January 26, 2006- Rep. Markey Voices Concern Over Nuclear Reprocessing By Japan

WASHINGTON, DC - Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and a co-chair of the Bipartisan Nonproliferation Task Force, today sent a letter, signed by five other House Members, to Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Kato, expressing concerns regarding Japanese plans to move ahead with the commissioning of the Rokkasho spent fuel reprocessing plant.

“Reprocessing is an unproven and risky scheme because it opens doors for nuclear proliferation,” said Rep. Markey.

He added that, “Japan is in the unique situation to take a stand and be a leader to create a sustainable and effective nuclear non-proliferation regime.  It should not be moving down the path towards a reprocessing program that will only result in the production of more materials that are capable of being used in a nuclear bomb.”

The lawmakers’ letter expressed concerns about Japanese plans to move ahead with the commissioning of the Rokkasho spent fuel reprocessing plant. Specifically, the letter states that “We firmly believe that the continued extraction of weapons-usable plutonium poses significant and unnecessary threats to international security and non-proliferation. To that end, we are writing to encourage you to suspend plans to conduct active testing of Rokkasho in 2006 as part of a broader agreement to postpone operation of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant.”

The lawmaker’s letter also encouraged Japan to take this step as part of a global initiative to reduce worldwide stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile materials—highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium.
The letter also noted with great appreciation the December 1997 statement by Japan to the IAEA which pledged Japan to "the principle of no surplus plutonium." However, the letter also pointed out that “we understand that by the end of 2003, Japan’s total plutonium stockpile had grown to more than 40.6 metric tons. With no commercial breeder reactor program, and given the significant problems in the mixed-oxide (MOX) use program, it is clear that the separation and stockpiling of further plutonium at a new reprocessing plant would not comply with Japanese policy.”

Finally, the letter emphasized that in suggesting that Japan take leadership in prohibiting the further separation and stockpiling of plutonium, the lawmakers did not intend to single out Japan for such a commitment.  The lawmakers stated that they remained firmly committed to stopping any attempts at renewing reprocessing in the US and believe that all countries should renounce this technology and practice.

The lawmaker’s letter concluded, “Ultimately, we believe that a comprehensive, verifiable regime should be created which will prohibit the separation and use of all weapons-usable plutonium.   We fully appreciate that the suspension of such an expensive program is a difficult decision to make, but such concerns clearly pale in comparison to the needs of creating a sustainable and effective nuclear non-proliferation regime.”

Copy of Letter to Japanese Embassy Copy of Letter to Japanese Embassy

January 26, 2006
CONTACT: Tara McGuiness