OPINION: Remove security clause from atomic law to avoid hurting Japan's interests.TOKYO, July 18 Kyodo
Legislation for establishing a new nuclear regulatory commission has recently been enacted and revisions to the Atomic Energy Basic Law also finalized, based on an agreement between the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.
The bill was submitted to the House of Representatives on June 15 and approved that afternoon. Briefings with the House of Councillors followed immediately and on June 20 the bill was passed and relevant legislation enacted without modification, clearing parliament in an unusually short time.
This all came just before the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, established by parliament, was preparing to present its final report including proposals on future policymaking. Although the ordinary Diet session was about to end, an extension was clearly in the cards.
When it learned of the developments, the Committee of Seven for World Peace Appeal, a body of seven Japanese nonpartisan intellectuals established in 1955 to push for the abolition of nuclear weapons and peaceful conflict resolution, hurried to issue an appeal to the wide community on June 19.
The appeal demanded that the wording "to contribute to our national security" be deleted from the bill, saying it is inappropriate to add such a clause to the Atomic Energy Basic Law which has long limited Japan's use of nuclear energy to peaceful purposes.
The bill's reference to nuclear energy being used "to contribute to our national security" can be clearly taken to indicate nuclear energy's military use.
We learned that only the Japanese Communist Party had criticized the intention of revision to add the clause well in advance. In response to parliamentary questioning by upper house lawmakers from the Social Democratic Party and the DPJ who took note of the committee's appeal, those who submitted the bill and Environment Minister Goshi Hosono said in explanation that the clause referred to nuclear safety regulations, nuclear security as in the protection of nuclear materials, and safeguards for nonproliferation.
This, however, is absurd.
The Nuclear Security Summit, which the Japanese government took part in, was held for the first time two years ago in Washington D.C. and then again in March this year in Seoul.
The Seoul Communique, concluded by the participating countries, touched on the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant and referred to separately nuclear security and the safety of atomic energy. There was no reference to nuclear energy for "national security."
To begin with, "nuclear issues for security of the nation" and "nuclear security measures" are two separate concepts. It is important to promote the safety of atomic energy, protection of nuclear materials and safeguard measures, but it is wrong to directly link them to the purpose of contributing to "national security."
Although they are few in number, some politicians and critics are pushing for Japan's nuclear armament or calling for it to retain the capability to do so.
House of Representatives member Yasuhisa Shiozaki, a central figure in the bill's making, told a South Korean newspaper on the day the bill was passed, "It does have significance, in terms of security, that (Japan) possesses nuclear technology. In order to protect Japan, we must also understand the technology of nuclear energy from the viewpoint of national security."
Given that politicians like Shiozaki, who was a former chief Cabinet secretary in the Liberal Democratic Party government, have made such remarks, even if the government claims it has no intention of arming Japan with nuclear weapons, it will not prevent criticism from escalating both domestically and abroad.
In South Korea, the issue has attracted huge attention in the media. There have even been calls from a politician there that if Japan follows China and North Korea in becoming a nuclear-armed state, South Korea should do so too.
During the bill's deliberation in parliament, the Cabinet Legislation Bureau said in a response to questioning, "Interpretation of legislation should, by nature, be defined logically in line with matters such as the provision's wording, purpose, and consistency with other provisions."
But instead of trying to unify interpretations in the form of Diet resolutions and government statements, the clause "to contribute to our national security" should be deleted quickly. Otherwise, confusion on the issue will continue and our national interests will be harmed.
(Michiji Konuma, a physicist and professor emeritus at Keio University, is a member of the Committee of Seven for World Peace Appeal.)