Emerging Tech

U.S., Japan to Cooperate on Nuclear-Material Removal, Energy Research

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Japan's Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Yosuke Isozaki address the media at the first day of a two-day summit Monday in the Netherlands.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Japan's Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Yosuke Isozaki address the media at the first day of a two-day summit Monday in the Netherlands. // Yves Logghe/AP

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS -- The United States will help Japan remove hundreds of kilograms of weapons-grade nuclear materials and aid the island nation in nuclear-energy research.

Senior officials from both countries announced those plans on Monday here at a two-day Nuclear Security Summit, a gathering of 53 world leaders aimed at bolstering safeguards against the theft or terrorist use of sensitive atomic materials.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz called the bilateral agreement with Tokyo a "very significant nuclear-security pledge and activity" at a joint press briefing with Yosuke Isozaki, a special adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. An announcement of plans to remove weapons-usable plutonium was widely expected to be a summit outcome.

The bilateral agreement unveiled on Monday encompasses both plutonium and highly enriched uranium at Japan Atomic Energy Agency's Fast Critical Assembly in Tokai, which is used for research on fast-reactor technology. The substances are slated to be turned into non-sensitive materials in the United States.

The move "affirms that most cutting-edge [research and development] can be accomplished without weapons-usable material," Moniz said. He noted that the creation of a "sustainable nuclear-energy industry" also is a goal of the effort.

Moniz and Isozaki took no questions from the press.

New "enhancements" are planned for the Fast Critical Assembly to enable an expanded research focus on the transmutation and disposition of nuclear waste, according to a joint statement. U.S. research aid, coupled with a 10-year extension to Washington's offer to accept spent fuel, will enable Japan to "promote the basic study of nuclear energy," Isozaki said.

Miles Pomper, a senior research associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said removal of all weapons-grade materials from the Fast Critical Assembly is a "good thing" because it takes the site off the list of prospective targets for terrorists. But he cautioned that Japan still has tons of reactor-grade plutonium, and is on track to produce even more, once the Rokkasho mixed-oxide conversion plant goes online.

"They are creating more of a plutonium problem, even as they are giving some away," he said.

Meanwhile, the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration on Monday announced that removal was completed of roughly 20 kilograms of excess highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium from Italy, as well as an unspecified amount from Belgium.

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