Supporters of an amendment quietly slipped into Japan’s nuclear power law saying it should contribute to "national security" are denying it could provide cover for military use of nuclear technology.
The provision, which says nuclear safety should be guaranteed not only to defend lives, people's health and the environment but also to "contribute to Japan's national security," became part of the Atomic Energy Basic Law on June 20.
Critics say the change to the 1955 basic law, known as the "constitution" of nuclear energy use in Japan, was made without proper debate on the sidelines of political maneuvering in the Diet.
However, it could have far-reaching consequences for Japan's nuclear stance and heighten international concern about the nation's nuclear recycling program of extracting plutonium from spent nuclear fuel.
A provision mentioning a "contribution to Japan's national security" was also included in the Aerospace Basic Law of 2008, which fueled calls to use artificial satellites for defense purposes.
A law enacted on June 20 to establish a new nuclear regulatory commission to replace the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency also said the commission should "contribute to Japan's national security." None of the changes were widely discussed before they were passed by the Diet.
During a session of the Upper House Environment Committee on June 20, one lawmaker asked: "Is this intended to pave the way for (Japan's) nuclear armament?"
Masayoshi Yoshino, a Lower House member from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and one of the initiators of the provision, said the objective was precisely the opposite. "Diversion to military purposes is not on our minds," he said.
Yoshino said the provision was necessary because responsibilities to prevent diversion of nuclear materials for military and terrorist purposes will be transferred to the new nuclear regulatory commission, which is expected to be set up by September.
Under the current setup, ensuring the security of nuclear materials rests with the science and technology ministry and other organizations.
Nuclear policy minister Goshi Hosono said: "The safeguards are in place to prevent nuclear proliferation. The word 'security' precisely means the prevention of nuclear proliferation."
However, the physicist Michiji Konuma, professor emeritus at Keio University and a member of the Committee of Seven for World Peace, a Japanese group that is calling for the scrapping of the amendment, said: "If they insist that it's all about safeguards, why don't they say so explicitly? They used a cryptic expression and left room for stretched interpretation."
The "national security" provision was added to Article 2 of the Atomic Energy Basic Law, which stipulates that the research, development and use of nuclear power should be conducted "under democratic management and in an autonomous manner," and that the results should not be secret.
The revised law retains the wording that the use of nuclear power should be limited to peaceful purposes.
(This article was compiled from reports by Akira Ozeki and Seiji Tanaka.)
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