The government signed a controversial civilian nuclear cooperation pact with India on Friday, disappointing A-bomb survivors and other opponents of the deal who believe Tokyo has placed economic gain ahead of its stated goal of global nuclear disarmament.
The pact opens up a massive market for Japan’s nuclear energy industry, which suffered a huge setback from the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, and falls in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s infrastructure export-focused growth strategy.
But opponents argue that India, which tested nuclear weapons in the 1970s and 1990s, could end up using technology obtained through the pact for military purposes. India is a nonsignatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The government has downplayed the concerns, saying strictly peaceful use of the nuclear technology is ensured by provisions stating Japan that can terminate the pact if India breaks its 2008 promise to maintain a moratorium on nuclear testing.
“(The pact) matches with our country’s stance to promote nonproliferation and a world without nuclear weapons,” Abe told a joint news conference Friday after the deal was signed in Tokyo at a meeting with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
“(It) will ensure India will take responsible action regarding the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” Abe said.
But the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were devastated by atomic bombs in 1945 in the closing stages of World War II, said the deal defies the will of the Japanese people.
Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue called the pact “extremely regrettable.”
“Nuclear-related technology and nuclear material could be diverted to development of nuclear weapons,” Taue said in a statement. “I have concerns the NPT regime could be hollowed out.”
Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui issued a similar statement, saying he remains concerned about possible diversion of nuclear materials and technology for military use.
Matsui also urged the Abe government to pressure India to join the NPT as soon as possible so the South Asian country will end its nuclear weapons development.
The deal hinged on a compromise by Tokyo, which walked back its demand for a guarantee that India would not resume nuclear testing, according to a source close to the negotiations, which began in 2010.
Japan had long demanded an explicit provision stating that the deal is off if India restarts nuclear tests, but this was dropped at the last minute, apparently out of consideration for India’s reluctance to renounce its nuclear capabilities in the face of border disputes with both China and Pakistan.
Critics say the pact is unprincipled and driven only by the lure of the 1.3 billion-strong Indian market. They say it sullies Japan’s mission to rid the world of nuclear weapons as the only country in history to have come under nuclear attack.
The government is “only thinking about immediate profit,” said Takeshi Yamakawa, 80, who is a member of an anti-nuclear group in Nagasaki.
So Horie, a 76-year-old hibakusha, said that exporting nuclear technology to India is the “coercive selling of unhappiness” and shows that the government is “prioritizing the economy.”
The decision to sign the pact with India also spurred anger among the people displaced by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, including 67-year-old Fukushima Prefecture resident Haruko Kanai.
“I don’t want another restart of nuclear power plants … I don’t want (nuclear technology) to be sold,” she said.
As China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region extends to its economic push in India, analysts say Abe is keen to counter with infrastructure investment, including nuclear energy.
China has poured money into port facilities in India and its neighbors on the Indian Ocean, which are close to sea lanes Japan relies on for its oil imports from the Middle East.
The opening of the Indian market is welcome news for Japan’s nuclear technology firms, whose domestic market ground to a halt after the Fukushima disaster was triggered by a powerful earthquake that spawned a massive tsunami.
The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, an electric utility lobby, stressed the importance of Japan “using its experience to make a contribution to the world, on the basic premise of the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
Tightened safety guidelines and legal fights, along with public safety concerns, have delayed the government’s push to put its shuttered reactors back into service. Vietnam also recently scrapped plans to build its first nuclear reactors due to budgetary concerns. Some of the contracts had been awarded to Japanese concerns.
For India, whose economy grew 7.6 percent in 2015, the pact may help it meet its urgent need for stable power. With more than 300 million people in India living without electricity, the country aims to increase the proportion of nuclear-generated electricity from 2 percent now to 25 percent by 2050.
Standing next to Abe in Tokyo Friday, Modi said India’s economy is “pursuing many transformations.”
“Our aim is to become a major center for manufacturing, investment and for 21st century knowledge industries, and in this journey we see Japan as a natural partner,” he said.
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