Nuclear Nonproliferation:

Japan's Shipment of Plutonium Raises Concerns About Reprocessing

RCED-93-154: Published: Jun 14, 1993. Publicly Released: Jul 7, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the shipment of plutonium from France to Japan, focusing on the shipment's: (1) physical security and safety; (2) costs to the United States; (3) impact on the world's plutonium stocks; and (4) effect on the 1988 Agreement for Cooperation Between the United States and Japan Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy.

GAO found that: (1) the 1988 agreement required Japan to meet certain security and safety conditions for plutonium shipments of U.S. origin, including submitting to the United States a travel plan detailing transportation arrangements, threat assessments, physical security risks, and contingency plans; (2) the United States has the authority to halt plutonium shipments only if it determines that the transfer poses a national security threat and will significantly increase the risk of nuclear proliferation; (3) the United States issued a letter of cooperation and assistance after six U.S. agencies reviewed the Japanese transportation plan and determined that it met the agreement's requirements; (4) the plutonium transport ship met or exceeded international standards for transporting nuclear materials; (5) the costs for monitoring the shipment's progress were minimal, since no equipment was deployed to support the shipment; (6) although the United States and Japan coordinated the shipment's transportation plan, negotiated safety improvements, and jointly monitored the ship's location, U.S. officials raised concerns over the shipment's vulnerability to terrorist attacks and safety, and its effect on future nuclear proliferation; (7) although the United States discourages reprocessing activities in other countries, it was willing to assist non-Western countries in developing alternative nuclear technologies; and (8) the 1988 agreement with Japan could impact future U.S. nuclear agreements by setting a precedent through which other countries are allowed to reprocess nuclear materials of U.S. origin and limiting Congress' ability to review and oversee other countries' nuclear reprocessing and transportation activities.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since the report was issued, Congress has considered no agreements for nuclear cooperation.

    Matter: In reviewing future agreements for nuclear cooperation between the United States and other countries, Congress may wish to consider the impact of an agreement's terms on Congress' opportunities for oversight and on the United States' nonproliferation goals.


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