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Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006

Japan may not want to go nuclear but it's no technical hurdle: analysts


By ERIC PRIDEAUX and AKEMI NAKAMURA
Staff writers

Japan will not respond to North Korea's nuclear test by developing its own atomic weapons, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday, although analysts said the nation has the technology to quickly pursue such a path.

Abe told an audience at Waseda University in May 2002 that it was not a violation of the Constitution for Japan to possess atomic bombs.

However, in Abe's declaration during a question-and-answer period at a House of Representatives Budget Committee, he referred to Japan's three nonnuclear principles of, according to the Foreign Ministry, "not possessing,not producing and not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan."

"I would like to clearly state that there will be no change regarding the three nonnuclear principles," Abe said.

Experts were quick to point out that Japan does possess the knowledge and resources to go nuclear should it decide to.

"The country has enough plutonium and uranium," said Yasuhiko Yoshida, an international politics professor at Osaka University of Economics and Law who is a former director of public information at the International Atomic Energy Agency. "It could make an atomic weapon in six months."

That estimate may even be generous. Military-affairs expert Tetsuya Ozeki, as director at private foreign-affairs think tank ATWI Research Institute, believes the country could develop a nuclear weapon in as little as a week. But he thinks to create one would be foolish.

"It would be just too giant a blunder for humanity," Ozeki said. "Japan is the only country in the world to have experienced the horrendous consequences of nuclear weapons. It wouldn't make sense for it to imitate the insane acts of North Korea."

Japan is a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it ratified in 1976. It also has the Atomic Energy Basic Law, which states that nuclear activities are to be conducted for peaceful purposes only.

Now is no time to shift direction, said Michiaki Furukawa, a director at the Citizens Nuclear Information Center, a nonprofit organization that informs the public on nuclear-related issues.

"We don't really know what happened (with North Korea's nuclear test), so we shouldn't overreact," Furukawa said. "The media should not fuel the public's sense of crisis."

Osaka professor Yoshida said Japan needs to go nuclear and not rely on U.S. protection. He reckoned the public was increasingly receptive to the idea, but legal hurdles would put off their weapons indefinitely.

Even with the central government rejecting the nuclear option, few doubt that North Korea's Monday morning atomic test, about 385 km northeast of Pyongyang, will have far-reaching consequences on foreign policy and defense.

Hideshi Takesada, an expert on North Korean issues at the National Institute for Defense Studies, said that once officially confirmed, the test will increase Japan's military reliance on the United States.

"The nuclear-deterrence umbrella has not been broken, so the security system between Japan and the U.S. will be reinforced," Takesada said.

He said the test could also give China a greater role in encouraging North Korea to disarm. The expert said he thinks it is the only country that can persuade Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear-weapons program.

"I don't think China will change its policy on North Korea just because of the nuclear test. It will likely continue to oppose economic and military sanctions against that country" by the United Nations, he said, noting China must seek "more constructive" diplomatic solutions to prevent a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

Japan is unlikely to launch its own nuclear-weapons program, but Toshiyuki Shikata, a Teikyo University law professor and former senior official at the Defense Agency, said the government might now speed up its implementation of defenses against ballistic-missile attacks. Staff writers Jun Hongo and Shinichi Terada also contributed to this report

Koreans here worried

Kyodo News Korean residents in Japan on Tuesday condemned North Korea's nuclear test and worried it might cause them to be treated badly here, particularly their children.

"I'm worried that our children might feel stigmatized," said Ko Chong Ja, a 59-year-old manager of a Korean beef barbecue restaurant in Ikuno Ward, Osaka, home to many Korean permanent residents.

Ko said people should oppose all nuclear tests, not just those by Pyongyang.

"An excessive focus on North Korea, while other countries also conduct such tests, could incite hostility" toward North Korea in Japan, she said.

A Korean school in Japan told parents to make sure their children walk to and from school in groups to ensure their safety, according to one father, who was upset that his kids could become targets.

"We have had enough of it," he said.

Korean kids here have already been the target of people angry at Pyongyang's actions. After North Korea test-launched seven missiles on July 5 into the Sea of Japan, Korean schools received threatening letters and students were harassed.



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