Japan Faces World Glare over Nuclear Shipment Intense Scrutiny May Delay Next Plutonium Cargoes, Nuclear Plans

By Clayton Jones, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 16, 1992 | Go to article overview

Japan Faces World Glare over Nuclear Shipment Intense Scrutiny May Delay Next Plutonium Cargoes, Nuclear Plans


Clayton Jones, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


INTERNATIONAL outcry against the voyage of a Japanese ship loaded with radioactive plutonium has raised new doubts in Japan about plans to create a self-sufficient nuclear energy system.

The doubts were voiced by Japanese officials a week after the container ship Akatsuki Maru left a French port Nov. 7 with over 1.7 tons of plutonium fuel. The ship, returning to Japan on a secretive, two-month journey, is under escort by an armed Japanese ship that so far has tried to elude a pursuing vessel of the environmentalist group Greenpeace International.

The voyage of the Akatsuki Maru has turned into a public relations disaster for Japan, say officials, who admit they did not anticipate that so many nations and environmentalists would focus attention on this first of a planned 30 shipments of plutonium.

"We expected some reactions because of the sensitive nature of the substance, but not so much," says Toichi Sakata, director of the nuclear fuel division of the Japan's science and technology agency.

At least 10 nations that have reason to suspect the ship might travel close to their shores have signaled their concern to Tokyo.

Mr. Sakata says Japan will now "carefully think about future plans" for making 29 more shipments of plutonium from Europe. Other officials say the future shipments are on hold, not only because of public outcry but because of an increasing abundance of uranium on the world market, including an amount expected to come out of nuclear warheads in the former Soviet Union.

Without a large amount of plutonium as start-up fuel, Japan's scheme to run fast-breeder reactors for energy could be jeopardized. Under a $4 billion contract, Japan is relying on a French facility to recycle spent uranium from its regular nuclear reactors into plutonium.

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