Plutonium shipment to Japan exposes proliferation and safety threats – Greenpeace

Tokyo, 21 September 2017 – The arrival of a shipment of plutonium fuel at the Kansai Electric Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture highlights the near complete failure of Japan’s nuclear policy and the disregard for nuclear proliferation and safety risks, Greenpeace stated today. The Pacific Egret, with its cargo of 16 plutonium Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies containing as much as 736kg of plutonium, departed France on 6 July (JST).

In addition to the plutonium in the shipment, Japan currently has approximately 9.8 tons of plutonium in storage domestically, together with 36.3 tons in France and the UK.(1)  Plans to load 16-18 reactors with plutonium MOX fuel, already unattainable prior to the 2011 Fukushima disaster, were formally abandoned by power companies in 2015. (2)  Three of the five reactors currently in operation in Japan have plutonium MOX fuel in their cores, including Takahana 3 and 4. The plutonium fuel just arriving will be stored at the Takahama 4 reactor prior to its expected loading in 2018.

Japanese Government policy plans to produce even greater amounts of weapons usable plutonium at its Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture, if it eventually starts operation in 2018, while also loading MOX fuel into additional commercial reactors.

“Japan has the fifth largest stock of separated plutonium in the world, and the other four are all nuclear weapon states.[3] For decades it has failed to demonstrate a peaceful use for this plutonium, and this is even more evident today with only a handful of reactors operating. Japan’s plutonium stockpiling is part of the wider dangerous nuclear proliferation dynamic underway in northeast Asia. Terminating the current program would be a major contribution to reversing the current trajectory in the region,” said Shaun Burnie, Senior Nuclear Specialist, Greenpeace Germany.

Japan’s plutonium program will be central stage during negotiations between the Abe and Trump administrations for the extension of the U.S.-Japan Peaceful Cooperation Agreement which must be concluded before the end of 2018.

Embattled French company AREVA is today the sole supplier of MOX to Japan, which in the 1990’s, was exposed by Japanese citizens groups for MOX fuel quality control failures. The resulting scandals led to a decade-long delay in the loading of MOX fuel into reactors at Takahama and the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi 3 reactor. Decades later, AREVA continues to refuse to release vital fuel quality control data as demanded by Greenpeace, together with civil society groups in Japan.[4]

“Even without the substantial doubts over the quality of AREVA plutonium MOX fuel, its use in the Takahama reactors reduces their safety margins and increases the risk of accident. A severe accident at Takahama fueled with MOX fuel would release even greater amounts of plutonium into the environment leading to higher cancer risks to the population both locally in Fukui and across the Kansai region. There can be no justification for deliberately reducing the safety of the Takahama nuclear plant in a desperate but doomed effort to reduce Japan’s massive stockpile of plutonium,” said Hisayo Takada, Energy Project Leader of Greenpeace Japan.

Both Takahama 3 and 4 already have plutonium MOX fuel in their cores, with 24 and 4 MOX assemblies loaded into each reactor respectively.

[1] See the announcement by the Cabinet Office, August 2017 (Japanese),

[2] See Nuclear Proliferation in Plain Sight: Japan’s Plutonium Fuel Cycle–A Technical and Economic Failure But a Strategic Success, March 2016

[3] See Figure 7 (P.25) – “Global Fissile Material Report 2015”, Nuclear Weapon and Fissile Material Stockpiles and Production, Eighth annual report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials

[4] Due to the severity of the impacts of a nuclear disaster involving MOX fuel, citizens groups, including Greenpeace, have demanded since 1999 that AREVA release vital safety data on the MOX fuel produced for Japan, including for MOX loaded into the Fukushima Daiichi 3 reactor and the Takahama reactors, due to evidence of flawed production and quality control during manufacture.The release of quality control data demanded by Green Action, Mihama no Kai and Greenpeace in 1999 led to the disclosure of falsified data for Takahama MOX fuel produced in the Uk and the return of the plutonium fuel to Europe. To date, AREVA has failed to release any of the safety data. The AREVA company which has suffered a near meltdown of its business in recent years, is desperate to secure more MOX fuel contracts with Japan, which suffered as a direct consequence of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident leading to the shutdown of the Japanese reactor fleet.

Letter to AREVA Japan Calling for Disclosure of MOX Fuel Quality Control Data, 2016-01-28 and