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Thu May 2, 2013, 04:04 AM

Japan's Nuclear Plan Unsettles U.S.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Japan is preparing to start up a massive nuclear-fuel reprocessing plant over the objections of the Obama administration, which fears the move may stoke a broader race for nuclear technologies and even weapons in North Asia and the Middle East.

The Rokkasho reprocessing facility, based in Japan's northern Aomori prefecture, is capable of producing nine tons of weapons-usable plutonium annually, said Japanese officials and nuclear-industry experts, enough to build as many as 2,000 bombs, although Japanese officials say their program is civilian.

<snip>

The Obama administration widely believes Rokkasho had been mothballed as a result of these delays, said U.S. officials who have worked on nuclear policy. This belief was further cemented by the Fukushima accident and Tokyo's subsequent announcement that it was drastically scaling back its nuclear-power program.

"For the Obama administration…there wasn't any real need to focus on (Rokkasho)," said Gary Samore, who oversaw nuclear-proliferation issues in the White House during President Barack Obama's first term.

<snip>

Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324582004578456943867189804.html

8 replies, 1925 views

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Reply Japan's Nuclear Plan Unsettles U.S. (Original post)
bananas May 2013 OP
davidpdx May 2013 #1
hobbit709 May 2013 #2
RC May 2013 #3
bananas May 2013 #5
tblue May 2013 #7
Trillo May 2013 #4
bananas May 2013 #6
Bosonic May 2013 #8

Response to bananas (Original post)

Thu May 2, 2013, 07:18 AM

1. I don't think Japan will go nuclear with its history

But the Conservative hawks in Japan may try to push it. A nuclear arms race in Asia is possible, especially given North Korean and China already have bombs. Japan has the technological capability given how advanced they are scientifically.

If it is for energy, which I think is most likely, the larger concern is a big "what if" and I think the disaster two years ago answered that question. Not only did it harm the environment and displace people, it hurt their economy. The question becomes, how many times to you hold a gun to your foot and pull the trigger hoping nothing will happen.

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Response to bananas (Original post)

Thu May 2, 2013, 07:45 AM

2. Before we start wagging fingers, we'd better look in a mirror.

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Response to hobbit709 (Reply #2)

Thu May 2, 2013, 09:05 AM

3. It is not working in the Middle East, why would anyone think it would work in the Far East?

 

Looking in a mirror, that is. Recognizing that WE are the main problem in the hypocritical answers we force on others.

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Response to hobbit709 (Reply #2)

Thu May 2, 2013, 11:27 PM

5. I looked in the mirror, I don't have any nuclear weapons

so I get to wag my finger at all of them.

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Response to hobbit709 (Reply #2)

Fri May 3, 2013, 04:13 AM

7. Who are we to tell anybody what

they can and can't do? Especially when we do it ourselves? Egad. Who can blame anyone for arming themselves when we throw our weight around like we own the world?

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Response to bananas (Original post)

Thu May 2, 2013, 04:37 PM

4. Is this what is known as a MOX fuel plant?

Or is it something different?

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Response to Trillo (Reply #4)

Fri May 3, 2013, 04:07 AM

6. Different

The reprocessing plant takes spent fuel and extracts the plutonium and some other stuff.
The original reason for this was to use plutonium in breeder reactors.
But breeder reactors aren't so easy to make.

A MOX fuel plant mixes plutonium and other stuff with uranium to make fuel rods for current reactors.
They can use nuclear warheads or the output from a reprocessing plant.
It takes about 7 spent fuel rods to make one MOX fuel rod, so it really isn't worth it

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/opinion/japans-nuclear-mistake.html?_r=0

Japan’s Nuclear Mistake
By FRANK N. VON HIPPEL and MASAFUMI TAKUBO
Published: November 28, 2012

<snip>

Originally, Japan, like other countries, considered the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel necessary to obtain start-up plutonium for a new generation of plutonium “breeder” reactors that would use uranium more efficiently. But uranium remains cheap and abundant, and the planned reactors, so-called molten-sodium-cooled breeders, proved to be costly and unreliable. Japan’s own Monju prototype breeder reactor operated for only four months in 1995 before a sodium fire shut it down. Its operators are still struggling to restart it.

Japan then shifted to a strategy of recycling separated plutonium back into the fuel of its existing reactors. That effort was delayed by technical problems and public opposition and, in the wake of last year’s Fukushima accident, appears completely unviable. Still, Japan continues to plan to reprocess its nuclear fuel.

And it does so despite international pressure. At a nuclear-security event in Seoul, South Korea, last March, President Obama said, “We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we are trying to keep away from terrorists.”

Not only did Japanese authorities ignore him, but some reprocessing advocates claim that the Obama administration in fact supports Japan’s plutonium recycling program.

<snip>

The Obama administration should make it emphatically clear to Japan’s government that the separation of more plutonium is in no one’s interest. The two countries should instead jointly lead a global effort to reduce existing stocks of separated plutonium by discouraging reprocessing and encouraging safe disposal of already separated stocks, which could be done, for example, by immobilizing the plutonium and placing it in three-mile-deep boreholes.

The waste of trillions of taxpayers’ yen is Japan’s problem. The risk it presents, however, is the whole world’s concern.


Here's another article:
http://www.npolicy.org/article.php?aid=44

Frank von Hippel: Plutonium, Proliferation and Radioactive-Waste Politics in East Asia

Is Asia Racing to Produce Bomb Usable Plutonium? NPEC Releases Major study that spotlights the dangers of spent fuel recycling in China, Korea, and Japan.
Jan 03, 2011
AUTHOR: Frank von Hippel
von Hippel Paper (PDF) 96.12 KB
"Plutonium, proliferation and radioactive-waste politics in East Asia"

Depending upon how negotiations between the United States and South Korea, France and China, and the United States and Vietnam turn out, chemical reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and recycle of the recovered plutonium, which has been in decline in Europe, may make a resurgence in East Asia. Unfortunately, East Asia has not created a security architecture such as been created in Europe, where a major conflict is now unthinkable. In fact, East Asia today is characterized by rising tensions as North Korea threatens it neighbors and continues to expand its nuclear-weapon capabilities and China becomes increasingly assertive about its sovereignty over the resources under the sea whose shores its shares with Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. There is also the unresolved issue of the future of Taiwan. The spread of reprocessing in East Asia could therefore create the basis for a proliferation chain reaction that could make the region much more dangerous.

<snip>

The dream of a “plutonium economy”

The U.S. World War II Manhattan project spawned nuclear weapons. It also spawned the dream that fission could power human civilization for millennia.

Enrico Fermi, the scientific leader of the U.S. wartime plutonium-production program, and his co-workers thought that uranium was scarce and therefore that chain-reacting U-235, which makes up only 0.7 percent of natural uranium, would not be abundant enough to fuel fission power on a large scale. They therefore invented the plutonium-breeder reactor, whose ultimate fuel would be the uranium-238, which comprises 99.3% of natural uranium.

<snip>

Glenn Seaborg, a co-discoverer of plutonium, had no such doubts and, while Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (US AEC) from 1961 till 1971, relentlessly promoted the idea of a “plutonium economy.” In a visionary speech on “The Plutonium Economy of the Future" at the end of his tenure as AEC chairman, Seaborg predicted that, by the year 2000, plutonium “can be expected to be a predominant energy source in our lives.” The AEC staff projected that U.S. nuclear power generating capacity that year would be 1,100 billion Watts (gigawatts, GWe). It is actually about 100 GWe today. He also projected that the U.S. would be increasing its stock of separated plutonium by more than 100,000 kg each year.

<snip>

Concerns about reprocessing and proliferation

Under Seaborg’s leadership, the USAEC promoted the vision of a plutonium economy worldwide through the U.S. Atoms for Peace program. In 1974, three years after Seaborg stepped down as AEC chairman, however, India used the first plutonium separated from the fuel of its first research reactor for a “peaceful nuclear explosion” that turned out to be its first step toward becoming a nuclear-armed state.

India’s nuclear test drew the attention of the White House and the State Department to the security implications of the AEC’s promotion of plutonium as the commercial fuel of the future. President Ford and then President Carter launched reviews that concluded that breeder reactors would not be economic for the foreseeable future. After some delay, the U.S. Congress, faced with the skyrocketing costs of the U.S. Clinch River demonstration breeder reactor, agreed with this reversal of policy and cancelled the project in 1983.

<snip>

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Response to bananas (Original post)

Fri May 3, 2013, 04:41 AM

8. Meanwhile...

Japan PM's 'stealth' constitution plan raises civil rights fears

(Reuters) - Shinzo Abe makes no secret of wanting to revise Japan's constitution, which was drafted by the United States after World War Two, to formalize the country's right to have a military - but critics say his plans go deeper and could return Japan to its socially conservative, authoritarian past.

Abe, 58, returned to office in December for a second term as prime minister and is enjoying sky-high support on the back of his "Abenomics" recipe for reviving the economy through hyper-easy monetary policy, big spending and structural reform.

Now he is seeking to lower the hurdle for revising the constitution as a prelude to an historic change to its pacifist Article 9 - which, if strictly read, bans any military. That would be a symbolic shift, loosening restrictions on the military's overseas activities, but would have limited impact on defense as the clause has already been stretched to allow Tokyo to build up armed forces that are now bigger than Britain's.

However, sweeping changes proposed by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a draft constitution would strike at the heart of the charter with an assault on basic civil rights that could muzzle the media, undermine gender equality and generally open the door to an authoritarian state, activists and scholars say.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/02/us-japan-politics-constitution-idUSBRE94101D20130502

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