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Nuclear Arms Talk Accompanies Japan Atomic Power Phaseout Debate

Alongside the ongoing heated public discussion over whether to end atomic energy production in Japan, some prominent voices are arguing that the nation must maintain its latent potential to develop a nuclear deterrent, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday (see GSN, July 18).

In the continuing fallout from last year's devastating meltdowns of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, a number of well-placed individuals are calling for the nation to cease its reliance on atomic energy. Some hawkish politicians and intellectuals, though, are increasingly airing the view that shuttering the country's many nuclear facilities would send a bad defense message to the rest of the world.

"Having nuclear plants shows to other nations that Japan can make nuclear weapons," opposition legislator and ex-Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba said in an interview with AP

Japan famously is the only nation to ever be attacked with atomic weapons, which led to the development of a stridently anti-nuclear bomb public culture. Tokyo proclaims adherence to three self-imposed principles that ban the island nation from producing, possessing, or permitting the presence of nuclear weapons on Japanese territory.

Ishiba emphasized that his nation has no plans to produce atomic armaments. However, in light of regional neighbor North Korea's continued pursuit of a nuclear weapon, the Japanese government must send the signal that while it has the capacity to develop such a military asset, it opts not to, he said.

Other like-minded people in Japan contend that maintaining the latent ability to develop nuclear weapons also gives the country greater international influence.

Japan has a considerable nuclear material reprocessing program that has resulted in a massive stockpile of plutonium -- enough to fuel about 5,000 rudimentary bombs, according to previous reports (see GSN, June 1). 

Japanese legislators last month added "national security" as a goal of the nation's decades-old Atomic Energy Basic Law. The new wording, in addition to remarks by prominent voices such as Ishiba, have caused consternation among nuclear opponents.

"A group is starting to take a stand to assert the significance of nuclear plants as military technology, a view that has been submerged below the surface until now," according to the book, "Fukushima Project."

The Japanese government has not always been honest about its involvement with atomic weapons. In 2010, the government finally admitted the existence of a secret pact, struck in the 1960s, that allowed the United States to move nuclear-armed vessels through Japan without alerting Tokyo in violation of the nation's non-nuclear principles (see GSN, March 5, 2010).

In light of the past deceptiveness on the issue, some worry the government could use the "national security" language in the atomic energy law to order the establishment of a nuclear weapons program. Those who support the wording addition say the intention is only to address potential terror threats to atomic plants.

"If people keep saying (nuclear energy) is for having a nuclear weapons capability, that is not good. It's not wise," Japan Atomic Energy Commission Vice Chairman Tatsujiro Suzuki said. "Technically it may be true, but it sends a very bad message to the international community (Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press/Boston Globe, July 31).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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