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Revision of Atomic Energy Law (part 3)



June 26, 2012

Atomic energy law's sly alteration is abuse of legislative process



In addition to "decisive" politics and "indecisive" politics, there is such a thing as "overlooked" politics.

The Atomic Energy Basic Law was amended in the shadows of the hoopla surrounding the three-party agreement on a tax hike. The new clause allows the possibility of nuclear armament open to interpretation. It was an underhanded deal, in which an amendment to the Atomic Basic Law was merely incorporated into the appendix of a law on the establishment of a nuclear regulatory panel.

It's not just anti-nuclear activists and those in support of abandoning nuclear power generation who have been shocked by the stunt. Those in the pro-nuclear power camp who are searching for a way to rebuild a united front have also expressed criticism.

This is no way to win back the public's confidence.

The law on the establishment of a nuclear regulatory commission was hastily passed. A revised bill that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), and opposition parties the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the New Komeito modified and agreed to was submitted to the Diet on June 15, and passed on June 20. The process of establishing the commission had been sped up in light of the reactivation of Kansai Electric Power Company's Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture.

Only at a meeting of an upper house environmental committee on June 20, when a DPJ lawmaker questioned whether nuclear arms development was the purpose of passing the bill, did it become public that a clause in the Basic Law had been revised.

The legislator lamented that the bill had been submitted just a few days earlier, and that they had not been given resources to compare the old and new versions of the modified clause. Also, while the revision had been initiated by the LDP, the clause in question was not mentioned in a bill outline that had been distributed at an LDP meeting on the evening of June 14, immediately after the three-party tax agreement. One policy expert in the LDP was even unclear on how and why things unfolded the way they did.

So what exactly does the clause that has fueled suspicions about its intentions say? The Atomic Energy Basic Law stipulates in Article 2 that research into and use of atomic power are restricted to peaceful purposes, championing democratic, independent and public disclosure principles. The appendix in question adds a sentence stating Japan's atomic energy policy should contribute to national security.

What constitutes "national security?" Asked by the aforementioned DPJ member whether nuclear arms development was the new regulatory body bill's true aim, the House of Representatives member of the LDP who submitted the bill denied that was the case, saying, "The purpose is to centralize the safety of nuclear power, safeguards by the International Atomic Energy Agency to prevent the military use of nuclear materials, and nuclear security to prevent terrorism into one commission."

Since June 20, various media have reported on the furtive move, with one paper carrying the front-page headline, "Nuclear power constitution changed surreptitiously, concerns toward military use." A deputy press secretary of South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also said that the ministry is "watching the situation closely."

It's not surprising that the bill came from the LDP. In post-war Japan, countless politicians and bureaucrats have revealed their off-the-record hopes for the country's nuclear armament. Japan's latent nuclear capability was what lent moral support to the leaders of this economic giant, who ostensibly were against nuclear weapons.

What then, is the reason for Japanese politicians to reveal their once masked pride in latent nuclear capability now?

"It probably comes down to the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant," said a bureaucrat with whom I've been acquainted for years. "If the country moves toward the abandonment of nuclear power, that facility will lose meaning. If it is legally granted legitimacy as a facility for the military use of nuclear materials, then it can continue to exist. I believe that there were LDP lawmakers who thought of that, and bureaucrats who supported them.

"The revision of relevant laws through their incorporation in appendices should only take place when a change in one law necessarily involves a change in another. The latest case has been an abuse of that process. It stands legally, but I think it's wholly inappropriate as legislation."

The Atomic Energy Basic Law went into effect in 1955, the same year that the LDP was founded. Fifty-seven years have since passed, and we are moving further and further away from democratic, independent and public disclosure principles. (By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)

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