April 13, 1999

Open Letter to the Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei
International Atomic Energy Agency

Dear Dr. ElBaradei:

We write to you during your attendance at the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF), Annual Meeting, held in Sendai, Japan, to express our concerns over the direction of Japanese nuclear policy. Specifically, we are alarmed at the inflexibility of the Japanese plutonium program and the continuing failure of the international community to address the global threat posed by growing stockpiles of separated, weapons-usable plutonium.

It is indeed appropriate to raise these matters with you at this time, as the Japanese and European plutonium industry prepares to ship hundreds of kilogrammes of plutonium from Belgium, France and the UK to Japan. This shipment, expected later this year, will be the first from Europe to Japan since the controversial Akatsuki Maru transport in 1992. Warnings of the dangers to regional stability and global security posed by Japan’s plutonium programme were voiced at that time. Notably, the International Atomic Energy Agency also put on record its concerns about plutonium in the civil sector, and since then the danger has only increased.

It was exactly seven years ago this week, that then-Deputy Director of the IAEA, William J. Dircks, addressed the 1992 JAIF Annual Meeting on the matter of "Nuclear Fuel Recycling - the IAEA Perspective". In his address, Deputy Director Dircks, stressed the "urgent need to review once again our policies regarding plutonium and its use." Seven years on we believe that there still remains an urgent need for Japan, and the broader international community, to review reprocessing and plutonium use policies. In the seven years since the Dircks’ speech, global stocks of commercial plutonium have grown at a worring pace, while the rationale for plutonium reprocessing, particularly for breeder reactor programs, has collapsed.

Mr. Dircks did indeed warn of the imbalance between plutonium separation and use and stated that the "adverse economics of MOX fuel utilization" would result in MOX providing "little help…in dealing with surplus plutonium." Mr. Dircks’ prediction in 1992 of the existence of a "…plutonium stockpile that will exist well into the next century" proved prescient.

Now, less than one year till the "next century," the global plutonium stockpile still continues to grow dramatically. European reprocessing at Sellafield, United Kingdom and la Hague, France, of spent fuel, much of it Japanese origin, gives rise annually to over 10,000 kg of additional plutonium. This amount is simply added to the over 100,000 kilogrammes of "civil" plutonium already stockpiled in Europe, and the problem worsens.

Given the poor economics of plutonium use, it is of no surprise that the majority of this plutonium is not used in reactors in the form of plutonium fuel (MOX), but rather is stockpiled. In 1992, Mr. Dircks was too optimistic in his projections for plutonium use. Whereas he predicted that by the year 2000, 75% of plutonium separated annually would be incorporated into MOX fuel, it is perhaps at the most 50% and most likely less.

We differ from Deputy Director Dircks in that we do not think the solution to this problem is to increase MOX fabrication capacity. As he himself admitted, this was unlikely to happen in the near future given the poor economics of MOX. Therefore, in his own terms, it was no solution to the problem.

Today, the prudent position is to be opposed to all plutonium separation and use – from nonproliferation as well as economic and environmental perspectives. The stockpiling of plutonium, whether in oxide form, or as fresh MOX, makes little difference in terms of security, given the nature of the material and the transport and storage infrastructure required. As your own IAEA Safeguards Guidelines state, conversion of unirradiated plutonium MOX into a form suitable for use in nuclear weapon use would take between one and three weeks.

The justification for the 1992 shipment from France to Japan was that the plutonium was required urgently to fuel the Prototype Monju Fast Breeder Reactor, though there was already sufficient plutonium in Japan for that purpose. Further, operation of Monju proved illusory, as the reactor had a serious accident with its sodium coolant in December 1995 and is shut down indefinitely. Consequently, seven years on, Japan’s domestic plutonium stockpile stands at over 5000 kg, an increase of almost 30% since Dircks’ 1992 warnings. At the same time, due to the failure of Japan’s plutonium-use programme, its stockpile in Europe has grown from a significant 6 tonnes in 1993 to a staggering 19 tonnes by end of 1997, an increase of over 200%.

We believe the justification for the planned 1999 plutonium shipment is just as false, given the lack of real demand for plutonium reactor fuel, its poor economics, as well all the environmental, human health and the direct proliferation risks it poses.

It is clear to us that the threat to international peace and security posed by plutonium has only increased since 1992. The question to the International Atomic Energy Agency, JAIF, and the international nuclear non-proliferation community, seven years after Dircks’ timely warning of the danger posed by plutonium, is, what action must be taken to reduce this threat?

In the interest of peace and security, a further seven years of inaction by the international community, is unacceptable and dangerous. Only the immediate cessation of weapons-usable plutonium separation, whether for stated military or civil use, and its stockpiling will help to reduce the threat that this material poses. The IAEA should thus seek to encourage support among its member states for a comprehensive fissile material ban, one covering civilian as well as military materials. At the JAIF meeting the IAEA can begin such efforts by calling for Japan to terminate the Rokkasho reprocessing plant and to halt negotiations with COGEMA and British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) for renewed spent-fuel reprocessing in Europe. Failure to confront the plutonium problem will only lead to increased environmental and economic costs in the future and further threats to international peace and security.

We look forward to working together with you on this most serious matter and to learning of the steps the IAEA will to take to halt the massive buildup of international plutonium stocks.


Yours sincerely,


Shaun Burnie
Senior Campaigner
Greenpeace International
Keizersgracht 176
1016 DW Amsterdam
tel. 31-20-523-6257

Hideyuki Ban
Citizens Nuclear Information Center
3F Kotobuki Building, 1-58-15 Higashi-nakano
Nakano-ku, Tokyo 164-0003

Aileen Mioko Smith
Green Action
Suite 103, 22-75 Tanaka Sekiden-cho
Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8203
Tel. 81-75-701-7223

Paul Leventhal
Nuclear Control Institute
1000 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 804
Washington, DC 20036
tel. 1-202-822-8444

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