free web site hit counter
Search CNIC

Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons - the Unbreakable Connection

In a dozen years of involvement in the anti-nuclear movement in Japan I have found that there is surprisingly little overlap between nuclear energy related campaigns and nuclear weapons related campaigns. One notable exception was the campaign to prevent the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) from granting an exemption for India from international rules governing nuclear trade. The campaign failed to persuade the Japanese government to block consensus when the NSG granted an exemption for India in September 2008, but protests from hibakusha groups, nuclear disarmament groups and groups opposed to nuclear energy generated sufficient public awareness to force the then Prime Minister, Taro Aso, to refrain from immediately beginning negotiations with India for a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement.

The new government might have hoped that the movement's momentum would have dissipated when in June this year it decided to begin negotiations with India. If so, it was sadly mistaken. The response was swift and broad-based. Protest statements were issued by hibakusha, the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a wide range of NGOs. (See CNIC's statement in NIT 137.) The mainstream media was also universally critical.

Another area where campaigns on nuclear energy issues and nuclear weapons issues sometimes overlap is the nuclear fuel cycle. The nuclear proliferation implications of Japan's plutonium program and its uranium enrichment program are of potential concern to groups working on nuclear energy issues, as well as to groups working on nuclear weapons issues. Perhaps it is surprising that the movement does not make more of this connection. There are various reasons for this, but rather than explain this phenomenon, this article focuses on how Japan's long-standing nuclear fuel cycle program and its more recent drive to export nuclear technology are combining to undermine efforts to strengthen the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Bilateral Nuclear Cooperation Agreements
India is just one of many countries which the Japanese Government hopes will help rescue Japan's struggling nuclear industry. Persistently depressed domestic demand means that exports are seen as a lifeline.

The first requirement if Japan is to become a leading nuclear supplier is to negotiate bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements. Japan takes the position that, for reasons of non-proliferation, it can only supply nuclear fuel, equipment and technology to countries with which it has such an agreement. Most, but not all states engaged in nuclear trade require bilateral agreements. The terms invariably specify that traded items may not be used in the development of nuclear weapons, although the constraints placed on Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS) are much stricter than those placed on Nuclear Weapon States (NWS). It is certainly preferable to require such agreements as a condition of nuclear trade, but, as shown below, they are imperfect instruments.

At present, Japan has bilateral agreements with China, France, the UK and the US (all NWS), Australia, Canada and Kazakhstan (all NNWS), and with the EU. (The Kazakhstan agreement, which was signed on March 2 this year, has been endorsed by both countries' parliaments and is just awaiting a confirmatory exchange of notes.) An agreement with Russia was signed in May last year, but it has not yet been submitted to the Diet for ratification. The latest agreement was signed on September 10 with Jordan. Negotiations are also under way, or about to begin with India, South Africa, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Preparations are being made to begin negotiations with other countries, including Vietnam. Most of Japan's agreements (certainly the older ones) were written on the assumption that Japan would generally be a receiver rather than a supplier of nuclear goods and services. However, Japan's nuclear industry has grown and internationalized to such an extent that many of the proposed new nuclear power plants around the world presuppose some level of Japanese involvement.

On the cusp (or so we are told) of a new wave of orders for nuclear power plants, what are the conditions that will prevent an outbreak of nuclear weapons proliferation? The sine qua non of nuclear non-proliferation is control over the nuclear fuel cycle. This theme was promoted by former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei and it has also been pushed by successive US Administrations. The Japanese Government promotes its 3S (safety, safeguards and security) slogan, but that alone will not prevent the proliferation of nuclear power plants from leading to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Without addressing the nuclear fuel cycle, non-proliferation benefits from 3S will be marginal.

The US recently negotiated a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with the UAE in which UAE gave up the right to enrich uranium or recycle spent nuclear fuel itself. This was supposed to be a model for all future US bilateral nuclear agreements. Of course, it is hypocritical for the US to require other countries to forgo the shortest route to nuclear weapons, while holding onto its own nuclear arsenal, but that does not alter the fact that containing the proliferation of nuclear fuel cycle facilities is a prerequisite for preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

It came as a surprise then when authoritative reports emerged saying that the US was no longer demanding that all countries accept the UAE formula as a condition of nuclear cooperation. The US is said to be negotiating an agreement with Vietnam that does not contain these provision. Meanwhile, Jordan's unwillingness to accept the same conditions as the UAE is blocking progress in its negotiations with the US. It is reported that the reason for this apparent contradiction is that the US has decided that the UAE formula is the standard for the Middle East (truly a nuclear proliferation powder keg), but not for East Asia (which just happens to include nuclear proliferator North Korea, recent suspect Myanmar, former suspects Taiwan and South Korea, and, not to be forgotten, Japan).

Japan's Nuclear Fuel Cycle an Obstacle to Non-Proliferation
How is Japan's nuclear power program connected to all this? The principal issue is not that Japan might obtain nuclear weapons in the near future, although in the longer term that is not a concern to be dismissed lightly. The argument is more subtle.

There are a number of reasons why the United States might seek to make a distinction between the Middle East and East Asia. However, underlying them all is the inconvenient fact that Japan, with the blessing of the US, already has reprocessing and enrichment technologies. South Korea views Japan with envy and resentment and is now engaged in a fierce campaign to renegotiate the terms of its nuclear cooperation agreement with the US to allow it too to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. South Korea hopes to use pyroprocessing, which is marginally less proliferation-prone than the "purex" process used by Japan at Tokai and Rokkasho, but by no means proliferation resistant.

It remains to be seen whether South Korea's relentless campaign will be successful, but the reports about the US-Vietnam negotiations suggest that, in East Asia at least, the US has softened its opposition to the spread of nuclear fuel cycle technologies. The Japanese precedent certainly makes it more difficult to tell other countries in the region, including South Korea and Vietnam, that they cannot have these technologies. In this sense the Japanese precedent can been seen as one (though not the only) obstacle to the universalization of the UAE standard for US nuclear cooperation.

The policies of other countries besides the US are also important. Some of the other NWS are disinclined to impose strict conditions for nuclear cooperation. That makes it harder to get universal agreement, but given the international interdependencies in the nuclear energy field, it should not be impossible to achieve a stronger nuclear non-proliferation regime. It is important in this context to remember that the issue is not just about the US imposing its will on the rest of the world. There are a number of high level proposals falling under the general rubric of "internationalization of the nuclear fuel cycle" which will be placed out of reach if norms and rules are not put in place now, before the deluge of proliferating nuclear power programs.

New Agreements Send Mixed Signals
New conditions demanded of NNWS
Japan could seek to use its bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements to strengthen the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, including by increasing control over the nuclear fuel cycle. Officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have thought of this and are supportive in principle. However, it is very difficult for Japan, which enjoys the dubious privilege of access to a full range of nuclear fuel cycle technologies, to demand other countries to forgo these technologies. In this regard, the following quote from a recent article in The Asahi Shimbun is very interesting:

"Japan and South Korea have been negotiating since July 2009 for an agreement on the mutual supply of parts used in nuclear power generation and technology cooperation.
"While the two nations have reached an agreement in principle after the fourth round of talks in July, Japan is insisting that the accord clearly state that South Korea would not introduce a nuclear fuel recycling program involving the removal of plutonium from spent fuel.
"South Korea said no such wording is needed because reprocessing of spent fuel is rejected under a declaration calling for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula." (The Asahi Shimbun English web site, August 19, 2010)

It is highly unlikely that South Korea would accept such a demand from Japan, which leads me to suspect that the Asahi report might not be completely accurate. Japan's recent agreement with Kazakhstan states, "technology for and equipment for uranium enrichment, spent nuclear fuel reprocessing, conversion of plutonium and production of special non-nuclear material and plutonium shall not be transferred under this Agreement." The agreement with Jordan reproduces this clause, but goes further, adding a clause that is unprecedented in Japanese nuclear cooperation agreements. Article 9 states, "Nuclear material transferred pursuant to this Agreement and nuclear material recovered or produced as a by-product shall not be enriched or reprocessed within the jurisdiction of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan."

The Asahi Shimbun article suggested that Japan was trying to prevent South Korea from reprocessing altogether. We will not know until the text is made public, but perhaps Japan is demanding the same condition as appears in the Jordan agreement. This does not rule out enrichment and reprocessing completely, but it does prevent enrichment and reprocessing within Jordan of material supplied by Japan. It does not go far as the US-UAE agreement, but it certainly is stronger than anything Japan has demanded before.

Minimalist conditions demanded of India
As for negotiations with India, like Japan India already has a full range of fuel cycle technologies. There are other areas where strong demands from Japan could theoretically leverage meaningful concessions from India - for example on nuclear testing and fissile materials - but, judging from media reports, it seems that the timid, minimalist demands that the Japanese Government has made so far are already more than India is willing to accept. The only concrete demand the Japanese Government has acknowledged publicly is that cooperation would be terminated if India tested a nuclear weapon. However, it is not even clear whether the government regards this as a non-negotiable minimum condition.

Paying lip service to safeguards in Russia
Another bilateral agreement currently under consideration offers a slightly different angle on Japan's drive to become a major nuclear exporting nation. There are serious nuclear proliferation risks associated with the Japan-Russia Nuclear Cooperation Agreement signed on May 12, 2009, while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was visiting Japan.

The agreement has not been submitted to the Diet for ratification. One likely reason is that no Russian nuclear facilities were subject to IAEA safeguards. Russia submitted some facilities to the IAEA as "eligible" for the application of safeguards, but none had been "selected" by the IAEA when the agreement was signed. The International Uranium Enrichment Center (IUEC) in Angarsk in Siberia was the only facility listed in the Japan-Russia Agreement as an "eligible" facility, but no facilities were listed as "selected". The civilian and military sectors of Russia's nuclear program are not clearly separated and the list of "eligible" facilities is not public. Furthermore, the IAEA has limited resources, so it prioritizes safeguarding facilities in NNWS over facilities in NWS.

The Agreement does not require that Japanese nuclear material, equipment and technology exported to Russia be covered by IAEA safeguards. Instead, it requires that at least one Russian nuclear facility be "selected" by the IAEA, but permits Japanese nuclear exports to be used in other facilities. Indeed, this is the most likely scenario. Hence, there is no way of ensuring that Japanese exports are not used in Russia's nuclear weapons program, or that they are not transferred to potential nuclear proliferators such as Iran.

The July 8, 2010 edition of The Denki Shimbun (The Electric Daily News) suggested that the Japan-Russia Agreement might soon be submitted to the Diet for ratification. There is a danger that the Japanese government will move to ratify the agreement as soon as the IAEA puts in place safeguards on the Low Enriched Uranium Reserve, established at the IUEC in Angarsk as an international reserve in case countries are unable to obtain enriched uranium through regular commercial channels. According to a June 1 IUEC press release, "IAEA defined the storage facility of the International Uranium Enrichment Center in Angarsk as a facility subject to the IAEA safeguards commencing July 1, 2010". It would be a travesty if this were considered sufficient for ratification, since the LEU Reserve is of no direct relevance to nuclear trade between Japan and Russia.

Profits versus Principles
As reported in NIT 137, on June 18 Cabinet approved the "Basic Energy Plan" and the "New Growth Strategy". Two weeks earlier, on June 3, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry released "Industrial Structure Vision 2010". These policies place nuclear energy alongside water, fossil fuel power plants, electricity transmission and distribution, railways, recycling, and space industries as priority areas for "infrastructure-related/system exports". Such exports are to be supported in a coordinated fashion by both government and industry as "all Japan endeavors", backed up with finance and export insurance from the Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC) and Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI). Both developing and developed countries are targeted.

On August 5, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry set up a panel involving both public and private sectors to study ways to gain infrastructure-related business orders abroad. A month earlier, on July 6, six nuclear companies announced that they were preparing to establish a new company, tentatively named 'International Nuclear Energy Development of Japan', this autumn to help secure nuclear power plant contracts in emerging nuclear countries. The companies involved are Tokyo Electric Power Company, Chubu Electric Power Company, Kansai Electric Power Company, Toshiba, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Hitachi. (See table below of major Japanese nuclear exporters.)

All this represents a reorientation of the perception of nuclear energy in Japan as predominantly an energy issue to a key trade and economic growth issue. In this context, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are treated as peripheral issues.

In its eagerness to win a piece of the global nuclear energy market, the Japanese Government risks sacrificing its reputation as a leading advocate of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. By entering into negotiations for a nuclear cooperation agreement with India, Japan reversed its long-standing policy of not engaging in nuclear trade with countries which are not members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Japan's determination to continue its reprocessing and uranium enrichment programs is also undermining efforts to strengthen international nuclear non-proliferation standards. There are some signs that Japan is trying to strengthen its nuclear cooperation agreements with NNWS, but when confronted with a choice between principles and profits, the indications are that Japan will choose the latter, that it will prioritize its nuclear industries over non-proliferation.

The technological links between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are well known. However, it is often overlooked that the industrial links are equally important. As long as the interests of the nuclear energy industry are prioritized, efforts to put in place a robust nuclear non-proliferation system will founder. If any country could be different, it should be Japan, which experienced the horror of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But, as shown in the above discussion, Japan is not much better than other countries and in some ways it is worse.

Japanese NGOs have found it difficult to communicate the connections between civil and military uses of nuclear energy. However, at this crucial point in the history of Japan's nuclear industry, the government's decision to begin negotiations on nuclear cooperation with India has handed the movement a unique opportunity. The issue brings the connections into stark relief and there is media interest. It should be possible to communicate the contradictions between Japan's nuclear energy and nuclear disarmament policies to a wider audience than ever before. First, however, the movement itself must recognize the connections. Historically, a large part of the movement is hardwired to ignore these connections. It is, therefore, all the more important for groups like CNIC, which have always understood the connections, to get the message out.

Philip White (NIT Editor)

Note: See pages 10 and 11 for a different angle on problems with Japan's nuclear export policy.

Return to NIT 138 contents

See CNIC's International Nuclear Cooperation page


Citizens' Nuclear Information Center
Akebonobashi Co-op 2F-B, 8-5 Sumiyoshi-cho,
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0065, Japan