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Japan’s Antarctic expedition program may be suspended because the Finance Ministry is reluctant to allocate a budget of 8 billion yen next fiscal year to build a new icebreaker, sources said Thursday.

Experts are concerned that failing to build a new ship to replace the 21-year-old Shirase, and thus suspending the program, would dent Japan’s credibility in the international scientific community and throw its Antarctic exploration efforts into the garbage can.

“There is a danger that scientific and technological research done so far will also be suspended and that huge (already spent) budgets and the accumulation of research will have been in vain,” said former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who contributed to resuming the expeditions after they were once suspended in 1962.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has asked for an 8 billion yen allocation in next year’s budget to start building the new ship so it can replace the Shirase in fiscal 2007 when its serviceable life is expected to end.

The new vessel, which will take four years to build, has a cost projection of 40 billion yen. Two onboard helicopters will cost another 12 billion yen.

The Finance Ministry is reluctant to allocate the funding due to tight fiscal conditions.

It argues that while it understands the significance of the expeditions, there isn’t enough revenue, according to the sources.

The education ministry is expecting a severe assessment, including the possibility of no budget allocation at all for the new ship, the sources said.

“From the stance as a founding signatory of the Antarctic Treaty, Japan just can’t quit,” said Masayoshi Murayama, who was part of the first Japanese expedition to the South Pole and is now a professor emeritus at the National Institute of Polar Research in Tokyo

The Antarctic Treaty, first signed by 12 countries in 1959, now has 45 signatories.

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