Japan has rewritten the basic law on atomic energy to include “national security” among its goals, fueling concerns over the possibility of using nuclear power for military purposes.
The first amendment in 34 years of the Atomic Energy Basic Act, a regulatory and institutional roadmap for its nuclear activities, invited criticism from Japan’s anti-nuclear scientists and civic activists.
“The safe use of atomic power is aimed at contributing to the protection of the people’s lives, health and property, environmental conservation and national security,” the revised text reads.
The phrase was not included in the initial proposal by the cabinet but later inserted at the request of the right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party during parliamentary debate, The Tokyo Shimbun daily reported.
Scholars and activists voiced worries that the modified law could provide legal justification for Tokyo’s possible development of nuclear weapons. They blasted lawmakers for bypassing public discussions in advance.
“We cannot rule out the possibility of practical military use. The amendment harmed the national interest and is a source of calamity,” said Committee of Seven for World Peace, an intellectual society founded in Tokyo by Hideki Yukawa, a physicist and Japan’s first Nobel Prize laureate.
Tokyo’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura denied any intention to divert nuclear energy for military applications.
“Japan has never wavered in its commitment to the peaceful use of atomic power and the three non-nuclear principles. The government has no goal at all for its military use,” he told journalists on Thursday.
The Seoul government said it is “weighing the revision’s potential impact and closely watching progress” in Tokyo.
“In principle, it would be not as easy for Japan to transform into a nuclear-armed country as mentioned in some news reports given its membership of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” Foreign Ministry deputy spokesperson Han Hye-jin said in a press briefing.
Japan signed the international accord in 1970, which is aimed at preventing the spread of atomic weapons and related technology. The NPT acknowledges only five members as nuclear states ― the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K. and France.
The amendment comes at a delicate time when public confidence in nuclear energy remains withered in the aftermath of the March 2011 Fukushima meltdown.
Before the debacle, Japan was the world’s third-largest nuclear power generator after the U.S. and France. It produced more than 30 percent of electricity from 54 reactors.
The statute provided a legal framework for Japan’s three non-nuclear principles in which it commits to “not possessing, producing or permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons.”
It also laid the foundation for the 1992 Joint Declaration on Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which North Korea is criticized for violating.
Seoul, Washington and other governments have been struggling to dissuade Iran and North Korea from their nuclear ambitions. The two rogue nations have defended their decades-long atomic projects, with Tehran insisting theirs is part of a scientific mission and Pyongyang calling its nuclear programs a self-defense measure against foreign hostility.
Frustration grew after the latest round of talks between six global powers and Iran on Tehran’s nuclear program in Moscow ended in stalemate. The six participants of the so-called P5+1 were the U.S., China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain.
Tensions are high around the Korean Peninsula following Pyongyang’s latest rocket launch. The international community condemned the April 13 event, calling it a breach of a U.N. ban on nuclear and missile activity.
South Korea and the U.S. maintain that Pyongyang should abide by international obligations under a 2005 disarmament agreement and U.N. Security Council resolutions that demand it forsake all atomic projects.
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com