Problematic nuclear accord

The Abe administration wants the Diet in its next session (starting Jan. 24) to finalize a civil nuclear accord that Tokyo and Ankara signed in May 2013 during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Turkey.

The accord is problematic because, in theory, it would enable Turkey to reprocess spent nuclear fuel — which would result in the extraction of uranium and plutonium. Because plutonium can be used to make nuclear weapons, curbing access to it is key to global efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation.

The accord was part of Abe’s attempt to deepen relations with Turkey, a major player in the Middle East and Central Asia that is enjoying rapid economic development. Abe visited the country in May and October 2013.

Earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Tokyo, and the two leaders agreed among other things to start negotiations, hopefully before the end of this year, for a bilateral economic partnership agreement.

Abe’s sales activities led to a $22 billion plan under which ATMEA, a joint venture of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. of Japan and Areva SA of France, will build four 1.11 million-kW pressurized lighter water reactors at Sinop, a northern city bordering the Black Sea. A clause in the nuclear accord states that Turkey can enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel if Japan and Turkey agree in writing on a specific instance of enrichment or reprocessing.

The Japan-Turkey accord contrasts starkly with similar civil nuclear accords that Japan signed with the United Arab Emerates, Jordan and Vietnam. Those accords clearly state that the countries cannot enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

When the accord was being drawn up, Turkey reportedly requested in strong language that Japan insert a clause allowing it to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

After the Liberal Democratic Party’s foreign affairs committee raised concerns about this, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told the Lower House foreign affairs committee in November that Japan has no intention of allowing Turkey to enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel. If so, why did Japan agree to insert such a clause in the nuclear accord with Turkey in the first place?

This agreement also raises the possibility that Japan may violate the U.S. nonproliferation regime. Under a civilian nuclear accord between the United States and Japan, Japan may not carry out uranium enrichment or spent nuclear fuel reprocessing or export related technologies to a third country without U.S. permission.

Even if the current administration takes the position that it will not allow Turkey to enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel, there is no guarantee that future Japanese administrations will maintain this stance.

The Diet should not accept any agreement that permits Turkey to use Japanese technology to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

Apart from the reprocessing issue, there is the fact that Turkey is a quake-prone country like Japan. Memories of a 1999 quake in Turkey that killed more than 17,000 people are still fresh.

Japan must consider how and whether it can assume liability for damage and casualties if a severe nuclear accident occurs in one of the four reactors at Sinop.