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North Korea could make issue of Japan plutonium, analyst says

By Elizabeth Shim
Japan has 47 of the 5,000 tons of plutonium worldwide, or enough to make at least 5,000 nuclear bombs. Since the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, and with several nuclear reactors offline, Japan has not been using plutonium as fuel. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
Japan has 47 of the 5,000 tons of plutonium worldwide, or enough to make at least 5,000 nuclear bombs. Since the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, and with several nuclear reactors offline, Japan has not been using plutonium as fuel. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

July 2 (UPI) -- A former U.S. State Department official said Japan's stockpile of plutonium raises concerns, as Washington prepares to negotiate a nuclear timetable with North Korea.

Tom Countryman, the former assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, told the Tokyo Shimbun that Japan should reduce its plutonium reserves, intended for nuclear power stations, because North Korea could raise the stockpile as an issue during negotiations or to defend its own nuclear program, the paper reported Monday.

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Japanese officials have been expecting the United States to call for a reduction in the country's plutonium stockpile, owing to risks of nuclear terrorism, the Financial Times reported.

But since the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, and with several nuclear reactors offline, Japan has not been using plutonium as fuel.

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The plutonium can be used in nuclear power plants as fuel, which can be recycled into mixed oxide fuel and used again.

But it can also be used to make nuclear weapons material, and Japan has 47 of the 5,000 tons of plutonium worldwide, or enough to make at least 5,000 nuclear bombs.

The issue of Japanese plutonium is being discussed as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to North Korea this week to discuss a timetable for dismantlement, The New York Times reported Sunday.

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Concern has been rising North Korea could be hiding parts of its nuclear program.

The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based think tank, has said North Korea maintains a secret facility known as Kangsong. Experts will be watching this week to see whether North Korea will disclose the facility to Pompeo.

U.S. intelligence agencies have also confirmed North Korea has increased fuel production at multiple secret sites, according to NBC.

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