Non-proliferation move by Japan

24 March 2014

Plutonium and highly-enriched uranium research reactor fuel in Japan will be sent to the USA for downblending or disposal. The announcement came as world leaders convene in the Netherlands for the third Nuclear Security Summit.

Prior to the start of the summit in The Hague, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and US president Barack Obama today pledged to remove and dispose of all the highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium from the Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA).

Fast Critical Assembly

The FCA, which achieved first criticality in April 1967, is used for the study of the neutronic characteristics of fast reactors. It has been used by JAEA in the development of both the Joyo experimental fast reactor and the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor.

In a joint statement they said that the operation, to be conducted through the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), would involve the elimination of "hundreds of kilograms of nuclear material." The material will be transported to the USA where it will be sent to a secure facility and fully converted into less sensitive forms. The plutonium will be prepared for final disposal while the HEU will be downblended to low-enriched uranium (LEU) and used for civilian purposes. 

Japan and the USA plan to work together to design new enhancements to the FCA, expanding the facility's scope to include important research on the transmutation and disposal of nuclear waste. It will become the world's first major critical facility to convert from HEU and separated plutonium fuels.

Italian, Belgian removals

Belgium and Italy, which both pledged at the previous Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul in 2012 to remove all unused US-origin HEU and separated plutonium by this meeting, have announced its successful removal.

 Plutonium removal from Italy (NNSA) 250x184
Some of the plutonium recently removed from Italy (Image: NNSA)

The USA and Belgium announced the removal of such material from SCK-CEN's facilities in Mol and the European Joint Research Centre Institute for Reference Materials and Management in Geel.

Meanwhile, Italy and the USA said that over 17kg of HEU and plutonium has been removed from three facilities belonging to state-owned Societa Gestione Impianti Nucleari (Sogin).

Both consignments were transported to the USA by the UK's International Nuclear Services (INS). The company's managing director Mark Jervis said, "The successful shipments using the purpose-built vessel, Pacific Egret, demonstrates how INS can contribute to the UK's commitments to nuclear security. It also shows how INS can be trusted to deliver some of the most high profile, high security transports in the world."

So far, HEU and separated plutonium have been totally removed from 12 countries. A total of almost 3000kg of HEU and plutonium have been removed or disposed of from 27 countries. In addition, 24 research reactors in 14 countries have now been converted to run on LEU fuel rather than HEU.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News