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.