Posted : 2014-03-14 17:08
Updated : 2014-03-14 17:08

Is Japan going nuclear?

International community ought to strongly say ‘no'

When it comes to nuclear issues, Japan sets itself apart from the rest of the world in two ways: It is the only country bombed by nuclear weapons as well as the sole non-nuclear state allowed to reprocess its nuclear fuel.

The exceptional treatment was thanks to Tokyo's active diplomacy for the peaceful use of nuclear power under the 1967 policy against the production, possession or presence of nuclear weapons in its territory.

Given what Japan is doing now, however, the world may have to rethink whether it should continue to provide such privilege to Tokyo.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, a U.S. investigative reporting agency, Japan is locking horns with the United States over the activation of its newest fuel-reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, which can extract as much as eight tons of weapons-usable plutonium from spent reactor fuel annually, enough for up to 2,000 warheads.

That will keep adding to the 44 tons of plutonium Japan already has, and exceeds even the amount kept by the U.S. not long ago, industry experts here say. It defies our understanding why Japan should retain such a huge amount of weapons-grade plutonium. Although Tokyo recently decided to resume the operation of reactors with proven safety, it is unlikely to return to the pre-Fukushima heydays of nuclear generation.

There is little surprise then that an increasing number of U.S. officials have expressed concerns about Japan's going nuclear since last year. Most recently, Christine Wormuth, U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense, did not rule out the possibility Monday that some countries capable of developing nuclear weapons independently would push for nuclear armament if and when Washington continues to cut down on its defense spending."Japan clearly is included in this group," she said.

And that clearly is cause for concern for Northeast Asians, if for no other reason than Japan's regressive historical perception and leaning to the extreme right. Japan is believed to be capable of producing nuclear weapons in 90 days if it decides to do so, or "just a screwdriver away" from going nuclear, as experts put it. Even if the IAEA can inspect 99.9 percent of its plutonium stock, Japan can still make 26 warheads a year with the remaining 0.01 percent, or 8 kg, of plutonium produced at its Rokkasho plant, double the number of weapons North Korea reportedly has made.

Unless Tokyo gives up its ambition of becoming a potential nuclear power, efforts to denuclearize the Korean peninsula appear increasingly meaningless, causing a nuclear domino in this already volatile region and seriously eroding the U.S. nonproliferation strategy.

Formerly, Japan's neighbors did not need to worry so much about Tokyo's nuclear ambitions because of some compromising forces within the country, such as its pacifist constitution, Tokyo's "three-no" nuclear policy and anti-nuclear popular sentiment. Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took power, however, all these "inner" checks are seemingly becoming useless, meaning only external forces can stop, or at least slow, the dangerous scheme.

It was timely for Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se to express concerns about Tokyo's move, calling for countries to deal with surplus nuclear material in consultation with the U.N. nuclear agency. Seoul needs to step up efforts to caution the world against Japan's dubious moves.

It also explains why President Park Geun-hye should make the most of the nuclear security summit in The Hague, later this month.

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