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For two years, Japan has omitted 640 kilograms (0.7 of a ton) of unused plutonium in its annual accounts to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
An official at the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) said the nuclear fuel – enough to power about 80 nuclear bombs – is part of a fuel, called mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX), that was stored for the period covered by the reports in a reactor in the southern Japanese town that has been off-line for three years.
Therefore, the JAEC official said, it did not need to be reported as unused. The official also stressed, “There is also no problem in terms of security against nuclear terrorism.”
In its report to the IAEA in 2012, Japan said at the end of 2011 it had 1.6 tons of unused plutonium at reactors around the country, 0.6 of a ton less than the previous year. It did not include the 640 kilograms of plutonium. Japan reported the same amount of used MOX in its 2013 report.
The IAEA strictly monitors Tokyo’s stockpile of nuclear fuel because it has more plutonium than any other nation that also doesn’t have nuclear weapons. Japan has more than 44 tons of such fuel extracted from spent nuclear fuel and reprocessed for use in nuclear power generators.
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In March 2011, shortly before the Fukushima nuclear accident, the fuel was loaded into the No. 3 reactor of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s nuclear plant in southern Saga Prefecture in the town of Genkai during a regular checkup.
The JAEC said the fuel remained in the Genkai reactor for two years, even though the facility was off-line because of Fukushima, and therefore the commission did not classify it as “unused.” The status of the MOX did not change until it was removed from the reactor in 2013, too late for that year’s report to the IAEA.
That didn’t convince Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director general of the IAEA. He said the status of the MOX fuel should be reported to the UN nuclear monitor, regardless of where it was being held, because it could be diverted to make nuclear weapons.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com