The Hague, March 24: Japan plans to turn over to Washington more than 700 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium and a large quantity of highly enriched uranium, a decades-old research stockpile that is large enough to build dozens of nuclear weapons, according to American and Japanese officials.
The announcement is the biggest single success in President Obama’s five-year-long push to secure the world’s most dangerous materials, and will come as world leaders gather here for a nuclear security summit meeting.
Since Obama began the meetings with world leaders — this will be the third — 13 nations have eliminated their caches of nuclear materials and scores more have hardened security at their storage facilities to prevent theft by potential terrorists.
Japan’s agreement to transfer the material — the amount of highly enriched uranium has not been announced but is estimated at 450 pounds — has both practical and political significance.
For years these stores of weapons-grade material were not a secret, but were lightly guarded at best; a reporter for The New York Times who visited the main storage site at Tokaimura in the early 1990s found unarmed guards and a site less-well protected than many banks. While security has improved, the stores have long been vulnerable.
Iran has cited Japan’s large stockpiles of bomb-ready material as evidence of a double standard about which nations can be trusted. And last month China began publicly denouncing Japan’s supply, in apparent warning that a rightward, nationalistic turn in Japanese politics could result in the country seeking its own weapons.