Some supporters of maintaining Japan's atomic energy capacity say the resource would be key if the nation ever decided to produce a nuclear arsenal, Reuters reported on Monday (see GSN, March 5, 2010).
Japan was subjected to two U.S. atomic strikes that brought World War II to a close in 1945. Today, the island nation holds to strict principles against the production or possession of nuclear weapons. However, the informal prohibition against even talking about building a strategic deterrent has decayed amid worries about North Korea's nuclear arms efforts and the growing strength of China's armed forces.
The 2011 crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power site, though, has led to widespread reconsideration of the use of atomic energy in Japan. The six-reactor site was damaged by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that left more than 20,000 people missing or dead in Japan. Tens of thousands of residents near the facility were evacuated in the face of radiation releases on a level not seen since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster (see GSN, Jan. 10).
Only three of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors are operational today; the others are undergoing safety reviews.
"There are people who say that one reason we need nuclear power is in order to have the latent capability for nuclear weapons, from the perspective of national defense," according to economist Tatsuo Hatta, who serves on an expert commission considering the nation's energy operations.
"I think that is one idea but if that is the case, we don't need so many reactors. And the objective should be made clear," he said. "This is not something that should be debated by the Trade Ministry."
Former Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba has noted the importance of an atomic energy infrastructure in keeping the nation ready to produce nuclear arms in short order, if it chose to do so.
"If we had to start from basic research, it would take five to 10 years to create nuclear weapons, but since we have nuclear power technology, it would be possible to create nuclear weapons in the relatively short time of several months to a year," he stated in a 2011 magazine piece. "And our country has globally leading-edge rocket technology, so if we put these two together, we can achieve effective nuclear weapons in a relatively short time."
Said Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano: "Ishiba isn't saying that Japan should have nuclear weapons but that having the potential is very important to stay in the big leagues and if you don't want to be pushed around by China."
Beijing could become even more concerned about Tokyo's intentions if there is talk of turning Japan's atomic systems and 45 metric tons of plutonium toward weapons purposes.
There is already skepticism about Japan's need for plants to recycle used nuclear fuel if the purpose is solely peaceful, according to Reuters.
Most Japanese citizens are not likely to support a nuclear-weapon program, according to issue specialists.
"Japan is the only country that suffered from nuclear weapons. It is a sort of shared understanding that we should use nuclear power only for peaceful uses," said commission member Masakazu Toyoda, who leads the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan.
"If Japan considers arming itself with nuclear weapons, then it will find itself in the same situation as Iran and North Korea," according to Jitsuro Terashima, chairman of the Japan Research Institute and a commission member. "Japan's isolation would quickly deepen" (Linda Sieg, Reuters, Feb. 13).
Some supporters of maintaining Japan's atomic energy capacity say the resource would be key if the nation ever decided to produce a nuclear arsenal, Reuters reported on Monday.