Japan's energy pact with Turkey raises nuclear weapons concerns

January 07, 2014


A pact required for Japan’s first nuclear plant export after the Fukushima disaster faces opposition over concerns about a possible proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Debate over the issue is expected when the government seeks Diet approval for the nuclear energy agreement with Turkey during a session that convenes this month.

Japan and Turkey agreed to conclude the nuclear energy pact, a precondition for exporting nuclear technology, in May. It requires the recipient country to use technology, as well as equipment and materials, only for peaceful purposes.

However, the pact includes a provision allowing Turkey to enrich uranium and extract plutonium, a potential material for nuclear weapons, from spent fuel if the two countries agree in writing. A senior Foreign Ministry official said the clause was added at the request of Turkey.

The agreement would also pave the way for exporting Japan’s enrichment and spent nuclear fuel reprocessing technologies if revisions are made.

The provision has sparked criticism that it contradicts Japan’s stance against nuclear weapons.

“There is a risk that (the government) accepts unreasonable demands in relation to projects sponsored by a prime minister,” Shigeaki Koga, a former industry ministry bureaucrat, said.

A consortium that includes Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. won a contract to build four nuclear reactors in the Black Sea city of Sinop with strong backing from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is pushing nuclear plant exports as part of his growth strategy.

Abe and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met in Tokyo on Jan. 7. The two leaders discussed the project and overall atomic energy cooperation when Abe visited Turkey in May and October.

The Sinop project will be Japan’s first nuclear plant export after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The senior Foreign Ministry official stressed the need to swiftly conclude the pact with Turkey.

“(The agreement) will not be in time for the first reactor scheduled to start operations in 2023 unless it is approved by the Diet soon,” the official said.

Although the opposition Democratic Party of Japan promoted nuclear plant exports when it was in power, some of its lawmakers, including those from areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear accident, are against the pact.

The Japan Restoration Party, another opposition party, has decided to oppose the agreement.

Even the foreign affairs division of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party withheld its approval in October because some members said the provision on uranium enrichment and plutonium extraction will run counter to nuclear nonproliferation.

The LDP division gave its approval only after Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida offered reassurances in the Diet that Japan will not allow spent fuel reprocessing in Turkey.

Japan placed restrictions on enrichment and reprocessing in its nuclear energy agreements with Vietnam, South Korea, Jordan and Russia, which took effect in 2012.

The agreements with Vietnam and Jordan, as well as the pact with the United Arab Emirates, which has yet to be approved by the Diet, basically say enrichment and reprocessing will not be conducted in those countries.

Yuki Tanabe of the Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society, a nonprofit organization, also pointed out a seismic risk in Turkey, where more than 17,000 people died in a major earthquake in 1999.

“Even if Japanese nuclear reactors are highly resistant to earthquakes, an accident could occur when facilities around them are damaged,” Tanabe said.

Erdogan is trying to acquire nuclear and other technologies from abroad to promote economic growth, which has underpinned his more than 10-year-long administration.

It is important for Turkey, which aims to eventually build nuclear plants on its own, to win support from Japan not only on nuclear technology but also on human resources development.

Japan promised to set up a science and technology university in Turkey when Abe visited in May.

Turkey is also discussing a project with Japan to establish a joint venture between a local company and MHI to produce engines for tanks used by its military.

(This article was compiled from reports by Sachiko Miwa in Tokyo and Kazuyuki Kanai in Istanbul.)

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara in May 2013 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara in May 2013 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara in May 2013 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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