Japan’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Futures
November 20, 2014
On September 17, 2014, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Hitotsubashi University co-hosted a workshop at the International House of Japan in Tokyo to explore the nonproliferation implications of Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle decisions. Six American and six Japanese experts reviewed the status of Japan’s nuclear program, challenges and opportunities regarding its spent fuel management, perceptions of Japan’s nonproliferation credibility, and options for moving forward. A few salient themes emerged:
- Japan’s fuel cycle plans for decades assumed nuclear energy would continue to flourish in Japan. Today, Japan needs to explore tools and measures to consume current excess plutonium and decide on the future of recycling of plutonium.
- The need for flexibility in planning Japan’s nuclear energy future is both pragmatic and understandable but emphasizing flexibility could be interpreted as unwillingness to deviate from established pathways despite drastically changed circumstances.
- The primacy of local interests and politics in fuel cycle decisions is not well understood in the United States or outside of Japan in general.
- Japan should clearly demonstrate its plan for reducing its plutonium stockpile and its intentions for plutonium use in the future. Flexibility coupled with principles or with certain restraints could be helpful in allaying concerns.
- The Japanese public is more concerned about safety, rather than nuclear proliferation. The inconsistency of reactor and fuel cycle decisions are more worrisome to those abroad than those at home. Nonetheless, the public debate needs to integrate the two.
- Observers of Japan concerned about latent nuclear weapons capabilities often focus more on reprocessing than enrichment, yet both entail proliferation and security risks.
- There is an apparent and/or perceived disconnect between the political leadership of some parties and the nuclear power sector on the question of proliferation and national security dimensions of the fuel cycle choices that they have to make.