A revision to the Atomic Energy Basic Law adding an appendix stating that nuclear power should “contribute to national security” has passed the Diet. Those words, which could provoke suspicions that Japan is planning to develop nuclear weapons, should be deleted in the next Diet session.
The basic law, which can be likened to a “constitution” for Japan’s nuclear energy sector, was enacted in 1955. It commits Japan to using nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes” and enshrines “democracy, independence and openness” as basic principles of the industry.
It was based on Japan’s experience of atomic bombings and a determination, after the war, never to develop nuclear weapons.
The latest change was approved in the Lower House on the day the bill was submitted and passed the Upper House five days later. The appendix revising the basic law was made during the process of passing legislation to set up a new nuclear regulator under an agreement between the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.
In both Japanese and English, the term “national security” also means “national defense.” Furthermore, technology for nuclear power generation is closely related to military nuclear capability.
Japan needs to make a serious effort not to undermine the credibility of its promise never to develop nuclear weapons.
In the Upper House Environment Committee, a lawmaker who pushed for the supplementary clause explained that “national security” refers to safeguards required by the International Atomic Energy Agency preventing unlawful diversion of nuclear substances and other systems.
If so, the word “safeguards” should be used. Why say “national security”?
Article 2 of the basic law to which the “national security” clause was added states that the use of nuclear energy must be “limited to peaceful purposes.”
Japan possesses plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons, and it has a continued commitment to reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, which produces more plutonium. Against that background, the appendix could have connotations for the international community reaching beyond safeguards to stop nuclear materials getting into the wrong hands.
It could support some people’s view that Japan has the capability to develop nuclear weapons and, therefore, has a potential nuclear deterrent. Unless such thinking is discarded, the world cannot be free from the danger of nuclear arms.
The Aerospace Basic Law enacted in 2008 also contains the words “contribute to national security.” In the current Diet session, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Law was also hastily revised in line with the wording of the Aerospace Basic Law. The condition that JAXA’s work was limited to “peaceful purposes” was eased.
Public trust in science and technology has weakened as a result of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant last year. Many people feel the need to keep nuclear power under control.
But laws to limit the use of science and technology in such critical areas as nuclear energy and space development are being revised without public debate. This serious situation must not be overlooked.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 22
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