Japan draws Chines ire over $21-bn nuclear reprocessing plant

25 March 2014

Japan plans to start a $21-billion nuclear reprocessing plant, which has led to concerns in Beijing over the facility's output being diverted to make atomic weapons, Bloomberg reports.

The issue could emerge as a  flashpoint at the Nuclear Security Summit, which got underway yesterday at The Hague, Netherlands, according to commentators.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China's President Xi Jinping are due to attend the summit. The issue has further marred relations between the two countries, which are already strained by territorial disputes and left over issues from World War II.

''Japan has stockpiled large volumes of sensitive nuclear materials, including not only plutonium but also uranium, and that's far exceeding its normal needs,'' Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters on 11 March.

Yoshi Sasaki, spokesman for Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd  said on 7 March that the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant in northern Japan would begin separating plutonium from spent nuclear fuel in the third quarter.

Equipment failures have led to the plant missing previous start up dates.

Frank von Hippel, a former White House national security adviser now at Princeton University said the Chinese had said they saw Japan's plutonium as a weapons option and he thought many people in Japan too thought that way. He had consulted with Chinese and Japanese nuclear officials earlier.

In a related development, Japan agreed at the nuclear summit at The Hague to turn over hundreds of kilos of nuclear material to the US, the BBC reported.

According to president Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the plutonium and highly enriched uranium would be disposed off in the US.

The nuclear fuel could suffice for producing around 50 nuclear weapons.

The US administration is trying to secure worldwide supplies to ensure the material does not fall in the hands of terrorists.

Japan would however continue to retain large quantities of additional plutonium in spent fuel from its nuclear power industry.

According to US energy secretary Ernest Moniz, the deal to return some 300kg of plutonium was a very significant nuclear security pledge.

Japan had purchased the material from the US in the 1960s for what was described as research purposes.

The Abe administration had initially not been keen on handing it back to the US, it had been reported. This led to voicing of concerns by China over Japan's nuclear intentions.

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