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Uncertainty over tests stymies India nuclear pact

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Kyodo News

Torn between economic gains and a national credo of abolishing nuclear weapons as the only country struck by them, Japan faces a dilemma in negotiating a civilian nuclear cooperation pact with India.

The three-day visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once again highlights Japan’s ambivalent feelings toward the proposed pact, which would allow Japanese firms to export nuclear power generation technology and related equipment to India.

Tokyo has been negotiating a legal framework for peaceful use and transfer of nuclear-power technologies with other energy-hungry emerging nations, but India’s case is unique because it has nuclear weapons but refuses to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The launch of bilateral talks in June on the nuclear cooperation accord triggered an immediate outcry from survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

But at the same time, Japan has been trying for years to pull itself out of the economic doldrums by boosting growth through exports of infrastructure, including nuclear power plants, amid intensifying international competition for large projects.

Tokyo also has a diplomatically strategic reason for strengthening ties with India, because the fast-growing Asian democracy could serve as a counterbalance to China, which has recently adopted an increasingly confrontational stance toward Japan over territorial and other issues.

Kumao Kaneko, a former diplomat who served as the first chief of the Foreign Ministry’s nuclear energy division, said Japan should lend a helping hand to India because the South Asian country craves atomic power to meet growing domestic energy demands. India plans to build 20 new nuclear power plants by 2020.

“Without Japan’s technology, new nuclear power generation projects in India would not start,” Kaneko said. “Refusing to offer support to India when it really needs it could ruin Japan’s credibility as a friend of India. As the saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed.”

India, which has developed its own nuclear reactors with technologies transferred from the United States and Canada, concluded civil nuclear cooperation pacts with other countries, including the United States and France, after a consensus was reached in September 2008 by the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The NSG consensus allows New Delhi to start trading nuclear technologies for civilian nuclear programs with 46 member states. It was reached as India committed to strengthening the nonproliferation regime and maintaining a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing voluntarily.

However, General Electric Co. of the United States and Areva SA of France cannot proceed with their projects to build reactors in India because they need reactor vessels made by Japan Steel Works Ltd., which accounts for nearly 80 percent of global supplies of forged nuclear reactor parts.

Therefore, Washington and Paris have urged Tokyo to sign the civilian nuclear pact with New Delhi so they can use Japanese technology.

In a move believed to be intended to assuage critics of the pact, Japanese negotiators demand the accord include a clause qualifying that Tokyo will halt nuclear energy cooperation if New Delhi conducts a nuclear test. But India has so far refused such a proposal.

Kaneko pointed out that India did not agree with the United States to include such a clause in their bilateral civil nuclear pact, leaving Washington to stipulate measures on halting cooperation in the event India carried out a nuclear test in a U.S. domestic law.

“India thinks incorporating such a clause in the nuclear pact would violate its sovereignty and Japan will not likely achieve what the United States failed to do,” he said.

Instead, Kaneko proposed that the envisioned accord present a message to heed the antinuclear sentiment of A-bomb survivors. He also expected negotiations on the pact between Japan and India to take more than a year to conclude due to the expected rough going.

A Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Japan could respond to any nuclear test held by India by halting cooperation in line with domestic law.

But it would be unrealistic for Japan to withdraw materials and technologies offered to India once reactor construction is completed, the METI official said. Some critics say halting cooperation after a nuclear test is insufficient.

Even if Japan declines nuclear cooperation with India, more suppliers will surface in the future, he said.

“In that case, there will be global supply chains without Japanese makers and our nuclear power industry will be put in a disadvantageous position,” the official said.

A Foreign Ministry official, who declined to be named, also said Japan will be able to seek tighter regulation of India’s nuclear program through a bilateral nuclear pact.