The world’s largest plutonium separation complex, La Hague, France. Source: Wikimedia.
The world’s largest plutonium separation complex, La Hague, France. Source: Wikimedia.

August 9, 2022

The International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), based at Princeton's Program on Global Security, has released the new report Banning Plutonium Separation. The report argues for ending all separation of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, whether for nuclear weapons or for civilian purposes. The report is co-authored by Frank von Hippel and Masafumi Takubo, both members of IPFM. It builds on their book Plutonium: How Nuclear Power's Dream Fuel Became a Nightmare.

The report proposes that the still to be negotiated Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1993, which would ban the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons, should be broadened to include a ban on the production for plutonium for any use.

It details the economic and environmental costs of separating plutonium as a civilian reactor fuel and the danger that civilian separated plutonium could be diverted to nuclear weapons use. It calls for accelerating the end of plutonium separation and international coordination on efforts to dispose of existing stocks.

The 2016 IPFM report Banning the Production of Highly Enriched Uranium makes an analogous case for ending all production of HEU and for including such a ban in an FMCT.

The report was presented as part of an IPFM panel at the covid-delayed 50th-anniversary Review Conference of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty. The event on 9 August 2022 was the anniversary of the destruction in 1945 of the Japanese city of Nagasaki by a US plutonium-based nuclear bomb. The event was co-sponsored by the governments of Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, and Japan.

Frank von Hippel is a co-founder of the Program on Science and Global Security and founding co-chair of IPFM. Masafumi Takubo is a leading Japanese expert on nuclear-energy policy. Founded in January 2006, IPFM is an independent group of arms-control and nonproliferation experts from 17 countries, including nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states.