"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018

Freeing the World of Nuclear Weapons: Arms Control Today interviews Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui

July/August 2020

As the site of the first atomic bomb attack, Hiroshima has served as a vital center for education about nuclear weapons and their effects. The people of the city, along with those of Nagasaki, have been steadfast in their advocacy for abolishing nuclear weapons. The survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings on Japan, the hibakusha, have worked to communicate their experience to global citizens and leaders. Kazumi Matsui, Hiroshima’s mayor since 2011, has played a major role in that effort. He serves as president of Mayors for Peace, an assembly of thousands of cities worldwide devoted to protecting cities from the scourge of war and mass destruction.

In a 2016 ceremony, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui (right) offers new names to add to the list of the atomic bomb deaths that is kept at the Memorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima. More than 290,000 names have been inscribed inside the memorial's stone vault. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Hiroshima is planning to scale back large gatherings and instead hold virtual events marking 75 years since the August 6, 1945, bombing. Matsui spoke with Arms Control Today on June 23.

Arms Control Today: Seventy-five years after the first nuclear test explosion and the atomic bombings that destroyed your city and Nagasaki, what message do you, as the president of Mayors for Peace, and the people of Hiroshima, including the hibakusha, have for others around the world about living under the dark shadow of nuclear weapons?

Mayor Kazumi Matsui: In August 1945, two single atomic bombs dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki instantly reduced them to rubble, taking more than 210,000 precious lives. With almost 75 years since the bombings, the hibakusha, those who barely survived, still suffer from the harmful aftereffects of radiation. While their minds and bodies are in pain, they, together with other members of the public, continue to make their appeal that “no one else should suffer as we have.”

However, today, the nuclear-armed states possess about 13,000 nuclear warheads. The destructive power of every one of them is far above the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These weapons could be used by accident or for terrorism. The current situation is far from what the citizens of Hiroshima, including the hibakusha, have been seeking for so long.

This is because the nuclear-armed states and their allies consider nuclear deterrence as essential for their security assurance, prioritizing the pursuit of only their own misguided national interest. However, this poses a grave threat to the survival of us all, the whole of humanity.

The current global coronavirus pandemic is a transboundary crisis that touches us all. We are experiencing firsthand that we can confront and defeat common threats through solidarity and cooperation. Based on what we have learned from this experience, we must build a robust global coalition of citizens everywhere to address and solve global security challenges, especially nuclear weapons. We must not take action based on self-centered nationalism.

I sincerely hope that everyone in the world will share in the hibakusha’s message and join us in realizing a peaceful world free of nuclear weapons.

ACT: There are now fewer and fewer hibakusha and fewer people who have witnessed the devastation of the atomic bombings. What can be done over the next 75 years to remind current and future generations of the experiences and the messages of the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the health impacts of the use of nuclear weapons? Are we at risk of forgetting?

Matsui: The average age of the hibakusha has exceeded 82. With their unshakable conviction that “no one else should suffer as we have,” they have conveyed their experiences and their desire for peace to younger generations. However, if we leave this important task of passing down to the future generations to the hibakusha alone, then unfortunately, sooner or later, there will no longer be anyone able to do so.

In order to ensure that the hibakusha’s messages will be faithfully inherited and shared with future generations, the City of Hiroshima conducts various initiatives.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum exhibits belongings and photos of victims along with the words of their bereaved family members. Each item conveys to visitors the memories, sentiments, and the pain and sorrow of the victims and the bereaved. In addition, displays on the harm caused by the radiation tell the world of the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons. We encourage all world leaders and their fellow citizens to visit this museum to see the long-term catastrophic effects of the atomic bombings for themselves.

We also have a project to train A-bomb Legacy Successors, volunteers who pass down hibakusha experiences and their desire for peace on their behalf. Today, 131 successors are engaged in such activities.

We also make videos of hibakusha testimonies and collect memoirs in collaboration with the government. We are translating these into many languages so that all can understand their tragic experiences.

We intend to continue our efforts to enrich and expand these and make them available physically and online to share the messages of the hibakusha with the younger generation, who are the future of our society.

ACT: You and others have noted that "vital nuclear arms control agreements are being abandoned, budgets for development and production of new nuclear weapons are growing, and the potential for nuclear weapons use is too dangerous to tolerate. We are badly off course in efforts to honor the plea of the hibakusha and end the nuclear threat.” On an international level, how can and should the world get back on track toward nuclear disarmament?

Matsui: We see unilateralism is rising in the international community, and exclusivity and confrontational approaches have increased tensions between nations. Now, the international situation surrounding nuclear weapons is very unstable and uncertain. But why is that? Fundamentally, policymakers should tackle issues, even if they are rooted in local contexts, from a global perspective. However, they are more likely to jump to a short-term compromise, which results in the current international situation.

In order to break the status quo of dependence on nuclear deterrence and get back on track toward nuclear disarmament, it is essential to mobilize civil society’s shared values and create a supportive environment to give world leaders the courage to shift their policies.

Those shared values and desires of civil society aim at securing every citizen’s safety and welfare. As a nonpartisan organization made up of the very heads of local governments responsible for realizing that goal, Mayors for Peace implements a number of relevant initiatives.

Specifically, by utilizing its network of more than 7,900 member cities in 164 countries and regions, Mayors for Peace conveys the realities of the atomic bombings and works to increase the number of people who share in the hibakusha’s message. In this way, we can build a consensus among global civil society that the elimination of nuclear weapons is key to the peaceful future we need. This consensus will serve as the foundation for a collaborative international environment in which policymakers around the world can take decisive steps forward toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

I sincerely hope that all states, including the nuclear-armed ones, will engage in good-faith dialogue led by world leaders who wholeheartedly accept the earnest wish of the hibakusha, that is, the realization of nuclear weapons abolition as soon as possible. Through this, they will surely share wisdom and come up with an approach to make substantial progress in nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

ACT: What more can be done at the local level, especially by the younger generations, wherever they may live, to support global efforts for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament?

Matsui: As I understand it, what civil society is sincerely seeking is to secure the public’s safety and welfare. But when it comes to big global challenges to the peaceful existence of humanity as a whole, such as the abolition of nuclear weapons, we should not limit our solutions to the framework of nation-states. Solutions should also be based on that sincere desire of civil society at the grass-roots level across the world. I believe that we should spread awareness of this throughout civil society.

My hope for younger generations, the future of our society, is that they will start thinking about the preciousness of their daily lives, which are supported by rules based on mutual trust. Hopefully, they will then understand that this is exactly what peace is and think what they can do to preserve it and take action.

In civil society, which is based on democracy, if every person develops such concepts of peace and takes action accordingly, it follows that policymakers will be elected who can realize our common wish. It is also not a dream for them to become policymakers themselves.

If more people come to envisage a future different from the past and work to realize it, they will become the drive to change the world.

Mayors for Peace puts emphasis on peace education aimed at raising awareness among younger generations as part of its intensified efforts. Through our various programs, we nurture young leaders who engage in peace activities proactively.

ACT: What more can Japan’s national leadership do to move us closer to the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons?

Matsui: As the only country to have experienced the devastation caused by nuclear attacks, Japan has a responsibility to share the hibakusha’s sincere desire to abolish nuclear weapons with the world and take the lead on various initiatives to make that a reality.

Japan has a role in international society as a “bridge” between the nuclear-armed states and the states-parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to foster and promote dialogue and cooperation. To realize abolition as soon as possible, Japan can and should do even more to fulfil this role. I hope this will happen from the bottom of my heart.

With the declining number of atomic bomb survivors, Hiroshima is leading efforts to share their experience for generations to come.

Setsuko Thurlow Remembers The Hiroshima Bombing

July/August 2020
By Setsuko Thurlow

I use the word “miracle” lightly, but really, 71 years ago I did experience a miracle, and here I am in your company today.

Setsuko Thurlow, speaks for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons at a conference in Madrid on February 24. She has spent decades describing her experience as a survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. (Photo: David Benito/Getty Images)I would like to share my personal experience with you. I know many of you are experts, arms control specialists; and I’m sure you’re quite well informed and knowledgeable of all kinds of human conditions, including the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. But I thought I would offer my personal and first-hand experience.

In 1945 I was a 13-year-old eighth grade student in the girls’ school, and on that very day, I was at the army headquarters. A group of about 30 girls had been recruited and trained to do the recording work of the top-secret information.

Can you imagine, a 13-year-old girl doing such important work? That shows how desperate Japan was.

I met the girls in front of the station before 8 o’clock; and at 8 o’clock, we were at the military headquarters, which was 1.8 kilometers from ground zero. I was on the second floor and started with a big assembly, and an officer gave us a pep talk.

This is the way you start proving your patriotism for emperor, that kind of thing. We said, “Yes sir, we will do our best.” When we said that, I saw the blaze of white flash in the window, and then I had the sensation of smoking up in the air.

When I regained consciousness in the total silence, I was trying to move my body. I couldn’t move it at all. I knew I was faced with death.

Then I started hearing whispering voices of the girls around me: “God, help me, mother help me. I’m here.” So, I knew I was surrounded by them, although I couldn’t see anybody in the darkness.

Then, suddenly, a strong male voice said, “Don’t give up. I’m trying to free you.” He kept shaking my left shoulder from behind and pushed me. We kept kicking, pushing; and you see, we’re finally coming to the door opening, get out that way, crawl, as quickly as possible.

By the time I came out of the building, it was on fire. That meant about 30 other girls who were with me in that same place were burning to death. But two other girls managed to come out, so three of us looked around.

Although that happened in the morning, it was very dark, dark as twilight, and I started seeing some moving black object approaching to me. They happened to be the streams of human beings slowly shuffling from the center part of the city to where I was.

They didn’t look like human beings. Their hair was standing straight up. Burned, blackness, swelling, bleeding. Parts of the bodies were missing. The skin and flesh were hanging from the bones. Some were carrying their own eyeballs, you know, they’re hanging from the eye socket.

They collapsed onto the ground, their stomach burst open with their intestines sticking out. The soldier said, “Well you girls, join that procession, escape to the nearby field.”

That’s what we did by carefully stepping over the dead bodies, injured bodies. It was a strange situation. Nobody was running and screaming for help. They just didn’t have that kind of strength left.

They were simply whispering, “Water please, water please.” Everybody was asking for water.

We girls were relatively lightly injured. So, by the time we got to the hillside, we went to a nearby stream and washed off the blood and dirt, and we took off our blouses and soaked them in the stream and dashed back to hold them over the mouths of the dying people.

You see, the place we escaped to was the military training ground, a huge place, about the size of two football fields. The place was packed with the dead and dying people.

I wanted to help, but everyone wanted water, but there were no cups and no buckets to carry the water. That’s why we resorted to that rather primitive way of so-called rescue operation. That was all we could do.

I looked around to see if there were any doctors around us, but I saw none of them in that huge place. That meant, tens of thousands of people in that place without medication, no medical attention, ointment.

Nothing was provided for them. Just a few drops of water from a wet cloth. That was the level of support, rescue operation you could offer.

We kept ourselves busy all day doing that. Of course, doctors and nurses were killed too. Just a small percentage of the medical professionals survived, but they were serving people somewhere else, not where I was.

So, we were three girls, together with hundreds of other people who escaped to the place. We just sat on the hillside and all night, we watched the Empire City burn, to see the moon from the massive scale of death and suffering we had witnessed.

I was mad, strongly, appropriately, emotionally. Something happened to my psyche. When we close off our psychic memory, in an ultimate situation like that, the cessation of the emotions takes place automatically. I’m glad of that because if we responded emotionally to every graphic sight I witnessed, I couldn’t have survived.

The day ended. Other people can tell about being near the rivers, full of floating dead bodies, and so on. But I didn’t see that then.

But I’ll tell you about the few people in my family, my friends, how they lost their lives. That will show you just how the bomb affected human beings.

I mentioned about 30 girls who were with me, but the rest of the students were at the city center. The city was trying to establish the facilities to be prepared for the air raid.

So, the seventh-grade and eighth-grade students from all the high schools were recruited, went to the center of the city. We were providing the minor labor.

A victim of the Hiroshima atomic bomb is treated at a makeshift hospital in September 1945. Immediately after the bombing, Setsuko Thurlow sought to provide aid and comfort to wounded survivors. (Photo: Wayne Miller/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)Now, they were in the center right below the detonation of the bomb. So they are the ones who simply vaporized, melted, and carbonized. My sister-in-law was there with a student. She was one of the teachers supervising the students. We tried to locate her corpse, but we have never done so. On paper, she’s still missing, together with thousands of other students.

I understand there were several thousand students, 8,000 or so. They simply disappeared from the face of earth. The temperature of the blast, I understand, was about 4,000 degrees Celsius.

Another story I can tell is about my sister and her four-year-old child, who came back to the city the night before to visit us. Early in the morning, they were walking over the bridge to the medical clinic, and both of them were burned beyond recognition.

By the time I saw them the next day, their bodies were swollen two or three times larger than normal, and they too kept begging for water. When they died, the soldiers dug a hole and threw in the bodies, poured gasoline, and threw a lighted match.

With a bamboo stick, they kept turning the bodies. There I was, a 13-year-old girl, and I was standing emotionlessly just watching it.

That memory troubled me for many years. What kind of human being am I? My dear sister being treated like animal or an insect or whatever.

There was no human dignity associated with that kind of cremation. The fact that I didn’t really shed tears troubled me for many years. I felt guilt.

I could forgive myself after learning how our psyche automatically functions in situations like that. But, you know, it’s the image of this four-year-old child that is burned to my retina. It’s always there.

That image just guided me, and it’s the driving force for my activism. Because that child came to represent all the innocent children of the world without understanding what was happening to them. They agonized.

So that child is a special being, a special memory. If he were alive, he would be 75. It’s a sobering thought, but regardless of passage of time, he’s still a four-year-old child guiding me.

It was interesting, [President Barack] Obama made a lot of references about innocent children, how we need to protect each one of them, and I was weeping. I couldn’t help it.

Now, let me tell you another example of how the atomic bomb affected the human beings. We rejoiced to hear my favorite uncle and aunt survived. They were okay. They didn’t have any visible sign of injury.

Then several days later, we started hearing a different story. They got sick, very sick. So after my sister and my nephew died, my parents went over to my uncle’s place, started looking after them.

Their body started showing purple spots all over the body, and according to my mother, who cared for them until their death, their internal organs seemed to be rotting, dissolving, coming out as a thick black liquid until death.

Now, radiation works in many mysterious and random ways. Some people are killed immediately, some weeks later or months later, a year later. The horrible thing is, 71 years later, people are still dying from the effects of the radiation.

The hibakusha, the survivors, struggled to explain in the aftermath. It’s surviving in the unprecedented catastrophic aura and the unprecedented social, political chaos due to Japan’s defeat and the occupational forces’ strict control over us.

I finished university in Japan, and upon my graduation, I was offered a scholarship, so I came to your country. I came to Virginia, very close to this city.

That was 1954. The United States tested the biggest hydrogen bomb at the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific that time, creating the kind of situation similar to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki experience.

All of Japan was up in arms with fury. It was not only Hiroshima, not only Nagasaki, now the Bikini Atoll. Well, the United States continued with the testing and actually using them.

That’s when all of Japan became fully aware of the nature of nuclear weapons development. Anyway, at that time, I left Japan, arrived in Virginia, and I was interviewed by the press.

I gave my honest opinion. I was fresh out of college and naive and believed in honesty. I told them what I thought: The United States nuclear policy was bad. It has to stop. Look at all the killings and damage to the environment in the Pacific. That has to stop, and all these kinds of thing I said.

The next day, I started receiving hate letters. “How dare you? Do you realize where you are? Who is giving the scholarship? Go home. Go back to Japan.” Just a few days after my arrival, I encountered this kind of situation, and I was horrified. It was quite a traumatic experience.

What am I going to do? I can’t go back, I just arrived. I can’t put a zipper over my mouth and pretend I never knew anything about Hiroshima bombing.

Would I be able to survive in North America? Well, I spent a week without going to the classroom. I just had to be alone and do my soul-searching.

It was a painful and lonely time in a new country. I hardly knew anybody, and I had to deal with this issue. I’m happy to say that I came out of that traumatic experience with more determination and a stronger conviction.

If I don’t speak out, who will? I actually experienced it. I saw it. It’s my moral responsibility. So, I have my experience to warn the world. We’ve seen this is just the beginning of the nuclear arms race. I just have to warn the world.

Adapted from remarks delivered to the Arms Control Association on June 6, 2016, shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima. At the age of 13, Setsuko Thurlow survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. She has since worked to tell the story of the survivors, the hibakusha. She was the Arms Control Association’s 2015 Arms Control Person of the Year, a leading champion within the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for the negotiation of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and for that was a co-recipient of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Peace.

Seventy-one years afterward, a survivor recalls helping the wounded on August 6, 1945.

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings and the Nuclear Danger Today

July/August 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

The U.S. atomic bomb attack on the people of Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, and the second attack on the city of Nagasaki at 11:02 a.m. on August 9 killed and wounded hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting men, women, and children in a horrible blast of fire and radiation, followed by deadly fallout. In years that followed, those who survived—the hibakusha—suffered from the trauma of the experience and from the long-term effects of their exposure to radiation from the weapons.

Historians now largely agree that the United States need not have dropped bombs to avoid an invasion of Japan and bring an end to World War II. President Harry Truman and his advisers were aware of the alternatives, but Truman chose to authorize the use of the atomic bombs in part to further the U.S. government’s postwar geostrategic aims.1

The bombings helped to launch the dangerous, decades-long U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race; and they ignited a debate about the dangers of nuclear weapons, their role in foreign and military policy, their regulation and control, and the morality and legality of their possession and use that continues to this day.

Although nuclear weapons have not been used in a military attack since 1945, they have left a trail of devastation, including cancer from atmospheric nuclear test fallout, toxic waste and environmental contamination, and workers and residents exposed to radiation and hazardous chemicals from nuclear weapons production plants, uranium mines, and research labs.2 All too often, indigenous and disempowered communities have found themselves downwind and downstream.

Beginning with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when U.S. authorities sought to censor information about nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons establishments have tried to hide and stifle debate about the health and environmental effects of nuclear war and nuclear weapons development, testing, and production.

In 1956, however, the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings came together and pledged to work to “save humanity from its crisis through the lessons learned from our experiences” and issued their first formal appeal to the world that “there should never be another [h]ibakusha.”

The voices, testimony, and outreach of the hibakusha have been central to the decades-long struggle to put in place meaningful, verifiable, legally binding restraints on nuclear weapons; to realize a global treaty prohibiting their possession and use; and to advance the steps necessary to achieve the peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Through the decades, persistent citizen pressure and hard-nosed disarmament and nonproliferation diplomacy have produced agreements and treaties that have successfully curbed the spread of nuclear weapons, slowed the arms race, and reduced the danger of nuclear war. These initiatives slashed the staggering size of the Cold War-era U.S. and Russian arsenals, prohibited nuclear test explosions, and strengthened the taboo against nuclear weapons possession and use.

Yet, far too many of these weapons still exist. Combined, the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals total some 12,170 nuclear weapons, more than 90 percent of the global total, which is estimated to be 13,400.3 In addition to the United States and Russia, there are now seven more nuclear-armed nations, with smaller but still very deadly arsenals: the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

In addition, many of the dangerous policies developed over the years to justify the possession and potential use of nuclear weapons persist. For instance, the United States, Russia, France, and the UK maintain significant numbers of their nuclear weapons on prompt-launch status, ready to retaliate in response to a nuclear attack. The United States and Russia also cling to the option to use nuclear weapons first and against significant non-nuclear threats.

Making matters worse, the dialogue on disarmament has stalled. Tensions between many of the world’s nuclear-armed states are rising, and the risk of nuclear use is growing. The Trump administration has severely undermined U.S. credibility and capability to provide effective global leadership on nonproliferation and disarmament.

The world’s nine nuclear actors are squandering tens of billions of dollars each year to maintain and upgrade nuclear arsenals, monies that could be redirected to address real human needs. The United States and Russia have discarded or disrespected key agreements that have kept their nuclear competition in check, and other agreements are in jeopardy. Other nuclear-armed states, for the most part, still remain outside the nuclear risk reduction and disarmament enterprise. We are once again on the verge of a new, global nuclear arms race.

Our nuclear anxieties persist, and humanity’s efforts to contain and eliminate the nuclear weapons danger continue.

The historic 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which has won the support of the vast majority of the world’s non-nuclear states, is a step forward, but the current environment necessitates even bolder action from civil society and governments everywhere. We must reduce nuclear risks, and we must freeze, reverse, and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons.

The survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings bear witness to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. As the authors of a new 2020 appeal from a consortium of hibakusha leaders and organizations write, “The average age of the [h]ibakusha now exceeds 80. It is our strong desire to achieve a nuclear weapon-free world in our lifetime, so that succeeding generations of people will not see hell on earth ever again.”

Arms Control Today presents the following annotated photo essay to honor their call to action.

The cloud generated by “Little Boy,” the uranium-based atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, rises above the city with a wartime population of approximately 320,000 on the morning of August 6, 1945. The blast packed a destructive force equivalent to about 15 kilotons of TNT. In minutes, approximately half of the city vanished. (Photo: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)
Three days later, the city of Nagasaki burns following the decision by U.S. leaders to drop “Fat Man,” a plutonium-based bomb with an explosive yield estimated at 21 kilotons, on the city of approximately 260,000 at the time of the attack. (Photo: UN/Nagasaki International Cultural Hall)
The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall stands alone in the rubble. The explosion produced a supersonic shock wave followed by extreme winds that remained above hurricane force more than three kilometers from the hypocenter. A secondary and equally devastating reverse wind ensued, flattening and severely damaging homes and buildings several kilometers further away. Only remnants of a few reinforced structures remained.  (Photo: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)
A burned body in the ruins 500 meters from the hypocenter. The intense heat rays of the Hiroshima bomb reached several million degrees Celsius at the hypocenter and incinerated everything within approximately two kilometers.(Photo: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum) The pattern of a woman’s kimono burned into her skin. The heat scorched flesh and ignited trees and other flammable materials as far as 3.5 kilometers from ground zero. Flash burns from the primary heatwave caused most of the deaths at Hiroshima. By the end of 1945, an estimated 140,000 were killed by the blast, heat, and radiation effects of the nuclear attack. (Photo: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)
The city of Hiroshima on fire on August 6, as seen from four kilometers away. A firestorm ravaged the city of Hiroshima for hours after the explosion, peaking around midday. Firestorms leveled neighborhoods where the blast had inflicted only partial damage and killed victims trapped under fallen debris. Within 20 minutes, the explosion also produced black rain laden with radioactive soot and dust that contaminated areas as far away as 29 kilometers from ground zero. (Photo: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)
The ruins of Nagasaki on August 10, 1945, at about 700 meters from the hypocenter. The nuclear attack on Nagasaki killed an estimated 74,000 by the end of 1945 and injured approximately another 75,000. The attack occurred two days earlier than planned, 10 hours after the Soviets entered the war against Japan, and as Japanese leaders were contemplating surrender.  (Photo: UN/Yosuke Yamahata)
The remains of a religious temple in Nagasaki on September 24, 1945, six weeks after the bombing. Many of those who survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks would die in radiation-induced illnesses years later. The number of survivors contracting leukemia increased noticeably five to six years after the bombing. Ten years after the bombing, the survivors began contracting thyroid, breast, lung, and other cancers at higher than normal rates. These hibakusha and their descendants helped form the nucleus of the Japanese and global nuclear disarmament movement. (Photo: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)



1. J. Samuel Walker, “The Decision to Use the Bomb: A Historiographical Update,” in Hiroshima in History and Memory, ed. Michael J. Hogan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

2. Arjun Makhijani, “A Readiness to Harm: The Health Effects of Nuclear Weapons Complexes,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2005. See Arjun Makhijani, Howard Hu, and Katherine Yih, eds., Nuclear Wastelands: A Global Guide to Nuclear Weapons Production and Its Health and Environmental Effects (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

3. Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Status of World Nuclear Forces,” Federation of American Scientists, April 2020, https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/.

Seventy-five years on, the effects of the bombings haunt the survivors and inform the global debate about nuclear weapons and the ongoing pursuit of nuclear disarmament.

Japan Suspends Aegis Ashore Deployment

July/August 2020

Japan will not deploy two U.S.-made Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense systems designed to protect Japan against North Korean ballistic missiles, officials announced in June, citing growing financial costs, unresolved technical issues, and local opposition.

“Due to considerations of cost and timing, we have stopped the process of introducing the Aegis Ashore system,” said Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono on June 15. The cost was too high, he said, to develop enough confidence that the system’s rocket booster would not fall on Japanese residents and buildings after detaching from the interceptor. Attempts to revise the missile’s software to ensure this outcome had failed, and costly hardware modifications will be necessary, Kono said. Japanese officials had proposed to site the two systems at the north and south ends of the nation’s main island, a decision met with protests from local communities and officials.

Purchasing, operating, and maintaining the two Aegis Ashore systems for 30 years had been estimated to cost about $4.2 billion, and Japan has already invested about $1.8 billion in the project, according to Japanese news sources.

With the cancellation, Japan’s missile defense capabilities will now rely solely on naval vessels armed with Aegis weapons. Japan plans to deploy eight such destroyers, the last of which began sea trials in June and is scheduled to be commissioned in 2021, Defense News reported.—MACKENZIE KNIGHT

Japan Suspends Aegis Ashore Deployment

Wassenaar Nations Set New Export Controls

April 2020

Transfers of military-grade software and chip manufacturing technology will face increased scrutiny following an amendment to the Wassenaar Arrangement, an international export control regime.

Established in 1996 and now numbering 42 nations that apply the voluntary trade restrictions, the Wassenaar Arrangement restricts the export of certain conventional weapons, dual-use goods and other technology. Its members include France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Notable nations not participating include China, Iran, Israel, and North Korea.

At their 25th annual plenary meeting in December in Vienna, members agreed unanimously to adopt new export controls in such areas as cyberwarfare software, communications monitoring, digital investigative tools and forensic systems, suborbital aerospace vehicles, technology for the production of substrates for high-end integrated circuits, hybrid machine tools, and lithography equipment and technology.

In addition, the nations clarified existing export control measures regarding ballistic protection, optical sensors, ball bearings, and inorganic fibrous and filamentary materials. They also relaxed some controls, including those with respect to certain laminates and commercial components with embedded cryptography.

The enhanced export restrictions might affect sales by forensic cybersecurity and chip manufacturing companies, according to articles from Kyodo News and Haaretz.—PERI MEYERS

Wassenaar Nations Set New Export Controls

Japan Downplays Possibility of Hosting INF-Range Missiles

Japan’s new defense minister downplayed the prospect that Japan might host U.S. intermediate-range missiles formerly banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono, speaking here on Sept. 11, said that as of Oct. 31, the United States and Japan had not discussed the possibility of Japan hosting U.S. intermediate-range missiles. (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)In an Oct. 31 interview with The Financial Times, Defense Minister Taro Kono said, “The U.S. doesn’t have non-nuclear missiles that can be deployed yet. Maybe they’re in the phase of development. We have not been discussing any of it.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in August after the demise of the INF Treaty that he would like to see the deployment of U.S. conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Europe and Asia, ideally as soon as possible. South Korea and Australia said at the time that they were not considering such a deployment.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in November continued to rebuke the Trump administration for “dismantling” the treaty, saying that “our American colleagues were only engaged in searching for pretexts to get rid of the INF Treaty.” He also stated that Moscow will not deploy ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles until the United States does.

The Pentagon has stated that it would conduct a test of a ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of about 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers by the end of the year, but the test does not appear to have taken place yet. On Aug. 18, the United States flight-tested a ground-launched cruise missile that would have been prohibited by the INF Treaty.

Signed in 1987, the INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles having ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.—SHANNON BUGOS

Japan Downplays Possibility of Hosting INF-Range Missiles

A Message from the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

This year, on August 6 and August 9, the world will mark 75 years since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As survivors of the bombing, the hibakusha , decrease in number, listening to them grows ever more crucial. As a human family, we must not forget the tragedy of those two cities. Instead, we must ensure that future generations know the devastation wrought by nuclear weapons and are inspired to act to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons. Now is the time for civil society and world leaders to renew our resolve to ensure the deep humanitarian conviction of the hibakusha that...

U.S. Approves Missile Defense Sale to Japan

The Trump administration gave its final approval Jan. 29 for a $2.2 billion sale of missile defense systems to Japan. Congress received notification of the deal, including two Aegis Ashore missile interceptor batteries, from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, triggering a 30-day opportunity for Congress to object, which happens rarely. The sale notification was delayed by the 35-day U.S. government partial shutdown, which slowed the Foreign Military Sales approval process, including a necessary green light from the U.S. State Department.

The sale reflects expanding U.S. support for Japan’s multilayered missile defenses, which already include multiple U.S.-provided Aegis systems on Kongo-class destroyers. Japan’s cabinet approved missile defense expansion plans in December 2017. (See ACT, September 2018.)

The Aegis Ashore systems are slated to feature the Standard Missile-3 Block IIA missile interceptor, which is currently completing testing. (See ACT, December 2018.) The interceptor uses hit-to-kill technology to defeat short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The scope of intended targets may increase because the Trump administration's 2019 Missile Defense Review calls for testing the interceptor against an intercontinental ballistic missile-class target in 2020.

The defense sale includes supporting equipment, software, U.S. construction and logistical services, and six vertical launchers.—SASHA PARTAN

U.S. Approves Missile Defense Sale to Japan

Japan’s Misguided Plutonium Policy

October 2018
By Alan J. Kuperman and Hina Acharya

Facing U.S. diplomatic pressure and the expiration of the initial 30-year term of the 1988 U.S.-Japanese nuclear agreement, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) in late July revealed a plan ostensibly intended to reduce Japan’s massive 47-metric-ton stockpile of unirradiated plutonium by boosting the use of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in the country’s nuclear power reactors.

Protesters demonstrate against the arrival of a vessel loaded with mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel from France for the Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Takahama nuclear plant at a Japanese port on June 27, 2013. The cargo of MOX fuel, a blend of plutonium and uranium, was the first such nuclear fuel to arrive in Japan since the atomic disaster at Fukushima, which was sparked by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. (Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)This plan unfortunately would make the problem worse. It also contradicts the findings of a just-published study that the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project researched for a year, examining the seven countries, including Japan, that have commercially used or produced MOX fuel for thermal nuclear power plants.1 The research found that five of these countries already have decided to phase out MOX fuel, which is a blend of plutonium with uranium, due to concerns about economics, security, and public acceptance.

The JAEC has correctly identified the problem but not the solution. The surplus 47 metric tons of plutonium is sufficient to make more than 5,000 nuclear weapons. Japan is now the only country without such weapons that reprocesses its spent nuclear fuel, creating still more plutonium. Japan even plans to start commercial operation in 2021 of a domestic reprocessing plant that would produce up to an additional eight metric tons of plutonium annually.

All this creates the impression internationally that Japan is preserving the option to quickly produce a large nuclear weapons arsenal. Not surprisingly, South Korea, North Korea, and China have cited Japan’s plutonium stockpile as grounds to initiate or expand their own reprocessing of nuclear fuel, thereby raising the specter of a disastrous nuclear arms race in East Asia.2

The Japanese government was wise to declare a policy to reduce its plutonium stockpile. Yet, the JAEC strategy to do so by increasing the use of MOX fuel in the country’s nuclear power reactors is wrong for at least four reasons: it is impossible to do in the near term, counter-productive, not the quickest way to reduce the stockpile, and unsuitable for most of Japan’s domestic plutonium.

Roots of Japan’s Stockpile

Before discussing the flaws of the JAEC plan and offering an alternative, it is important to understand the roots of the current situation. Japan’s massive plutonium stockpile is the result of five decades of technological and policy failure. In 1966, Japan started producing nuclear energy commercially and, at its peak, the country had nearly 60 traditional light-water reactors (LWRs), using non-weapons-usable uranium fuel to supply the country with 34 percent of its energy.3 Regrettably, based on ill-founded fears of global uranium shortages, Japan also followed the trend of the 1960s by planning to construct and operate fast-neutron breeder reactors (FBRs), aiming to increase the energy value of uranium by converting more of it to plutonium for use as reactor fuel.

The government encouraged the reprocessing of Japan’s spent LWR fuel at home and abroad to separate plutonium to fuel FBRs, which the government expected to produce energy commercially as early as 1985.4 From 1974 to 2011, Japan spent $17 billion on developing FBRs,5 but the efforts failed. In December 1995, a sodium leak and fire at the prototype Monju FBR caused it to go offline until 2010,6 and in 2016 the government declared that it would decommission the facility.7

Workers of Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) check a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel container after it was unloaded from a vessel at the KEPCO's Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui prefecture June 27, 2013. (Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)While the ill-fated breeder reactor was under development, the Japanese government also decided to mix some of its separated plutonium with uranium to make MOX fuel as a partial substitute for low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel in its LWRs.8 In 1986, it first tested a small amount of such MOX fuel in its Tsuruga-1 reactor, laying the groundwork for commercialization.9 In 1988 testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Milton Hoenig of the Washington-based Nuclear Control Institute outlined Japan’s plans to deploy MOX fuel commercially in LWRs beginning in 1997. He testified that Japan planned to use 96 metric tons of plutonium in 12 LWRs from 1997 to 2017.10 In February 1997, Japan’s Federation of Electric Companies issued an even more ambitious plan to use MOX fuel in 16 to 18 LWRs from 1999 to 2010.11

Japan did not come anywhere close to meeting its intended 1997 start date for deployment of MOX fuel in LWRs. Indeed, it missed by more than a decade. The multiple reasons for that delay help illustrate the foolhardiness of the JAEC’s new plan to expand MOX fuel use.

In the early 1990s, Japanese utilities signed contracts for MOX fuel supply from companies in the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) were slated to be first to utilize MOX fuel.12 France’s Cogema, later renamed AREVA and then Orano, reprocessed TEPCO’s spent fuel, and the separated plutonium was used to fabricate MOX fuel in Belgium. Thirty-two MOX fuel assemblies for Fukushima Daichii-3, containing 210 kilograms of plutonium, were shipped to Japan in 1999, under a contract with a Franco-Belgian consortium known as COMMOX.13

KEPCO’s spent fuel was reprocessed by British Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (BNFL), which also contracted to fabricate MOX fuel for the Takahama-3 and -4 reactors.14 In 1999 the first batch from BNFL comprised eight MOX fuel assemblies containing 255 kilograms of plutonium.15 The MOX fuel assemblies from the UK and Belgium were shipped together to Japan from July to September 1999 (table 1).16

Sources: Jinzaburo Takagi et al., “Comprehensive Social Impact Assessment of MOX Use in Light Water Reactors,” Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), November 1997, p. 252, http://www.cnic.jp/english/publications/pdffiles/ima_fin_e.pdf; International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), “Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Imports/Use/Storage in Japan,” April 2015, http://fissilematerials.org/blog/MOXtransportSummary10June2014.pdf.



In October 1999, the Japanese utilities were on the verge of loading MOX fuel into the Fukushima Daiichi-3 and Takahama-4 reactors,17 but reports emerged that BNFL had falsified quality-control data of the MOX fuel for the KEPCO reactors. Takahama-4 was intended to be the first reactor to use MOX fuel after receiving its eight assemblies in October 1999. Two months prior, BNFL discovered and then disclosed that its employees had falsified data for other MOX fuel still in the UK but intended for the sister reactor, Takahama-3. This raised concerns that the data for the Takahama-4 fuel, just arriving in Japan, also had been falsified.

KEPCO reported in September 1999 that, on the basis of its own analysis, the Takahama-4 fuel was safe.18 Yet, two anti-nuclear Japanese nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Green Action and Mihama-no-Kai, already had persuaded Japanese officials to obtain and provide them the BNFL data to conduct an independent analysis.19

Apparently trying to hinder such external oversight, BNFL did not release computer files but only paper books of data on the pellet size. Undeterred, the two NGOs copied and distributed the paper data sets for local citizens to assist in reviewing and then produced an analysis showing that BNFL had falsified the quality control, which UK regulatory authorities confirmed in November 1999.20 It turned out that BNFL employees had not manually measured the size of pellets, as required, but simply copied and pasted the measurements from earlier batches.

Following these disclosures, the start dates for use of MOX fuel in the Takahama-3 and -4 reactors were postponed. Unirradiated MOX fuel assemblies containing 255 kilograms of plutonium were returned to the UK in 2002, and BNFL paid $100 million compensation to KEPCO.21

After the initial delay in MOX fuel use at Takahama, Japanese citizens filed a lawsuit to stop the deployment of MOX fuel at Fukushima Daichii-3. Anti-nuclear activists presented evidence to the district court that production standards in Belgium were even lower than those at BNFL.22 The activists ultimately lost the case, but the governor of Fukushima retracted previously granted permission to deploy MOX fuel in the reactor, due to a combination of the BNFL scandal and the revelation in 2001 that TEPCO had falsified inspection data to hide the presence of cracks in some reactors.23 MOX fuel assemblies that had been shipped to the Fukushima Daichii-3 reactor were placed in storage.24

The third power plant slated for MOX fuel was Kashiwazaki Kariwa. Some surrounding communities had unsuccessfully opposed building the reactors, but the receipt of MOX fuel assemblies from France in 2001 magnified public opposition. Anti-nuclear NGOs persuaded the local legislature to hold a referendum and launched a comprehensive education campaign, including distributing informational leaflets. In the May 2001 referendum, 54 percent of voters in the village of Kariwa opposed the deployment of MOX fuel, with voter turnout of 88 percent.25

Despite this vote, the mayor of Kariwa was on the verge of approving MOX fuel use in 2002, but it was revealed that TEPCO had concealed its periodic inspections data. In September 2002, the prefecture formally withdrew its approval for MOX fuel use. As of July 2018, the fresh MOX fuel assemblies still had not been inserted into the reactor, 17 years after they were delivered.26 This poses a security risk because the unirradiated MOX fuel contains over 200 kilograms of plutonium, sufficient for at least 20 nuclear weapons.

Renewed Japanese support for MOX fuel emerged in 2007, when three Japanese utilities signed contracts with AREVA, which started producing the fuel to be delivered between 2007 and 2020.27 Six Japanese utilities eventually signed MOX fuel contracts between 2006 and 2010 (table 2). Although 401 assemblies were contracted to be fabricated by AREVA, only 133 had been received by Japanese utilities as of 2018.

Sources: CNIC, “Japanese Nuclear Power Companies’ Pluthermal Plans,” March 2007, http://www.cnic.jp/english/topics/cycle/MOX/pluthermplans.html; IPFM, “Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Imports/Use/Storage in Japan,” April 2015, http://fissilematerials.org/blog/MOXtransportSummary10June2014.pdf; Greenpeace, “Takahama Plutonium Fuel Shipment Exposes Risks and Failure of Japanese Nuclear Policy,” July 5, 2017, http://www.greenpeace.org/japan/ja/news/press/2017/pr201707051/.


Finally, Japan commercially irradiated its first MOX fuel in an LWR in 2009, some 12 years behind the original schedule, only to be stopped two years later after use in only four reactors by the 2011 Fukushima accident (table 3). Since 2016, Japan has restarted MOX fuel usage, but failed to expand it. As of July 2018, Japan’s net imports of MOX fuel had contained 5.1 metric tons of plutonium (tables 1 and 2), and Japan was still storing unirradiated MOX fuel containing 1.7 metric tons of plutonium.28 Thus, in the history of its commercial LWR program, Japan has irradiated MOX fuel containing only about 3.4 metric tons of plutonium, a tiny fraction of its remaining plutonium stockpile.29

Source: IPFM, “Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Imports/Use/Storage in Japan,” April 2015,  http://fissilematerials.org/blog/MOXtransportSummary10June2014.pdf. The Fukushima disaster, in March 2011, triggered an orderly shutdown of all nuclear power reactors in Japan by May 2012, during scheduled maintenance. Restarting these plants requires approval under the stricter regulations of a new Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which is tantamount to relicensing and has been partial and gradual. In July 2018, only eight of Japan’s historical total of 59 reactors, including two still under construction, were operating, of which three had some MOX fuel in their cores.30

Japan’s pilot-scale reprocessing plant is being decommissioned, but the Japanese government still anticipates the start of commercial operations at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in 2021, producing up to an additional eight metric tons of plutonium annually.31 This plan continues on apparent autopilot despite Japan having terminated the FBR program, which was the original rationale for reprocessing, and the country currently operating only a fraction of its LWRs in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

The consequence of reprocessing spent fuel for four decades, while failing repeatedly to implement large-scale use of MOX fuel, is that Japan has accumulated more than 47 metric tons of unirradiated plutonium. That is more plutonium than in the nuclear weapons programs of the UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea—combined.

The plutonium is reactor-grade but fully capable of producing reliable nuclear weapons.32 At the start of 2018, Japan possessed 10.5 metric tons of plutonium domestically, while also owning 15.5 metric tons in France and 21.2 metric tons in the UK. Since then, Japan has inserted and irradiated additional MOX fuel in the Genkai-3 reactor, reducing its domestic stock of unirradiated plutonium by 640 kilograms to less than 10 metric tons, but its stockpile in the UK will soon grow by an equivalent amount.33

Flawed Plan

On July 31, 2018, the JAEC issued its revised guidelines titled “Basic Principles on Japan’s Utilization of Plutonium.”34 This document initially declares, promisingly, that “Japan will reduce the size of its plutonium stockpile,” but the strategy is actually based on boosting plutonium commerce by “promoting collaboration and cooperation among the operators” of Japan’s nuclear power plants to increase their use of MOX fuel. Further revealing the intention to expand the plutonium economy, the JAEC reports that “Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) plans to complete the construction of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and the MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant in the first half” of fiscal years 2021 and 2022, respectively.

This policy, ostensibly intended to reduce Japan’s plutonium stockpile by increasing domestic use of MOX fuel, has four major problems. First, Japan cannot quickly accelerate use of MOX fuel because it lacks the reactors to do so. Only nine Japanese reactors are licensed to use MOX fuel. Of those, two (Onagawa-3 and Kashiwazaki Kariwa-3) have not applied to restart in the wake of the 2011 earthquake-driven Fukushima disaster. The potential restart of two others (Tomari-3 and Shimane-2) is hindered by related earthquake concerns. In Shizuoka, the governor and mayors oppose the restart of another reactor (Hamaoka-4). Operation of a sixth reactor (Ikata-3) was suspended in December 2017 by court injunction. That leaves only three reactors that currently can operate with MOX fuel: Takahama-3 and -4 and Genkai-3. Together they annually can irradiate only 1.5 metric tons of plutonium, or barely 3 percent of Japan’s stockpile, a rate much too slow to address international concerns.

Second, even if Japan could increase the use of MOX fuel by licensing other reactors to use it, that would be counterproductive. Increased domestic use of MOX fuel would spur calls from Japan’s nuclear industry to finalize the domestic reprocessing plant and finish construction of the adjoining MOX fuel fabrication facility, which is only 12 percent complete because work was suspended after the Fukushima accident. The JAEC plan says the MOX fuel industry should “minimize the feedstock” of plutonium, but Japanese officials insist they will need a five-year working stock, which is potentially up to 40 metric tons of plutonium, in light of the new reprocessing plant’s capacity of eight metric tons annually. This obviously would not solve the plutonium-stockpile problem but rather perpetuate and magnify it in Japan. For perspective, the working stock of France’s MOX fuel industry is 35 metric tons of plutonium, but Japanese officials say that Japan’s more diverse reactors would require a greater variety of MOX fuel and thus extra working stock.

Third, there are quicker and safer ways for Japan to reduce its plutonium stockpile. About 21 (soon to be 22) metric tons of Japan’s plutonium, nearly half the stockpile, is in the UK, which has offered to take ownership for the right price. Other countries already have accepted this UK offer, including Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden.35 Japan should do likewise, quickly paying the UK to take title to all of its plutonium there, which overnight would cut Japan’s stockpile by 45 percent, much faster than the 3 percent annual reduction through MOX fuel use.

Japanese utilities also could save money by doing so because they would avoid the expense of storing the plutonium in the UK and eventually fabricating it into MOX fuel, which costs nine times more than LEU fuel.36 Japan’s government could even subsidize the title transfer by using its reprocessing fund, which holds payments by utilities to manage nuclear waste.

Fourth, most of Japan’s 10 metric tons of domestic unirradiated plutonium cannot currently be used in its reactors. More than six metric tons are in the form of separated plutonium, which Japan has no commercial facility to fabricate into MOX fuel. Another nearly two metric tons was fully or partially fabricated into a different type of fuel for the now-terminated FBRs, which cannot be inserted into LWRs. That means only 1.7 metric tons of the unirradiated plutonium in Japan, contained in imported MOX fuel, is readily usable in reactors, and some of it only if more reactors are restarted.

For the other eight metric tons held domestically, Japan could develop technology to dispose of it as waste in coordination with the United States, which last May announced its own plan to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons plutonium as waste. To the JAEC’s credit, its plan calls for examining the “disposal of plutonium that is associated with research and development purposes.” Tokyo and Washington already have a mechanism for such technical cooperation, known as the U.S.-Japan Plutonium Management Experts Group, which should be revitalized to expedite such disposal.


Japan needs a different plan than boosting use of MOX fuel to attain its stated national goal of reducing its plutonium stockpile. To start, Japan should pay the UK to take ownership of the 22 metric tons there. Next, Tokyo should work with Washington on technology to quickly dispose as waste the eight metric tons of plutonium in Japan that cannot readily be used as fuel. That leaves about 15.5 metric tons of plutonium in France and two metric tons in Japan, a more manageable quantity that could be dealt with relatively quickly as a combination of waste and MOX fuel.

In this way, Japan could eliminate its plutonium stockpile in perhaps five years, assuming that it also terminated its costly, unnecessary, dangerous, and incomplete facilities for reprocessing spent fuel and fabricating MOX fuel. Going forward, Japan should switch to direct disposal of spent fuel, as all other countries, except France, that previously used MOX fuel in multiple thermal reactors already have done. Indeed, the JAEC’s most useful recommendation is to “[s]teadily promote efforts toward expanding storage capacity for spent fuel.”

Assuming Japan does not secretly wish to preserve a nuclear weapons option, this proposed road map could reduce its plutonium stockpile rapidly. If Japan instead expands use of MOX fuel as the JAEC recommends, thereby increasing its domestic stockpile of plutonium, neighboring countries will question Japan’s intentions and respond accordingly. That could ignite a latent or, even worse, actual nuclear arms race in East Asia. The Japanese government should think twice to make sure that its energy policy does not undermine its security policy.



1. Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, “Plutonium for Energy?” n.d., http://sites.utexas.edu/prp-mox-2018/.

2. Yukio Tajima, “Japan’s ‘plutonium exception’ under fire as nuclear pact extended; Beijing and Seoul question why US allows only Tokyo to reprocess,” NIKKEI Asian Review, July 14, 2018

3. Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), “Plutonium Utilization in Japan,” October 2017, p. 1, http://www.aec.go.jp/jicst/NC/iinkai/teirei/siryo2017/siryo38/siryo3-1.pdf; Susan E. Pickett, “Japan’s Nuclear Energy Policy: From Firm Commitment to Difficult Dilemma Addressing Growing Stocks of Plutonium, Program Delays, Domestic Opposition, and International Pressure,” Energy Policy, Vol. 30, No. 15 (December 2002): 1337–1355.

4. Pickett, “Japan’s Nuclear Energy Policy,” p. 1341.

5. International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), “Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs: Status, Problems, and Prospects of Civilian Reprocessing Around the World,” July 2015, p. 62, http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf.

6. “Opposition to Dangerous MOX Fuel,” Nuke Info Tokyo, No. 127 (November/December 2008), pp. 1-2, http://www.cnic.jp/english/newsletter/pdffiles/nit127.pdf.

7. “Japanese Government Says Monju Will Be Scrapped,” World Nuclear News, December 22, 2016, http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-Japanese-government-says-Monju-will-be-scrapped-2212164.html.

8. Kenichiro Kaneda, “Plutonium Utilization Experience in Japan,” in Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) Exploitation and Destruction in Power Reactors, ed. E.R. Merz et al. (Dordrecht: Springer, 1995), p. 163.

9. JAEC, “Plutonium Utilization in Japan,” p. 3.

10. Milton Hoenig, “Production and Planned Use of Plutonium in Japan’s Nuclear Power Reactors During 30-Year Base Period of the Proposed U.S.-Japan Agreement” (statement before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on the United States-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, March 2, 1988).

11. “Opposition to Dangerous MOX Fuel.” In 2005 the deadline for expanding mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel to this many reactors was pushed back five years to 2015.

12. Jinzaburo Takagi et al., “Comprehensive Social Impact Assessment of MOX Use in Light Water Reactors,” Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), November 1997, p. 252, http://www.cnic.jp/english/publications/pdffiles/ima_fin_e.pdf.

13. Mayumi Negishi, “High Waves Hamper MOX Fuel Delivery,” Japan Times, September 22, 1999; IPFM, “Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Imports/Use/Storage in Japan,” April 2015, http://fissilematerials.org/blog/MOXtransportSummary10June2014.pdf.

14. “Opposition to Dangerous MOX Fuel.”

15. IPFM, “Mixed-Oxide (MOX) Fuel Imports/Use/Storage in Japan.”

16. Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, “MOX Transport,” n.d., http://corecumbria.co.uk/mox-transport/ (accessed September 18, 2018).

17. Edwin S. Lyman, “The Impact of the Use of Mixed-Oxide Fuel on the Potential for Severe Nuclear Plant Accidents in Japan,” Nuclear Control Institute, October 1999, http://www.nci.org/j/japanmox.htm.

18. “The MOX Fuel Conundrum,” Japan Times, July 26, 2013.

19. Aileen Mioko Smith, interview with with Hina Acharya, Kyoto, Japan, January 6, 2018.

20. “Japan: MOX Program to Restart at Takahama,” Nuclear Monitor, No. 607 (April 2004), https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/607/japan-mox-program-restart-

21. “BNFL Execs Bid to Drum Up Trust and New Deals,” Japan Times, September 20, 2000.

22. “Another MOX Scandal?” Nuclear Monitor, No. 542 (January 2001), https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/542/another-mox-scandal.

23. “Tepco Not to Be Punished in Reactor Crack Scandal,” Japan Times, September 15, 2001.

24. CNIC, “Japanese Nuclear Power Companies’ Pluthermal Plans,” March 2007, http://www.cnic.jp/english/topics/cycle/MOX/pluthermplans.html.

25. David Cyranoski, “Referendum Stalls Japanese Nuclear Power Strategy,” Nature, No. 411 (June 14, 2001), p. 729; “Niigata Village Says No to MOX Fuel Use at Nuke Plant,” Japan Times, May 28, 2001. “刈羽村住民投票でプルサーマル反対が多数,” May 28, 2001, http://www.kisnet.or.jp/nippo/nippo-2001-05-28-1.html.

26. “MOX Fuel Unloaded in Niigata; Security Tight as British Ship Docks at Tepco Nuclear Plant,” Kyodo, March 25, 2001.

27. Areva, “Reference Document 2006,” April 27, 2007, http://www.sa.areva.com/mediatheque/liblocal/docs/groupe/Document-reference/2006/pdf-doc-ref-06-va.pdf.

28. Japanese Office of Atomic Energy Policy, “The Status Report of Plutonium Management in Japan - 2017,” July 31, 2018, http://www.aec.go.jp/jicst/NC/about/kettei/180731_e.pdf.

29. This excludes the small amount of plutonium in experimental MOX-fuel assemblies inserted in two reactors in the 1980s.

30. “Compliance with New Nuclear Power Plant Regulatory Standards,” Kakujoho, http://kakujoho.net/npt/aec_pu2.html#moxstts; Masafumi Takubo, email to author, July 3, 2018. See Japan Nuclear Safety Institute, Licensing Status for the Japanese Nuclear Facilities,” August 10, 2018, http://www.genanshin.jp/english/facility/map/.

31. “Decommissioning Plan for Tokai Approved,” World Nuclear News, June 13, 2018, http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/WR-Decommissioning-plan-for-Tokai-approved-1306184.html; Masafumi Takubo, “Closing Japan’s Monju Fast Breeder Reactor: The Possible Implications,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 73, No. 3 (May 2017): 183.

32. Gregory S. Jones, Reactor-Grade Plutonium and Nuclear Weapons: Exploding the Myths (Arlington, VA: Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, 2018).

33. Japanese Office of Atomic Energy Policy, “The Status Report of Plutonium Management in Japan - 2017.” Japan’s plutonium in the UK will rise by another 0.6 metric tons by 2019, after proper crediting of additional plutonium separated from Japanese spent fuel by reprocessing in the United Kingdom.

34.  JAEC, “The Basic Principles on Japan’s Utilization of Plutonium,” July 31, 2018, http://www.aec.go.jp/jicst/NC/iinkai/teirei/3-3set.pdf.

35.  UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), “Plutonium Deal Brings Security Benefits,” July 3, 2014, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/plutonium-deal-brings-security-benefits--2; DECC, “Statement by Michael Fallon: Management of Overseas Owned Plutonium in the UK,” April 23, 2013, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/management-of-overseas-owned-plutonium-in-the-uk; UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, “Management of Overseas Owned Plutonium in the UK,” HLWS425, January 19, 2017, https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Lords/2017-01-19/HLWS425/.

36. “MOX imports have cost at least ¥99.4 billion, much higher than uranium fuel,” Energy Monitor Worldwide, February 23, 2015.


Alan J. Kuperman is an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP). Hina Acharya is a 2018 graduate of the school’s Master of Global Policy Studies program. This article draws on her chapter, “MOX in Japan: Ambitious Plans Derailed,” in the NPPP’s recent book Plutonium for Energy? Explaining the Global Decline of MOX. Research for this article was supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


Why Japan needs a different plan to attain its stated goal of reducing its plutonium stockpile.

Japan Expands Ballistic Missile Defenses

September 2018
By Monica Montgomery

Japan has advanced its planned ballistic missile defense system in recent months by launching a new destroyer and securing a contract for the Aegis Ashore system, despite rising costs and reduced tensions with North Korea that could encourage opposition to the plans.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listen to a briefing on the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air missile system while visiting the Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces' Camp Narashino on January 18. (Photo: Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)Japan operates a ballistic missile defense system, with Aegis-equipped warships providing the first line of defense against an incoming missile during its midcourse trajectory. Japan’s second line of defense is its Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) mobile systems that can be deployed to protect high-value targets, such as military bases and cities, using hit-to-kill interceptors during the terminal phase of an incoming missile’s flight path.

The planned expansion includes adding a land-based Aegis system and additional sea-based capabilities.

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force launched the first of two modified Atago-class destroyers on July 30. The warship Maya is equipped with the Aegis Baseline J7 combat system and the Northrop Grumman AN/SPQ-9B radar system.

In addition, Japan operates four Kongo-class destroyers with Aegis missile defense systems and Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IA interceptors. The other modified Atago-class destroyer is to be launched in March 2021, and Japan is planning to have two more Aegis-equipped destroyers, bringing the total fleet of ballistic missile defense destroyers to eight by 2021.

Japan plans to arm all its missile defense warships with SM-3 Block IIA interceptors after testing by the United States and Japan is completed. The new interceptors have a greater range and are designed to intercept missiles traveling at faster speeds. But the Block IIA missile has failed two of three intercept tests, most recently on Jan. 31. (See ACT, March 2018.)

In another development, the Japanese Defense Ministry announced on July 30 that it has chosen the Lockheed Martin Solid State Radar (SSR) for its two Aegis Ashore batteries. These are a new, less powerful variant of Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Discrimination Radar, which is being designed for the United States. Japan selected the Lockheed Martin system over Raytheon’s Air and Missile Defense Radar, citing the SSR’s better overall system performance and lower life-cycle costs.

The decision is seen as risky by some because the Japanese government chose an unproven developmental radar over one with demonstrated operational capability. Additionally, the defense ministry now estimates the system acquisition cost will be $3.6 billion, up from the $2 billion original estimate. The higher cost is attributed to the choice of the SSR system and the SM-3 Block IIA interceptors.

 The Japanese cabinet approved funds for two Aegis Ashore systems in December 2017. Japan’s move to beef up its ballistic missile defenses is largely seen as a response to the North Korean threat. Although North Korea currently has a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests as a part of its diplomacy with the Trump administration and South Korea, Pyongyang in recent years conducted multiple tests over the Sea of Japan, with some missiles splashing down in the Japanese exclusive economic zone. But state-run Korean Central News Agency said on Aug. 9 that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ballistic missile defense push while citing a North Korean threat is “no more than [a] reckless military move to attain its sinister political aims.”

The Aegis Ashore expansion may also draw criticism from China, which has objected to the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea. Seoul says the system is a response to the North Korean missile threat, but China considers the deployment a provocative move and claims the system could contribute to U.S. detection of Chinese missiles.

With regard to Japan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in December 2017 that “due to what happened in history, Japan’s moves in the fields of military and security are always followed closely by its Asian neighbors” and that “the missile defense issue should be handled cautiously.”

Additionally, Russia conveyed its concern over Japan’s planned Aegis Ashore system, calling it an expansion of U.S. missile defenses in the Asia-Pacific region, during in a July 31 meeting between Japanese and Russian defense and foreign ministers.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cites the North Korean missile threat.


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