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Staff writer

Top leaders of Japan and the 15-nation European Union are expected to agree this month to pursue a bilateral treaty aimed at promoting cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Government sources said Monday the Japanese and EU leaders are likely to express hope at their meeting in Tokyo that an agreement will be reached as soon as possible, although they will not specify a target date.

The Japan-EU summit will be held immediately before the three-day summit of the Group of Eight major countries that starts July 21 in Okinawa. The G8 is the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia.

The Japan-EU summit will be attended by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, French President Jacques Chirac, and the European Commission President Romano Prodi. The European Commission is the Brussels-based, executive arm of the EU. France will hold the EU’s rotating six-month presidency during the second half of this year.

Negotiations on the nuclear pact were inaugurated in the spring of last year, and four rounds have been held by working-level officials.

The sources said that the pact would be signed between the Japanese government and Euratom, the EU organ in charge of nuclear energy matters.

The nuclear pact would promote bilateral cooperation in using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and ban the conversion of fissile materials for military use or their transfer to third-party countries.

Japan has already concluded similar pacts with several countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, Australia and Canada. Under these separate bilateral pacts, Japan purchases uranium from the U.S., Canada and Australia while commissioning Britain and France to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, the sources said.

In addition to Britain and France, Belgium and the Netherlands are commissioned to reprocess spent Japanese nuclear fuel. But Japan does not have nuclear pacts with Belgium and the Netherlands, the sources said.

Therefore, Japan must conclude a special administrative arrangement with Belgium and the Netherlands each time fuel-reprocessing is commissioned, the sources said.

“If Japan and the EU conclude a treaty on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, it would save Japan, Belgium and the Netherlands from a large amount of administrative costs,” one government source said. “The nuclear pact would benefit both Japan and the EU. Therefore, we want to conclude the pact as soon as possible.”

It remains unclear, however, how the Japan-EU nuclear pact would affect two existing pacts Japan has separately signed with Britain and France.