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Report: U.S. Presses Japan to Augment Plutonium-Plant Defenses

Employees work in 2004 at Japan's Rokkasho MOX facility. The United States reportedly has secretly pressed Japan to bolster security at the site, which is expected to generate plutonium of possible interest to extremists. Employees work in 2004 at Japan's Rokkasho MOX facility. The United States reportedly has secretly pressed Japan to bolster security at the site, which is expected to generate plutonium of possible interest to extremists. (AFP/Getty Images)

Washington is quietly urging Japan to bolster protective forces at a facility set to produce bomb-useful plutonium, the Center for Public Integrity reports.

The United States has tried since President Obama's election to convince Japan that extremists might target plutonium that the island nation's Rokkasho MOX facility could begin generating as soon as October, the website reported on Tuesday. Obama's administration also has pressed Japan to more thoroughly scrutinize the backgrounds of more than 2,400 people operating the facility, which would reprocess spent nuclear fuel for use in power reactors.

The island nation has answered the U.S. pleas with limited improvements in defenses at the Rokkasho site and other atomic installations, the Center for Public Integrity reported. Still, U.S. government insiders said they fear that reforms are taking too long; the reprocessing facility remains defended only by weaponless staffers and a limited number of law-enforcement officers.

One high-level Obama insider said Japan's security culture "relies heavily on the expectation that everyone will do what they are expected to do," and therefore lacks "the stuff we would kind of expect to see" at a sensitive atomic site.

The Rokkasho facility is intended each year to produce up to eight metric tons of plutonium, a quantity considered capable of fueling 2,600 nuclear bombs. Material from the site would come in addition to 9.3 metric tons of plutonium at Rokkasho and other locations in Japan's territory, including 730 pounds of highly bomb-ready material slated for transfer to the United States.

Washington has described shortcomings in defenses at other Japanese nuclear sites, including a scientific facility holding British- and U.S.-origin plutonium and bomb-grade uranium. When questioned by a U.S. diplomat on the site's lack of armed protective forces, Japanese government staffers said an area survey showed "there was not a sufficient threat to justify armed police," according to a classified diplomatic memorandum released by WikiLeaks.

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