344. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Japanese Nuclear Talks—Negotiating Guidance

A Japanese delegation arrives for talks on June 2, 3 on the Tokai reprocessing issue. The memorandum at Tab A—prepared by the NSC Interagency Group on Proliferation—seeks your instructions for these talks.

This meeting is being held at Japanese insistence. The U.S. tried unsuccessfully to postpone it, feeling that very little has changed since the last round.2 Also, the timing of these talks is bad for us since, as you know, Vance has been discussing with Ambassador Gerard Smith the possibility of his assuming overall responsibility for proliferation negotiations. Smith’s presence would provide us with the negotiating expe[Page 881]rience that has been so noticeably lacking in previous proliferation talks.

This memorandum raises some issues not treated in the interagency paper, summarizes the views of the five lead agencies—State, Defense, ERDA, ACDA, and Schlesinger—and sets forth the options available to you.


Option 1: Permit reprocessing at Tokai on a provisional, experimental, multinational basis involving IAEA participation to test safeguards.

As you know, Tokai cannot operate commercially without a prior finding of safeguardability by the U.S. We wish to avoid such a finding since our policy is based on the premise that reprocessing by its very nature cannot be adequately safeguarded. This option assumes that Tokai could be allowed to operate experimentally without the finding of safeguardability. However there is some question as to whether that could in fact be done without opening the USG to legal challenge. State and ERDA both believe that Option 1 should be authorized as a fallback option available to the U.S. delegation should Option 3 and 2 prove non-negotiable. ACDA and Defense disagree. Schlesinger believes that it could be seen as inconsistent with domestic policies.

We expect that the Japanese will table some version of this option.

Option 2: Explore through expert consultation the feasibility of alter-ing Tokai so that it could operate to test both reprocessing and partial coprocessing.

As you know, partial coprocessing produces a mixed product of uranium and plutonium “spiked” with highly radioactive waste products which make the mixture dangerous and expensive to handle.

State believes that this should be the second allowed position. ERDA agrees. ACDA on the other hand feels that in some respects Option 2 is the least preferable option, in that—unlike Option 3—it establishes a precedent for reprocessing. Nor does it have the advantage of Option 1 of avoiding discrimination of treatment between the Japanese and FRG (which also has an experimental reprocessing plant).3

Option 3: Explore the possibility of operating Tokai only with a modified process that does not produce pure separated plutonium (i.e., some form of partial coprocessing).

All agencies agree that some version of this option is most preferable but they differ in their expectations of its acceptability to the Japanese. Defense and ACDA believe that only this option should be au[Page 882]thorized for negotiations, while State and ERDA believe that fallback options will be necessary.

Also, both Defense and ACDA believe that the U.S. should not offer to provide plutonium for the Japanese breeder, as proposed in the interagency paper. ACDA has calculated that reprocessing of the British-supplied fuel from the Magnox reactor at Tokai can provide sufficient plutonium to meet Japanese needs.

Schlesinger supports, but did not choose between, some version of Options 2 or 3.

Option 4: Seek Japanese agreement to defer running the Tokai plant for a fixed period of time, offering an incentives package in exchange.

All agencies agree that this option is likely to be non-negotiable.


All agencies are agreed that we should seek agreement on Option 3. They differ over whether we should offer to provide plutonium, and as to how far we should fallback in this meeting. Our strategy clearly should be to avoid the political damage that would result if the Japanese prove adamant against Option 3 and the talks reach a deadlock. At the same time, we want to avoid damaging U.S. non-proliferation objectives through showing so much flexibility (i.e., interest in Option 1) that the Japanese return home encouraged to maintain a rigid position.

Therefore, I recommend that the delegation be instructed to negotiate with a view to reaching agreement on Option 3, as modified to bar an offer of U.S.-supplied plutonium. In addition, if no progress can be made, and the Japanese propose some version of Option 1, the delegation should be instructed to respond by drawing them out on the details of their proposal. Our delegation should make it explicit however that the Japanese should not read into our response any expectation of eventual U.S. approval of such an option.


1. Our Basic Position

Option 3 (State, ERDA) ______


Option 3—no plutonium (DoD, ACDA, NSC) ______4

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2. Fallback—in order of increasing flexibility.

None (DoD, ACDA) ______

Respond to Option 1, but do not offer it (NSC) ______

Option 2 (State) ______

Option 2 and 1 (ERDA) ______5


Memorandum Prepared by the NSC Interagency Group on Proliferation6


Based on the President’s instructions to listen to Japanese views on how to deal with the pilot reprocessing plant at Tokai, U.S. representatives from State, ACDA and ERDA met with a visiting Japanese delegation between April 5 and 15. At the closing session it was agreed that another meeting would take place in which the U.S. and Japan would offer new proposals. This memorandum seeks your guidance and instructions for discussions scheduled on June 2 and 3 in Washington.

Japanese spokesmen consistently have stressed that because members of the European Community including West Germany can reprocess U.S.-origin fuel under the U.S.–EURATOM agreement with-out prior U.S. approval, while Japan cannot, Japan is effectively being discriminated against with regard to plutonium technology development and breeder-related research. In this context they have argued that under the U.S.-Japan agreement our rights are limited to allowing us to make a determination as to whether safeguards can effectively be applied to the facility and that it is inappropriate for the U.S. to employ them to force alterations in the Japanese program.

The Tokai issue has become one of the major campaign issues in the forthcoming Upper House elections. Prime Minister Fukuda is deeply concerned about the political consequences of this issue. In support of their case for proceeding to operate Tokai as initially intended,

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Japanese officials have referred to the President’s April 77 and May 28 press conference remarks citing Japan as one of the countries which have “a perfect right to go ahead and continue their own reprocessing.” They aver that the President reaffirmed that position in private discussions at London with Prime Minister Fukuda.9

Japanese spokesmen have proposed that resolution of the Tokai issue be placed in the context of a broad political understanding in which Japan would publicly support our nuclear fuel cycle evaluation program and our position on the security risks inherent in plutonium production. They also appear ready to support our conclusion that recycling plutonium for light water reactors is neither necessary nor economically justified. In return the United States would affirm that it does not intend to discriminate against Japan and, until such time as a viable alternative to a plutonium fuel cycle may be established, that it will grant approvals of transfers of spent fuel for reprocessing elsewhere, and avoid invoking provisions in the U.S.-Japanese bilateral agreement in such a way as to jeopardize Japan’s long-term nuclear strategy. Additionally the United States would seek to facilitate Japanese access to assured supplies of low enriched uranium and Japanese interest in becoming a supplier of enriched uranium.

United States non-proliferation policies have been articulated in the President’s public statements, PDM–8 decisions and proposed legislation. Any decision on Tokai must bear in mind not only the high political importance of that issue to the Japanese, but our own interests as well. A Tokai decision would be the first, by this Administration, on a foreign reprocessing facility. Although the facility, and its context, are somewhat unique, a U.S. decision could set precedents. The manner in which the U.S. exercises its rights could affect European Community willingness to renegotiate reprocessing rights they now have under the U.S.–EURATOM agreement for cooperation.

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There are four general options available under the existing circumstances:

Option 1: Permit reprocessing at Tokai on a provisional, experimental, multinational basis involving IAEA participation to test safeguards. Operating on the assumption that one of the outcomes of the fuel cycle evaluation program might be the continued use of plutonium in some nuclear programs, this Option would permit exploration of various safeguards, surveillance, containment and accounting procedures—and multilateral plant concepts—with a view to ensuring that any eventual reprocessing would be carried out only under the most stringent and acceptable conditions. The operations would not involve a determination that reprocessing plants can be safeguarded. They would be of limited duration, entail a limited number of reprocessing campaigns and would be cast explicitly in the context of test activities to cover the contingency that a restricted number of reprocessing facilities might emerge in the longer term. The derived plutonium would be employed in the Japanese advanced reactor programs.

This alternative would in all likelihood be acceptable to Japan, although it would beg the question of whether and when Tokai could operate commercially. However, it could establish a presumption that reprocessing is “safeguardable” and signal to other nations that national reprocessing is acceptable. Those risks could be reduced by explicitly linking the Tokai safeguards test activities to the possibility of the eventual emergence of a limited number of carefully sited multinational reprocessing facilities. Furthermore, the notion that improved surveillance, containment and accountability resolve the problem of plutonium stockpiling and abrogation of safeguards agreements would be explicitly rejected. This Option could be seen as inconsistent with the U.S. policy of indefinite deferral of commercial reprocessing. On the other hand, a major advantage of this option is that it reduces the pressure we will otherwise face to supply plutonium for Japan’s experimental breeder program.

Option 2: Explore through expert consultation the feasibility of altering Tokai so that it could operate to test both reprocessing and partial coprocessing. This option would involve reorienting the Tokai facility to test alternative methods of extracting value from spent fuel without separating plutonium such as partial coprocessing. In addition it would permit a limited amount of conventional reprocessing in order to derive information regarding safeguards accounting and surveillance techniques. Criteria would be established to assess the non-proliferation value of the selected technology. While this solution would permit some traditional experimental reprocessing, it would be compatible with our international nuclear fuel cycle evaluation program, give tangible international content to our evaluation program [Page 886] with leadership assumed by a major nuclear-user state, and enable the Japanese to start up the Tokai facility in a manner reasonably consistent with our non-proliferation objectives. Furthermore, a safeguardability determination would not be required.

Although there could be some political sensitivity in Japan, this is fairly close to what they already have proposed informally and should defuse the immediate issue between us. On the other hand, it must be recognized that this option would entail significant modification of Tokai without assuring the continuing operation of the plant or an outcome consistent with long-term nuclear planning and could be regarded by the Japanese as a threat to their fast breeder reactor program. To alleviate this concern, we believe this option would have to be accompanied by U.S. offers to make available to Japan, directly or indirectly, the plutonium necessary to the continuation of their breeder research program.

Option 3: Explore the possibility of operating Tokai only with a modified process that does not produce pure separated plutonium based on a program worked out through expert consultations with the United States. This alternative is similar to Option 2 but excludes the possibility of running Tokai in a manner that would produce pure plutonium. While partial coprocessing might be the selected alternative technology, final selection of an operating process would depend on the conclusions of an expert committee of Japanese and U.S. nuclear experts. As in Option 2 the non-proliferation value of the selected technology would be assessed according to specified criteria. In order to facilitate continuation of the Japanese advanced reactor research program, the U.S. would undertake to provide the required plutonium directly or indirectly and would facilitate Japanese access to ensured supplies of low enriched uranium and uranium feed.

The Japanese might regard this proposal as discriminatory in view of the fact that European countries are engaged in conventional reprocessing. The U.S. would have to facilitate Japanese access to plutonium for their experimental breeder program along the lines noted in Option 2. Depending on the quantities involved, our nuclear agreement might have to be modified for this purpose.

The U.S. also might be faced with Japanese requests to contribute substantially to the cost of the Tokai modification. The time needed to implement this Option (possibly as much as three years) and other related uncertainties is not likely to make it very appealing to the Japanese. However, this alternative could satisfy the letter and spirit of U.S. policy on deferring conventional reprocessing while offering the Japanese a technical solution for running the Tokai plant.

Option 4: Seek Japanese agreement to defer running the Tokai plant for a fixed period of time, offering an incentives package in exchange. Under this [Page 887] Option the U.S. would seek Japanese agreement to defer start-up of the Tokai plant during the evaluation period. In exchange, the U.S. would offer to provide the plutonium necessary for continuation of the Japanese advanced reactor programs, facilitate Japanese access to assured supplies of uranium ore, take measures to provide forward deliveries of low enriched uranium for the Japanese LWR reactors permitting the creation of a three-year advance LEU stockpile on Japanese territory. The Japanese asked for these assurances during the first round of discussions. If the circumstances so dictated, the U.S. would seek to facilitate Japanese participation through equity sharing or involvement in U.S. multinational enrichment facilities, or in enrichment activities elsewhere.

This Option would prevent the start-up of a new reprocessing facility but, as in Option 3, would require us to either deliver substantial quantities of plutonium or to approve sustained transfers of irradiated fuel from Japan to France or the United Kingdom for reprocessing and to authorize the return to Japan of separated plutonium. The latter course could lead to establishing undesirable precedents. This Option also might entail facilitating the sharing of technology for enrichment purposes. The Option would undoubtedly be received very negatively in Japan because of the political implications of Japan acceding to U.S. demands on Tokai as well as its obvious discriminatory features vis-a-vis West Germany and the European Community.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 4, PD–08 [1]. Confidential. Sent for action.
  2. The most recent round of discussions lasted from April 5–15.
  3. With the appointment of Spurgeon Keeny, who was the director of the Ford/Mitre study, [on nuclear power and issues] ACDA now has a strong expertise on this issue. ACDA’s comments, which raise several important points, are attached at Tab B for your information. [Footnote is in the original.] Tab B is not attached.
  4. Carter did not indicate which option he preferred.
  5. Carter did not indicate which option he preferred.
  6. Confidential.
  7. On April 7, Carter told reporters that he recognized that it “would be impossible, counterproductive, and ill-advised for us to try to prevent other countries that need it from having the capability to produce electricity from atomic power” and that the “one difference that has been very sensitive as it relates to, say, Germany, Japan, and others, is that they fear that our unilateral action in renouncing the reprocessing of spent fuels to produce plutonium might imply that we prohibit them or criticize them severely because of their own need for reprocessing. This is not the case. They have a perfect right to go ahead and continue with their own reprocessing efforts. But we hope they’ll join with us in eliminating in the future additional countries that might have had this capability evolve.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1977, pp. 581–586)
  8. On May 2, Carter told European journalists that he favored “the supply of adequate nuclear fuel to nations for power production” but was “heavily committed to the prevention of the capability of non-nuclear nations from developing explosives, atomic weapons.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1977, pp. 760–767)
  9. No record of this conversation has been found.