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Game of Thrones: Nuclear Addition
Japan's "Nuke in the Basement"

Japan doesn’t have a nuclear bomb and doesn’t plan to develop one, but the country has so much uranium and plutonium stockpiled at home and abroad that making one wouldn’t take long at all. This “bomb in the basement” is seen by some Japanese leaders as an important deterrent against China and North Korea. Indeed, the Abe administration plans to open up a new “breeder” reactor that will produce even more plutonium than the country’s (currently offline) nuclear power system can handle. For China and even South Korea, this is an uncomfortable signal of Japan’s secret strength, prompting both countries to find ways to stay on the front foot.

“China seems to take the basement bomb seriously,” Robert Windrem reports in a lengthy and worthwhile read over at NBC News. Beijing is even more worried about a new fast-breeder plutonium reactor scheduled to open in Rokkasho in October. Breeder reactors produce more plutonium than they consume. Rokkasho will add to Japan’s already substantial stockpile of nuclear bomb-making material, which of course isn’t being used to make a bomb but could be. Japan has 9 tons of weapons-grade plutonium and 1.2 tons of enriched uranium stashed around the country, and a further 35 tons of plutonium stored in France and the UK. That’s enough for 5,000 nuclear bombs. Rokkasho will produce 8 tons of plutonium a year, which is enough for 1,000 Nagasaki-sized weapons.

“The hawks [in Japan] love nuclear weapons, so they like the nuclear power program as the best they can do,” a nonproliferation expert told NBC. “They don’t want to give up the idea they have, to use it as a deterrent.” But beyond deterring China, the stockpile also spurs South Korean interest in developing its own nuclear capabilities. According to a poll last year, 66 percent of South Koreans support the development of a nuclear weapons program. Mostly this is a reaction to North Korean belligerence, but relations with Japan are deteriorating quickly.

This is an area where US leadership and mediation is needed. South Korea and Japan are barely on speaking terms at the moment. That’s a situation that could get worse, especially if the Obama administration fails to work out the kinks in the Pivot.

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  • Fat_Man

    “That’s a situation that could get worse, especially if the Obama administration fails”

    And that is the problem. Their successes are a corporal’s guard. Their failures are a growing legion. And, they give every appearance of having a flat learning curve. Woe unto us.

  • Anthony

    If I were Japanese, I would strongly support the development of nuclear weapons because China has them. My view would be that we should only forswear developing our own weapons if China gives up theirs. Isn’t this common sense?

  • Anthony

    “Japan doesn’t have a nuclear bomb and doesn’t plan to develop one, but the country has so much uranium and plutonium stockpiled….” Combination of options and independence remains Japanese strength.

  • John Stephens

    Given the utter uselessness of the Obama Administration, and the unreliability of the American people for electing and re-electing him, the Japanese would be fools not to have a plan for their own defense.. They are producing the materials for building nuclear weapons, presumably they have some plan for using them. Capability implies intention, and I can’t blame them in the least for it.

  • lukelea

    Better the bomb in a nuclear submarine on the end of a missile if you really want to feel safe. If I were Japanese — or Taiwanese — I sure as heck wouldn’t wager my future on America’s nuclear umbrella. Would you?

    • Jim__L

      Depends on who wins in this year’s midterms, and who wins in 2016. I have hopes that America will make a comeback after this clown’s term is up.

  • Bill_Woods

    Some serious errors here:

    Rokkasho is a reprocessing plant, not a breeder reactor. It’ll produce mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for power reactors, not anything that could be used in a bomb. Japan does have one small breeder reactor but it’s been off-line for years.

    Japan doesn’t have “weapons-grade” plutonium — the spent fuel from its light-water reactors (LWR) contains ‘reactor-grade’ Pu. While it’s theoretically possible to make a bomb from it, nobody does. Rather weapons-grade Pu (93% Pu-239, 7% Pu-240+) is made in reactors dedicated for that purpose, changing the fuel every few months so that while some U-238 is converted into Pu-239, little of that is converted into non-fissile Pu-240. Japan’s LWRs normally run for a year; people would have noticed if they were often stopped prematurely to change fuel.

    Japan does have some uranium enrichment plants which could in principle be reconfigured to make weapons-grade uranium (90% U-235).

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