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Japan Defends Retaining Large Stockpile of Plutonium

Japan on Tuesday defended its retention of a large stockpile of plutonium, which arms control advocates want to see reduced, Kyodo News reports.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rejected arguments that the country does not have a plan for utilizing all of the plutonium it possesses.

"The International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded that all the plutonium in Japan is for peaceful purposes under its safeguards," he said to reporters on the last day of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, which took place in The Hague, Netherlands. "We voluntarily have disclosed information about our management of plutonium and the information is more detailed than advised in international guidelines."

As part of its "gift-basket" pledge at the biennial event, Tokyo announced it would send hundreds of pounds of weapons-grade enriched-uranium and plutonium held at the Fast Critical Assembly in Tokai back to the United States, where the material could be converted into a more proliferation-resistant form.

The joint statement released at the summit by Washington and Tokyo did not specify how much nuclear material was being repatriated. According to a 10-year-old U.S. report on the Tokai research facility, roughly 1,210 pounds of bomb-ready uranium and 730 pounds of separated plutonium existed at the site, the Center for Public Integrity reported on Tuesday.

Though nonproliferation supporters commended the announcement on the coming withdrawal of fissile material from Tokai, the amount of plutonium held at the facility represents less than one percent of Japan's worldwide stockpile and just 3.5 percent of the total amount held domestically. Those figures also do not take into account the 8 tons of plutonium the country could begin producing annually at its mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant at Rokkasho, which is still under construction.

Japan signed off on a summit communique that called on nations to cap separated plutonium caches at "the minimum level ... as consistent with national requirements." This wording seemed to leave considerable wiggle room for nations to decide what their plutonium needs are.

"We made it very clear this time that we will stick to the principle of having no plutonium that does not have a specified use," Kyodo quoted Abe as telling reporters.

NTI Analysis