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International relations

Japan's plutonium glut casts a shadow on renewed nuclear deal

American concerns about potential diversion of idle fuel leave the agreement at risk

The Japanese government decided in 2016 to scrap the trouble-plagued Monju experimental fast breeder reactor, meant to be a key link in the nuclear fuel cycle.

TOKYO -- The decision Jan. 16 to automatically extend a nuclear agreement with the U.S. came as a relief to a Japanese government worried about the prospect of renegotiating the basis for a cornerstone of its energy policy. But friction remains over a massive store of plutonium that highlights the problems with the nation's ambitious nuclear energy plans.

The nuclear fuel cycle pursued by Japan's government and power companies centers on recovering uranium and plutonium from spent fuel for reuse in reactors. This is made possible by the unique agreement with the U.S. that lets Japan make plutonium. The radioactive element can be used in nuclear weapons, so its production is generally tightly restricted.

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