds that it mixes plutonium with uranium to form a mixed oxide known as MOX. It says this is proliferation-resistant, but this is a deliberate misrepresentation of the risks associated with MOX."
The International Atomic Energy Agency defines MOX as a 'special fissionable material' and a 'direct use material'. It can be converted into weapons material in the order of one to three weeks1.
"The Japanese government has knowingly misled the Japanese public and the international community on this point."
The owner of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd, plans to reprocess 430 tons of spent fuel during the active test phase, which is scheduled to continue for 17 months. During this period, it will separate between 3 and 4 tons of plutonium, enough for about 500 Nagasaki-type nuclear weapons. If the plant ever operates at full capacity it will separate up to 8 tons of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel each year.
Mr. Ban said, "Commencing reprocessing at Rokkasho will only add to Japan's plutonium surplus. Japan already has a plutonium stockpile of 43 tons. We estimate that this will increase to about 70 tons by the end of 2010 if the Rokkasho reprocessing plant operates according to plan."
Mr, Ban added, "Besides the proliferation risks, the beginning of active tests also marks the beginning of large-scale radioactive pollution from the plant. It is impossible to operate the Rokkasho reprocessing plant without discharging radioactivity with the liquid and gaseous wastes. The radioactivity released in one day of operation is equivalent to the radioactivity released from a nuclear reactor in one year."
"There are benchmarks for the amount of radioactivity that may be released, but there is no guarantee that releases will be kept within these benchmarks. The marine environment downstream from Rokkasho will be permanently degraded and radioactivity released into the atmosphere will reach major cities in Aomori Prefecture, including Aomori, Hirosaki, and Hachinohe."
1. IAEA Safeguards Glossary, 2001 Edition, p.22 (3.13) and p.32 (4.16)
Hideyuki Ban, CNIC Co-Director (Phone 81-3-5330-9520)
Philip White, CNIC International Liaison Officer (Phone 81-3-5330-9520)