Following an April 4 “yes” vote by the Lower House, the Upper House on Friday approved civilian nuclear accords Japan has signed with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to enable the export of Japanese equipment and technology for nuclear power generation to them.
The big question, though, is why a country that suffered a disaster at a nuclear power plant (which remains ongoing) three years ago would choose to push the export of nuclear power plants — and especially to countries that are prone to earthquakes, like Turkey. It is deplorable from moral and other viewpoints that the Abe administration treats the export of nuclear power equipment and technology as a pillar in its economic growth strategy. Japan concluded similar nuclear accords with Jordan, Vietnam, South Korea and Russia under the previous Democratic Party of Japan-led administration.
At present, the government is negotiating civilian nuclear cooperation with five more countries — India, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
The Diet approval came with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the DPJ at a time when Japan’s own crisis, caused by the triple meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, shows no signs of resolution. More than 130,000 residents of Fukushima Prefecture are still displaced from their homes due to radioactive contamination of their communities more than three years after the nuclear crisis. Although the DPJ after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster called for ending nuclear power generation in the 2030s, it supported plans for Japan to export nuclear power technology.
As demonstrated in the Fukushima catastrophe, a large-scale accident at a nuclear power plant causes irreparable damage to people’s lives and the environment. If such an accident occurs at a plant in another country built with exported Japanese technology, both the Japanese government and the manufacturers of the technology would likely be expected to shoulder some of the responsibility. Even if they offer to pay compensation, they could be criticized for giving priority to business interests over human lives and the environment.
In addition, high-level waste from nuclear power plants must be stored underground for more than 100,000 years before its radioactivity declines to safe levels. The safe storage of such waste for such a long period presents extremely difficult technological problems to which solutions have yet to be established. So this toxic burden would pass on to future generations. Given this reality, it would be irresponsible for Japan to export nuclear power technology and equipment.
Although the nuclear accords in principle are designed to prevent military use of the nuclear materials, equipment and technology, the accord with Turkey is problematic.
A clause in the accord states that Turkey can enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel if Japan agrees in writing to a specific instance of enrichment or reprocessing. Enriched uranium and plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel can be used to make nuclear weapons. Thus the clause runs counter to global efforts against nuclear proliferation.
The Abe administration’s policy could also result in Japanese firms continuing to devote a large amount of resources on nuclear power, possibly discouraging them from investing in the development and expansion of renewable energy sources — the “sunrise” industries where Japan’s future prosperity lies. The government must rethink its policy of promoting the export of nuclear power equipment and technology.