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Japan’s Nuclear Power Program: A Strategic Paradox? via The Diplomat

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Constitutional matters aside, several events have lent credence to suspicions that Tokyo is already firming up this potentiality. The codification of the safety of the nuclear power program within the Atomic Energy Basic Law as indispensable to national security in 2012, the “missing” 640 kilograms of plutonium in 2014, and the pending resumption of fuel reprocessing operations at the Rokkasho enrichment plant under government supervision next year — despite a dearth of operational power plants — arguably indicate that Tokyo continues to regard nuclear power, at least in part, as a security asset. Some analysts have even contended that Japan’s nuclear power program lost its economic and energy rationale long ago. Even so, the technological, social, political, and financial impediments to acquiring a nuclear weapon in Japan mean that the speedy development of a deterrent is far from assured. Assertions by politicians that Japan is not constitutionally prohibited from possessing nuclear weapons have often inspired fierce public and political backlash, given Japanese society’s “allergy” to nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the military infrastructure required for supporting a nuclear deterrent would demand considerable financial and time investment, and Tokyo would likely be unable to call upon Washington’s assistance with this particular project. Essentially, while Japan could likely produce a nuclear weapon in a matter of months, actually deploying it for combat readiness would take much longer.

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By contrast, a credible argument that Japan’s persistence with nuclear power actually constitutes a strategic vulnerability has recently surfaced. In September, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi — who has vocally campaigned against nuclear power since 2013 — claimed that the possession of nuclear reactors was “tantamount to possessing atomic bombs directed at the people of Japan,” in terms of their vulnerability to both natural disasters and attacks by hostile forces. Others have criticized the contradiction between Tokyo’s escalating North Korean threat rhetoric and a failure to remedy the acute vulnerability of further nuclear catastrophes. The Fukushima disaster has already demonstrated the far-reaching and long-lasting impacts of nuclear fallout on health, environmental, economic, and energy security. While the safety of Japanese reactor technologies remain vehemently disputed, their strategic vulnerability is shaping up as another legitimate anxiety given the unpredictability of North Korean missile launches.

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