• Reuters

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There is no reason for concern that plutonium held by Japan could be diverted for nuclear arms purposes, the U.N. atomic watchdog said Monday, after objections raised by China in another dispute between the East Asian neighbors.

Last month, Beijing said it was “extremely concerned” by a report that Japan has resisted returning to the United States more than 300 kg of mostly weapons-grade plutonium.

Kyodo News said the United States had pressed Japan to give back the nuclear material, which could be used to make up to 50 nuclear bombs. Japan had balked, but finally given in to U.S. demands, Kyodo said.

The material was bought for research purposes during the 1960s and the two governments will likely reach an official agreement on its return at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague in March, an education ministry official said.

Japan also has plutonium contained in spent nuclear fuel at civil reactor sites and reprocessing plants — totaling 159 tons at the end of 2012, according to Japanese data posted on the website of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat, said there was no sign that nuclear material in Japan “has the risk of being diverted” for military applications.

“We have drawn (the) conclusion that all nuclear materials in Japan stay in peaceful purposes,” he told a news conference in response to questions. “Therefore, I do not have (a) reason to have concern that this (material) . . . will be diverted.”

Tasked with preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, IAEA inspectors regularly check nuclear facilities around the world, including in Japan and other countries with nuclear power plants and other atomic facilities.

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