CNIC Statement: Things Japan needs to do regarding nuclear disarmament before “constructing bridges”

Suspend the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plan, declare its support of No First Use and enshrine the Three Non-Nuclear Principles into law.

Citizens’ Nuclear Information CenterJune 23, 2022

The first Meeting of States Parties to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is being held from June 21 to 23, 2022. The TPNW is indeed a revolutionary treaty banning nuclear weapons, and the Japanese government, which has called for the “ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons,” should approve of it with all the strength it can muster. However, far from ratifying the TPNW, the Japanese government has not even bothered to participate in the first Meeting of the States Parties. The main reason given is that while the cooperation of nuclear powers is essential to bring about changes in the reality of nuclear weapons the TPNW does not include any of the nuclear powers.

Thus far, Japan has acted in various ways as a bridge between the nuclear powers and non-nuclear states. That itself is appreciated. However, before it constructs bridges there are things Japan needs to do to ease nuclear tensions. These include the suspension of Japan’s plan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium that can be diverted to nuclear weapons, a declaration of support for the U.S. No First Use of nuclear weapons policy and the enshrinement in law of the Three Non-Nuclear Principles.

Japan holds 46.1 tons of plutonium (as of the end of 2020). This is the largest plutonium stockpile among the non-nuclear states. Since the IAEA has set the amount of plutonium from which the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive device cannot be excluded at eight kilograms, the amount of plutonium Japan currently possesses is the equivalent of more than 5,700 atomic bombs. While possessing such a large amount of plutonium, by the first half of fiscal 2022 the Japanese government plans to complete the construction of Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which will be capable of extracting up to eight tons of plutonium (equivalent to 1,000 atomic bombs) per year. Spent nuclear fuel reprocessing technology is a technology which can be converted to nuclear weapons production. Japan’s possession of this technology itself arouses suspicions in other countries about Japan’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Attempting to increase the plutonium stockpile while already holding large amounts of plutonium will only lead to an aggravation of such suspicions.

Meanwhile, looking at Northeast Asia, China is now building a reprocessing plant for spent fuel, while South Korea is also conducting research and development on similar technology. We must look squarely in the face of the fact that Japan’s persistence with reprocessing technology itself has motivated the spread of this technology to neighboring countries. Moreover, in the Ukraine crisis, attacks on nuclear-related facilities have become a reality. If war involving Japan breaks out, reprocessing plants that produce the raw materials for nuclear weapons would become priority targets for attack or occupation by enemy forces.

The No First Use of nuclear weapons (NFU), under consideration by the government of the United States, refers to the policy of not using nuclear weapons first under any circumstances. If all nuclear powers were to adopt the NFU, it would mean that no country would launch a preemptive nuclear attack. Even if only the United States unilaterally adopts NFU, the risk of nuclear war would be significantly reduced. In other words, NFU is a major step toward nuclear abolition.

NFU has been considered several times up to now, but for various reasons has been shelved each time. The main reason for this is opposition from United States allies, including Japan. It has been pointed out in the United States that if Japan has the capability of developing nuclear weapons, Japan may arm itself with nuclear weapons if it is concerned about the deterrence capabilities of the United States.

However, if Japan halts the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing program, declares its support for the United States’ NFU, and enshrines the Three Non-Nuclear Principles into law, it will dispel the suspicions of other countries and undoubtedly become a very strong driving force for the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons.

The possibility that a nuclear war will break out due to the situation in Ukraine is undeniable. This is why it is imperative to take positive action to eliminate nuclear weapons. Japan, the only country to have suffered the tragedy of atomic attacks in war, and having experienced the unprecedented damage caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident, has an ethical obligation to create a world that does not rely on nuclear energy, rejecting not only the abolition of nuclear weapons but also the peaceful use of nuclear energy, recognized by TPNW. If Japan is to be known as a bridge, it should be the first country to set off down this path.

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