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International relations

US-Japan nuclear pact renewed, but with quick repeal option

Tokyo's exemption for spent-fuel reprocessing under scrutiny

Most of Japan's nuclear power plants are still shut after the disaster at the 2011 Fukushima disaster, leading to an increase in Japan's plutonium stockpile.

TOKYO -- The U.S.-Japan nuclear cooperation agreement that permits Japan's civilian use of plutonium was renewed Tuesday after its 30-year term expired. Going forward, the agreement can be canceled with just six months' notice, leaving Tokyo's energy program vulnerable to policy shifts in Washington.

The 1988 agreement, which allows energy-scarce Japan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium, stated that after the three-decade period expired, the terms would remain in force but could be terminated by either side with a six months' notice. 

January was the deadline for either side to propose a re-examination of the pact, but neither took action. Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono has called the new arrangement "extremely unstable."

With most of Japan's nuclear power plants still shut following the March 2011 fuel meltdown in Fukushima, Japan's stockpile of plutonium has piled up. And as the U.S. pushes North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, President Donald Trump's administration has demanded Japan reduce its holdings. China and South Korea have also criticized the exemption for Japan, the only non-nuclear-armed state to enjoy that status. 

Amid rising international pressure, Japan pledged to reduce its plutonium stockpile in an energy plan adopted by the cabinet July 3. The Atomic Energy Commission will soon draw up guidelines for not recovering plutonium from spent fuel without clear plans for consumption.

"We will continue plutonium use and control the recovery amount as well," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Friday, adding Japan will "explain its position to the international community."

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