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International Relations

Japan and US to extend civilian nuclear pact

American stance eases under Trump

The still-incomplete nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan will automatically be extended this summer as neither party seeks to renegotiate the deal.

First put into effect in 1988, the pact permits Japan to use plutonium for peaceful purposes. After the initial 30-year period, the agreement automatically renews unless one or both sides seek to renegotiate or terminate the deal within six months of the July 16 expiration date.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Tuesday that Washington has no intention of canceling the agreement or seeking a new one. Tokyo is also not pursuing any changes.

Written notice from either party after the renewal would end the agreement after six months. At this point, neither side is moving in that direction.

Senior officials in the Barack Obama administration had expressed misgivings about Japan retaining significant amounts of plutonium, considering its potential use to make nuclear weapons.

But the current administration under President Donald Trump is centering its nuclear strategy on expanding the role of nuclear weapons. No objections have come out regarding Japan's nuclear fuel recycle project, which extracts plutonium from spent fuel for use in nuclear power plants.

Japan is the only state without nuclear weapons to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement that allows fuel recycling and other civilian activities. Without this deal, Japan would have to sign separate agreements with the U.S. authorizing each part of the recycling process.

Considering such an outcome would effectively cripple Japan's fuel recycling program, Tokyo has sought to maintain the nuclear pact.

Japan has pledged to only possess plutonium that is being used for specific purposes. But nuclear plants have been slow to restart following the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Only three reactors that can run on a plutonium fuel are in operation. Japan also decided in 2016 to scrap Monju, the experimental fast breeder reactor.

That leaves the nation possessing about 47 tons of plutonium at home and abroad, enough to produce around 6,000 atomic bombs. If the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is completed in 2021, it would produce up to 8 tons of fresh plutonium a year. This raises concerns about the potential for excess stockpiles.


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