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Revision of the Atomic Energy Basic Law (Part 2)

June 23, 2012

Editorial: National security clause must be deleted from law on atomic energy




An addition to the Atomic Energy Basic Law stating that Japan's nuclear energy should contribute to national security has stirred controversy.

The amendment has fueled speculations about its true aim. Some wonder whether the interpretation of the clause could be stretched to open the way for nuclear weapons development. Others question whether the clause is aimed at underscoring the effectiveness of the development and use of atomic power for nuclear power plants and other purposes.

Japan's three non-nuclear principles of not producing, not possessing and not introducing nuclear weapons form the core of its national policy, and the nation's successive administrations have ruled out the possibility of the country developing such weapons of mass destruction.

The basic law limits research, development and use of atomic energy strictly to peaceful purposes, championing democratic, independent and public disclosure principles. As such, one cannot help but wonder whether the national security clause is aimed at changing Japan's basic policy on nuclear energy.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura emphasized that "the principle of using atomic energy for peaceful purposes remains unchanged and the government has no intention of diverting such energy to military use." This goes without saying. And if it is indeed true, then misleading expressions should be avoided. We demand that the national security clause be deleted from the law.

The Atomic Energy Basic Law was amended by incorporating the clause into the appendix in the law on the establishment of a nuclear regulatory panel, which was passed into law on June 20.

The clause was not in the original government-sponsored bill. However, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito subsequently agreed to modify the bill and enact it as lawmaker-initiated legislation. At the time, the clause in question was incorporated into the appendix at the request of the LDP.

The Diet spent only four days deliberating the bill after it was submitted, and failed to thoroughly discuss whether Japan's atomic energy policy should contribute to the country's national security. Questions also remain as to whether it is justifiable to revise the basic law through the appendix of a separate law on the establishment of a new nuclear regulatory commission.

National security has been traditionally interpreted as "national defense mainly through military force." There are fears that the development of atomic energy could lead to the development and production of nuclear arms. Therefore, it is of great significance to declare that Japan's use of nuclear energy must be limited strictly to peaceful purposes and draw a clear line between such energy and national defense.

During Diet deliberations, an LDP legislator, who is one of the sponsors of the bill, said security in the law refers mainly to safeguards implemented by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, the meanings of "security" and "safeguards" are different. If the clause incorporated into the basic law is aimed at contributing to IAEA safeguards, it should clearly state that.

Some LDP legislators insist that Japan should maintain its high-level nuclear technology and demonstrate to the world its capability to develop nuclear weapons as a potential deterrent, linking atomic energy to national security.

South Korea responded to the inclusion of the clause in the basic law by saying, "We will watch the true intention behind the amendment and its future impact," against the backdrop of such a persisting idea in Japan.

The phrase, "contribute to Japan's national security," was also incorporated in the Aerospace Basic Act that was enacted in 2008. Moreover, a phrase stating Japan's space development must be limited to peaceful purposes was deleted from the Law Concerning the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in its amendments on June 20.

The fact that legislation relating to national security has been passed into law without sufficient discussions amid political confusion over the consumption tax hike has raised grave concerns.


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