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Do not use the "deterrence" argument

January 11, 2016




Nuclear Watch: Concerns over a potential deterrence (Pt. 62)

January 11, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)

Nobuyasu Abe, a member of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), bitterly criticized former Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto, when they met face-to-face at an AEC meeting on Nov. 5, 2015, for insisting that Japan should continue its nuclear fuel cycle project to maintain Japan's deterrence.

"I respect you, but I'd like to say I have a different opinion from yours on this point," said Abe, 70, who had also served as U.N. deputy secretary general in charge of arms reductions.

"We have no plan to use the reprocessing plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho for military purposes. We've never even thought about using it for such purposes. There are those who say the Rokkasho plant is necessary for Japan's deterrence, but I don't want them to say that. Once you mention that, other countries would say, 'Just as we expected,'" Abe angrily told Morimoto, 74.

Shortly before that, Morimoto said, "China, Russia, North Korea, Taiwan and South Korea also have nuclear plants for peaceful purposes. If Japan were to abandon atomic power while other countries don't do the same, Japan would abandon its deterrence as well. It'd not be a desirable choice."

Morimoto meant that Japan's continuance of the nuclear fuel cycle project, despite having no intention of going nuclear, would boost Japan's security, because the issue of deterrence is how other countries view Japan's intentions.

Opinions that Japan should arm itself with nuclear weapons rapidly disappeared after the country ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1976. However, such calls resurface whenever North Korea conducts a nuclear test and when calls are mounting within Japan for a review of its atomic energy policy.

Shigeru Ishiba, 58, state minister in charge of overcoming population decline and vitalizing local economies, said, "Japan should not stop nuclear plants to maintain Japan's potential nuclear deterrence."

Former defense minister Ishiba expressed this view about half a year after the March 2011 outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. At the time, the Japanese public was growing skeptical of atomic power.

There is criticism that about 20 billion yen is needed to maintain the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju in Fukui Prefecture, which produces higher-quality plutonium than that used for nuclear weapons. However, those in favor of maintaining nuclear plants to keep Japan's deterrence are beginning to say, "It's cheap if we think it's part of Japan's defense spending."

Tetsuya Endo, 80, who had served as acting chairman of the AEC, recalls that he was repeatedly grilled by U.S. negotiators over why Japan stuck to plutonium and whether Japan was considering converting plutonium for military purposes when he was serving as Japan's chief negotiator in talks on the bilateral nuclear energy agreement in the late 1980s.

Other countries are casting a more suspicious eye on Japan's atomic energy program than Japanese people imagine. Endo warns that Japanese officials should confine their remarks to avoid causing such suspicions.

"I say it's just like 'Tora-san' movies," says Endo. When he heard Ishiba and Morimoto's remarks, he remembered a line from the Japanese film series, "Otoko wa Tsuraiyo" ("It's tough being a man") starring Kiyoshi Atsumi. In the film, protagonist Tora-san, played by Atsumi, repeatedly says, "That's something that's best left unsaid." (By Haruyuki Aikawa, Senior Writer)


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