EDITORIAL: First of all, Japan should think about nuclear nonproliferation

May 09, 2013

During his recent visits to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed agreements that open the door to Japan’s exports of nuclear power generation technology to these countries. Japan has also agreed with Saudi Arabia to start talks on bilateral nuclear cooperation with an eye to striking a similar deal in the future.

There are now a bevy of nuclear power projects in the Middle East, and international competition to win contracts is intense. It is against this background that Abe embarked on his mission.

Given that nuclear power technology raises some serious issues, it should be considered independently of economic policy.

The world is facing the knotty question of how to ensure global security amid spreading use of atomic power. Preventing nuclear proliferation is an urgent and formidable challenge for mankind in the 21st century. In its rush to grab business opportunities offered by surging demand for nuclear power, the Japanese government is showing no sign of giving thoughtful consideration to this situation.

Demand for nuclear power will grow quickly in coming years, especially in emerging countries, including those in South Asia and Latin America, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

One estimate says that the amount of electricity generated with atomic energy in the world will increase more than 3.5-fold in four decades.

Such rapid growth of global nuclear power generation is bound to result in a worldwide spread of nuclear technologies and materials. This means that the danger posed by these technologies and materials will become more diffuse and acute for the entire world. The Middle East is the front line of the battle against this problem.

Increasing domestic power consumption in oil-producing countries inevitably means reducing the amount of oil they can export.

With the prospect of the eventual depletion of oil reserves casting a shadow over their future well-being, many oil-producing countries in the region are showing growing interest in renewable energy as well as in atomic power.

Japan can help these countries by providing the technologies to save energy and protect urban environments. These are areas in which Japan excels.

But nuclear power technology must be treated very differently.

Nuclear technology to generate electricity can be easily converted to produce nuclear arms. The danger of nuclear proliferation is not confined to the suppliers and recipients of the technology.

When any country is seeking to start using nuclear power technology, no matter what kind of political system it has, it is essential to establish a solid system to ensure full disclosure of relevant information and effective monitoring of its management of nuclear materials.

Even countries with an absolute monarch like Saudi Arabia must not been exempted from this requirement.

Many Arab nations are home to Muslim extremists. Some of these countries are currently experiencing social reform triggered by popular revolution.

If such countries want to use nuclear power, they must be obliged to take steps to ensure that natural disasters or political upheavals will not cause any leakage of nuclear materials and technologies.

France and South Korea are among countries that have already reached agreements on nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia, and started efforts to promote their nuclear technology. But the United States maintains cautious about providing its nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. It wants to work out an agreement that would impose strict control on the management of nuclear materials.

Japan, the only country that has experienced the devastation caused by atomic weapons, is still grappling with the dire consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster just over two years ago. This country needs to spend time figuring out ways to make an effective contribution to enhancing the international system for nuclear nonproliferation.

This is a grave issue that has a direct bearing on the safety of this planet. It is not an issue that should be discussed from the viewpoint of whether it can contribute to the government’s growth strategy.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 9

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan before their meeting in Ankara on May 3. (Teruo Kashiyama)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan before their meeting in Ankara on May 3. (Teruo Kashiyama)

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  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan before their meeting in Ankara on May 3. (Teruo Kashiyama)

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