NPT meet urged to press Japan to end Monju program

by Eric Johnston

OSAKA — Antinuclear activists from Japan, South Korea, Europe and the United States called on delegates at the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference on Friday to pressure Tokyo to end its troubled Monju fast-breeder reactor program, saying it sets a bad example for the rest of the world and dramatically increases proliferation risks.

“On May 6, Japan’s Monju fast-breeder reactor was restarted, after being shut down for over 14 years due to an accident involving a sodium leak and fire. It’s a great irony that a plutonium-fueled fast-breeder reactor was restarted at a time when unprecedented international attention is being given to nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and security,” the letter, endorsed by 29 antinuclear groups, reads.

It was presented to delegates at the conference, which is meeting in New York until the end of the month.

Japan has more than 47 tons of plutonium stockpiled from spent nuclear waste. Ten tons are being stored in Japan, and the remainder in Europe, where it was sent for reprocessing into plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, the letter said. It is supposed to be returned to Japan for possible use in Monju and other nuclear power plants.

“Civil plutonium stockpiles create serious instabilities in the NPT regime. The April 13, 2010, communique of the Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington recognized that ‘highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium require special precautions.’ Both of these materials can be used to produce nuclear weapons,” the letter said.

“In addition to the direct proliferation risks associated with Japan’s program to separate and reuse plutonium, the example set by Japan encourages other countries to pursue plutonium-based nuclear power programs. The restart of Monju undermines Japan’s claim to leadership in nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation,” the letter concludes.

Monju, with a capacity to generate 280 megawatts, is designed to burn MOX fuel, which produces more plutonium that can then be reused, creating a theoretically endless supply of nuclear fuel. Built in the mid-1980s, the plant was shut down following a December 1995 sodium leak, fire and coverup attempt.

MOX plant delayed

AOMORI (Kyodo) The construction schedule for a plant in Aomori Prefecture for the processing of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel is expected to be delayed by five months and start in October, sources said Friday.

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. also plans to begin operating the plant in the village of Rokkasho in March 2016, instead of June 2015 as originally scheduled, after a longer-than-expected process of assessing its quake-resistance strength.