January 28, 2014 2:00 pm JST

Japan to test new plutonium measurement technology

TOKYO -- Japan is working on a laser-based system to measure with more precision the amount of plutonium in spent nuclear fuel at power plants.

     The government-affiliated Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) will launch a demonstration test of the new technology during the next fiscal year, which starts with April.

     Japan is required to keep plutonium under strict control as the material can be converted for use in nuclear weapons. With the laser technology, Japan aims to boost the transparency of its nuclear policy and dispel international concerns about nuclear proliferation.     

     The JAEA will conduct a demonstration test at an accelerator research complex in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, that is owned by the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, also known as KEK. The JAEA's goal is to have the technology commercially available by 2020.

     The demonstration will use aluminum, instead of plutonium and uranium, and gamma rays, which can penetrate objects easily. The amount of aluminum will be measured based on the movements of gamma radiation emitted from the accelerator.

     Japan currently possesses about 44 tons of plutonium. The government is aiming to establish a nuclear fuel cycle system under which plutonium and uranium extracted through the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel will be used again for electricity generation. But Japan has yet to put into operation a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, raising concerns abroad about the nation's growing plutonium stockpile.