Enough Undeclared Plutonium to Make 80 Nuclear Bombs? No Problem — if You’re Not Iran


The double standard about nuclear weapons threatens the nonproliferation regime. [Photo: Flickr]

The double standard about nuclear weapons and fuel, such as this plutonium ring, threatens the nonproliferation regime. [Photo: Flickr]

Japan Times reports that, “in what experts are terming an ‘inappropriate omission,’”*

Japan failed to include 640 kg of unused plutonium in its annual reports to the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2012 and 2013.

In its defense, an official at the Japan Atomic Energy Commission said

The stock is part of [technical stuff you don’t need to stumble over — RW] fuel stored in a reactor that was offline during this period, and was thus deemed exempt from IAEA reporting requirements. [But experts] warn that Japan’s reporting does not reflect the actual state of unused plutonium that could be diverted for nuclear weapons. The unreported amount is enough to make about 80 nuclear bombs! [Emphasis, as well as bang ­— ! — added.]

Never fear, though. The official also said, “There is also no problem in terms of security against nuclear terrorism.” That’s not the point: Concern about terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons is secondary to states illegally arming themselves. But he’s just reflecting the double standard held by the United States about nuclear weapons: it’s okay if you’re an ally, such as Israel and India — and maybe even one day Japan — to possess them illegally (Israel and India haven’t signed the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty). But if, as with Iran, a state it considers an enemy has so much as dabbled in nuclear research (despite shutting even that down over a decade ago), the United States and its European allies will bring the wrath of God and/or Allah down upon it.

In the end, though, it’s pretty simple. Japan Times solicited a comment from former IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen, who said, “From the safeguards point of view, this material is still unirradiated* … If it has indeed not been irradiated, this should be reflected in the statements.”

*Irradiated: exposed to radiation.

Thanks to Yousaf Butt, Director of the Emerging Technologies Program at the Cultural Intelligence Institute, for bringing this to our attention.

  • Jimmy Pick

    Well there is diffrence in term of Iran and Pakistan India Israel. As Iran is a signatory to NPT so that according to the article II of NPT. As it stated that Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty
    undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor
    whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive
    devices or of control over such weapons or explosive
    devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture
    or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear
    explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any
    assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons
    or other nuclear explosive devices.

  • Jennifer

    Double standards of USA policies towards its allies and the rest members of the international community is actually putting the international security in danger. Where state when not get the nuclear material for peaceful purposes legally they would automatically chose the way of illegality. NPT is also discriminatory in its dealing with nuclear weapons states and non nuclear weapons states. If its Israel then fine and if its Iran then its a threat. International norms demands equality not personal favourism.

  • frank

    Poor Japan, a formerly proud people who now bend the knees to the USA.
    Growing up they became the example of the best manufacturing and quality
    control in the world. Now, they can’t seem to do anything right.

  • Rabia

    obviously, now the evidence is quite clear that Japan is now developing
    the nuclear weapon. In 2002, USA army initiate the Iraq war because of
    possible nuclear weapon. But now Japan is much more dangerous than Iraq
    and the evidence is more solid, where is USA army now? Why USA keep
    silence on Japan nuclear weapon?

  • Chike Senan

    Now we come to know that this is the
    obvious reason that why we are failed in countering nuclear proliferation. It
    is a matter of interests and bestowing benefits to allies. Although, there are
    lots of accords and multiple check and balance institutes to stop the spread of
    nuclear but all are in vain. States can easily sign and ratify but how
    sincerely they adhere voluntarily to stop the production of nuclear enrichment.
    Ironically, nuclear proliferation has become state’s national interest while
    countering proliferation is global interest. States obviously prefer national
    over global and that what is very well reflected.

  • Sean Spicer

    Nuclear fissile material is a serious concern as after the discharge from nuclear plant, still it omits radiation for 50 years. Most of the developing countries started with weapons grade plutonium to make warheads. FMCT was introduced to restrict the use of fissile material for weapons production but with the reservations of hostility between the states and major powers as well were not able to abide by the treaty’s rules. Role of IAEA and major powers needs to be stricter in laying down the implementation of the policies.

  • Sham Sun

    It really wonders me that Japan which has been used as testing ground for nuclear weapons, still possess enough fissile material to develop nuclear bombs. Besides that it has suffered enough from nuclear power plant accident. Japan needs to cooperate with IAEA in this regard.

  • nasir Usman

    Due to Iran’s alleged failure to meet its safeguards obligations under NPT Article III, the U.S. government had long maintained that Iran lost the substantive, inalienable rights affirmed in Article IV, which are enjoyed by all other signatories to the treaty. In line with this position, in late 2009, the United States explicitly denied Iran the ability to purchase nuclear fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor, a safeguarded facility that produces medical isotopes for cancer patients, arguing that Iran was not entitled to receive international cooperation on its nuclear program.

    By contrast, in the 123 Agreement with India, the United States agreed to fully cooperate with New Delhi on its nuclear program, despite the fact that nuclear –armed India is one of the only countries that exists outside of the international nonproliferation regime. And while the deal was loudly opposed in Washington’s nonproliferation community, few pushed as hard a line as they did, and continue to do, towards Iran.

  • Andy Sandy

    Nuclear hypocrisy is most clearly on display in the way the United States deals with Israel’s nuclear program.

    Iran’s obligations to suspend enrichment and other nuclear activities, as demanded by a series of Security Council resolutions passed since 2006, are regularly invoked by U.S. commentators. Few care to mention, however, that Israel, a nuclear-weapons state that like India is not party to the NPT, has long violated Security Council Resolution 487, which calls upon Israel to place its nuclear program under IAEA supervision. This obligation, flouted now for more than 32 years, was reaffirmed in 2009 upon passage of Security Council Resolution 1887, again to no avail.

  • KM

    This article is a complete load of crap. And the author isnt even very clever in the way he parses his quotes.

    The plutonium in question is a 640kg amount that Japan neglected to include in its report on meapons-grade material because the assumption made by the Japanese officials was that this material could no longer be construed as “weapons-grade”.

    You see, the 640kg figure covers an amount that has been reprocessed by mixing it with uranium to make so-called “MoX fuel”. If you havent heard of MoX fuel before, you should read up on it. Read up on MoX.


    The reprocessing makes the plutonium unfit to ever be used for bombmaking. In fact, while those who oppose nuclear power will view it as a bad thing, this programme of making use of the plutonium for MoX was originally intended as a way to take stockpiles of plutonium out of circulation and thus ensure that they will NEVER be used for nuclear weapons.


    “In a pressurized water reactor’s spent fuel, only about 53% of the plutonium present is plutonium-239, the type needed for a weapon! Creating a weapon out of plutonium with such extremely low levels of the critical isotope is absolutely impossible.”

    in fact . . .


    “. For weapons use, Pu-240 is considered a serious contaminant, due to higher neutron emission and higher heat production. It is not feasible to separate Pu-240 from Pu-239. An explosive device could be made from plutonium extracted from low burn-up reactor fuel (i.e.if the fuel had only been used for a short time), but any significant proportions of Pu-240 in it would make it hazardous to the bomb makers, as well as probably unreliable and unpredictable.”

    You may find it “interesting” ( I know I did) when you read the author’s quote and see insertions made by the author which substantially alter the information content:

    “The stock is part of [technical stuff you don’t need to stumble over — RW] fuel stored in a reactor that was offline during this period, and was thus deemed exempt from IAEA reporting requirements.”

    Oh gee — “technical stuff”. I guess that would be the stuff that allows me to determine that you are discussing MoX, and not weapons-grade plutonium. Well, Im glad you didnt leave that information in there, for me to “stumble over”…

    “[But experts] warn that Japan’s reporting does not reflect the actual state of unused plutonium”

    Gee, that insertion is PARTICULARLY strange. Why did you have to add the word “experts” and delete something that probably would have identified the actual background of the speaker. Could it be, because whoever said this is not a real “expert” ??? Soulc it be, because any real “expert” would know that the fuel cannot possibly be used to make a bomb?