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U.S. ‘not at all concerned’ by Japan’s nuclear stockpiles

The United States says it has no reason to be concerned by Japan’s stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium, even as China voices strong objections to the nuclear reserve.

Responding to questions from reporters, Joseph Macmanus, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations nuclear agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said there were no indications that Japan plans to develop nuclear weapons or was not prepared to eventually hand over the material.

“We are not at all concerned that the plutonium is either being handled improperly or that there isn’t a plan for disposition,” he said.

Japan’s supply of nuclear material touched off controversy last week after reports came out that the Japanese government strongly resisted plans to return the more than 650 pounds of plutonium – enough to make up to 50 nuclear bombs – to the United States. The same report did say that Japan eventually relented.

Meanwhile, an unnamed official in Japan’s Education Ministry told Reuters that the U.S. and Japan will likely reach an agreement over what to do with the material later this month at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands.

But China, which possesses nuclear weapons of its own, responded saying they were “extremely concerned.”

“For a long time, Japan has not returned the stored nuclear materials to the relevant country, which has caused concern in the international community,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

The plutonium was originally given to Japan by the United States in the 1960s for research purposes.

That material, however, is not the only concern for China and other countries both in Asia and abroad. Earlier in the year, the Obama administration voiced concern over Japanese plans to reopen a massive nuclear-fuel reprocessing plant.

Japanese officials say the plant is for peaceful purposes only, but it is capable of producing enough plutonium to build as many as 2,000 bombs annually. At the time, the U.S. warned Japan that the move would seriously impact its neighbors, including China and South Korea.

Meanwhile, tensions between Japan and China continue to be spurred on by territorial disputes over a group of uninhabited islands that both countries claim.

In November, China set up an air defense identification zone around the islands and demanded that planes notify the Chinese government before entering the area, which set off a quick, international rebuke.

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