IPPNW to Prime Minister Abe: “Cancel Rokkasho”
IPPNW’s co-presidents have sent the following letter to the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzō Abe, urging him to halt plans for nuclear fuel reprocessing, calling the program “unnecessary and hazardous” and “not consistent with Japan’s stated support for achieving a world freed from nuclear weapons.”
September 23, 2013
We write on behalf of physicians in 62 countries to express our concern at Japan’s intention to start commercial operation of the Rokkasho spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant next year, and to urge your government not to proceed with the operation of the Rokkasho plant.
The goal of our federation is to safeguard global health from the threat of nuclear annihilation, which the World Health Organization has identified as “the greatest immediate threat to human health and welfare”. In 1985 IPPNW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for performing “a considerable service to mankind by spreading authoritative information and by creating an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of atomic warfare.”
Nuclear weapons could not exist without fissile materials – highly enriched uranium and plutonium. If humanity is to enjoy a healthy and sustainable future, we must achieve a world freed from nuclear weapons, before they are ever again used. We are in a race against time to ensure this. Achieving a world free of the extreme humanitarian threat posed by nuclear weapons will require not only disarmament, but also minimising and wherever possible eliminating further production of fissile materials, and wherever possible eliminating existing stocks. Extreme levels of security are required for any remaining fissile material. This will be a massive task that cannot be undertaken too soon. The authoritative International Panel on Fissile Materials estimated global stockpiles in January 2013 to be 1390 tons of highly enriched uranium, with 31 countries possessing at least 1 kg; and 490 tons of separated plutonium. Each US nuclear weapon is known to contain on average just 4 kg of plutonium.
Japan already possesses 44 tons of plutonium – enough for more than 5000 nuclear bombs, even allowing a high quantity of 8 kg of plutonium per weapon. Japan is the only country without nuclear weapons to be separating plutonium from spent reactor fuel. Further accumulation of nuclear weapons-usable material is a concern for the international community, particularly for Japan’s North-east Asian neighbours. These concerns are accentuated by the lack of forseeable uses for this large and growing quantity of plutonium. Some Japanese politicians over the years have indeed drawn attention to the potential nuclear weapons arsenal that could be produced from such a plutonium stockpile within just a few months. Whatever the Japanese government’s current stated intention, which we have no reason to doubt, political intentions can change very quickly in comparison to the half-life of plutonium. Further, the mere existence of such a stockpile poses a risk of diversion and theft, and fuels fissile material production programs and the drivers for nuclear proliferation in other countries.
Japan’s policy of separating plutonium from spent reactor fuel represents a dangerous precedent for other states to push for similar programs. The inherent technical difficulties of adequately safeguarding nuclear reprocessing plants, and risk of diversion of separated plutonium adds to these risks.
This facility is especially concerning in the context of the North-east Asian region, where the proliferation of nuclear weapons is already a serious concern.
We understand that on 31 January 1997 the Japan Atomic Energy Commission promised that Japan would not hold surplus plutonium, and that this decision was endorsed by the national Cabinet on 4 February 1997. Further, on 5 August 2003, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission required electric power companies to publish plans for use of plutonium prior to separating plutonium from spent fuel. The commencement of commercial operation at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant would run counter to these decisions and thereby raise questions about Japan’s consistency and reliability.
As the people and government of Japan well know, any future use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences. For this reason, IPPNW is working with other partners in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons for a global ban treaty to correct the anomaly that the worst of all indiscriminate weapons are the only ones not yet subject to explicit legal prohibition. As a State Party to the conventions on cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines, we hope Japan would support efforts to ban nuclear weapons as well.
Given Japan’s already huge stockpile of nuclear weapons-usable material, the opening of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant appears both unnecessary and hazardous. Adding to an already large plutonium stockpile is not consistent with Japan’s stated support for achieving a world freed from nuclear weapons.
We encourage your government to reconsider its decision to start commercial operations at Rokkasho and to declare that such operations will not proceed. Such a decision would be widely welcomed around the world and would support rather than undermine global health.
Tilman Ruff, Co-President
Ira Helfand, Co-President
Robert Mtonga, Co-President
Vladimir Garkavenko, Co-President