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07:58 18 July 2012

OPINION: Atomic energy law should be amended again to revise security clause

By Tetsuya Endo
TOKYO, July 18, Kyodo

The recent setting up of a new nuclear regulatory commission under Article 3 of the National Government Organization Law, which will enhance its independent status, is to be welcomed.

The next challenge is to put "new wine" into a "new bottle." That is to say how to ensure that qualified persons with a high level of expertise in the field are picked to fill the new commission's seats.

Nonetheless, the establishment of this new regulator raises a number of serious questions.

First, the clause "to contribute to our national security" was added, without much discussion, to Article 2 of the Atomic Energy Basic Law, which may be called the "charter" for Japan's nuclear energy use. "Security" in this context signifies measures to counter nuclear terrorism and safeguards (nonproliferation), and there would have been no problem at all had this been clearly stated.

But "security" is generally interpreted to bear significance in the context of the military or defense, and is therefore an expression that might provoke suspicion that Japan's use of atomic energy will be linked to the development of nuclear arms.

Regrettably, quite a few people abroad harbor doubts about Japan getting armed with nuclear weapons. This point should have been given heed. Indeed, this is the point of a classic Chinese proverb: A man of noble character does not straighten his hat under a plum tree (so as not to cause suspicion).

Secondly, the amendment to the Atomic Energy Basic Law was done in the form of a supplementary provision to the law on the establishment of the atomic power regulatory commission. It is an absurd approach even in judicial technical terms to employ a subordinate law, not to mention with a supplementary clause of it, to revise an effectively overriding law, namely the Atomic Energy Basic Law.

Thirdly, while the establishment of this new commission was done via legislation introduced by parliamentarians, it should at least have been checked from a purely legal standpoint by the Diet's legislation bureau with regard to its contents. I would like to know what the bureau would have thought about these problems.

Fourthly, as expected, major newspapers in South Korea, such as The Chosun Ilbo, The Donga Ilbo and The Joongang Ilbo, have all expressed concern over possible Japanese nuclear armament.

Fortunately, the South Korean government has been responding in a very calm manner. Quoting Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura's June 21 news conference, the South Korean government said it is keeping a close eye on the fact that the Japanese government has stated it is not considering at all the possibility of military use in the future.

Seoul also said it hopes Japan will further develop the peaceful use of atomic energy and its safety within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

So what should be done now that the basic law has already been revised? I believe it would be best to once again amend the Atomic Energy Basic Law through new legislation, this time avoiding the word "security" only and instead accurately putting down "nuclear security" and "safeguards."

At the very least, it is essential to emphasize both domestically and overseas that the Japanese government "absolutely does not intend to convert nuclear power for military use," a point that Fujimura clearly stated in his news conference.

(Tetsuya Endo, a former diplomat who has served as acting chairman of the Cabinet Office's Japan Atomic Energy Commission, is currently a visiting professor at the graduate school of Hitotsubashi University.)

==Kyodo

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