Where is Japan's Missing Plutonium?

Twenty-four years ago, in 1988, I was living in Japan for the first time and starting to learn a little about the frightening aspects of Japan’s nuclearization. Back then, a small booklet by a writer who was often described as “just a housewife” had become a powerful catalyst of the anti-nuclear movement. The title and author’s name are lost to me now, and my google searches came up empty. At that time, I read an English translation of it and shared it with some friends. It was horrifying enough to become one of my reasons to go back to Canada, but when years passed without a disaster happening, my good sense subsided and I returned to Japan in 1994.
Back in 1988, I remember talking about the book with friends, and one big question we had was why Japan had no declared nuclear weapons but was also unopposed by the global community in its desire to possess huge stocks of plutonium. Everyone knows the familiar line that Japan is the only country to have experienced an attack with atomic weapons, it has a peace constitution, and it would never allow nuclear weapons on its territory, blah, blah, blah…. But still, why the plutonium? 
We were cynical to enough to suggest that Japan really had a secret nuclear weapons program, or had a program which would allow for the rapid development of nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, it was difficult to get anyone to take such a suggestion seriously. Japan had done an excellent job of establishing its image as a peaceful country dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons. This is certainly true of a large sector of Japanese society, but government policy and action have never reflected this goal.
It turns out our suspicions were not in the realm of deluded conspiracy theory. A recent study entitled United States Circumvented Laws To Help Japan Accumulate Tons of Plutonium was published on April 9 by the American Public Education Center. This article is long, but well worth the read.
Japan’s allies and the IAEA have had little to say about the fact “that Japan has lost track of more than 70 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium at its accident plagued Tokai reprocessing plant – enough to make more than 20 nuclear weapons.” When unfavored nations handle enriched uranium or plutonium, they are called to account on every gram of it, and the media reports on transgressions relentlessly, but Japan just seems to have “misplaced” it.
The same hypocrisy goes for missile programs. The article describes how Japan was developing its nuclear industry and simultaneously investing heavily in rocket technology and satellite programs. Every honest observer knows that all rockets are dual use technology. This article by the PEC comes at a good time as we witness this week the hypocritical denunciations of North Korea’s attempt at launching an “aggressive” missile into space. I give no support to the dictatorship of North Korea, but seriously, what do the four surrounding nuclear powers (Russia, China, the US and Japan) think is motivating their enemy to want nuclear weapons and rockets?

Update – June 24, 2012:

As reported in an editorial of The Mainichi, The Japanese Diet recently passed an important amendment to laws related to national security and nuclear policy, with little public awareness or controversy. The changes to the Atomic Energy Basic Law require that Japan's nuclear energy "should contribute to national security."
According to the Mainichi editorial, "The Diet spent only four days deliberating the bill after it was submitted, and failed to thoroughly discuss whether Japan's atomic energy policy should contribute to the country's national security."
The phrase, "contribute to Japan's national security," was also added to the Aerospace Basic Act of 2008. The use of this phrase in the context of nuclear policy and missile and rocket technology is implicitly understood as a reference to maintaining nuclear weapons capability. These changes to existing laws conform with a policy of not necessarily possessing nuclear weapons, but certainly with one of maintaining the ability to construct and deploy a nuclear weapon on short notice.

see also:

Yuri Kageyama, "Japan's Pro-Bomb Voices Grow Louder Amid Nuke Debate," Associated Press, July 31, 2012.

About the PEC:

The Public Education Center (PEC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) charitable organization staffed by award-winning investigative reporters whose mission is to investigate previously overlooked news stories about significant issues—chief among them the environment and national security—and brings them to the attention of national and international audiences. Our goal is great journalism that produces definitive stories that result in public awareness through all media platforms.”

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