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Atomic Energy Basic Law (Part 4)

July 2, 2012
Business-as-usual alteration of nuclear law unsettling



The long dominant and now largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) insists that an amendment to the Atomic Energy Basic Act is not a ploy to pave the way toward Japan's acquisition of nuclear arms. Moreover, the House of Representatives Legislation Bureau says the steps taken to institute the legal amendment have not violated any bylaws or regulations.

But there's something unsettling about the whole thing. First, there's the question of what a "basic act" is supposed to be. One can't help but feel that a foundational legal framework for atomic energy policy is being altered as if it were a routine process.

As mentioned in last week's installment of this column, Article 2 of the Atomic Energy Basic Law stipulates that research into and use of atomic power are restricted to peaceful purposes, championing democratic, independent and public disclosure principles. In the latest amendment, the clause that Japan's atomic energy policy should contribute to national security -- with the wording as it was originally suggested by the LDP -- was added. Suspicions have subsequently emerged that the revision is either an attempt to tie the conservative ideology of self sufficiency and self defense to nuclear arms development, or to allow for the continued operation and possible military use of the Rokkasho Nuclear Reprocessing Plant.

The national security clause was included as an appendix to a bill for the establishment of a new nuclear regulatory body in late June, and initially went unnoticed even by newspaper reporters.

Soon after the bill's passage, newspapers carried headlines decrying the "surreptitious alterations," and voicing worries concerning the military use of nuclear power. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, who heads an LDP project team on the establishment of the new panel, objected. He said that there were absolutely no military implications or alterations to the three non-nuclear principles in the use of the expression "national security" in the bill's appendix, and that the use of an appendix itself is standard procedure, and hardly counts as act of stealth.

Meanwhile, Masayoshi Yoshino, who, along with Shiozaki, was instrumental in bringing together the LDP proposal, also denied any ulterior motives for the amendment.

"The issue always came up during intra-party discussions, but there is no truth to the allegations" that the basic law was revised based on policy interests, he said. "In the bill establishing the new nuclear regulatory body, we included a clause saying that 'Japan's atomic energy policy should contribute to national security.' But that means we will work toward nuclear non-proliferation and take anti-terrorism measures. It was merely the result of our consultation with the legislation bureau to insure consistency with other laws."

Yoshino, whose constituency is based in central southern Fukushima Prefecture, hit hardest by the ongoing nuclear crisis, is distressed by how some have responded to the latest move.

"Under the law as it was, if a nuclear armament advocate were to become prime minister, the government could have refused international agencies from inspecting our nuclear facilities. The intention of the new law was to prevent such a thing from happening," he said. "I didn't think we'd be accused of moving toward nuclear arms development."

Bureau officials say there were no procedural violations, a statement backed up by "Workbook Hosei Shitsumu," a legislative manual that bureau staff have with them at all times. "For the purpose of establishing a new law, existing laws shall be amended through appendices," it reads on page 343.

The Atomic Energy Basic Act went into effect in 1955, 10 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a year after the Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru was hit by fallout from a U.S. nuclear test in the Pacific. It gave rise to heated debate on the interchangeability of nuclear technology used for peaceful and military purposes, as well as on mutual dependence.

The three principles of democracy, independence and openness in nuclear science emerged on the initiative of renowned physicists such as Hideki Yukawa, Shinichiro Tomonaga, Mitsuo Taketani and Shoichi Sakata, and were incorporated into the Science Council of Japan's statement on nuclear power. Article 2 of the Atomic Energy Basic Law is a reflection of that.

Fundamental questions about nuclear power have emerged once again, and yet among the politicians, bureaucrats and academics of today, the passion and sense of crisis that existed 57 years ago is gravely lacking. The standard procedures for handling the minute details of establishing a new regulatory body is one thing. But the utterly business-like manner in which the basic principles behind a basic law have been altered is unnerving. (By Takao Yamada, Senior Expert Writer)


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