Bilateral agreements are one of several measures designed to ensure that the use of nuclear energy is restricted to peaceful purposes. Other measures include the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and export controls.
Safeguards and other non-proliferation measures have been strengthened since the 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan and the exposure of a flourishing nuclear black market, commonly referred to as the "Khan network", after its leader, Pakistani metallurgist A.Q. Khan. And last year we were reminded once again of the seriousness of the problem of nuclear proliferation when North Korea conducted a nuclear test.
On the other hand, the nuclear industry is being restructured (viz. Toshiba's takeover of Westinghouse) in anticipation of a nuclear energy renaissance and the opening up of new markets. India is a particular focus of attention right now, even though it has refused to join the NPT on the grounds that it is an unfair agreement. Instead, remaining outside the NPT system, India developed its own nuclear weapons under the guise of a peaceful nuclear energy program.
Negotiations on a deal to permit nuclear cooperation between India and the US are proceeding apace (see top story). The deal requires the approval of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, of which Japan is a member, so Japan's response is a matter of great international interest. So far the government has not spelt out the conditions it will require for any such agreement, but there is no doubt that the deal is being discussed as part of negotiations to strengthen economic and security cooperation between the two countries. According to media reports, Prime Minister Abe is considering visiting India in August to further these negotiations.
Cartoon by Shoji Takagi
Meanwhile, the Japanese government announced in April that it had begun negotiations with Russia on a bilateral nuclear agreement. According to media reports, the government wants to send to Russia uranium which was extracted from spent fuel reprocessed in the UK. It wants Russia to re-enrich this uranium for use in Japanese nuclear power plants. The consequence of such an arrangement would no doubt be that the left-over depleted uranium would be disposed of in Russia. Uranium extracted under the reprocessing contract between Japan and the UK must be returned to Japan. Japanese power companies would rejoice if depleted uranium could be removed along the way and disposed of in Russia, but Russian NGOs have already voiced their concern about environmental pollution.
Russia and Japan signed a nuclear cooperation agreement in 1991. However, this agreement only relates to exchange of information and exchanges between nuclear experts. It does not cover trade in nuclear materials. This would be covered by the new agreement now being negotiated. The purpose of the agreement would be to ensure that Japanese nuclear material is not used in Russia's nuclear weapons program. Assuming it follows similar lines to other bilateral agreements, it would also specify that Japan may not divert material imported from Russia to weapons use. Japan insists that any Japanese nuclear material sent to Russia must be safeguarded. At the moment none of Russia's enrichment plants are covered by IAEA safeguards, but a safeguards system is being developed for the proposed international uranium enrichment centre in the east Siberian city of Angarsk. This is where Japan's reprocessed uranium would be enriched, not far from the World Heritage-listed Lake Baikal.
In reality, nuclear cooperation between the two countries has proceeded further than specified in the existing agreement. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has acknowledged that it signed a contract in 1999 with Russian company TENEX for 100 tSWU worth of enriched uranium. The following year Namibian uranium was enriched in Russia then shipped to the US for re-conversion. This enriched uranium was used in reactors at the Fukushima I and Fukushima II power plants. In 2001 TEPCO signed another uranium enrichment services contract with TENEX, this time for 300 tSWU. It is believed that other Japanese companies have entered into similar contracts. Because the uranium delivered to Japan was re-converted in the US, it was covered by the Japan-US bilateral agreement, but Russian enrichment contracts should not have been approved in the absence of a bilateral agreement with Russia. As more details emerge we anticipate increased criticism of these transactions.
On 28 August 2006 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the governments of Kazakhstan and Japan on promotion of cooperation in the peaceful use of atomic energy. The two countries intend to actively cooperate in the development of Kazakhstan's uranium reserves, said to be the third largest in the world, and in nuclear technology. The plan is that after the above-mentioned reprocessed uranium is enriched in Russia, it will be sent to Kazakhstan for reconversion. It is reported that Japan also intends to sign a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with Kazakhstan. The fact that Kazakhstan recently completed its domestic ratification process for the IAEA Additional Protocol will facilitate negotiations for such an agreement.
In regard to the US-India nuclear cooperation deal, presumably Japan's nuclear industry will want to be involved if the Indian market is opened to the world. A bilateral agreement between India and Japan would be an essential element of a system to ensure that such cooperation is for strictly peaceful purposes. However, there are unresolved questions related to the safeguards agreement being negotiated between India and the IAEA. As part of the US-India deal, India has indicated that it will sign and adhere to an Additional Protocol with respect to civilian nuclear facilities, but it can be assumed that the Additional Protocol that India has in mind is more like the one designed for nuclear weapons states than the one for non-nuclear weapons states. There is a world of difference between the two.
Currently Japan has bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements with the Australia, Canada, China, France, the UK and the US. Also, an agreement with Euratom came into force in November 2006. In addition to these, there is the abovementioned agreement with Russia, which does not involved the transfer of nuclear material. There is also an official document covering exchanges between South Korea and Japan and we have been informed that a MOU with Indonesia will be signed in the near future.
The agreements with the US and Euratom, for example, contain reciprocal clauses banning diversion to military purposes, requiring prior consent for transfer to third countries, and granting the right to demand return of materials and equipment if the agreement is violated. Obviously the content of agreements depends not only on what Japan demands, but also on what the other country is willing to accept. However, in the situation where, unlike in the past, the Japanese nuclear industry is trying to make major inroads into the world market, it is more important than ever to ensure that Japanese nuclear material and equipment is not used to develop nuclear weapons.
Japan's commitment to "peaceful use" will come under the microscope even more than in the past.
Hideyuki Ban (Co-director) and Philip White (NIT editor)
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