Editorial: Japan-India nuclear energy deal may promote nuclear proliferation

At a meeting in New Delhi yesterday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, agreed in principle on a nuclear deal that will lead to the export of nuclear power plant technology from Japan. As the victim of nuclear bombings, Japan has issued a strong appeal for nuclear non-proliferation. Does this mean the government is seeking to put priority on the Abenomics growth strategy?

This is the first time Japan has entered into such a deal with a nation that is not a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Japan’s nuclear energy policy has reached a major turning point.

The biggest problem is dispelling concern that Japan’s nuclear power-related technology will be diverted to military use. At a press conference following the meeting with the Indian prime minister, Mr. Abe stated confidently, “We ensured the inclusion of language stating that Japan’s cooperation would be limited to peaceful purposes.” But the agreement lacks sufficient safeguards against the development of nuclear weapons.

India has conducted two nuclear tests and possesses nuclear weapons. The agreement includes language stating that if India, which has had a moratorium on nuclear testing since 1998, resumes testing the nuclear deal will be suspended. But even then Japan will not be able to evade responsibility for furthering the development of nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, provisions on the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel have yet to be decided on. Reprocessing leads to the extraction of plutonium, which can be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. In order to prevent nuclear proliferation, since the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant Japan has not permitted reprocessing in agreements it has entered into with other countries. So why is Japan going to allow reprocessing by India, which has not joined the NPT and has the potential to manufacture its own nuclear weapons? The government must give this more thought.

India has also reportedly refused to submit an inventory of the amount and location of its nuclear materials. NPT member nations that have entered into agreements with Japan have not hesitated to submit such an inventory. There is no reason an exception should be made for India.

Instead, Japan should be urging India, which is outside the framework of the NPT, to become a member. As the victim of nuclear bombings, Japan has called for nuclear non-proliferation. Is it acceptable for Japan to provide nuclear energy-related technology in such a way as to make a sham of the NPT? It is only natural that the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have called for the suspension of negotiations on the agreement.

India’s neighbor, Pakistan, which has not joined the NPT either, is alarmed about India’s promotion of nuclear reprocessing. A nuclear deal between Japan and India carries with it the risk of a new arms race in south Asia.

The Abe administration has made the export of infrastructure an important element of its growth strategy, but it is moving too fast.

At 1.3 billion, the population of India is the world’s second largest, and there is no doubt that furthering economic cooperation with India is important to Japan. In this case, the government must have been determined to see Japan’s technology used for the high-speed railway to be built in western India, particularly after just losing out to China in a similar deal in Indonesia.

The total cost of the railway project is 1.8 trillion yen, and Japan has also offered up to 1.46 trillion yen to India in the form of loans. Managing to introduce Japanese technology into India is undoubtedly a major breakthrough.

But the nuclear energy deal should not be taken lightly. India, which suffers from a power shortage, presumably hopes to further increase the number of its nuclear power plants with Japan’s cooperation. But unless concern about its development of nuclear weapons can be dispelled, Japan and the rest of the international community should not lend assistance to India.

In future negotiations Japan must press for compromise by India. Without it, the Japanese government must retract its agreement to the deal.

(Originally published on December 13, 2015)