Where is Japan’s Missing Plutonium?

By | June 5, 2012

Back in 1988, I remember talking about the book with friends, and one big question we had was why Japan had no declared nuclear weapons but was also unopposed by the global community in its desire to possess huge stocks of plutonium. Everyone knows the familiar line that Japan is the only country to have experienced an attack with atomic weapons, it has a peace constitution, and it would never allow nuclear weapons on its territory, blah, blah, blah…. But still, why the plutonium?

We were cynical to enough to suggest that Japan really had a secret nuclear weapons program, or had a program which would allow for the rapid development of nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, it was difficult to get anyone to take such a suggestion seriously. Japan had done an excellent job of establishing its image as a peaceful country dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons. This is certainly true of a large sector of Japanese society, but government policy and action have never reflected this goal.

It turns out our suspicions were not in the realm of deluded conspiracy theory. A recent study entitled United States Circumvented Laws To Help Japan Accumulate Tons of Plutonium was published on April 9 by the American Public Education Center. This article is long, but well worth the read.

Japan’s allies and the IAEA have had little to say about the fact “that Japan has lost track of more than 70 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium at its accident plagued Tokai reprocessing plant – enough to make more than 20 nuclear weapons.” When unfavored nations handle enriched uranium or plutonium, they are called to account on every gram of it, and the media reports on transgressions relentlessly, but Japan just seems to have “misplaced” it.

via Fukushima Update | Where is Japan’s Missing Plutonium?.

Some of it, at least, was released into the environment:

Trace amounts of plutonium were found as far as 28 miles from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant, the first time that the dangerous element released from the accident was found outside of the immediate area of the plant.

The science ministry report issued Friday comes just as the government lifted one of its evacuation advisories, underscoring the difficulty of restoring normalcy and assuring the safety of residents around the crippled plant.

The government also reported a rare detection of strontium, another highly dangerous element, far from the crippled reactor, in one spot as far away as 50 miles. Most of the radioactive material discovered to date in the communities surrounding Fukushima Daiichi has been cesium or iodine.

The report said that the radiation from plutonium and strontium was “extremely low” compared to the high concentration of cesium, advising that the government maintain its focus on measuring and clearing the areas of cesium.

Toshiso Kosako, a Tokyo University expert on radiation said in an interview that the level of plutonium found was “miniscule and poses no health risk.”

Still, the latest discovery is a potentially disturbing turn, as it shows that people relatively far from the plant could be exposed to more dangerous elements than had been previously disclosed.

While neither plutonium nor strontium emit powerful gamma rays like cesium and iodine, both deposit in the body—strontium in the bones, plutonium in the bones and lungs—and can cause cancer of leukemia once inhaled or ingested.

Both isotopes also have long half lives: it takes about 29 years for some forms of strontium to reduce by half, while plutonium isotopes have half-lives ranging from 88 years to over 24,000 years. …

Plutonium-238 believed to have been emitted from the damaged Fukushima reactors was found in soil samples from six separate locations, ranging from 0.55 to 4.0 becquerels per square meter. Samples from Iitate, a village located 28 miles from the power plant, registered 0.82 becquerels of Plutonium-238 and 2.5 becquerels of Plutonium-239 and -240. Iitate was evacuated earlier this year.

The finding comes from the science ministry’s analysis of 100 soil samples taken within a 50-mile zone from the damaged plant between June and July.

Plutonium had previously been detected in Japan after atmospheric nuclear tests, sometimes at higher levels than were found from the June-July samples, a science ministry official said. However, the ministry cites higher-than-usual level of Plutonium-238 found in the soil samples from the six locations as evidence that plutonium release was not limited to the plant’s compound. ….

via WSJ

Idea for a movie script: Some leaders in Japan are secretly still angry about losing the war and being nuked by the US, so they start a secret bomb building project. The US finds out, however, and uses a combination of a computer virus (stuxnet) and a sea quake that generates a tidal wave to disable Japan’s bomb making abilities. Millions around the world die of leukemia as a result.

Stuxnet, the world’s first publicly identified cyber superweapon, was unleashed against Iran‘s nuclear fuel-enrichment facility as part of a joint US-Israel cybersabotage operation, according to press reports Friday citing anonymous administration officials. …

While it had long been assumed that the US and Israel were the most likely states to have organized such an attack, the implications of pinning responsibility squarely on the two states could be considerable.

The news reports, which seem to remove any fig leaf of plausible deniability, could in the near term undermine ongoing nuclear talks with Iran. It could even provide Iran with internal justification for a cyber counterstrike against the US.

In the longer run, however, it also raises questions about how a US national policy of using powerful digital weapons could impact American security. Of particular concern is the possibility that such attacks could provide a digital copy of the cyberweapon to rogue nations or that hacktivists could reverse-engineer the weapon for use against the power grid or other key US infrastructure.

“Certainly we have thought Stuxnet was very likely to be a US-Israel operation – and that assumption has now turned out to be the case,” says Stewart Baker, a lawyer and former senior official at the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. “In some ways, I do feel as though we’ve been living in a glass house for years and now we’ve decided we’re going to invent rocks.”

In the New York Times account, the cyberweapon was developed under a program initiated by President George W. BushPresident Obama then gave the go-ahead for a cyberweapon dubbed “the bug” to be unleashed in an attempt to derail Iran’s bid to make nuclear-weapons fuel. The thrust of the account was separately confirmed by administration officials in a Washington Post report Friday.

But in summer 2010, after it became clear to the White House that “the bug” had inadvertently escaped the isolated network of Iran’s Natanz uranium-enrichment plant and spread to computers worldwide, top administration officials held a “tense meeting” in the White House Situation Room, the Times said.

“Should we shut this thing down?” Obama asked, according to sources. It was unclear how much the Iranians knew about the code, and there was evidence that it was still vexing the Iranians, he was told. “Mr. Obama decided that the cyberattacks should proceed,” the Times reported. …

via CSMonitor

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