By Paul D. Shinkman
March 24, 2014
World leaders gathered in the Netherlands Monday to boast about progress made in protecting nuclear weapons against terrorism and other threats, while also providing a forum to discuss the creeping security issues du jour.
The two-day biennial Nuclear Security Summit, held this year in The Hague, provides an opportunity for the 53 participating countries to make pledges to secure and reduce their nuclear capabilities. Japan offered the first big announcement — which participants colloquially call a “house gift” — with its decision to turn over to the U.S. 700 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium. Belgium also announced it would give up all fresh highly enriched uranium and plutonium it has in excess.
Countries also may group together to make pledges known as “gift baskets,” such as the joint decision by the U.S., U.K. and the Netherlands to implement new guidelines for security, at their nuclear facilities.
Japan’s pledge, however, amounts to a small percentage of the plutonium it possesses. It is also planning to reopen its Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant later this year, which can produce as much as 8 tons of plutonium per year. Most of its nuclear facilities have been shut down since the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, and neighboring countries including China have expressed concerns about Japan’s nuclear future.
But announcements like Japan’s on Monday serve as more than just a commitment to world partners.
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