Tokyo / AFP
A nuclear transport vessel carrying a huge cache of plutoniumâ€”enough to produce 50 nuclear bombsâ€”to be returned to the US left a Japanese port on Tuesday afternoon.
The stockpile, provided by the United States, Britain and France decades ago for research purposes, is being shipped to the US as part of a bilateral storage deal.
Television footage by national broadcaster NHK showed containers being loaded on to the Britain-registered ship at a port in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo, close to where the highly-toxic substance has been stored, and the ship leaving the port.
The vessel carrying the 331 kilogrammes (730 pounds) of plutonium departed at about 3 pm (0600 GMT) under tight security guarded by patrol boats of the Japan Coast Guard, according to NHK.
The government â€œcannot revealâ€ the vesselâ€™s itinerary or any other details, an official said, but anti-nuclear campaign groups said it will take two months for the ship to arrive at a nuclear facility in South
A Japanese official said last week that the material will be disposed of in the US.
Five anti-nuclear groups, including Greenpeace, said in a joint statement on Tuesday released ahead of the vesselâ€™s departure that the shipment â€œexposes the failure of global plutonium reprocessing programmes and the threat from current Japanese nuclear policy.â€
The stockpile has caused disquiet among anti-nuclear campaigners and neighbouring countries given Japan has the know-how to produce a nuclear weaponâ€”even as it adamantly chooses not to.
The shipment comes ahead of a nuclear security summit in Washington from late this month, and is meant to underscore both countriesâ€™ commitment to nuclear non-proliferation.
But anti-nuclear campaigners including Greenpeace last week condemned the shipment as a â€œdangerous distractionâ€ from what they said is a far larger cache of roughly 10 tonnes of plutonium in the country.
In Beijing, Chinaâ€™s foreign ministry on Tuesday called on Japan to take further steps to reduce its stockpiles.
â€œIn addition, it should return large quantities of other materials, including weapons-grade plutonium and enriched uranium,â€ ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told
â€œThis is indeed a concern of the international community.â€
Japan traditionally has relied heavily on nuclear technology for its energy needs, though the aftermath of the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster led to all of the countryâ€™s reactors being shut down, with only a few coming back on line so far.