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Nuclear North Korea: the View from Seoul

Robert Gallucci, former U.S. negotiator with North Korea at the 2013 Asan Nuclear Forum. By Kelsey Davenport ( Seoul, Republic of Korea )—North Korea's third nuclear test on Feb. 12 sparked concern in the international community about possible qualitative and quantitative improvements to Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal. But concerns about an increasing number of nuclear weapons on the Peninsula should not solely be limited to the North. Recent polling data collected by the Asan Institute indicates that the majority of South Korean favor acquiring their own nuclear arsenal. A public opinion poll...

Time to Stop Reprocessing in Japan

Masako Toki and Miles Pomper

Japan began operations at its first commercial nuclear power plant in 1966. For more than four decades, Tokyo never veered from its goals of increasing nuclear energy’s share of electricity generation and developing a self-sufficient plutonium-based nuclear fuel cycle.

The March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor complex, the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, forced Japan’s government and citizens to reconsider the country’s long-held nuclear policy. Under public pressure, the government advanced a key strategy document calling for phasing out nuclear power, although Tokyo has hesitated to endorse its recommendations formally amid opposition from industry, some local communities, and foreign allies—including the United States, France, and the United Kingdom—that have a stake in Japan’s nuclear policy.

An inadequately discussed aspect of the new policy and the most important from a nonproliferation point of view is Japan’s refusal, even amid a potential nuclear energy phaseout, to abandon its controversial program for reprocessing spent fuel to separate plutonium. Japan is the only nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) non-nuclear-weapon state that possesses full-scale nuclear fuel facilities, including spent fuel reprocessing facilities. Despite Japan’s otherwise admirable nonproliferation record, Tokyo’s reprocessing program has long been a source of concern for Japan’s neighbors and for governmental and nongovernmental nonproliferation advocates around the world because it provides Japan with the ability to produce material that is usable in nuclear weapons. Those concerns have only grown, as other Asian nuclear energy powers, particularly South Korea, point to Japan’s program—and U.S. support for it—as a justification for moving forward with their own reprocessing efforts.

The possibilities for changing this policy have been further clouded by Japanese’s parliamentary elections on December 16. In the first national election since the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won a landslide victory in the lower house of Japan’s National Diet over the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). The majority of the Japanese public continues to support the phaseout backed by the previous DPJ government, but the LDP won the election because of dissatisfaction with DPJ performance on other issues, particularly economic concerns.

The LDP, which ruled Japan for nearly half a century until 2009, advocates a more conservative approach to a potential nuclear phaseout than the DPJ or most other Japanese parties. During its time in power, the LDP also promoted Japan’s closed fuel-cycle policy, in which spent fuel from light-water reactors (LWRs) is reprocessed to yield plutonium that could be used in making new fuel. However, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, New Komeito, supports the phaseout of nuclear power as soon as possible, shutdown of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, and a review of Japan’s fuel cycle policy, including a transition from reprocessing to direct disposal of spent fuel.

Although it is certain that the trend in Japan will be to de-emphasize the role of nuclear power in electricity generation, it is unclear at this stage how fast or far the Japanese government will move forward with phasing out nuclear power. The LDP-led government will likely slow the DPJ policy. Before the December elections in the lower house, in which most of the political parties that supported the phaseout of nuclear energy lost seats, the LDP proposed spending up to 10 years to decide the best long-term energy mix for the country, but endorsed a reduction in Japan’s dependence on nuclear power.

The LDP and New Komeito have reached a compromise agreement under which Japan will reduce reliance on nuclear energy as much as possible. Yet, Shinzo Abe, the new prime minister, favors continuing to build new, more advanced nuclear reactors, different from the earlier generation of reactors that included the ones at Fukushima Daiichi. In addition, the new minister of economy, technology, and industry, Toshimitsu Motegi, has said that completely abandoning the goal of a closed nuclear fuel cycle is not an option.

Yet even reviving short-term use of nuclear power will depend on overcoming opposition from local and provincial authorities one at a time. LDP nuclear policies have already drawn criticism from opposition parties, the media, and the public.

Regardless of the pace of the phaseout, the direction is clear. The new government should take advantage of the changed post-Fukushima nuclear energy environment to put a stop to the country’s costly and unnecessary reprocessing program.

Japan’s Reprocessing Policy

At the inception of its nuclear program, Japan decided on a closed fuel cycle. As a resource-poor and rapidly industrializing country, Japan’s intent was to avoid potential uranium shortages as it turned to nuclear energy to mitigate its strong dependence on imported fossil fuels.

Originally, Japan was planning to use mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel—so called because it is a mix of uranium oxide and plutonium oxide—in fast breeder reactors, which can “breed” more plutonium than they consume. When the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) issued its first long-term plan in 1956, it stated that using fast breeder reactors would be the best option for Japan’s nuclear energy policy. Since then, Japan has attempted to develop commercially viable breeder reactors with the goal of making the country virtually independent in nuclear fuel. Research and development (R&D) work indicated, however, that the reactors would not prove economical, given abundant low-cost uranium.

Moreover, Monju has been plagued with problems. In 1995 it experienced a sodium leak and fire, which idled the reactor for more than a decade. In 2010 there was another accident, and the reactor has been shut since then.

These setbacks failed to slow the momentum toward the closed nuclear fuel cycle given Tokyo’s massive investments in the relevant facilities. These included construction of Monju, the Rokkasho reprocessing plant—owned by Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL), whose majority shareholder is the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC)—in Aomori prefecture, and reprocessing and MOX fuel technology R&D at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency at Tokai in Ibaraki prefecture.

Given the problems with breeder-reactor commercialization, the government in 1997 adopted a secondary “pluthermal” option of burning MOX fuel in ordinary LWRs.[1] Before the Fukushima accident, Japan planned to use the pluthermal cycle in the short term and commercialize breeder reactors in the long term. The FEPC, a coalition of private electric utilities, had planned with government encouragement to implement the pluthermal cycle in 16 to 18 power reactors by 2015. Meanwhile, the anticipated commercialization date for breeder reactors had been pushed back to 2050.[2]

Japan has adhered to its policy so far despite domestic and international concerns that it was accumulating separated plutonium that could be used to build nuclear weapons as well as provide fuel for nuclear power plants. By the end of 2011, Japan possessed 44.3 metric tons of separated plutonium—9.3 metric tons within the country and 35 metric tons at reprocessing plants in France and the United Kingdom.[3] Under current contracts, the reprocessors are to return the overseas plutonium to Japan in the form of MOX fuel. Given that International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards assume that only eight kilograms of plutonium are needed for a nuclear weapon, that is enough for thousands of weapons. Japan has the fourth-largest stockpile of civilian plutonium, after the United Kingdom, France, and Russia—all nuclear-weapon states.

Yet, Japan still plans to open the massive and massively expensive Rokkasho reprocessing plant despite years of delays, investments of almost $20 billion, and an ever-diminishing policy rationale. The Rokkasho plant, which has been in the testing phase since 2006, originally was scheduled to become operational in November 2008. Complications during test operations have caused the JNFL to postpone this date 19 times, resulting in a new estimated operational date of October 2013.[4] If the reprocessing plant were to become commercially operational, it would separate and stockpile up to eight metric tons of plutonium annually, enough material for as many as 1,000 nuclear weapons. In April 2012, the JNFL restarted construction of a MOX fuel fabrication plant next to the reprocessing facility.

Policy Review

East Asian Views on Reprocessing

In addition to Japan, several East Asian states possess advanced nuclear infrastructures and have explored reprocessing options. China and South Korea are pursuing commercial reprocessing capabilities, while Taiwan is forgoing the technology due to U.S. influence. Regional security dynamics and economic feasibility strongly influence these governments’ views.

China has extensive experience with reprocessing technology and is pursuing a commercial-scale facility. Beijing began reprocessing for its nuclear weapons program in the late 1960s, first at the Jiuquan Atomic Energy Complex and later at the Guangyuan facility.[1] China has since decommissioned both facilities and converted them to civilian use.[2] In the 1980s, Beijing chose a closed fuel-cycle strategy and began examining commercial reprocessing.[3] In 2007 the China National Nuclear Corporation and Areva signed an agreement to assess the feasibility of a reprocessing plant, with a target operational date of 2025.[4]

South Korea, citing concerns over storage space for spent nuclear fuel, has invested heavily in research on pyroprocessing technology. Approximately 10 percent of the employees at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute are involved in work supporting research for the technology, which dissolves spent fuel in molten salt and then electrochemically separates the fuel’s elements.[5] Under the 1974 U.S.-South Korean nuclear cooperation agreement, U.S. prior consent is required before U.S.-origin nuclear material is “altered in form or content,” in effect preventing reprocessing.[6] With that agreement expiring in 2014, Seoul is seeking a revised agreement allowing pyroprocessing. U.S. officials are concerned about the potential effect of such an agreement on the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which prohibits North and South Korea from possessing reprocessing facilities.

Taiwan maintains a policy of using nuclear power for peaceful purposes without enriching uranium or reprocessing spent fuel, a legacy of U.S. efforts to shut down Taiwanese nuclear weapons activities in the 1970s.[7] Since that time, the United States has been party to a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with Taiwan, a trilateral safeguards agreement with Taiwan and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a bilateral safeguards agreement. The current U.S.-Taiwanese agreement gives the United States prior consent rights over the alteration of nuclear material, in effect preventing reprocessing.[8] That agreement is set to expire in 2014, but U.S. leverage over Taiwan’s security arrangements likely ensures that the new agreement will not permit reprocessing.—JONATHAN RAY

Jonathan Ray is a graduate research assistant at the East Asia Nonproliferation Program of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.



1. David Wright and Lisbeth Gronlund, “Estimating China’s Production of Plutonium for Weapons,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2003): 65-66.

2. Mark Hibbs, “China Said to Be Preparing for Decommissioning Defense Plants,” NuclearFuel, May 17, 1999.

3. Hui Zhang, “Rethinking Chinese Policy on Commercial Reprocessing” (presentation at the 18th Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference, Busan, South Korea, March 18-23, 2012).

4. “China’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” World Nuclear Association, November 2012, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf63b_china_nuclearfuelcycle.html.

5. Frank von Hippel, “South Korean Reprocessing: An Unnecessary Threat to the Nonproliferation Regime,” Arms Control Today, March 2010.

6. “Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of the Republic of Korea and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy,” 1974, art. 7(f).

7. William Burr, “The Taiwanese Nuclear Case: Lessons for Today,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 9, 2007, http://www.carnegieendowment.org/2007/08/09/taiwanese-nuclear-case-lessons-for-today/6cq.

8. Mark Hibbs, “Taiwan and the ‘Gold Standard,’” Arms Control Wonk, July 23, 2012, http://hibbs.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/941/taiwan-and-the-gold-standard.

The nuclear energy policy review launched by Tokyo in the wake of the Fukushima accident and released in September should have provided an opportunity and a further incentive to rethink Japan’s closed fuel-cycle policy, but largely failed to do so.

Last September 14, the Energy and Environment Council (EEC)[5] issued the long-awaited “Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment” with input from several governmental agencies including the JAEC, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. In a deviation from the traditionally closed world of Japanese nuclear policy, the strategy documents considered public opinion.[6]

Based on recommendations from the JAEC, the EEC laid out three scenarios for the future of Japan’s energy policy, indicating different relative shares of electricity production that nuclear energy could provide in 2030.[7] All three scenarios aim to reduce the country’s reliance on nuclear energy below the 30 percent share it contributed before the Fukushima accident and far below the 40 percent share that Tokyo originally envisioned for 2017. The first scenario drops nuclear power to 0 percent of electricity generation, the second to 15 percent, and the third to 20 to 25 percent. The JAEC recommendations called for clearly linking these proposed energy use scenarios to spent fuel options. The first scenario envisioned direct disposal and burial underground for all spent fuel; scenarios two and three would use reprocessing and direct disposal.

The EEC held extensive public hearings on the three options, inviting written public comments between July 2 and August 12. It also held public hearings in July and August in 11 cities, with each hearing attended by approximately 100 to 200 people.[8] Notably, the government conducted “deliberative polling,” which incorporated focus groups and polling of respondents in an effort to reflect public opinion in the new energy policy.[9]

These initiatives to involve the general public in the decision-making process for the nuclear share of the energy supply were laudable, but the EEC options provided to the public did not include the strong linkage to spent fuel options that the JAEC recommended.[10] Asking the public to weigh in on the proportion of nuclear energy to be used but obscuring how those choices would be reflected in fuel cycle policy undermined the transparency the government ostensibly was attempting to create.

This was particularly important because the public outreach showed that the majority of respondents strongly supported a phaseout of nuclear energy by 2030. (In spite of that, the strategy ultimately extended the timetable for the phaseout to the end of the 2030s.)[11] The strategy would accomplish these goals by strictly limiting nuclear power plants to a 40-year operating lifetime, requiring that the newly established Nuclear Regulation Authority determine whether reactors can restart operations safely and forgoing additional construction of nuclear power plants.[12]

Yet, the Japanese government largely decided to continue its current nuclear fuel-cycle policy, including reprocessing projects. Behind this decision were strong pressures from the governments in the communities that house nuclear fuel-cycle facilities. Prior to the issuance of the strategy, Rokkasho’s village assembly called for removal of the spent fuel from the area if Tokyo abandoned its reprocessing plans. The statement was sent to ministers in charge of nuclear policy, the governor of Aomori, and the mayor of Rokkasho village.[13]

The Aomori prefectural government also has been considering refusing to accept highly radioactive waste scheduled to be returned from overseas and vitrified at the Rokkasho reprocessing facility for disposal if Tokyo turns away from reprocessing.[14] The decision to continue reprocessing reportedly was derived mainly from the pressures from Aomori prefecture and Rokkasho village. To mitigate the concerns of the Aomori prefectural government and its local communities, the strategy highlighted the central government’s intention to make progress toward identifying the final disposal sites in consultation with relevant local governments in order to avoid the indefinite storage of the spent fuel at the Rokkasho facility. It also included a commitment to move fuel from reactors to offsite storage facilities pending reprocessing or final disposition.

Another important factor in the Japanese government’s decision to continue reprocessing was the financial concerns of the troubled utilities that operate Japan’s nuclear plants. Due to Japan’s long-held policy of reprocessing 100 percent of its spent fuel, these utilities have considered spent fuel as an asset because it contains plutonium, which has been viewed as a useful energy resource. If the government abandons its reprocessing policy, however, these companies’ balance sheets will have to treat the spent fuel as a liability, possibly threatening some of them with bankruptcy unless the government provides them with financial compensation.

The strategy called for the government to continue discussions with the local communities that host the reprocessing facilities and with the international community. The strategy also included five priorities related to nuclear energy: (1) beginning research on direct disposal; (2) terminating operation of the Monju reactor, intended to be the first of many such reactors to burn plutonium fuel more efficiently, after a certain period of international cooperation on R&D of fast breeder reactors; (3) promoting R&D of spent fuel processing technology and advanced burner reactors to reduce the radioactivity of nuclear waste; (4) shifting responsibility from the private sector to the government for the disposition of spent fuel; and (5) launching a discussion forum to deal with issues related to direct disposal of nuclear spent fuel, including interim storage and final disposal sites.[15]

These issues have not been seriously discussed in Tokyo until now because they did not accord with Japan’s long-standing 100 percent reprocessing policy. The shift appears to be an effort to make Japan’s spent fuel management policy flexible and to mitigate concerns of reprocessing advocates and direct-disposal advocates.

New Strategy Questioned

The strategy document soon ran into strong opposition from the business sector, the communities where nuclear facilities are major employers, and the United States. The United States is not only Japan’s key security protector, but also its essential commercial partner in nuclear energy, given the marriages between General Electric and Hitachi and between Toshiba and Westinghouse. Moreover, based on the U.S.-Japanese nuclear cooperation agreement, Japan is the only NPT non-nuclear-weapon state that the United States has permitted to reprocess “U.S.-origin” fuel. In Japan’s case, this constitutes essentially all of its fuel because the term applies to any fuel irradiated in reactors with U.S. technology.[16]

After the release of the strategy document, U.S. officials expressed concern that continuing reprocessing while decreasing the use of nuclear energy would increase the quantity of separated plutonium, clashing with an important U.S. policy goal. Indeed, only a few months earlier, President Barack Obama, in a speech at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea, had stated that the “smallest amount of plutonium—about the size of an apple—could kill hundreds of thousands and spark a global crisis. We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists.”[17]

The U.S.-Japanese agreement, which entered into force in 1988, is due for renewal in 2018 and has a mechanism that will lead to renewal without further intervention by either party. The agreement stipulates, however, that either country could initiate consultations on amending the agreement or replacing it with a new agreement.[18] Given the U.S. concern over Japan’s potential accumulation of separated plutonium under the new strategy, it is conceivable that the United States may object to renewing the current blanket permission for spent fuel reprocessing.[19]

Two Japanese officials—Seiji Maehara, DPJ policy chief, and Akihisa Nagashima, special adviser to the prime minister for foreign and defense policy—briefed senior U.S. officials on the new nuclear energy policy shortly before it was announced. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman and other officials reportedly urged Japan to keep the amount of separated plutonium to a minimum.[20] The U.S. government expressed its concern that Japan’s new policy would undermine the basis of the current U.S.-Japanese cooperation agreement because the new policy implies that Japan continues to accumulate separated plutonium without consuming it.[21]

The United States requested that Japan be flexible in implementing the new energy strategy and not adopt the details specified in the new strategy as a cabinet decision.[22] Five days after the EEC issued this strategy, the cabinet issued a statement saying that the Japanese government will “tak[e] into account” the strategy document “while having discussions in a responsible manner with related local governments, the international community and others, and obtaining understanding of the Japanese public, by constantly reviewing and reexamining policies with flexibility.”[23] According to several media reports, U.S. pressure led Tokyo not to formalize the policy but instead leave it as a nonbinding measure.

No Market for MOX Fuel

Even without a phaseout, separated plutonium in Japan is accumulating faster than it is being used. With no short-term prospect for commercialization of a fast breeder reactor, permanent disposal and the pluthermal fuel cycle are the only ways to eliminate separated plutonium. Under Japan’s pre-Fukushima plans, a pluthermal cycle using MOX fuel would have consumed roughly six to nine metric tons of plutonium each year, requiring a period of at least five to seven years to dispose of the material once converted into MOX fuel. Yet, not only is Japan just beginning construction of a MOX fuel fabrication facility at Rokkasho, it has no operating reactors slated to burn the fuel.

Japan is backing away from the use of MOX fuel as a result of the temporary shutdown of nearly all of Japan’s nuclear power plants after the Fukushima accident and some particular safety concerns that arose after MOX fuel was used at unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. One worry is that because MOX fuel is more radioactive than low-enriched uranium fuel used in other reactors, an accident involving MOX fuel would be more severe.

By the end of 2010, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency had approved the use of MOX fuel in 11 reactors, including Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 and J-Power’s Oma reactor.[24] Oma, currently under construction, will be able to utilize a full MOX fuel core. To date, thermal reactors that have used MOX fuel have used it in only one-third of the core.

Since the Fukushima accident, most Japanese nuclear power plants have not been operating. In fact, units 3 and 4 of Kansai Electric Power Company’s Ohi nuclear power station are the only two power reactors currently operating in the country. Neither of these units is licensed to use MOX fuel. Both were restarted last July after passing government-run “stress tests” and amid massive protests against the restart and nuclear power. Between May and July, there were no nuclear power plants in operation in Japan.

Kansai’s Takahama Unit 3 had used MOX fuel before the earthquake, and Unit 4 was slated to use MOX fuel after its regular inspection in July 2011. Kansai decided to use conventional uranium for the Unit 4 once it is restarted.

Meanwhile, Hokkaido Electric Power Company, which had planned to use MOX fuel in Tomari Unit 3, one of the two plants that were shut down last, decided to suspend that plan. Among the plants that were scheduled to use MOX fuel, most are planning to use conventional uranium fuel when they restart, given concerns that use of MOX fuel would cause a further delay in winning approval from local governments to restart operations.

Moreover, one of the major companies promoting the utilization of MOX fuel was Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operated the Fukushima Daiichi plant and is now essentially bankrupt. Therefore, it is uncertain when the pluthermal cycle will restart. Furthermore, this July, the newly established Japanese regulatory authority is scheduled to issue its new safety standards, which will be tighter than the existing standards. Thus it is unlikely that any power companies will restart reactors before then even with conventional uranium fuel and even less likely with MOX fuel.

With no clear prospect of using MOX fuel, there is no justification to continue reprocessing spent fuel. This simply accumulates more separated plutonium, which clearly contradicts Japan’s stated policy of avoiding surplus plutonium.


A fair degree of uncertainty surrounds Japan’s future nuclear energy plans even after the recent parliamentary election. Nonetheless, it is clear that the scale of nuclear energy use will not support the fuel cycle policy that Japan had pursued for half a century. The new Japanese government should seize the opportunity to change the policy.

In particular, it makes little sense to plan to add to Japan’s massive stockpile of plutonium when there is no market for the MOX fuel that would be produced from that stockpile. Separating additional plutonium only contributes to suspicions in neighboring countries that the plant has more to do with Japanese nuclear weapons ambitions than Japanese fuel needs and thus encourages these countries to take matching steps (see box, page 25). The spread of reprocessing technology in the region will aggravate the already volatile security situation in East Asia and could lead to a proliferation chain reaction.

Japan’s neighbors and rivals already regard Japan as a virtual nuclear-weapon state. South Korea, which currently is negotiating a new nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, is insisting that Seoul should be granted the same right as Tokyo to reprocess its spent fuel. North Korea has openly declared its possession of nuclear weapons and carried out tests of nuclear explosives made with plutonium from reprocessed spent fuel.

In addition, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, at a joint press conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone in 2009, called for Iran to implement the Japanese nuclear model.[25]

The new Japanese government should immediately announce a moratorium on operation of the Rokkasho reprocessing facility until it determines a long-term spent fuel policy. If the United Kingdom, as anticipated, joins France in planning to burn its separated plutonium in domestic reactors, Japan should seek to negotiate an agreement with those countries to have them burn Japanese plutonium holdings on their territory.[26] Indeed, a British governmental document supports this idea if Japan is willing to bear the cost.[27]

Domestically, Japan should either vitrify its current holdings of separated plutonium together with high-level waste or transmute separated plutonium into a more stable and safer form for direct disposal using new technology, possibly with a new type of burner reactor. The Monju reactor is likely to be shut down after a certain period of R&D, but if Tokyo pursues the option of using fast-neutron reactors to reduce radioactive waste by burning actinides for waste management, the Monju reactor might be turned into such a burner reactor.

After the end of the Cold War, the international community started paying more attention to a growing accumulation of plutonium originating from civilian and military nuclear programs. Since then, the Japanese government has tried to demonstrate that the country’s accumulated plutonium is strictly limited to peaceful purposes and that it is adhering to the principle of “no surplus plutonium.”[28] With the aim of enhancing transparency, in 1991 the JAEC decided to declare annually Japan’s plutonium stockpile by location.[29] Furthermore, in 2003, in order to strengthen the principle of avoiding growing plutonium surpluses, the JAEC issued a new guideline for plutonium management. Under that guideline, Japanese electric utilities are expected to publish a plutonium usage plan annually, before they separate plutonium from spent fuel.[30]

Nevertheless, the amount of plutonium continues to increase, generating serious concerns inside and outside the country. This proves that the principle of avoiding surplus plutonium is insufficient. Therefore, civil society and nongovernmental organizations have urged the government to take concrete initiatives to reduce the plutonium stockpile. The U.S.-Japan Nuclear Security Working Group, which was established in November 2010, could decide to address the issues related to excess plutonium in a practical way as the renewal date for the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement approaches.

A Japanese government decision to suspend reprocessing would have benefits far beyond the country’s shores. One effect would be on nuclear security. As Obama’s remarks in South Korea made clear, stockpiles of separated plutonium provide an all-too-attractive target for terrorists.

Furthermore, ending the program would contribute to global and regional stability. Several other countries, such as Iran and South Korea, are considering their own reprocessing plans and routinely point to Japan’s program and U.S. acceptance of it as justification for their own efforts. A Japanese decision to forgo reprocessing would deprive those countries of a major argument for developing their nuclear fuel cycles, including reprocessing capabilities, and may substantively affect their decisions on that issue. With tensions soaring between Japan and neighbors such as China, Tokyo’s excess plutonium and advanced nuclear fuel-cycle capability provide a latent nuclear weapons capability that further destabilizes the region’s volatile security environment.

It is past time for Japan to end a costly, wasteful, and counterproductive nuclear fuel-cycle policy that undermines global and regional security.



Masako Toki is a research associate and project manager of the Nonproliferation Education Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Miles Pomper is a senior research associate at the center.




1. The term “pluthermal” refers to the use of plutonium in typical commercial light-water reactors, which fission slower, “thermal” neutrons rather than the fast neutrons fissioned by fast reactors.

2. Japan’s Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy, adopted in October 2005 by the Cabinet, reiterated its commitment to further promoting the nuclear fuel cycle. It also highlighted Japan’s goal of commercializing practical fast-breeder-reactor fuel cycles. See http://www.aec.go.jp/jicst/NC/tyoki/taikou/kettei/eng_ver.pdf.

3. International Panel on Fissile Materials, “Japan’s 2011 Civilian Plutonium Declaration,” October 3, 2012, http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2012/10/japans_2011_civilian_plut.html.

4. “Rokkasho N-Fuel Plant Completion Delayed,” Jiji Press, September 20, 2012, http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120919004612.htm.

5. The Energy and Environment Council (EEC), which was established to provide recommendations on Japan’s energy future, is part of the National Policy Unit (NPU), a command center created by the DPJ government when it took power in 2009. The NPU, which is directly under the prime minister, coordinates interagency policy and seeks to maintain political control over Japan’s powerful bureaucracy. For more information on the NPU and EEC, see http://www.npu.go.jp/en/whatnpu/.

6. Japanese EEC, “Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment,” September 14, 2012, http://www.npu.go.jp/en/policy/policy06/pdf/20121004/121004_en2.pdf.

7. The timetable was extended by a decade in the final version of the document.

8. “Enerugii Kankyou no Sentakushi ni Kansuru Kokumintekigiron no susumekatani tsuite (dainihou)” [On How to Conduct National Debates Regarding Options of Energy and Environment, Version 2], Enerugii Kankyou Kaigi Jimukyoku [Energy and Environment Council Secretariat], August 20, 2012, http://www.npu.go.jp/policy/policy09/pdf/20120820/20120820.pdf.

9. Japanese NPU, “Options for Energy and the Environment: The Energy and Environment Council Decision,” June 29, 2012, http://www.npu.go.jp/policy/policy09/pdf/20120720/20120720_en.pdf.

10. “Gov’t Energy Council Sets 3 Options for Energy and Anti-Global Warming Policy,” The Mainichi, June 30, 2012.

11. Kokka Senryaku Tantou Daijin, “Senryaku Sakutei ni Mukete- Kokuminteki Giron ga Sashishimesumono” [Minister of State for National Policy, Toward Establishment of the New Strategy: What National Debates Indicate], September 4, 2012, http://www.npu.go.jp/policy/policy09/pdf/20120904/shiryo1-1.pdf.

12. Japanese EEC, “Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment.” With regard to the ban on reactor construction, the DPJ made an exemption to allow construction to restart on three reactors that were being built when the Fukushima accident occurred: J-Power’s Oma reactor in Aomori prefecture, Chugoku Electric Power Company’s Shimane Nuclear Power Plant Unit 3, and Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Higashidori Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1 in Aomori.

13. Rokkasho Village Assembly, “Statement of Position for Maintaining Firmly of Reprocessing Route of Spent Fuel,” September 7, 2012, http://www.rokkasho.jp.e.av.hp.transer.com/index.cfm/11,491,32,134,html.

14. Vitrification involves mixing plutonium or nuclear waste with sand or other material to make a glass-like form. In this state, the nuclear waste or plutonium is immobilized and not likely to harm the enviornment or public health. “Japan to Allow N-Reactor Construction in Progress to Continue,” Jiji Press, September 15, 2012.

15. Japanese EEC, “Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment.”

16. Paul K. Kerr and Mary Beth Nikitin, “Nuclear Cooperation With Other Countries: A Primer,” CRS Report for Congress, RS22937, June 19, 2012.

17. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Obama at Hankuk University,” March 26, 2012.

18. “Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Japan Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy,” November 4, 1987, http://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/inlinefiles/Japan_123.pdf.

19. Tetsuya Endo, “Mankiga Chikazuku Nichibei Genshiryokukyoutei no Kongo” [The Future of the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Agreement of Which the Renewal Date Approaches], Japan Institute of International Affairs, September 19, 2012, http://www.jiia.or.jp/column/201209/19-endo.html.

20. “U.S. Urges Japan to Keep Plutonium Minimum on Proliferation Fears,” Japan Economic Newswire, October 3, 2012.

21. “Tamaru Pu Saishori Yuragu” [Reprocessing Policy Wavers Due to Accumulating Plutonium], Yomiuri Online, http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/e-japan/aomori/feature/aomori1349793384574_02/news/20121011-OYT8T01682.htm.

22. Ibid.

23. “Future Policies for Energy and the Environment Cabinet Decision,” September 19, 2012, http://www.npu.go.jp/en/policy/policy06/pdf/20121004/121004_en1.pdf.

24. The following 11 reactors have been licensed to use MOX fuel as part of the pluthermal program: Tomari-3, Onagawa-3, Fukushima I-3, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa-3, Hamaoka-3, Takahama-3 and 4, Shimane-2, Ikata-3, Genkai-3, and Oma.

25. A. Savyon and Y. Mansharof, “The Japanese Nuclear Model Applies to Us Too,” Iran Almanac, May 5, 2009, http://www.iranalmanac.com/news/lastnews.php?newsid=10327&date=2009-05-08.

26. With the aim of developing a constructive proposal on spent fuel management, like-minded members of the DPJ established a study group. The group’s first recommendation, in February 2012, was to defer indefinitely the Rokkasho plant’s startup. For more information on the proposal, see http://nuclear-backend.jp/teigen/120207teigen.pdf. Apart from that, the secretary of the study group, Toshiro Ishii, proposed that 17 metric tons of plutonium extracted by the United Kingdom from Japanese spent fuel and stored in the United Kingdom be sold to or accepted by that country. He pointed to a December 2011 British policy document that called for eliminating that country’s separated civilian stocks by burning MOX fuel in civilian reactors and said that the British government concluded that overseas owners of plutonium stored in the United Kingdom “could, subject to commercial terms that are acceptable” to the British government, “have their plutonium managed in line with this policy.” See UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), “Management of the UK’s Plutonium Stocks,” December 1, 2011, http://www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/Consultations/plutonium-stocks/3694-govt-resp-mgmt-of-uk-plutonium-stocks.pdf.

27. UK DECC, “Management of the UK’s Plutonium Stock.”

28. International Atomic Energy Agency, “Communication Received From Certain Member States Concerning Their Policies Regarding the Management of Plutonium,” INFCIRC/549/Add. 1, March 31, 1998.

29. Tadahiro Katsuta and Tatsujiro Suzuki, “Japan’s Spent Fuel and Plutonium Management Challenges,” International Panel on Fissile Materials, September 2006, http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr02.pdf.

30. Tatsujiro Suzuki, “Current and Future Prospects of Japan’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Policies: Issues and Challenges” (presentation at the Royal Society workshop titled “Building Proliferation Resistance Into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” London, June 10-11, 2010), http://www.aec.go.jp/jicst/NC/about/kettei/100610.pdf.

Japan began operations at its first commercial nuclear power plant in 1966. For more than four decades, Tokyo never veered from its goals of increasing nuclear energy’s share of electricity generation and developing a self-sufficient plutonium-based nuclear fuel cycle.


Strains Seen in Japan’s Plutonium Policy

Daniel Horner

Japan’s recently proposed energy strategy is not clear on how to address fundamental policy questions on the country’s approach to spent nuclear fuel, reprocessing, and plutonium use, a Japanese official and a U.S. nuclear expert said in interviews last month.

On Sept. 14, the Japanese government issued an energy strategy document that contemplates the phase-out of nuclear power by about 2040. A cabinet decision five days later made clear that the strategy document did not constitute a binding policy decision, and the strategy could be scrapped entirely if the current Japanese government falls from power in the upcoming elections, which are expected to take place by next summer.

The new energy strategy is part of Japan’s response to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors on March 11, 2011.

For decades, a central part of Japan’s nuclear plans has been what energy and nonproliferation specialists call “closing the fuel cycle.” That involves reprocessing the spent fuel from power reactors to separate plutonium that is then used in making fresh fuel for reactors.

The strategy document says “it is necessary…to tackle squarely” the question of what to do with spent fuel, but does not make specific commitments in that regard. It commits Japan to “continu[ing] its present nuclear fuel cycle policy,” although it adds a few caveats.

“We have not decided anything important” with regard to the plutonium program, the Japanese official said in an Oct. 25 interview. In fact, he said, the policy contains some “contradictory” elements.

For example, the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, where Japan plans to reprocess spent fuel from its power plants, has been authorized to operate beyond the year 2050, but the strategy does not explain how reprocessing will continue if the nuclear power plants that would consume the plutonium separated at Rokkasho have been shut down, he said.

The Rokkasho plant has faced many problems and has not begun commercial operation; the current estimate for its startup is October 2013. Japan has shipped much of its spent fuel to France and the United Kingdom for reprocessing. Of the approximately 44 metric tons of separated plutonium that Japan owns, about nine metric tons are in Japan, with the remaining 35 metric tons roughly evenly split between the two European reprocessors, according to the most recent figures released by Japan.

International Sensitivities

In an Oct. 19 interview, Charles Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists, said Japanese officials are “acutely aware” of the potential concerns in Asia and elsewhere raised by the plutonium surplus. There have been “numerous discussions” with the U.S. government on the issue, said Ferguson, who is co-chairman of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation’s U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group.

Japanese media have reported that, at a meeting in September, U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman encouraged Japanese officials to minimize the amount of plutonium they stockpiled.

In an Oct. 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Poneman aide declined to comment on “the specifics of diplomatic discussions.” With regard to the U.S. policy on reprocessing and plutonium use, she said it is up to the Japanese government to make the decision and “the United States is eager to help in any way Japan finds useful as it explores its future approach to nuclear power.” The United States has proposed that the two countries discuss “the non-proliferation and security aspects of the new nuclear energy policy,” she said.

Domestic Commitments

Ferguson and the Japanese official stressed that the domestic politics of Japan’s fuel cycle are complicated and likely to play a major role in whatever decision the country ultimately makes in that area.

As the two men described it, one of the inducements to the residents of Aomori to agree to host the Rokkasho plant was that it would not become a long-term repository for spent fuel and radioactive waste. Yet, the official said, nuclear operators in Japan also made a commitment to the localities hosting nuclear power plants that they would not have to store spent fuel on-site indefinitely and could transfer it eventually to a reprocessing plant such as the Rokkasho facility. That combination of commitments does not give policymakers much latitude on fuel cycle policy, regardless of what decisions they make with regard to nuclear power, he said.

In addition to plutonium, reprocessing produces so-called high-level waste, which also requires a repository. A key question for Japanese fuel-cycle policy is where the country will decide to locate this facility, Ferguson said.

In part because of the uncertainties about the size of the Japanese reactor fleet in the coming years, it is unclear how rapidly the separated plutonium could be consumed. Ferguson and the official said one option being discussed is to develop fast-neutron reactors, which are capable of “breeding” more plutonium than they consume but also can be used to “burn” plutonium more efficiently than light-water reactors can.

Japan’s recently proposed energy strategy is seen by some as unclear on how to address fundamental policy questions on the country’s approach to spent nuclear fuel, reprocessing, and plutonium use.

Fukushima One Year Later

By Daryl G. Kimball Today, the people of Japan and people the world over pause to remember the nearly 20,000 people killed and unaccounted for as a result of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. An aerial view of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power, two weeks after the tsunami struck Japan. Japan is also still reeling from the man-made nuclear reactor meltdown calamity at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi complex, which will exact an enormous human, environmental, and economic price for decades to come. And, of course, we are still learning about the causes of Fukushima disaster, how a...

Will No-Test Condition Sink India-Japan Nuclear Deal?

By Eric Auner As I reported in September, India and Japan have been discussing a potential civil nuclear deal. As a major supporter of the nonproliferation regime, Japan has suggested that it will attach a condition whereby cooperation would cease in the event of a future Indian test. As Global Security Newswire reports, India is unenthusiastic about such a condition: India has spurned suggested language in a nuclear trade agreement with Japan that would freeze the deal should the South Asian state carry out another atomic test blast, Kyodo News reported today (see GSN, Aug. 23). "I hear...

India, Japan Discuss Terms of Nuclear Trade

Eric Auner and Daniel Salisbury

India is pursuing a civil nuclear trade deal with Japan, which has said that cooperation depends on India not conducting any further nuclear test explosions.

On Aug. 21, India and Japan concluded the latest round of their strategic dialogue, which included discussions of civil nuclear cooperation. At a joint press conference with Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna that day in New Delhi, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said that, in the event of a future Indian nuclear test, “Japan will have no option but to state that we shall suspend our cooperation.”

India also signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Canada, and discussed nuclear cooperation with a high-profile British delegation.

India, which tested nuclear devices in 1974 and 1998, was barred from engaging in nuclear trade with Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) members until 2008. NSG guidelines ban nuclear trade with countries that are not parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and that do not place all their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. India remains outside the NPT, but it obtained an NSG waiver in 2008 that allows it to conduct nuclear trade with the group’s members. (See ACT, October 2008.) India has placed some of its nuclear power reactors under safeguards.

Since the NSG decision, India has entered into nuclear cooperation agreements of various forms with a number of countries, including France, Russia, and the United States.

India and Japan formed a working group on nuclear energy in late April and engaged in two days of negotiations on the subject in late June. Talks on civil nuclear cooperation are taking place in the context of the “2+2” dialogue, which involves the foreign and defense ministers of both countries discussing a wide spectrum of economic and security issues

In addition to indicating that an Indian nuclear test would result in the suspension of a nuclear agreement, Okada urged India to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and make progress toward negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty.

Many Japanese nonproliferation advocates have opposed nuclear cooperation with India. The mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, released a statement criticizing nuclear negotiations with India. “This means that a nation that has suffered atomic bombings itself is now severely weakening the NPT regime, which is beyond intolerable” he said Aug. 9 during a ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

A Japanese condition suspending nuclear cooperation in the event of an Indian test would be similar to a section of the 2006 Hyde Act, which amended U.S. law to allow nuclear trade with India. The Hyde Act opened the door to the U.S.-Indian cooperation agreement; that accord, signed in 2007 and approved by Congress in 2008, does not itself contain a requirement that India forswear future nuclear tests. The Indian government has traditionally defended its right to conduct future nuclear tests although it currently is observing a moratorium.

India and Canada signed their cooperation agreement at the end of the June Group of 20 summit in Toronto after bilateral meetings between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The agreement will allow Canadian firms to export nuclear material, equipment, and technology to India and will encourage cooperation in nuclear safety and waste management.

Canada has a long history of involvement with India’s nuclear program. It sold a CIRUS research reactor, as well as two CANDU power reactors, to India in the 1950s and 1960s. Spent fuel from the CIRUS reactor was later used to produce the fissile material for India’s 1974 nuclear test explosion. Canada cut off nuclear trade in the wake of the 1974 test, opening a long-lasting diplomatic rift between the two countries.

At a June 27 press conference, Singh sought to ease concerns that Canadian nuclear exports would be used for military purposes. “We have complete civilian control and there is no scope whatsoever for any nuclear material or equipment being supplied going for any unintended purpose,” he said, according to The Indian Express. “Nuclear material supplied to India will be fully safeguarded” under the terms of India’s agreement signed with the IAEA, he said. He added that India has a “fool-proof system of export controls.” Singh and Harper released a joint June 27 statement in which both expressed their commitment to “the ratification of the agreement and the completion of all remaining steps necessary to ensure its early implementation.”

When asked about the nonproliferation assurances received by the Canadian government and whether Canada would cease nuclear cooperation in the event of an Indian nuclear test, Laura Markle, a spokeswoman at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said in an e-mail exchange last month that any use of Canadian materials or technology beyond “peaceful, civilian and non-explosive purposes” would “provide cause for the immediate suspension, and eventual termination of nuclear cooperation.”

The United Kingdom has been seeking greater participation in the Indian market as well. A high-profile British delegation, which included Prime Minister David Cameron, visited India in late July. While on the trip, Business Secretary Vince Cable said the countries already are cooperating on “a certain amount of modest research,” but want to move to “a higher level.” British companies “potentially could do a large amount of [nuclear] business in India,” he said. In February, India and the United Kingdom signed a Joint Declaration on Civil Nuclear Cooperation, in which the two governments expressed the desire “to promote extensive co-operation in nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”


India is pursuing a civil nuclear trade deal with Japan, which has said that cooperation depends on India not conducting any further nuclear test explosions.

Letter to the Editor: The Coming Glut of Japanese Spent Fuel

Leonard Spector

Frank von Hippel’s article (“South Korean Reprocessing: An Unnecessary Threat to the Nonproliferation Regime,” January/February 2010) on the proliferation risks of South Korea’s plans for reprocessing spent fuel from its nuclear power program elegantly frames what is likely to become a major controversy as South Korea’s agreement for nuclear cooperation with the United States comes up for renewal in 2014.

Von Hippel argues that the South Korean approach, based on an unproven technology known as “pyroprocessing” and yet-to-be-designed fast reactors, is unlikely to succeed on a scale sufficient to alleviate South Korea’s spent fuel management problem. Moreover, he stresses, it could introduce new proliferation risks by creating stocks of material from which plutonium could be more easily extracted than from spent fuel.

To underscore his point, von Hippel highlights the great difficulties Japan has encountered in its own spent fuel reprocessing program, based on classic reprocessing technology that is well understood, and conventional reactors. The situation in Japan, however, is considerably worse than von Hippel describes, making his core point all the more powerful.

According to recent information, Japan plans to reprocess 32,000 metric tons of spent fuel (17,000 now in storage and 15,000 to be discharged in the future) over the next 40 years. But its reactors will discharge a total of 45,000 metric tons of spent fuel during this time, leaving it with 30,000 metric tons to be held at an interim storage facility to be built not far from the Rokkasho site.

At that point 40 years hence, with its current reprocessing plant at the end of its useful life, Japan would need to build another reprocessing plant to start working down this excess spent fuel; but during the operation of that plant, still more spent fuel will be discharged, probably at a greater rate than in the current 40-year period, as Japan’s nuclear sector grows. This implies that as far into the future as one can reasonably see, Japan will be storing tens of thousands of metric tons of spent fuel on an “interim” basis that in practical terms is likely to be perpetual because the Japanese reprocessing program never catches up with discharges.

Thus, although the Japanese spent fuel reprocessing program is presented as a solution to the country’s spent fuel management problem, it is only a partial solution at best. It is also an extremely costly one. Von Hippel notes that the Japanese have stated that the construction, operation, and decommissioning of the Rokkasho facility will amount to $100 billion. Assuming that the plant processes a total of 32,000 metric tons of spent fuel, the cost of the Japanese approach would be a hefty $3,125 per kilogram of heavy metal processed.

As von Hippel stresses, all of these challenges will confront the South Korean pyroprocessing endeavor, but will almost certainly be more severe, given the novelty of the technologies involved. As a result, almost certainly, the approach, like Japan’s, will be at most only a partial solution to Korea’s pending spent fuel glut.

Finally, we need to take von Hippel’s commentary one step further and articulate a strategy that works: strong international validation of 100- to 200-year interim storage of spent fuel as an appropriate spent fuel management option. Japan has tacitly accepted this option for half of its spent fuel. With the termination of the YuccaMountain underground repository project, it appears that the United States also is going to be forced to do so for its entire spent fuel output, the largest in the world.

This is, in truth, the de facto international standard. But it needs to be formally recognized. The environmental community, in particular, needs to express confidence that this option is safe and can adequately protect the public from harm for generations to come.


Leonard Spector is deputy director of the JamesMartinCenter for Nonproliferation Studies and heads the center’s Washington office.


The Role of Nuclear Weapons: Japan, the U.S., and “Sole Purpose”

By Masa Takubo

On September 22, a day before President Barack Obama met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in New York, 13 nongovernmental U.S. security experts released an open letter calling on the two leaders “to support a U.S. policy declaring that the only purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter, and if necessary respond to, the use of nuclear weapons by other countries.”[1]

The letter was prompted in part by the coincidence of two events: the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which is supposed to be completed by December and delivered to Congress shortly after, and the victory of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in August. The nuclear policies of the DPJ appear to be markedly different from those of its predecessor, the Liberal Democratic Party, which dominated Japanese politics for more than 50 years.

A key element of the Japanese-U.S. security relationship has been the U.S. pledge to protect Japan against any attack. That pledge has been understood by the Japanese government as an offer of a “nuclear umbrella,” or extended nuclear deterrence, covering attacks on Japan with conventional, chemical, or biological weapons, as well as nuclear weapons.

The security experts’ letter called for a policy of limiting the role of nuclear weapons to deterrence of only nuclear attacks.[2] The letter explained:

This policy would be consistent with President Obama’s [April 5] statement in Prague that he will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy, and urge other countries to do the same.

Such a change in U.S. policy will also strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—a goal of both nations—by reinforcing the negative security assurances the nuclear weapons states have made not to use nuclear weapons against states without nuclear weapons. It will also reduce the incentive for more countries to acquire nuclear weapons.[3]

The current Japanese-U.S. arrangement has come to function as a barrier to global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. Because of a fear in the United States and elsewhere of the perceived prospect that Japan might acquire its own nuclear arsenal if it came to regard the nuclear umbrella as unreliable, the arrangement in effect gives Japan significant leverage. It allows Japan to put pressure on the United States to avoid taking any significant steps to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in its security and military doctrines and thus impedes progress on freeing the world of nuclear weapons. Those in the United States who oppose narrowing the role of nuclear weapons could also use Japan’s position as an excuse for not changing the current U.S. policy.

Former Secretary of Defense William Perry, one of the four authors of Wall Street Journal op-eds calling for a world free of nuclear weapons, said in a recent meeting in Tokyo that he has also been calling on Obama to adopt a policy declaring that the “sole purpose” of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter the use of such weapons by others.[4] He said this “sole purpose” declaration would amount to a no-first-use declaration but that the latter is not acceptable in the United States because the concept is tarnished by its abuse during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union advocated no-first-use while, as was later discovered, it was preparing for first use.[5] Thus, in discussions today, the sole purpose, or “only purpose,” declaration is usually interpreted as a euphemistic substitute for a no-first-use declaration.[6]

Katsuya Okada, Japan’s new foreign minister, has been a staunch advocate of no-first-use, but bureaucrats in his ministry are resisting that idea and the sole purpose concept. According to the security experts’ letter and other accounts, these Japanese skeptics are playing an important role in the U.S. NPR. The letter said that “[s]ome Japanese bureaucrats want to preserve the status quo, and argue that such a change in U.S. nuclear policy could undermine Japan’s confidence in U.S. security guarantees.”[7] It warned that some Americans “remain mired in Cold War thinking, and cite these Japanese concerns to argue against changing U.S. policy, which they contend could lead Japan to build its own nuclear weapons.”[8]

In an October 18 speech in Kyoto, Okada noted the central contradiction in Japanese policy on nuclear weapons: “Hitherto, the Japanese government has said to the U.S., ‘We don’t want you to declare no first use because it will weaken nuclear deterrence.’ However, it cannot be said to be consistent to call for nuclear abolition, while requesting the first use of nuclear weapons for yourself.”[9]

The International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), co-chaired by former Foreign Ministers Yoriko Kawaguchi of Japan and Gareth Evans of Australia, is scheduled to issue its report in the coming months. Referring to the ICNND, which was meeting in Hiroshima the same day he spoke in Kyoto, Okada said, “As a general course, we should discuss what could be done to achieve no first use of nuclear weapons. I would expect that the Evans-Kawaguchi report would be along those lines. When the report comes out, I would like to discuss this no-first-use issue fully with the United States."[10]

Historical Background[11]

Why do some believe that Japan will seek a nuclear capability if the United States adopts a sole purpose policy? After all, Japan takes pride in having adopted three non-nuclear principles. Formalized in 1967 by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, they specify a clear commitment not to possess or produce nuclear weapons or to permit their entry into the country.[12] Japan is a strong supporter of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the lead sponsor of a widely supported UN General Assembly resolution on nuclear disarmament that has been adopted every year since 1994.[13]

The answer lies in the history of Japan’s nuclear policy. When Japan adopted its three non-nuclear principles, it was, in Sato’s mind, part of a package in which protection by the nuclear umbrella of U.S. extended deterrence was a precondition.[14] The implication is that Japan will not seek nuclear weapons as long as the nuclear umbrella is regarded as reliable.

Sato raised the issue of the nuclear umbrella during a conversation with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on January 13, 1965. According to a summary, Sato said, “Please be careful about statements concerning bringing nuclear weapons onto the land. Of course, should a war break out, it would be a different story. We expect that the U.S. will immediately retaliate with nuclear weapons.”[15] These comments were made shortly after China’s first nuclear test, which took place on October 16, 1964.

In 1982 the Japanese government officially expressed its view that the U.S. nuclear umbrella provides for a first-use option in retaliation for an attack by conventional weapons. This explanation was given in response to a question raised by Diet member Takahiro Yokomichi on February 19, 1982, concerning a statement made the previous year by Eugene Rostow, director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Rostow had said that, as with its extended deterrence policy for Western Europe, the United States would be prepared to use nuclear weapons if the Soviet Union attacked Japan with conventional weapons.[16] On June 25, 1982, a government official told the Diet that this understanding was implied in a 1975 press statement issued jointly by President Gerald Ford and Prime Minister Takeo Miki.[17] Referring to the joint statement, the official said, “We believe that in the sense that all the measures are included, it would mean that the nuclear deterrent or retaliation would not be limited to nuclear attacks against Japan.”[18]

Later, with the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union over, government officials and security experts in Japan started to consider the security implications of North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons, as well as China’s conventional weapons buildup. In 2003, for example, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Mitoji Yabunaka, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, filed a request with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly “to make sure the United States does not again [as in 1994] promise not to use its nuclear weapons against North Korea if Pyongyang agrees to dismantle its nuclear development program.”[19]

More recently, when asked about encouraging the United States to adopt a no-first-use policy, Prime Minister Taro Aso told an August 9 press conference in Nagasaki that, “[i]n international society, there exist large arsenals including nuclear forces…. It could disturb the deterrence balance and undermine security to have a discussion separating nuclear weapons from other weapons.”[20] Reiterating what Masahiko Komura had said when foreign minister in 1999, Aso said, “Even if a nuclear power says it won’t make a pre-emptive strike, there’s no way to verify its intentions. I wonder if that’s a realistic way to ensure Japan’s safety.”[21]

Such assertions about the difficulty of verifying a no-first-use declaration might have been referring to China, which has maintained a no-first-use policy since 1964. That policy is often considered a piece of propaganda in Japan. The Japanese responses cited above intentionally or unintentionally confuse the no-first-use policies of an adversary, China, and those of an ally, the United States. Aso’s remarks were made in response to a question about U.S. policy, in the context of the United States perhaps being able to make a contribution to the efforts toward global nuclear disarmament by declaring a no-first-use policy. This declaration could reduce international tension and the role and value of nuclear weapons and perhaps prepare the way for further reductions in the number of nuclear weapons.

Japan is also said to be actively trying to influence other aspects of U.S. nuclear policy. In his Web log discussing nuclear-tipped Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAM/N), Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists points out that Japan is being cited as the main reason for the potential life extension of the TLAM/N force, which has been virtually retired since the days of President George H. W. Bush.[22] The 2009 final report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, headed by Perry and James Schlesinger, says:

In Asia, extended deterrence relies heavily on the deployment of nuclear cruise missiles on some Los Angeles[-]class attack submarines – the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile/Nuclear (TLAM/N). This capability will be retired in 2013 unless steps are taken to maintain it. U.S. allies in Asia are not integrated in the same way [as NATO countries] into nuclear planning and have not been asked to make commitments to delivery systems. In our work as a Commission it has become clear to us that some U.S. allies in Asia would be very concerned by TLAM/N retirement.[23]

In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee May 6, Schlesinger said Japan “is the country that has perhaps the greatest leaning, amongst the 30-odd nations that we have under the umbrella, to create its own nuclear force, and therefore, intimate discussions with the Japanese, I think, are mandatory at this stage.”[24] Perry followed Schlesinger by saying that even if the United States does not see the need to deploy certain weapons, it should take into consideration the concerns of its allies. He said there still is “great concern in both Europe and in Asia about the credibility of our extended deterrence…. It is important for us to pay attention to their concern and not try to judge whether deterrence is effective by our standard, but we have to take their standards into account as well. And a failure to do this…would be that those nations would feel that they had to provide their own deterrence. They would have to build their own nuclear weapons.”[25]

The position of past Japanese administrations has influenced the deliberations of the ICNND, although the commission is an independent body. In addition to commission co-chair Kawaguchi, the advisory board has three Japanese members. Two are former high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who are strongly opposed to the idea of limiting the role of nuclear weapons to the sole purpose of deterring nuclear attacks, let alone a no-first-use declaration by the United States. The third adviser is the chair of the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission, who was presumably chosen in part to protect another aspect of Japan’s nuclear policy: Japan’s right to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing.

When Evans came to Japan in May, he warned that Japan’s position on the need for the nuclear umbrella against conventional, chemical, and biological weapons was a major obstacle to the commission's approval of a recommendation to call on the United States to adopt a no-first-use policy.[26]

The Australian newspaper The Age reported September 4 that although “most of the 15-member commission, including Australia's co-chairman, former foreign minister Gareth Evans, plan to call on nuclear-armed states to change their defence doctrine and declare they will only use atomic weapons when faced with direct nuclear attack,” Kawaguchi opposed the idea.[27]

Later that month, Japan’s Kyodo News said the Japanese team opposed language in the draft report calling for U.S. statements on nuclear doctrine before the May 2010 NPT Review Conference. According to the article, the draft report said the ''sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter use of nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies and (possibly) that the United States is willing to consider moving in combination with other nuclear armed states to a clear no-first-use posture.”[28]

Overestimated Threat

How strong are Japan’s objections to U.S. adoption of a new policy on the role of nuclear weapons and deeper nuclear weapons reductions? Is it actually likely that if the United States adopted such a policy, Japan would violate its NPT obligations and seek to acquire nuclear weapons against the wishes of the United States and world opinion? There is a big difference between a theoretical possibility and a realistic probability that Japan will go nuclear. Also, a U.S. no-first-use policy does not imply the cessation of Japanese-U.S. security arrangements or a withdrawal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella against possible nuclear attacks. Furthermore, a Japanese nuclear-weapon program could in fact jeopardize Japan’s security arrangement with the United States and its position in the international community. Former Minister of Defense Shigeru Ishiba, who is known for his knowledge of nuclear and military affairs, recently said about Japan exercising the option to develop nuclear weapons, “That would naturally mean Japan withdrawing from the NPT. We would not be able to obtain nuclear fuel.... With dependency on nuclear power for about 40% of [our] electricity, we would experience a major decline in economic activities. Japan going nuclear would automatically mean the collapse of the NPT regime and there would be nuclear countries all around us.”[29] In a book published three years ago, Ishiba said, “In any case, the voters would not allow such a thing as possession of nuclear weapons.”[30] Japan would have to consider these realities before going nuclear, which so-called realists in the United States tend to ignore. Ishiba, a conservative, knows about these realities. If the United States adopts a sole purpose policy, can one really argue that Japan would believe that whatever benefits it might gain from going nuclear would outweigh the negative consequences?

The DPJ, which won a landslide victory in Japan’s August 30 election, declared its nuclear policy supporting no-first-use in 2000. Okada was the head of the team that developed this policy. Although the current official status of the document is not clear, on May 12, 2009, Okada, who was DPJ secretary-general at the time, told a Diet session that “a norm not allowing at least first use, or making it illegal to use nuclear weapons against countries not possessing nuclear weapons, should be established. Japan should be at the forefront of this effort as a leader.”[31] In an interview soon after, Okada elaborated on his position:

I believe that Japan should advocate the following three points: that the states possessing nuclear weapons, the United States in particular, should declare no first use; formation of an agreement that it is illegal to use nuclear weapons against countries without nuclear weapons; and, partly overlapping with these two, the initiative of a Northeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone.

If the United States declares no first use, that does not mean that Japan will be completely outside the nuclear umbrella. In a situation where nuclear weapons actually exist in this world, it would be natural that people feel worried about the nuclear umbrella going away.

I talk about going out of the nuclear umbrella halfway, where first use would not be exercised, but in the unfortunate case that Japan suffers a nuclear attack, we are not ruling out a nuclear response to it. We have such an assurance ultimately. So please understand that I am not just talking about an idealistic theory.[32]

He said, however, that “[w]e do not necessarily need a nuclear umbrella against the nuclear threat of North Korea. I think conventional weapons are enough to deal with it.”[33]

At the recent Tokyo meeting, Perry said that the combined conventional forces of Japan and the United States would be enough to deter nuclear attacks of North Korea and that those forces could cause devastating damage. North Korea’s leaders know that, and they are not suicidal, he said.[34]

Okada repeated his position in the inaugural Cabinet press conference on September 16, saying, “My own personal belief has been to question whether countries which declare their willingness to make first use of nuclear weapons have any right to speak about nuclear disarmament, or nuclear nonproliferation, in particular nonproliferation.”[35]

During an October 20 meeting in Japan with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Okada told Gates that the Japanese government currently is examining the no-first-use issue and that he would like to discuss it with the United States. Gates responded that the flexibility of deterrence is necessary.[36] Three days later, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen expressed his agreement with Gates while in Tokyo.[37] Thus, U.S. defense officials appear to be resisting adoption of a new policy advocated by a Japanese foreign minister, rather than the other way around.

Okada also has taken steps to investigate secret understandings between Japan and the United States, which include those related to the third non-nuclear principle of not permitting nuclear weapons to enter Japan.[38] The United States and Japan have not strictly adhered to this principle. Documents declassified in the United States show a secret agreement at the time of the 1960 revision of the Japanese-U.S. security treaty to allow port calls by U.S. ships carrying nuclear weapons.[39] On September 17, Okada ordered the Foreign Ministry’s top bureaucrat to investigate the issue of secret pacts. Because of the 1991 decision by Bush to withdraw nuclear weapons from surface ships and attack submarines, the port-call issue has been moot. Yet, the alleged request by Japan to put TLAM/N on attack submarines, which frequently stop at Japanese ports, would, if realized, lead to a situation necessitating secret pacts or abandonment of the third principle. The logical step for Okada is to investigate these “requests” and withdraw them officially if Japan is to come clean and keep the third principle intact. It would be rather difficult for Japan to tell the United States not to bring in any nuclear weapons, while demanding that the United States put tactical weapons on attack submarines that roam around Japan and keep open the option of using nuclear weapons in response to a non-nuclear attack on Japan.

The picture should be clear to Obama. Okada’s speech in Kyoto and his explanation to Gates about the policy review taking place within the Japanese government should be interpreted as a message to the Obama administration to act boldly in its NPR process and adopt a sole purpose policy, if not a no-first-use policy.


The Guardian reported September 20 that Obama rejected a draft NPR because it was too timid. According to the report, Obama called for a range of more far-reaching options, including more radical reductions of nuclear weapons and a redrafting of nuclear doctrine to narrow the range of conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons.[40] In his September 23 speech to the UN General Assembly, Obama appeared to provide a hint of his intentions when he said: “We will complete a Nuclear Posture Review that opens the door to deeper cuts and reduces the role of nuclear weapons.”[41]

The ICNND is expected to release its final report in a weakened form around January 2010.[42] The Japanese government should not wait until then to express its official support for a sole purpose policy. Japan also should encourage the United States to declare a clear no-first-use policy. However, Obama should not wait for Japanese action to make bold changes in U.S. nuclear policy.

The world now has an opportunity to make significant steps toward a nuclear-weapon-free world. Outdated and misunderstood policies should not stand in the way.

Masa Takubo is an independent analyst on nuclear issues living in Japan and operator of the nuclear information Web site Kakujoho. This article is based in part on a chapter on Japan’s attitudes toward nuclear disarmament in a forthcoming report by the International Panel on Fissile Materials.


Unless otherwise noted, all translations are the author’s.

1. Union of Concerned Scientists, “Letter Urges Obama, Hatoyama to Change Nuclear Policy,” September 22, 2009, www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/letter-urges-us-japan-nuclear-0285.html (hereinafter Union of Concerned Scientists letter).

2. This would mean adoption of “core deterrence,” defined by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on International Security and Arms Control as “the restricted form of extended nuclear deterrence in which coverage is intended against nuclear threats—and only nuclear threats—to one’s own country and to one’s allies.” See Committee on International Security and Arms Control, National Academy of Sciences, “The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy,” 1997, p.15, www.puaf.umd.edu/Fetter/1997-fun.pdf.

3. Union of Concerned Scientists letter.

4. William Perry, Remarks at “The Japan-US Partnership Toward A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Tokyo, October 21, 2009 (hereinafter Perry remarks).

5. Ibid.

6. Some Cold War thinkers could interpret “sole purpose” to allow for a scenario for first use: a counterforce first strike for the purpose of limiting the damage when the enemy is considered to be about to attack with nuclear weapons. Therefore it will eventually be necessary to rule out this scenario by making a clear-cut no-first-use declaration. See Hans M. Kristensen, Robert S. Norris, and Ivan Oelrich, “From Counterforce to Minimal Deterrence: A New Nuclear Policy on the Path Toward Eliminating Nuclear Weapons,” Occasional Paper No. 7, Federation of American Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council, April 2009.

7. Union of Concerned Scientists letter.

8. Ibid.

9. Katsuya Okada, Remarks at “Atarashii Jidai no Nichibei Kankei” [Japan-U.S. relationship in a new era], Kyoto, October 18, 2009.

10. Ibid.

11. For more information, see Masa Takubo, “Japan's Challenges and Dilemmas Over Nuclear Disarmament,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 91 (Summer 2009).

12. The policy of the three non-nuclear principles was first expressed by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato at the Diet (House of Representatives Budget Committee) on December 11, 1967. See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives minutes], December 11, 1967, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/057/0514/05712110514002a.html.

13. See Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Adoption of Nuclear Disarmament Resolution Submitted by Japan to the 63rd Plenary Session of the United Nations General Assembly,” December 3, 2008, www.mofa.go.jp/announce/announce/2008/12/1185313_1080.html; UN General Assembly, “Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Paraguay, Philippines, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Ukraine: Draft Resolution: Renewed Determination Towards the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons,” A/C.1/63/L.58, October 23, 2008, www.mofa.go.jp/policy/un/disarmament/arms/un0810.pdf.

14. Sato explained the relationship between the nuclear umbrella and the principles as follows: “What should Japan do about its security under the three principles concerning nuclear weapons: not possessing, not producing, and not bringing in nuclear weapons?… When I met President Johnson last time in 1965, and this time too, I said: ‘Could the Japan-U.S. security treaty defend Japan against any kind of attacks?’ In other words, is it useful against nuclear attacks? President Johnson said [that the U.S.] will clearly defend Japan against any attacks.” House of Representatives Budget Committee, December 11, 1967. See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives minutes], December 11, 1967, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/057/0514/05712110514002a.html.

15. “Sato Makunamara Kaidan no Omona Yaritori” [Main conversation at the Sato-McNamara meeting], Kyodo News, December 22, 2008, http://yamagata-np.jp/news_core/index_pr.php?kate=Detail&no=2008122101000153&keyword=. The summary was among the documents declassified last December by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

16. House of Representataives Budget Committee, February 19, 1982. See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives minutes], February 19, 1982, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/096/0380/09602190380013a.html.

17. “Further, they recognized that the US nuclear deterrent is an important contributor to the security of Japan. In this connection, the President reassured the Prime Minister that the United States would continue to abide by its defense commitment to Japan under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security in the event of armed attack against Japan, whether by nuclear or conventional forces.” For the full statement, see “Japan-U.S. Joint Announcement to the Press (by Prime Minister Takeo Miki and President Gerald R. Ford),” Washington, August 6, 1975, www.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/~worldjpn/documents/texts/JPUS/19750806.O1E.html (hereinafter Miki-Ford statement).

18. House of Representatives Budget Committee, June 25, 1982. See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives Minutes], June 25, 1982, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/096/0380/09606250380022a.html.

19. “Govt Wants U.S. to Keep North Korea N-Deterrent,” Daily Yomiuri, August 23, 2003.

20. “Shusho Kaku Senseifushiyo niwa Hiteiteki” [Prime minister negative about no first use], Nihon Hoso Kyokai [Japan Broadcasting Corporation], August 9, 2009.

21. Ibid.

22. Hans Kristensen, “Japan, TLAM/N, and Extended Deterrence,” FAS Strategic Security Web log, July 2, 2009, www.fas.org/blog/ssp/2009/07/tlam.php. See Jeffrey Lewis, "Japan ♥ TLAM/N,” ArmsControlWonk Web log, May 8, 2009, www.armscontrolwonk.com/2284/japan-tlamn.

23. Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, “America’s Strategic Posture,” 2009, p. 26, http://media.usip.org/reports/strat_posture_report.pdf. The commission’s wording in this passage could be read to suggest that TLAM/N are currently deployed on the Los Angeles-class submarines. As discussed elsewhere in this article, that is not the case.

24. James Schlesinger, Statement before the House Armed Services Committee, May 6, 2009, http://armedservices.house.gov/hearing_information-jan-may2009.shtml.

25. William J. Perry, Statement before the House Armed Services Committee, May 6, 2009, http://armedservices.house.gov/hearing_information-jan-may2009.shtml.

26. Yumi Kanazaki,“Kakuno Kasa Kaishaku Saikowo” [Interpretation of nuclear umbrella should be reexamined], Chugoku Shimbun, May 28, 2009.

27. Daniel Flitton, “Australia, Japan in Nuclear Rift,” The Age, September 4, 2009, www.theage.com.au/national/australia-japan-in-nuclear-rift-20090903-f9yw.html.

28. “Japan Reluctant to Accept Proposal for U.S. to Reduce Role of Nukes,” Kyodo News, September 13, 2009, www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9AMDKV80&show_article=1.

29. Shigeru Ishiba and Kazuhisa Ogawa, Nhihon no Senso to Heiwa [Japan’s war and peace] (Tokyo: Bijinesu Sha, 2009), p. 284.

30. Shigeru Ishiba and Shinichi Kiyotani, Gunjiwo Shirazushite Heiwa wo Kataruna [Without knowing military affairs, do not talk about peace] (Tokyo: KK Best Sellers, 2006), p. 176.

31. House of Representatives Budget Committee, May 12, 2009. See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives minutes], May 12, 2009, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/171/0018/17105120018027a.html. LDP member Taro Kono argued in the Diet in 1999 for a Japanese-U.S. joint declaration for no-first-use. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, June 12, 1999). See Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan [National Diet Library], Shugiin Kaigiroku Joho [House of Representatives minutes], June 12, 1999, http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/145/0005/14506020005008c.html.

32. Katsuya Okada, “Interview: Ajia no Naka no Nihon toshite Anzen Hosho Seiseku wo Kochiku Shinakereba Naranai” [We should develop a security policy as Japan inside Asia], Sekai, July 2009, pp. 138-143.

33. Ibid.

34. Perry remarks. He also emphasized the importance of nonmilitary deterrence, including economic power.

35. Katsuya Okada, Remarks at ministers’ inaugural press conference, September 16, 2009. See Seifu Intanet Terevi [Government Internet TV], “Daijin Shunin Kaiken” [Ministers' inaugural press conference], September 16, 2009, http://nettv.gov-online.go.jp/prg/prg2758.html.

36. Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Press Conference by the Deputy Press Secretary (English),” October 22, 2009, www.mofa.go.jp/announce/press/2009/10/1022.html.

37. “Top U.S. Military Officer Warns Japan Against Reneging on Futemma Plan,” Kyodo News, October 23, 2009, www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9BGR3R84&show_article=1.

38. Tomoko A. Hosaka, “Japan launches probe of secret pacts with US,” Associated Press, September 24, 2009, www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/09/24/international/i224839D04.DTL&feed=rss.business.

39. For related declassified documents, see www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb291/index.htm.

40. Julian Borger, “Barack Obama Ready to Slash US Nuclear Arsenal,” The Guardian, September 20, 2009, www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/20/barack-obama-us-nuclear-weapons.

41. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by the President to the United Nations General Assembly,” United Nations headquarters, New York, September 23, 2009, www.whitehouse.gov.

42. “International Panel Calls for Nuke Disarmament After 2025 at Conference in Hiroshima,” Mainichi Daily News, October 21, 2009, http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20091021p2a00m0na016000c.html.


On September 22, a day before President Barack Obama met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in New York, 13 nongovernmental U.S. security experts released an open letter calling on the two leaders “to support a U.S. policy declaring that the only purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter, and if necessary respond to, the use of nuclear weapons by other countries.”

Not Going Nuclear: Japan’s Response to North Korea’s Nuclear Test

Hajime Izumi and Katsuhisa Furukawa

Since North Korea’s nuclear test on October 9, 2006, there has been considerable foreign speculation that the explosion might prompt Japan to develop its own nuclear weapons arsenal. These views do not reflect the relatively restrained reaction in Japan itself. Although the test helped break a public taboo on discussing the possibility of a Japanese nuclear capability, there is little serious desire to replace the U.S. nuclear umbrella with a homegrown nuclear option.

Indeed, the discussions themselves may have been aimed in part at shoring up the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence. Rather than relying on nuclear weapons, Japan’s security policy seems more geared toward strengthening cooperation with the United States while shoring up global nonproliferation efforts.

North Korea’s nuclear test certainly shocked the Japanese public. Just after the test, an Asahi Shimbun poll found that 82 percent of the respondents were “concerned.” Some 44 percent of those polled felt a “strong threat” from North Korea, and 38 percent felt “some level of threat.” It seems, however, that such concerns were neither deep nor sustained. The Japanese public in general did not demonstrate active interest in taking any specific measures, such as establishing underground shelters. Rather the Japanese media focused primarily on the radioactive contamination risks the test might pose to Japan. Having recognized that such risk was almost nonexistent, the public interest on this issue faded away promptly.

After November 2006, the Japanese media’s coverage of North Korea focused more on Pyongyang’s decades-old abduction of Japanese citizens than concern over North Korea’s current nuclear weapon programs. There is a view among some experts that the Japanese public’s “sense of loathing” toward the Kim Jong Il regime may have overridden its perception of the threat emanating from North Korea’s missiles and nuclear-weapon programs.

The Japanese government also has been restrained in several regards in its response to the tests. First, although it imposed sanctions on North Korea, Tokyo appears to place a higher priority on the abductions matter. Following his 2006 inauguration, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe quickly established within his cabinet an office to manage the abductions issue. Abe did not create an equivalent office to address Pyongyang’s nuclear or missile programs, despite his repeated statements that North Korea’s nuclear weapons presented the gravest threat to Japan, nor was any voice raised among the Japanese media in support of establishing such an office.

Second, Tokyo remains reluctant to negotiate with North Korea on ballistic missile development and deployment, although Japan is the country that should be most concerned about Pyongyang’s medium-range ballistic missile programs.

Third, despite North Korea’s nuclear testing and missile firings, Japan has not seriously discussed or received strong domestic pressure to increase the defense budget. The reduction of the government’s accumulated deficit, almost 150 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP), still remains one of Tokyo’s top priorities, and the defense budget remains at less than 1 percent of GDP. Each military service branch of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, for instance, has been forced to cut back on personnel and procurement.

Fourth, soon after North Korea’s nuclear test, Japanese officials discussed the need to enact new legislation to enable interdiction and inspection of North Korean ships with suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related cargoes on the high seas, but such discussion has faded. Similarly, Japanese officials also weighed procuring and deploying an offensive weapon system to take out North Korea’s missile launching sites. This discussion has faded as well.

To be sure, Tokyo has speeded up deployment of proposed anti-missile systems, and a limited number of politicians and experts have argued in favor of Japan pursuing a nuclear option. It is difficult, however, to find convincing evidence that the Japanese public feels so gravely threatened by North Korea’s nuclear program that they want to take concrete action as a response. Most Japanese regard foreign countries’ concerns about Japan’s nuclear future as exaggerated. In fact, the Japanese media rarely conducts any extensive or serious discussion about Japan’s nuclear weapons capability or what might constitute Tokyo’s nuclear doctrine if it were to pursue such an option.

Changing Regional Security Environment

Speculation that Japan might pursue nuclear weapons surfaced first in the aftermath of China’s initial nuclear tests in the 1960s and then during the North Korean nuclear crisis in 1993-1994, as well as at the time of the international negotiations over the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) both in the 1970s and in 1994-1995. With the 2006 North Korean test, those concerns have been renewed, especially in the United States and a few Asian countries. Some countries fear North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons might lead to a potential tsunami of nuclear proliferation in Asia that would engulf Japan and force it to shift its position on nuclear armament.

This overstates the influence of North Korea on the thinking of Japanese defense authorities. Although North Korea’s WMD programs certainly represent one of the gravest threats to Japan’s national security, the North Korean challenge is not necessarily regarded as the sole determinant factor shaping Japan’s national security strategy.

 Other problems Tokyo is concerned about include:

• The increasing capabilities of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), particularly its ballistic missiles capabilities that can strike targets in Japan;

• The activities of the PLA Navy (PLAN) that have been conducted in a manner inconsistent with the Law of the Sea treaty, occasionally even violating this pact;

• The uncertain future of a reviving Russia;

• Ongoing territorial disputes with China, Russia, South Korea, and Taiwan;

• Nontraditional security threats, including natural disasters, infectious diseases, man-made accidents, and terrorism; and

• Japan’s perceived vulnerability to an energy supply cutoff because it depends heavily on oil from the Middle East.

Indeed, there is even a widespread view among Japanese security experts that North Korea’s provocations provide Japan with legitimate cover to advance its defense posture and capability in order to meet these threats and uncertainties, especially those related to China.

As it weighs the North Korea threat, Japan also has to place equal if not greater value on strengthening its bilateral alliance with the United States. Perhaps even more importantly, Tokyo today aspires to enhance its diplomatic standing in the world in order to balance against China’s rising political influence. To do so, Japan is seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and trying to foster regional integration and institutionalization in Asia, with the aim of shaping rather than reacting to the global and regional security environment.

The changing geopolitical landscape in Asia is prompting Japan to resort to a new diplomatic principle of “value-oriented diplomacy,” emphasizing the adoption of universal values and disciplines as major diplomatic instruments, such as democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and the market economy.

Japan is currently embarking on a new major diplomatic initiative to build an “arc of freedom and prosperity” around the outer rim of the Eurasian continent through diplomacy that emphasizes values.[1] Tokyo decision-makers regard Japan’s international reputation as an asset the country has nurtured since the end of World War II. They regard it as too valuable to throw away simply for the sake of establishing its own nuclear deterrent against North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.

Debating Japan’s Nuclear Option

To be sure, since North Korea expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in December 2002, there has been some open debate in Japan about whether to acquire nuclear weapons. This discussion has been fairly marginal, however, and included several consistent characteristics.

First, a limited number of conservative politicians have for decades argued for a vision of Japan with an independent military capability.

Second, it still remains very difficult and controversial for many Japanese politicians to advocate nuclear weapons. Careless comments by Cabinet members on this matter can trigger a huge controversy. For example, Shoichi Nakagawa, chairman of the Policy Research Council of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), made public remarks on Japan’s nuclear option repeatedly after North Korea’s nuclear test, which made world headlines. He continued to repeat this remark despite strong pressures from the other LDP leaders to retract his comments. Even he, however, did not go beyond saying that Japan needed open discussions on its nuclear option.

Third, as noted, a majority of the Japanese public does not yet seem to perceive neighboring countries’ nuclear weapons as an issue of the highest priority. In fact, the presence of nuclear weapons on the neighboring continent is nothing new to Japan. Since the 1960s, Japan has learned to “peacefully” co-exist with Chinese nuclear weapons. (In a sense, this may be a reflection of the public’s tacit confidence in the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence.)

Fourth, it is no longer taboo to discuss nuclear strategy and the hypothetical possibility that Japan could require such weapons. Although a nuclear option is still unacceptable to the general public, there is recognition that such an option should be discussed openly. Within the national security community, experts are raising voices to call for pragmatic debate on Japan’s nuclear option, but no one dares to take the lead in such a discussion because the issue is still relatively sensitive. Leading this kind of discussion could negatively affect the government’s funding of an individual researcher’s work.

Overall, a majority of the Japanese public does not support the possession of nuclear weapons, at least so far, and there is only limited support for even examining whether Japan’s nuclear weapons would contribute to strengthening deterrence against any adversary and whether Japan would actually be able to develop nuclear weapons if it should decide to do so.

The Utility of Japan’s Nuclear Armament

Technically, experts have long contended that Japan possesses the basic capabilities to produce crude nuclear weapons. Indeed, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said last fall that “Japan is capable of producing nuclear weapons.” But he added, “We are not saying we have plans to possess nuclear weapons.”

Japan has nuclear fuel-cycle programs that produce reactor-grade plutonium, although in the form of mixed-oxide fuel, for civilian purposes. Japan also has the M-V and H2-A rockets, which have potential intercontinental capabilities.

Japan has not yet established the warhead control technology necessary for operational missiles. In addition, Japan does not have the basic infrastructure that would be essential for nuclear weaponry, including a nuclear doctrine, a stringent legal framework to protect classified information, a unified command and control system, or a unified intelligence system.

Moreover, Japan’s use of any nuclear material has been strictly regulated by bilateral and international treaties. It is illegal for Japan to use its plutonium for weapons purposes without the consent of its treaty counterparts, unless Japan dare follow the brinksmanship strategy of North Korea. Even the proponents of Japan’s nuclear armament acknowledge that Japan would not be able to develop nuclear weapons without the approval and cooperation from other countries, most importantly the United States, because of Japan’s obligations under bilateral treaties to use imported nuclear materials, equipment, facilities, and technologies for peaceful purposes.

Furthermore, Japan’s scientific and academic communities still remain within the pacifist tradition despite the general trend toward Japan becoming a more “normal country.” It would take enormous effort to establish a working relationship between these communities and the national security community. This would invariably make it difficult to mobilize resources essential for the construction of any sophisticated nuclear weapon.

Additionally, under Japan’s democratic government, selecting the location of nuclear weapons facilities could prove a painstaking process. Over the past decades, for instance, the selection of a location for a radioactive-waste storage site has faced strong opposition from local communities nationwide.

The Japanese government has quietly re-examined its nuclear option several times, most poignantly in the 1960s when China conducted its first nuclear test. All such examinations have reached the same conclusion: Japan’s possession of its own nuclear arsenal had little strategic merit. These studies have determined that a nuclear Japan could motivate a number of other countries to pursue nuclear development, and Japan could not secure a location to store nuclear weapons safely given its geographic limitations. Even the option to base nuclear weapons on submarines could not be completed before a decade and would require an enormous amount of investment, a challenge given Japan’s current budget deficit.

Furthermore, Japan believes that the credibility of the international nonproliferation regimes is still intact. These regimes are certainly imperfect, but Japan believes they have established legitimacy in the international community. As a result, Japan has intensified its efforts to strengthen these regimes by complementing them with various national, bilateral, and multilateral measures. Japan assesses that the relative costs associated with noncompliance with the treaties outweigh and should continue to outweigh the relative costs associated with observing the regimes.

Lastly, most of the pragmatic thinkers who support examining, though not necessarily pursuing, Japan’s nuclear option favor a strong Japanese-U.S. alliance. For example, former Japanese ambassador to Thailand, Hisahiko Okazaki, one of Japan’s most prominent strategic thinkers, argues that Japan’s nuclear armament should proceed in tandem with the strengthened bilateral alliance with the United States, while recognizing that the potential utility of Japan’s own nuclear weapons could be fairly marginal. In his view, the real utility of Japan’s discussion of a nuclear option may lie in its utility to indirectly press the United States to continue its nuclear commitment to protect Japan.[2]

Indeed, this also has been the line of thinking among some of Japan’s key strategic thinkers over the past decades. In the 1970s, Takuya Kubo, then bureau director of defense policy of Japan’s Defense Agency, wrote an article articulating Japan’s defense posture: “[I]f Japan prepares latent nuclear capability by which it would enable Japan to develop significant nuclear armament at anytime…the United States would hope to sustain [the] Japan-U.S. security system by providing [a] nuclear guarantee to Japan, because otherwise, the U.S. would be afraid of a rapid deterioration of the stability in…international relations triggered by nuclear proliferation.” [3] Even today, the authors have met several journalists and officials who have also expressed similar views, although privately.

Japan’s Deterrence Posture

Given those relative merits and demerits, Tokyo’s decision-makers have been pursuing another option as a response to North Korea’s nuclear testing, in contrast to the political rhetoric surrounding the nuclear option. These policymakers are determined to continue efforts to strengthen deterrence on multiple fronts by further institutionalizing the bilateral alliance with the United States and by developing a comprehensive national security posture. In fact, over the past years, Japan has been developing a comprehensive national security strategy to cover and integrate a wide range of areas, including assurance, dissuasion, deterrence, denial, defense, and damage confinement as well as crisis management, in order to keep up with the changing security environment.

The strongest indirect supporter of these efforts has been North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Since the 1990s, Japan’s national security policy and the Japanese-U.S. alliance have consistently evolved every time when there was a crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

After the North Korean crisis in 1993-1994, Japan decided to redefine its roles and missions within the alliance, announced a Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security in 1996, and created the new Japanese-U.S. defense guidelines in 1998. When North Korea launched the Taepo Dong missile over Japan that same year, Japan decided to embark on joint research into missile defenses with the United States. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the new North Korean crisis since 2002, Japan has strengthened its alliance with the United States by demonstrating its support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and for the reconstruction of postwar Iraq. In addition, in the aftermath of the October 2006 North Korean nuclear test, Japan has launched a new initiative to cooperate with NATO and other U.S. allies and friendly countries to tackle issues of global security jointly so that Japan will be regarded as a responsible global stakeholder.

Japan has also been steadily strengthening its deterrence capability, as defined by its “National Defence Program Guidelines (NDPG) for FY 2005 and After.” In contrast to the previous NDPG, which defined Japan’s national security almost solely in terms of Japan’s homeland defense, it has clearly introduced protecting the international security environment as an essential component that defines Japan’s national security. This document offers three approaches to achieve Japan’s national security: Japan’s own defense efforts, Japan’s cooperation with the United States, and Japan’s cooperation with the international community. The last element provides the basic rationale for Japan Self-Defense Forces actively to participate in operations abroad in coordination with the United States and the United Nations.

Traditionally, the Japanese-U.S. alliance has focused primarily on bilateral cooperation at a strategic level, that is, Japan’s reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, without any specific definition of the two militaries’ roles and missions and without any concrete joint military planning. The alliance was not really structured to deal effectively with security problems at tactical or theater levels. As Sugio Takahashi, senior fellow of the Japan National Institute of Defense Studies, argues, the current process of strengthening the bilateral alliance would enhance the credibility of deterrence by filling in the “blank spot” in the escalation ladder from the tactical and theater levels to the strategic level.

The strengthening of the Japanese-U.S. alliance has been implemented in tandem with a U.S. effort to forge an alliance network in the Asia-Pacific region consisting of multiple bilateral alliance systems. For example, U.S. allies and friendly countries have conducted regular multilateral joint exercises. The strengthened Japanese-U.S. alliance, supplemented by multilateral security dialogues, is expected to constitute an indispensable basis for constructing this dense alliance network in the Asia-Pacific region. It also is expected to serve as an essential confidence-building tool among Asian-Pacific nations to enhance the credibility of deterrence and even to enable adoption of coercive measures against hostile countries or WMD proliferators when inevitable. In addition, Japan has been striving to initiate cooperation with NATO with the intention of attaching a global horizon to its bilateral alliance with the United States.

Japan also is accelerating deployment of a two-tiered integrated missile defense system that consists of sea-based systems to be deployed on Aegis destroyers and a land-based Patriot system. After North Korea’s July 2006 missile launches and its October 2006 nuclear weapons test, the Japanese government has decided to shorten the system’s deployment schedule. The entire architecture of the missile defense system is scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2011. The Japanese government decided in early 2006 that the missile defense interceptor (the SM-3 missile) was already deployable because it had demonstrated a reasonable record of interceptions. The SM-3 missiles are scheduled to be introduced on Japan’s Aegis destroyers in this fiscal year. The infrastructure on the Aegis destroyers also has been improved in order to perform the missile defense mission.

The primary immediate objective of the anti-missile system is to defeat incoming medium-range ballistic missiles, particularly North Korea’s Nodong missiles. Japanese defense officials have demonstrated increasing confidence in the system’s ability to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles, a capability that is improving steadily. There is an emerging view among Japanese defense officials that as Japan increases the number of deployed interceptors in the coming years, the system could be expected theoretically to negate an adversary’s missiles, such as North Korea’s Nodong missiles, by outpacing their speed of deployment. Whether this will occur depends on the resources available for Japan’s anti-missile system versus that of its adversary.

Simultaneously, the missile defense system is expected to complicate an adversary’s strategic calculation about the probability of a successful attack on Japanese targets, thereby creating uncertainty regarding the relative merits of launching such a missile toward Japan. This would further strengthen deterrence.

The current plan is to have Japan’s system operate autonomously, independent from the U.S. system against longer-range missiles. As such, it remains unclear to what extent the Japanese government’s and the U.S. government’s command and control systems will be integrated when these systems are deployed or what level of interoperability can be achieved between the two militaries. Additionally, it is unclear whether Japan can legally intercept any long-range ballistic missiles heading toward the United States because doing so could violate the Japanese government’s interpretation of its constitution, which prohibits itself from engagement in the act of collective self-defense. Abe has launched a commission to examine these issues.

Japan’s Strategic Push

In addition to the above efforts, Japanese officials would like more detailed discussions with their U.S. counterparts on U.S. nuclear doctrine and strategy, including its operational details, as an additional measure to sustain the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence. There have been few bilateral discussions on such matters so far. Although Japan must establish stringent mechanisms for information protection before discussing such sensitive matters with the United States, once it does so, the Japanese government may want to have a regularized bilateral mechanism to discuss the strategic details, somewhat similar to the institutional framework of the Nuclear Planning Group of NATO.

In fact, Japanese government officials and experts have recently been discussing the possibility of establishing a Japan-U.S. Nuclear Planning Group. As Michael Green, former senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council in the Bush administration, has said, Tokyo may want to have “some control of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.”

Certainly, Japanese security experts and officials have expressed frustration over the ambiguous nature of U.S. declaratory policy about its nuclear umbrella. There is an emerging view in Japan that it should ask for a more explicit statement of policy from the U.S. government, for example, by revising the bilateral defense guidelines to state that the United States would retaliate with nuclear weapons if Japan were to be attacked by an adversary’s nuclear weapon. Indeed, as they manage the alliance, U.S. policymakers would be well advised to consider how to manage Japan’s increasing aspiration to be consulted in the formation of the U.S. nuclear posture and to participate in the operation of U.S. extended deterrence. This should capture more attention than worries that Japan will pursue a nuclear weapons option.


As noted, Japan’s domestic reaction to North Korea’s nuclear test has been much more restrained than predicted by some foreign experts, particularly in the United States. Similar predictions followed China’s nuclear tests in the 1960s and the North Korea nuclear crisis of 1992-1994. Then, as now, these predictions have proven ill founded.

It is difficult to find in Japan any major public leader who strongly advocates Japan’s pursuit of its own nuclear option or who questions the credibility of U.S. nuclear deterrence. Shifts in Japan’s regional security environment and strategic culture from pacifism to realism in recent years have ended the taboo on discussing publicly the hypothetical possibility that Japan might pursue a nuclear option. After North Korea’s October 2006 nuclear test, Japanese media highlighted remarks by a limited number of Japanese politicians, including Cabinet members, who argued in favor of a public discussion about Japan’s nuclear option. Others countered that such a discussion could invoke regional concerns about Japan’s nuclear intentions. Tokyo’s decision-makers are concerned that such a discussion might undermine the trust it has fostered with its neighbors since the end of World War II. These political leaders deem retaining this trust to be of greater value to Japan than developing a nuclear deterrent against North Korea.

Thus, the consensus in Japan today favors continued reliance on the Japanese-U.S. alliance, the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and missile defense to negate North Korea’s nuclear capability. Of course, the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence is key here. Certainly, Japanese political leaders and strategic planners aspire to secure the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence. In the minds of Japanese political leaders and strategic planners, the answer to this challenge is not whether to pursue Japan’s nuclear option, but rather how to secure some control or participation in the process of shaping and sustaining U.S. extended deterrence. The focus is to examine what type of bilateral mechanism may be appropriate to conduct regularized dialogue with the United States on nuclear strategy issues, whether in official or unofficial channels, and what agenda Japan may want to discuss as well as what type of information the United States may want to share with Japan under what conditions. In a way, Japan and the United States now have a unique opportunity to shape each other’s priorities in the realm of nuclear strategic affairs.

Hajime Izumi is a professor at the University of Shizuoka in Shizuoka, Japan. Katsuhisa Furukawa is a research fellow at the Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society at the Japan Science and Technology Agency in Tokyo.


1. Taro Aso, “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity: Japan’s Expanding Diplomatic Horizons,” Speech at the Japan Institute of International Affairs Seminar, November 30, 2006, Tokyo.

2. Hisahiko Okazaki, “Time to Consider a Nuclear Strategy for Japan,” Daily Yomiuri, April 8, 2007.

3. Takuya Kubo, “Boueiryoku Seibi no Kangaekata [A framework to consider the arrangement of Japan’s defense capabilities],” February 20, 1971, found at http://www.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/~worldjpn/documents/texts/JPSC/19710220.O1J.html (in Japanese).

Japan, Australia Sanction North Korea

Paul Kerr

In a coordinated action, Japan and Australia announced Sept. 19 that they had adopted sanctions targeting multiple foreign entities tied to North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs.

The governments said that the sanctions were adopted in response to UN Security Council Resolution 1695, which the council adopted in July after North Korea launched several ballistic missiles. (See ACT, September 2006.) The resolution condemned the launches and called on Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks designed to resolve the crisis surrounding the country’s nuclear weapons program. The last round of such talks was held in November 2005. (See ACT, September 2006.)

The resolution requires states to prevent missiles and related “items, materials, goods and technology” from being transferred to North Korea’s missile or chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons programs. This requirement includes preventing the transfer of “any financial resources in relation to” Pyongyang’s weapons programs.

Australia and Japan each punished the same 12 organizations, as well as a Swiss citizen. All are already subject to similar U.S. sanctions. (See ACT, May 2006.) Japan also designated three additional institutions as suspect.

The sanctions restrict the designated entities’ ability to conduct financial transactions in the two countries. In Australia, the designees are prohibited from conducting financial transactions without prior approval from the Reserve Bank of Australia, the country’s central bank. A Japanese diplomat told Arms Control Today Sept. 28 that Tokyo’s sanctions prohibit financial transactions between the designated entities and Japanese citizens or institutions.

During a Sept. 19 press briefing, Tomohiko Taniguchi, deputy press secretary for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, would not say whether Tokyo plans to renew other sanctions previously imposed after the missile tests. These included barring North Korean officials and a North Korean passenger ferry from entering Japan.

A Sept. 19 Department of State press release praised the actions by Japan and Australia and indicated that Washington might place additional sanctions on North Korea in response to the missile tests.

The statement added that the United States “strongly encourage[s] other states” to take actions similar to Australia’s and Japan’s, but none have yet done so. For example, South Korea halted food and fertilizer assistance to North Korea following the tests but has not announced any further measures.

For its part, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang told reporters Sept. 19 that Beijing “opposes” the new sanctions.

More Talks?

Taniguchi stated that the measures are meant to send a “powerful message” that North Korea should return to the six-party talks, which also include China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Pyongyang, however, has not indicated that it will do so.

Meanwhile, the United States appears to have somewhat softened its resistance to engaging in bilateral talks with North Korea before the six-party talks resume. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow indicated during a Sept. 21 interview with South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill would be willing to travel to Pyongyang for bilateral meetings should North Korea agree to return to the talks.

North Korea has expressed interest in such a meeting. A June Foreign Ministry statement invited Hill to visit the country and “directly explain” the Bush administration’s position regarding the talks.

Hill has never visited North Korea, but the two countries have previously held bilateral meetings elsewhere. For example, U.S. officials met with their North Korean counterparts during past rounds of the six-party talks and held lower-level meetings in New York. (See ACT, September 2005.) Furthermore, U.S. officials told North Korea last fall that Hill was willing to visit the country if Pyongyang agreed to shut down its nuclear reactor. North Korea rejected the proposal. (See ACT, January/February 2006.)

Vershbow’s recent statement indicates a slight shift in the administration’s position. U.S. statements in recent months have suggested that the United States would only hold bilateral talks with North Korea during another session of the six-party talks.

Other participants in the talks have argued that Washington and Pyongyang should meet to resolve concerns about the September 2005 U.S. designation of Macau-based Banco Delta Asia as a “money laundering concern.”

Pyongyang has repeatedly cited that designation, which was followed by Macau’s decision to freeze the bank’s North Korean assets, as the reason for its refusal to return to the talks.



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