Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
U.S. Worried Over Japanese Nuclear Facilities' Security, Cables Reveal
Recently leaked diplomatic dispatches detail U.S. worries that Japan has not seriously addressed the protection of its civilian atomic installations from potential terrorist assaults, the Asahi Shimbun reported on Tuesday (see GSN, Feb. 10).
While Japan recognized the danger posed by such terrorist groups as al-Qaeda, officials were cautious about agreeing to a plan from Washington to provide private data about the nation's atomic sites.
Dispatches from U.S. Embassy officials in Japan provided by the transparency group WikiLeaks reveal the United States was principally focused on the defenses at Japanese facilities rather than safeguards to prevent an atomic crisis following a natural disaster such as the March earthquake and tsunami that severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (see GSN, May 9).
A U.S. official dealing with research and other issues issues was permitted to view a terrorism response exercise at the Mihama atomic rnergy site in Fukui prefecture in November 2005. A dispatch describing the drill said the Japanese government "is beginning to recognize that external threats do exist to its 54 units scattered throughout the country."
The cable, though, was critical of the terrorism drill's use of a prearranged scenario. "[The] drill did not test the operator's security response to the terrorist attack on the plant," the dispatch stated.
In a September 2006 drill in Ibaraki prefecture, according to another document, certain officials had obtained the scenario document and select citizens from the area were aware of the timing of the event.
State Department officials who specialized in atomic power issues noted in February 2007 that armed security personnel were not posted at atomic installations in Tokai in Ibaraki prefecture. Japanese officials responded that "the plant operator, local police and national police determine the threat for individual plants and the necessity for armed guards," according to a leaked cable of the meeting.
"There was not a sufficient threat to justify armed police at the (Tokai) site," Japanese Science Ministry officials told the U.S. delegation.
The Tokai facility is "a major plutonium storage site," according to the leaked dispatch. The fissile material could be used in manufacturing a nuclear weapon.
Science Ministry officials also told the U.S. delegation the Japanese constitution forbids the government from conducting mandatory screenings on the country's labor force, even those personnel employed at atomic energy facilities. The Japanese officials did acknowledge Tokyo might be "unofficially" conducting background checks.
A visiting U.S. team was said in a September 2007 cable to have raised the issue of swapping classified data regarding atomic energy sites and safeguarding sensitive substances, according to the newspaper. Tokyo's delegation, though, appeared disinterested in the idea; one Japanese official said parliament would have to approve the information swap and that it "would be difficult to get through," the dispatch said.
A February 2008 dispatch detailed a conversation with another Japanese official who said Tokyo would want to go forward cautiously and "first to identify specific issues on which Japan would like to share information, and then to discuss the appropriate means to share that information. Identification of limited ares of information sharing might not require [parliament] approval" (Asahi Shimbun, May 10).
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