Fukushima Nuclear Accident & Non-Proliferation

 

The development of atomic power for generating energy has been in vogue for about six decades. The concept of utilizing atomic power for peaceful purposes was emphasized by former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower in the early 1950s. He was the first world leader to draw global attention to the need for using nuclear energy for industrialization. He was later supported in this vein by many other politicians like former Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru.

Consequent upon this drive for developing nuclear power as a reliable source of energy  countries like U.S. and Russia started investing resources to operate nuclear power reactors. They even extended cooperation in this field to other prospective nations in the Third World. This suit was followed by a number of Western countries and also by Japan in Asia. The reliance of these countries on nuclear power to meet their energy requirements increased as development gained pace.  Available statistics suggest that France leads the world now in generating nuclear energy and not surprisingly it has been a leading exporter of nuclear fuel and technology.

No less dependent has been Japan on nuclear energy for years as it lacks other natural sources of energy in commensurate with its industrial needs. Japan’s industrial strength is shaped dominantly by nuclear energy where it supplies about one third of total power requirements. Having been heavily reliant on this source of power it has always been the major policy debate for the Japanese leaders to discuss the advisability of investing on developing nuclear power. This debate has of late acquired further momentum in the aftermath of Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011.

It is nuclear safety issue that has now captured the minds of the Japanese who have been the only victims of nuclear weapons in the world. The nuclear accident though triggered by unprecedented tsunami has shocked the Japanese society where thousands of lives were lost accompanied by colossal material damage. Such shock has led to intense debate concerning policy implications on nuclear energy, the development of which was rapidly taking place to keep pace with Japan’s industrialization drive.

It is a fact that nuclear technology has the potential of being misused for military application. This anxiety is not new. This has been an issue of rising concern for the adherents of nuclear disarmament for many years.  The period of 1960s had been a time when many possessors of civilian nuclear technology were seen enthusiastic about diverting that technology for making nuclear bombs. That was exactly the fundamental reason persuading the then nuclear powers as well as nuclear have-nots to agree to a global regime of nuclear non-proliferation.

The 1970 agreement in the form of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the only existing legal document that prohibits the production of nuclear weapons. In so doing this treaty also places prohibition on the possible transfer of nuclear technology to military purposes i e manufacturing nuclear bombs. Nuclear weapons are considered to be weapons of mass destruction and their use during World War II resulted in millions of civilian deaths in Japan. As mentioned earlier the technology used in generating nuclear energy and the fissionable materials utilized in civilian nuclear programs can simultaneously be used in weapons production. It is this potentiality that has posed a major challenge to all those who want to see a nuclear weapons-free world.

The controversial nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran have dominated the global agenda for a number of years. North Korea’s supposedly peaceful nuclear program was camaflouged to manufacture nuclear bombs as demonstrated by its two nuclear explosions in 2006 and 2009 and has thus been under UN sanctions for flouting the NPT. Iran has defied the UN in divulging all information related to its nuclear installations and is becoming a prospective nuclear weapons producer. In both cases we find that once a country obtains nuclear fuel and technology for peaceful purposes it is very likely that it can acquire the capability to make bombs. This reality has already been evidenced by the decision of India and Pakistan to go nuclear in 1998, which were secretly pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons under the cover of peaceful nuclear programs.

Against such background Henry Sokolski has brought out a revealing picture of Japan, which in his opinion, is preparing to cut down its dependence on nuclear energy in the wake of nuclear accident. Writing for Foreign Policy Sokolski has quoted the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the latter has signaled his support for efforts to eventually wean Japan from nuclear power-a position that is clearly resonating with a Japanese public that is now rightly preoccupied with nuclear safety.

Henry Sokolski further adds that in tune with Naoto Kan’s policy preference, Japan has recently suspended civilian nuclear cooperation talks with Brazil, India, South Africa, Turkey and United Arab Emirates. In a situation of reduced reliance on generating nuclear energy for fear of safety Japan is set to become a major supplier of nuclear fuel and technology. Here in lies the importance of Japan’s new nuclear policy with regards to global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

More importantly Japan’s Science Minister Yoshiaki Takaki has declared that Japan might terminate development of fast-breeder nuclear reactors which are fueled with plutonium. If this is implemented, it would eliminate the rationale for operating Japan’s huge reprocessing plant for separating plutonium from spent fuel used in its currently operating reactors. As one of the key ingredients for operating nuclear reactors, plutonium has often been found misused in countries like North Korea, a member of the NPT in legal terms (North Korea’s 2003 decision to withdraw from the treaty has not been approved by States Parties to NPT as yet) but a possessor of nuclear bombs.

The Fukushima Dai-chi Nuclear Plant accident is a blot in Japan’s nuclear safety history, however, nuclear policy reorientation now underway prompted by this catastrophe may bolster global efforts to denuclearize world if tighter nuclear export rules are enforced by the Japanese authorities.

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