Letter to President Regarding the Production of Fissile Material in East Asia

Letter to the President from Congressmen Brad Sherman, Jeff Fortenberry, and Adam Schiff regarding the dangers of reprocessing in East Asia. The letter references an earlier letter to Department of Energy Secretary Moniz regarding U.S. efforts to forego the fabrication of plutonium fuel from decommissioned nuclear weapons, available here.

Jun 10, 2016
AUTHOR: Brad Sherman, Jeff Fortenberry, and Adam Schiff

 Dear Mr President,

We believe that your visit to Hiroshima in connection with the upcoming G7 meeting presents an important opportunity to impress upon key leaders in the East Asia region, and indeed the rest of the world, the continued United States commitment to nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. Efforts to discourage the production of fissile material usable for nuclear weapons is a critical element of our work to prevent both state proliferation and the unthinkable — the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists.
Last October, we wrote you suggesting a pause in new spent fuel reprocessing in East Asia. Reprocessing by any of the three countries currently contemplating such efforts — Japan, the Republic of Korea, and China — would likely lead to all three states extracting and stockpiling plutonium. The resulting build-up of plutonium — perhaps several thousands of bombs worth — would be a tempting target for terrorists and pose a proliferation risk in a tense region.
Since then, your Administration has decided, for reasons of cost, to forgo US efforts to fabricate plutonium fuel from decommissioned nuclear weapons. A number of former high-ranking officials¹ who had major nonproliferation responsibilities in several Administrations supported this decision as giving us the credibility to discourage new reprocessing in East Asia.
While Japan has decided to delay once again the opening of its large-scale commercial reprocessing plant at Rokkasho until 2018, it remains committed to the plant’s eventual operation. China is contemplating the purchase of a large reprocessing facility from the same French firm that constructed Rokkasho. South Korea has also expressed desire to develop reprocessing capabilities.
Secretary Moniz expressed the view that the United States does not favor large scale reprocessing and that a potential decision by China to move forward with commercial scale reprocessing “certainly isn’t a positive in terms of nonproliferation.”² 
We agree with that assessment and believe it is applicable to all three countries. We urge that you use the opportunity presented by your visit to Japan to express strong support for the concept of a pause in any efforts by countries in the region to deploy new reprocessing facilities or commence any new effort to separate plutonium from spent fuel at existing facilities.
One of the best ways to safeguard the most dangerous nuclear materials, including of course separated plutonium, is to not create them in the first place. Thank you for your efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to secure nuclear materials, and for your consideration of our request.
Brad Sherman, Member of Congress

Jeff Fortenberry, Member of Congress
Adam Schiff, Member of Congress

1 See letter (attached) signed by, among others, Gary Samore, Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction; Robert Einhorn, former Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation; Robert Gallucci, former Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs; Henry Sokolski, former Department of Defense Deputy for Nonproliferation Policy.
2 China’s Plans to Recycle Nuclear Fuel Raise Concerns, The Wall Street Journal, March 17, 2016, available at http://www.wsj.comiarticles/chinas-plans-to-recycle-nuclear-fuel-raise-conccrns-1458228504