• Kyodo

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In the interests of bilateral ties, the United States in 1977 decided against telling Japan to refrain from operating a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Ibaraki Prefecture, according to declassified U.S. government documents.

Then President Jimmy Carter had previously advocated halting the launch of operations at the plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

But Mike Mansfield, who had just assumed the post of ambassador to Japan, convinced him to reverse this decision.

Mansfield told Carter that halting operations at the plant, operated by the now-defunct Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp., would have a detrimental impact on future Japan-U.S. relations, the documents indicate.

A telegram sent by Mansfield urged Washington to reach a prompt compromise on the matter.

A memo handwritten by Carter on the margins of the telegram instructed then Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to tell Mansfield that the president would decide quickly on a compromise plan and that it was all right to ask then Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda to present alternatives.

The documents were declassified at the behest of Don Oberdorfer, a former Washington Post diplomatic correspondent who has published a biography on Mansfield, titled “Senator Mansfield.”

Oberdorfer said he had confirmed the contents of communications involving Mansfield and Japan in interviews conducted with those familiar with the situation.

Many of the declassified documents show that, on the basis of suggestions made by Mansfield, the Carter and Ronald Reagan administrations treated Japan — as it grew into an economic power — as an increasingly important political ally.

In April 1977, Carter unveiled a new nuclear power policy emphasizing nonproliferation. It promoted research on nuclear fuel recycling without the threat of the technology being transferred to military use.

He opposed the launching of the reprocessing plant by Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp., the predecessor of the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute, saying it was uneconomical.

At the time, construction of the facility was close to completion amid protests from local residents.

But the Carter administration’s real fear centered on the extraction of plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Fearing that the situation could rock the bilateral relationship, Mansfield urged the president in July that year to compromise, according to the documents.

The ambassador said it would not look good for the U.S. to allow Britain, France and West Germany to reprocess nuclear fuel but to show a lack of trust in Japan in this regard.

He said that Washington should consider that the energy situation was a vital matter for resource-poor Japan.

The documents also indicate that Mansfield asked Carter not to pressure Fukuda over bilateral trade friction in a memo handed to the president prior to the leaders’ summit talks in 1978.

Mansfield, a former Senate majority leader renowned for his contributions to Japan-U.S. ties, served as ambassador to Japan until 1988.

He continued to be a vital link between the two nations thereafter. He died in October 2001 at the age of 98.

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