So it seems that Japan lost a little bit of plutonium. Cue the outrage!Well, not lost, exactly. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) submits a voluntary declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that documents exactly how much plutonium the nation has stockpiled. For fundamentally clerical reasons, the JAEA accidentally omitted the 640 kg plutonium contained in a load of fuel at a nuclear power plant. The material was never unsafeguarded or misplaced.
Japan is the only non-nuclear weapons state with significant holdings of civil plutonium. Given the historical animosities, Japan's plutonium stockpile is something that understandably makes its neighbors a bit nervous -- maybe even a little crazy. So, for example, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to return some poorly guarded weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium to the United States that had been used for research, the international reaction was notrelief. It was: YOU HAD WHAT?
I am a critic of Japan's policy of separating and reusing the plutonium inevitably created in the country's nuclear power plants. Japan's stockpile of plutonium sets a terrible example for other states like, say, Iran. Still, we should not lose sight of the fact that Japan is not going to build nuclear weapons.
Much of the concern expressed by Japan's neighbors is simply a convenient opportunity to give Prime Minister Abe a kick in the shins. And, frankly, he probably deserves more than a few kicks in areas north of the shins for stunts like visiting the Yasukuni shrine and throwing shade at the women raped by the Imperial Japanese Army.