Japan is planning on moving ahead with a program for increasing its stockpiles of plutonium, according to The New York Times. The additional plutonium would not be prime weapons-grade material, but could be fashioned into some.
The plutonium would be part of a recycling program for nuclear materials, which separates plutonium from used nuclear fuel. The program “has become one of the most contentious parts of the nation’s first comprehensive energy plan” following the meltdown of the Fukushima power plant following a high-magnitude earthquake in 2011.
But there are also serious risks about plutonium proliferation:
Experts fear the plutonium produced by recycling would create an inviting target for terrorists to steal or attack, and American officials have been quietly pressing Japan not to build up larger stocks of the material. The plutonium is far easier to use in weapons than the uranium that has been used to power most of Japan’s nuclear reactors.
The plan — which could be approved by Japan’s cabinet as early as Friday — has surfaced just weeks after the country turned over a large cache of nuclear material that could potentially have been weaponized to the United States for degradation and disposal.
The recycling stokes fears that Japan is going to lean more heavily on the nuclear power it said that it would distance itself from. In addition, recycled plutonium cannot be used alone in reactors and must be mixed with uranium, resulting in a mixture called mixed oxide fuel. That fuel is considered more dangerous in the event of an accident.
Proponents of the plan, such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, say that recycling nuclear fuel puts the country on a path to greater energy independence.