Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Translation of the Sankei article on the Japanese nuclear industry

Okay, I finally broke down and started my own blog on the various things I bother the good folks at and the Arms Control Wonk about on a regular basis. That and I need to an excuse to practice my Japanese ahead of an exit exam at GWU in March. To inaugurate this blog, I will have reproduced the rough translation of a December 25th article from the Sankei Shimbun on the Japanese government's recent report on that country's nascent nuclear weapons capacity. Here is the bulk of the item: "Japanese Government Internal Report Says 3-Plus Years and 200-300 Billion Yen to Build Nuke Prototype" December 12, 2006, 2:38am
According to a government report released on the 24th of December, it would take 3-5 years to build a prototype of a miniaturized nuclear warhead. The report “The Domestic Potential for Nuclear Weapons” says that although Japan has the uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities needed, technical limitations would make it difficult to divert them to weapons production. A discussion of revising the first part of Japan’s “Three Non-Nuclear Principles” has emerged since the North Korean nuclear test the report confirmed the reality that hypothetical Japanese nuclear weapons would be starting from ‘square one.’ The report was proposed on the 20th of September. It went forward after the North Korean nuclear test on the 9th of October. It would take at least 3 years and 200-300 billion yen to mobilize the hundreds of technical needed to build a miniature nuclear warhead prototype. This would be good enough for a hypothetical nuclear-armed Japan to check North Korean nuclear threats alone. The ingredients of nuclear weapons would include uranium for the type of bomb used over Hiroshima or plutonium for the type of bomb used over Nagasaki. The Japanese Atomic Energy Agency (Ibaraki Prefecture) and the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facility (Aomori Prefecture) can do both uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel reprocessing. However, using their light water reactors will not yield weapons-grade plutonium. Enrichment facilities only manufacture low-enriched uranium that is only enriched to 3% and the facilities frequently experience mechanical problems, so expanding enrichment would be difficult. According to the government report, Japan would have to construct a graphite-moderated breeder reactor and expand its reprocessing facilities to produce enough Pu 239 needed for a nuclear arsenal. It would also be difficult for Japan to miniaturize nuclear warheads because there are many gaps in the technical knowledge required for development.
The results of this report don't really surprise me too much. Sure, Japan has dozens of nuclear power plants with some limited plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment capacity, but it is only enough to support the country's reactor requirements. The large-scale production facilities needed to produce fissile material efficiently can't just be dreamed up over night, even for the technically adroit Japanese.

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