Rhetoric belies atomic policy

by Eric Johnston

HIROSHIMA — At Friday’s ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the city’s mayor, Tadatoshi Akiba, urged Japan to do its bit to realize a nuclear weapons-free world.

Suggestions ranged from hosting a regional meeting in Japan to push for this goal to recording the stories of the hibakusha so audiences worldwide can be educated about the horrors of atomic weapons.

But amid the warnings of the dangers of the weapons and calls to prevent further nuclear proliferation internationally, little was heard about proliferation risks associated with Japan’s support for exporting its nuclear power technology to nations that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or its pursuit of a plutonium program at the Monju fast-breeder, and construction of the Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant.

The hibakusha and antinuclear activists have long charged that these nuclear power policies contradict the official rhetoric that Japan is making every effort to support nuclear nonproliferation, and, in fact, increase the likelihood sensitive technology or atomic fuel will fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorists.

Of particular concern is Japan’s effort to secure a nuclear cooperation agreement with India, which is not a party to the NPT regime. On June 28, Tokyo entered into negotiations with India to export nuclear power technology and equipment. In addition to antinuclear groups, Akiba indicated to Hiroshima media last month he opposes the deal, although he did not mention it at Friday’s ceremony. But five hibakusha organizations in Nagasaki have also formally protested it.

“If Japan concludes a nuclear cooperation agreement with India on the grounds that other countries, including the U.S., Russia and France, have done so, or because it is in Japan’s commercial interest, it will become impossible to prevent nuclear proliferation,” said the Tokyo-based Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, following the June announcement by Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s government that it will pursue a deal.

Similar concerns exist over a 2009 nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia, which has been signed but not yet ratified by the Diet.

“Russia’s military and civil nuclear programs are not clearly separated and no Russian nuclear facilities are subject to IAEA safeguards. In other words, Japan is willing to take the risk that its nuclear exports could find their way into military programs (Russia itself, or Iran via Russia) for the sake of commercial gain,” said CNIC international liaison officer Philip White.

Also, not only antinuclear activists but also nuclear physicists and international arms control experts have warned that Monju, the Fukui-based, plutonium-fueled fast-breeder reactor, and the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture designed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, greatly increases proliferation risks.

The government says it is working closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspects both sites, to ensure the risks are minimized.

Monju was shut down after a sodium leak and fire in December 1995, and wasn’t restarted until May, just as delegates to the NPT were meeting in New York. NGOs there warned Monju would add to Japan’s plutonium stockpile, which is at 47 tons worldwide, including about 10 tons in Japan and the rest stored at facilities in Europe.

In the case of Rokkasho, which is now years behind schedule, an estimated 8 tons of plutonium will be separated annually from spent nuclear fuel when the plant becomes fully operational.

The government says the deal with India has the support of the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which was established to ensure that nuclear power technologies would not, through international trade, be diverted for use in weapons, and that India has convinced Japan it is committed to nonproliferation. In the case of the deal with Russia, Japan will send technologies to an IAEA selected site, which the government says will prevent proliferation.

At Friday’s ceremony in Hiroshima, though, some said that regardless of official assurances and international monitoring, there was a contradiction between the government vow to play lead in nonproliferation efforts and plan to export nuclear power technologies and pursue domestic nuclear power policies that create more plutonium.

“The Kan government needs to rethink international deals to export nuclear technology, especially to nations like India. Japan can show true leadership in nonproliferation not just with its three nonnuclear principles . . . but by banning nuclear technology exports and ending the Monju and Rokkasho programs,” said Masako Koyanagi, 54, a Hiroshima resident.