Plutonium is the world's most deadly substance and an important ingredient of nuclear bombs. A new Japanese nuclear facility, soon to open, could produce as much as eight thousand kilograms of plutonium a year. But deficient safeguards at the plant mean enough plutonium to build several nuclear bombs could be stolen or diverted from the plant each year, a new Greenpeace report shows.
Colossal price tag, enormous risk
Aerial view of Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant, taken from Greenpeace sampling kite.
The Rokkasho plant is estimated to cost a staggering $20
billion, more than the GDP of Fiji, Mongolia or Belize. It is
designed to reprocess spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors.
Reprocessing plants are the dirtiest nuclear facilities operating.
They discharge large quantities of nuclear pollution into the air
and water, just to create a product with no current peaceful use -
plutonium. Japan's plans to use plutonium as commercial reactor
fuel are in disarray, frozen because of controversies and local
government concern over the increased risks associated with its
Not only will Rokkasho use a dangerous, dirty process to create
a product Japan can't use, it will also increase the risks to
nuclear weapons proliferation in the region, said Greenpeace
campaigner Shaun Burnie. "The on-going tension in northeast Asia
over nuclear weapons can only be reduced if countries such as Japan
and North Korea halt their pursuit of nuclear materials which can
be used in such weapons."
IAEA cannot demonstrate ability to safeguard
According to the new Greenpeace report, International Atomic
Energy Agency "safeguards" technology applied at the plant will not
be able to detect the theft or deliberate diversion of tens of
kilograms of plutonium each year. That's enough each year to build
several nuclear weapons.
Summarising the safeguards technology to be used at Rokkasho,
including enhanced "Near-Real Time Accountancy" techniques, the
report concurs with the United
States Government Office of Technology Assessment that, "To
date, the IAEA has not considered the possibility that it may be
unable to safeguard large facilities but neither has it been able
to demonstrate that it can".
U.S.: Don't allow exports
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now reviewing an
export licence from Mitsubishi Nuclear Fuel Company Ltd. to ship
depleted uranium to Rokkasho. Greenpeace objects, and has called
for a thorough U.S. assessment of nuclear proliferation risks at
Rokkasho. Given these risks, the U.S. should reject exports of
uranium that would help the Rokkosho start its operation.
Rokkasho: We'll be watching
Later this week scientists from French radiation laboratory
CRIIRAD will begin extensively sampling around Rokkasho-mura and
Northern mainland Japan. Greenpeace supports the research because
it will independently verify the background levels of radioactivity
around the plant before Rokkasho starts operation