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1 September 1999

Seoul -- Within weeks of an arrival of a shipment of Japanese plutonium, confidential documents obtained by Greenpeace reveal that since the early 1990's the Clinton administration has received warnings from its embassy in Tokyo that Japan's plutonium program was a direct threat to U.S. efforts to curb nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula.

The documents state that the program was undermining long-term peace and security in North-east Asia. Given the details in the documents, Greenpeace and Korean environmental group, KFEM, have accused the U.S. administration of a fundamental policy contradiction with its support of Japan's plutonium program while at the same time trying to stop other countries in the region obtaining plutonium. Greenpeace believes that current U.S. policy is fatally flawed, and will lead to increased tensions in the region and likely nuclear weapons proliferation.

The diplomatic documents consist of cables sent in 1993 and 1994 from United States Ambassador's Mondale and Armacost in Tokyo, to the then Secretary of State Warren Christopher, other senior officials of the administration in Washington DC, as well as other U.S. missions around the world. Describing Japan's accumulation of weapons-usable plutonium as "massive" they reveal the extent to which U.S. political and military analysts in Tokyo recognized that Japan's program was economically unjustified, leading them to question why Japan would continue to stockpile so much plutonium "when there is already a world glut of weapons material ?"(1)

Greenpeace is releasing the documents in advance of the arrival in Japan of two UK-flagged ships, Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal, each loaded with a cargo of weapons-plutonium. Scheduled to arrive during the second half of September, the ships will be arriving in a region with major outstanding security issues and where there is a growing risk of nuclear and ballistic missile proliferation. The Clinton Administration earlier this year sanctioned approval for the transport of almost 450kg of plutonium from the UK and France to Japan. The cargo of deadly plutonium, which left Europe on July 21st, would be sufficient for more than 60 nuclear weapons. Caribbean nations, South Africa, New Zealand, and nations in the South Pacific have expressed strong opposition to the current shipment, the first since the controversial Akatsuki-maru plutonium transport in 1992.

"When these serious warnings were made to Washingtin Japan's stockpile of weapons-usable plutonium stood at around 10 tons. That's more than contained in all the nuclear weapons possessed by China, the UK, France, Israel, and India combined ! Today, as a result of a complete failure of international, and particularly U.S. non-proliferation policy, Japan, with the active support of the UK and France, has increased its strategic stockpile even more. Latest estimates suggest that Japan now owns a staggering 30 tons. That's sufficient to construct well over 4000 nuclear weapons," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace and Choi-Yol Secretary of KFEM in a joint statement issued in Seoul.

The United States, as the original supplier of a large proportion of Japan's enriched uranium used in its nuclear in power reactors, is required by law to exercise a degree of control over what happens to the plutonium in the used fuel. Japanese electrical utilities, supported by the government, have shipped their nuclear spent fuel to European reprocessing facilities. Successive UK and French governments, and their reprocessing companies British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) and Cogema, and more recently the Belgium plutonium industry, have actively encouraged Japan's nuclear stockpiling program.

Now the plutonium industry, threatened with a collapse in European demand, are desperately seeking to secure new contracts with South Korea in defiance of long standing United States policy to prevent Seoul from obtaining direct use nuclear weapons material. Both Cogema and BNFL have offices in South Korea with the aim of securing contracts similar to those made with Japan in the 1970's and 1980's.(3) According to the diplomatic cables, Ambassadors Mondale and Armacost both warned Washington of the proliferation dangers posed by Japanese plutonium stocks, and in particular the negative effect such large amounts of weapons-usable plutonium would have on the Republic of Korea's own nuclear program. One diplomatic cable in 1993 posed the question:

"Can Japan expect that if it embarks on a massive plutonium recycling program that Korea and other nations would not press ahead with reprocessing programs ? Would not the perception of Japan's being awash in plutonium and possessing leading edge rocket technology create anxiety in the region?" (Ambassador Armacost to Secretary of State Christopher, March 1993).

Since the 1970s, United States policy has sought aggressively to prevent the ROK from obtaining any plutonium for fear that they would use it in their clandestine nuclear weapons program. This remains current U.S. policy.

In recent weeks further doubts about Japan's nuclear ambitions have been raised. In early August, a Japanese Diet member from the ruling LDP suggested that Japan should develop the atomic bomb(2). More revealingly a senior nuclear advisor to the Japanese government, and strong advocate of Japan's plutonium program, has described Japan as being a "virtual weapons state2"(4)

"The plutonium-powder keg is already smoldering in this region, and unless the international community, including Clinton, abandon their "selective proliferation policy" it may become an inferno. No country, no matter what their supposed peaceful intentions, should have access to plutonium. Japan should act to halt this slide to nuclear confrontation in Asia and end its unjustified and dangerous program," said Burnie.

The Greenpeace vessel "Arctic Sunrise" is currently visiting the Korean peninsula, prior to going to Japan in its efforts to raise public awareness about the environmental, public health and proliferation implications of Japan/s plutonium shipments and program.

More details of the diplomatic cables, the scale of Japan's plutonium program and the implications for North-east Asia willl be presented and debated at an international nuclear symposium to be held in Seoul, September 2nd.

-- Shaun Burnie - Greenpeace International (mobile) in Japan: +81 3 5351 5400, or mobile +81 90 2253 7306

1 - Copies of the relevant diplomatic cables, which Greenpeace obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, can be obtained from Greenpeace Japan in Tokyo, 813 5351 5400.

2 - statement by LDP member Shingo Nishumura, as cited in Washington Post, August 2nd 1999.

3 - BNFL, owned by the UK government, recently indicated that it aims to secure contracts for the supply of plutonium fuel, MOX, to the Korea Electric Power Company, in a direct challenge to long-standing U.S policy. Cogema is currently assisting KEPCO to store nuclear spent fuel at the Ulchin nuclear power plants with the objective of eventually shipping the material to France for reprocessing.

4 - see interview with Professor Atsuyuki Suzuki of the University of Tokyo's Department of Nuclear Engineering and an advisor to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, as reported in Nucleonics Week, August 12 1999.