A contentious debate over nuclear power in Japan is bringing another question out of the shadows: Should Japan keep open the possibility of making nuclear weapons – even if only as an option?
It may seem surprising in the only country devastated by atomic bombs, particularly as it marks the 67th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki three days later. The Japanese government officially renounces nuclear weapons, and the vast majority of citizens oppose them.
But as Japan weighs whether to phase out nuclear power, some conservatives, including some influential politicians and thinkers, are becoming more vocal about their belief that Japan should have at least the ability to make nuclear weapons.
The two issues are intertwined because nuclear plants can develop the technology and produce the fuel needed for weaponry, as highlighted by concerns that Iran is advancing a nuclear power programme to mask bomb development.
“Having nuclear plants shows to other nations that Japan can make nuclear weapons,” former Defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, now an opposition lawmaker, told the Associated Press.
Ishiba stressed that Japan isn’t about to make nuclear weapons. But, he said, with nearby North Korea working on a weapons programme, Japan needs to assert itself and say it can also make them – but is choosing not to do so.
Such views make opponents of nuclear weapons nervous.
A nuclear-armed Japan
“A group is starting to take a stand to assert the significance of nuclear plants as military technology, a view that had been submerged below the surface until now,” states “Fukushima Project,” a book by several analysts with anti-nuclear leanings.
Adding to their jitters, parliament amended the 1955 Atomic Energy Basic Law in June, adding “national security” to people’s health and wealth as reasons for Japan’s use of the technology.
“The recognition that both nuclear issues must be addressed is heightening in Japan,” said Hitoshi Yoshioka, professor of social and cultural studies at Kyushu University. The link between the two is “becoming increasingly clear.”
Yoshioka sits on a government panel investigating the nuclear disaster caused by the March 11 tsunami last year.
The subsequent meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant have called into question the future of nuclear power in Japan, in turn raising concern among some bomb advocates.
Most proponents don’t say, at least not publicly, that Japan should have nuclear weapons.
Rather, they argue that just the ability to make them acts as a deterrent and gives Japan more diplomatic clout.