A Questionable Nuclear Deal Between Japan and India

A Questionable Nuclear Deal Between Japan and India
Photo Credit: Reuters/達誌影像

What you need to know

Doubts persist though the accord says the cooperation will be restricted to peaceful purposes.

The civilian nuclear cooperation deal signed by Tokyo and New Delhi last week paves the way for Japan to export nuclear power equipment and technology to India, which is a non-signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and possesses nuclear weapons. When the pact is submitted for its endorsement, the Diet needs to scrutinize whether it is appropriate from the viewpoint of the international regime against nuclear proliferation and consistent with the efforts of Japan — the sole country to have experienced nuclear attacks — to promote nonproliferation and the abolition of nuclear arms.

In concluding the deal with his visiting Indian counterpart Narendra Modi last week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — who is pushing the export of nuclear technology in his efforts for promote overseas infrastructure sale as a key pillar of his growth strategy — emphasized that the deal will lead to India effectively joining the nonproliferation regime. The two countries have concurred that Japan can terminate the accord if India ends its voluntary moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, which has been in place since 2008. Questions persist, however, as to how tight will be the guarantee that nuclear technology and materials made available through the pact will not be diverted to military purposes.

In recent years, Japan has concluded a series of civilian nuclear cooperation pacts with such countries as Vietnam, Jordan and Turkey in an effort to export its nuclear power plant technology and equipment. But the latest deal with India carries different ramifications. It marks a deviation from Japan’s emphasis on the NPT regime as the international framework for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, which is already threatened by North Korea’s repeated nuclear weapons tests.

India carried out nuclear weapons tests in 1974 and 1998 and is believed to possess at least 100 nuclear warheads. It has refused to join the NPT, which limits possession of nuclear arms to the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, nor has it signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The international community for years prohibited civilian nuclear cooperation with India, but the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush in 2008 concluded such a pact with New Delhi with an eye on building nuclear power plants in the rapidly growing South Asian economy — a move followed by other countries including Japan.

Japan’s negotiations with India on civilian nuclear cooperation began in 2010, but were suspended when Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No. 1 plant was hit by triple meltdowns in the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Abe resumed the talks for the pact when Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh came to Tokyo in 2013, and agreed in principle to the deal when he visited New Delhi last December.

The nuclear pact with India is part of the Abe administration’s broad strategy of beefing up both economic and security relations with India as a counterweight to China’s expanding clout in Asia. There are also views that it makes sense for Japan and the U.S. in terms of security considerations to extend civilian nuclear cooperation with India, which is counting on nuclear energy to cover an acute power supply shortage, since it will otherwise turn to Russia or China for help in developing its nuclear power industry.

Japanese businesses involved in nuclear power meanwhile see promising markets overseas for export of their technology and equipment since the Fukushima disaster made it difficult for utilities to build new nuclear plants in Japan and the restart of idled plants remains slow. These strategic and business considerations were prioritized as Tokyo pushed for the nuclear deal, which also authorizes India to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium. Japan is reported to have compromised on its earlier demand that the pact include an explicit provision that cooperation would be halted if India resumed nuclear weapons tests. The final accord merely states that each of the parties can terminate the cooperate by notifying the other one year in advance. It is only stipulated in a separate document exchanged along with the accord that India’s 2008 nuclear test moratorium serves as the basis of civilian nuclear cooperation and that the Japanese government can initiate a process to terminate the pact if it ends.

The accord says the cooperation will be restricted to peaceful purposes — and that nuclear materials and technology provided through the pact must not be diverted to other purposes. Doubts persist that these provisions will guarantee that India will not resume nuclear weapons testing or divert plutonium extracted by reprocessing spent fuel to use in nuclear arms. These and other questions over the pact must be fully addressed when it comes up for deliberations in the Diet.

The News Lens has been authorized to republish this editorial. The original can be found here.

Editor: Olivia Yang