National / Politics

Japan offers U.S. its robotics tech for use in denuclearizing North Korea

Kyodo

Japan has told the United States it is ready to provide its robotics technology for use in dismantling nuclear and uranium enrichment facilities in North Korea as Washington and Pyongyang pursue further denuclearization talks, government sources said Friday.

As Japan turns to the remotely controlled robots it has developed to decommission reactors crippled by the triple core meltdown in 2011 at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, it believes the same technology can be used in North Korea, according to the sources.

The offer is part of Japan’s efforts to make its own contribution to the denuclearization talks amid concern that Tokyo could be left out of the loop as the United States and North Korea step up diplomacy.

Tokyo has already told Washington it would shoulder part of the costs of any International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of North Korean facilities and dispatch its own nuclear experts to help.

The scrapping of nuclear facilities, such as the Yongbyon complex, which has a graphite-moderated reactor, will come into focus in forthcoming working-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered to close the complex — seen as the center of the North’s nuclear material production activities — during his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February.

But the Trump-Kim talks broke down after the two leaders failed to reconcile Washington’s demand for denuclearization with Pyongyang’s call for sanctions relief.

Earlier this year, Japan and the United States held a working-level meeting before the Hanoi summit, in which Washington pointed to the possibility of radioactive contamination near North Korean facilities due to lax management of nuclear materials, the sources said.

Japan then offered “any support,” including technological assistance, according to the sources.

Remotely controlled robots that can withstand high radiation exposure are expected in the near future to help remove melted fuel debris from the reactors at Fukushima No. 1.

For such technology to be used in decommissioning work, experts need to inspect the internal structure of a reactor and gauge its radiation levels. Therefore, Pyongyang’s acceptance of such on-site inspections would be essential.

Trump has said on Twitter that he received a letter from Kim stating that the North Korean leader is willing to meet again after the joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises end Tuesday.

North Korea, which sees the joint drills as rehearsals for invasion, has fired a series of short-range missiles in apparent protest, most recently on Friday, but Trump played down the significance of the launches.

While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has placed priority on resolving the abduction issue, has expressed a hope to meet Kim “without preconditions,” such a summit appears unlikely.

Abe is the only leader among the six countries in the long-stalled six-party denuclearization talks not to meet face to face with Kim. The other five countries are the two Koreas, China, Russia and the United States.

Trump has delivered on his promise to Abe to raise the abduction issue during his meetings with Kim. The U.S. president takes the view that neighboring countries such as Japan need to pay for North Korea’s denuclearization and extend economic assistance to Pyongyang if it decides to scrap its nuclear facilities.

“Japan’s security will be left out if we fail to be part of the U.S.-North Korea negotiations,” a Foreign Ministry source said.

The abduction issue involves Japanese who were abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s.