KYOTO — Six Japan-based peace and antinuclear groups Thursday called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to clarify comments made by the head of Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. that it is impossible to remove plutonium from MOX fuel, a claim that runs counter to IAEA assertions and the consensus of international experts.
In a letter addressed to Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, who spoke Thursday at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, the groups asked the IAEA to clarify its position on the mixed uranium-plutonium fuel.
“JNFL consistently makes light of the fact that Japan is separating massive quantities of nuclear weapons-capable material. Will Mr. Kojima continue to mislead the public, saying it is impossible to divert MOX fuel for weapons?” asked Kyoto-based antinuclear activist Aileen Mioko Smith, director of Green Action and one of the letter’s signers.
JNFL President Isami Kojima told reporters Nov. 24 that it might be theoretically possible to separate plutonium from MOX, but, practically speaking, it isn’t doable.
However, the IAEA states that plutonium can be separated for nuclear weapons from MOX fuel in three weeks.
“Separating the plutonium from the uranium in solution is a simple matter. It could be done without the heavy shielding (from radiation) and other precautions of a massive reprocessing plant like Rokkasho. Several processes (to separate plutonium from MOX) are available and have been widely publicized since the 1950s,” said Richard Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus and a longtime technical consultant to the U.S. government and the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
There is great controversy over the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture that is expected to begin operating next August.
In May 2005, two separate letters were released, warning that plutonium from Rokkasho could make 1,000 nuclear weapons annually.
The first letter was signed by 150 experts from 17 countries, including Nobel laureates and arms control negotiators. The second letter was signed by former senior officials in the U.S. government, including former Secretary of Defense William Perry and Ralph Earl II, former chief U.S. negotiator for the SALT II Treaty.
In addition, Kojima’s remarks come at a time when there is growing political and media debate over whether Japan should go nuclear.