On 19th January this year Japan and IAEA signed an agreement regarding the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant to be appended to their Safeguards Agreement. The document is not publicly available, but it covers details relating to inspections of the facility, etc. Following on from this, on 17th March Japan notified the US Government of its wish to add Rokkasho to the list of reprocessing facilities accepted under the reprocessing agreement between the two countries. This agreement and the list of acceptable reprocessing facilities are in the Implementing Agreement made pursuant to the Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of Japan and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. On the same day they obtained the approval of the US Government.
The Japanese Government takes the view that, as a result of this, "Active tests* are now possible under the Japan-America Agreement." (June 4 Cabinet Reply to a question by Tetsuo Inami, Member of the House of Representatives.) However, it believes that "the agreement of the parties to the Japan-America Agreement and other such Agreements is not necessary" for the uranium tests*. Other countries with which Japan has nuclear energy agreements that are mentioned in the Cabinet Reply are Australia and Canada. The necessary formalities haven't been completed with these countries, but the Japanese government doesn't expect that they will take long.
However, even if Rokkasho gets the go ahead in a formal sense, the spirit of the IAEA safeguards system is being treated with contempt. In a paper given at the 2001 Meeting of the Japan Chapter of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, Toru Haginoya made the following comment. "The most important technical objective of the [IAEA] safeguards system is 'the timely detection of the diversion of a Significant Quantity'. Unfortunately, I have never seen any paper that claims that 'the timely detection of a Significant Quantity' is possible in the case of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. Furthermore, when this question is put to the IAEA and to people involved in the safeguard process in Japan, no clear response is provided."
A Signficant Quantity (1 SQ) of plutonium is 8kg. Haginoya calculates that, based on 1987 IAEA standards, a diversion of as much as 263.2kg could go undetected at Rokkasho. Based on H. Aigner et al International Target Values 2000 for Measurement Uncertainties in Safeguarding Nuclear Materials (STR-327 April 2001), which takes into account technological advances since then, the figure comes down to around 50kg, but this still means that a diversion of over 6 SQ worth of plutonium might escape detection.
To give a concrete example, take the Tokai Reprocessing Plant, which commenced operations in 1981. Since then, while 1000 tons of spent fuel have been reprocessed, the difference between the plutonium that went in as spent fuel and the plutonium that came out is over 200 kilograms. Of this around 60 kilograms is completely unaccounted for. The plan is to reprocess 800 tons of spent fuel per year at Rokkasho, so one would expect a much larger discrepancy to emerge there than at Tokai.
So what are they thinking about when they say that safeguards are in place for Rokkasho?