Criticism of Japanese government voiced at U.N. conference over nation’s spent nuclear fuel

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

On January 31, the second day of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues being held in Shizuoka, Japan, the participants continued their discussion on such subjects as the peaceful use of nuclear energy following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant. After a recent change of administrations, the new Japanese government put forth its position of maintaining the traditional nuclear fuel cycle and this stance was met with criticism from the experts of various nations, who urged Japan not to start the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel until a decision has been made on the direction of its nuclear energy policy.

Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, located in the U.S. state of California, questioned the Japanese government’s desire to run its reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel, located in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture. “Japan has stockpiled a large amount of plutonium, enough to produce nuclear weapons,” Mr. Pomper pointed out.

Expressions of support for his remarks were also heard from the floor. Since the accident at the Fukushima power station, most of the nuclear power plants in Japan have stopped their operations. Those speaking out at the conference are an indication of the growing international concern toward Japan, which has not decided what to do with the plutonium it holds, material that could be converted into nuclear arms.

Regarding steps toward nuclear disarmament, Benno Laggner, a senior official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, underscored the significance of putting the inhumanity of nuclear weapons at the forefront of this issue to press the nuclear weapon states to relinquish their arsenals. However, Mari Amano, the ambassador of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, expressed his support for promoting the stalled Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT).

The participants also discussed challenges in connection with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), set for 2015. On January 31, the main discussions at the conference came to an end. On February 1, the gathering’s last day, activities that include presentations on disarmament by college students from various nations will be held.

(Originally published on February 1, 2013)