The Japanese government has given the green light to resumption of work on a nuclear reprocessing plant that some people here fear could be adapted to military use. Construction of the mixed oxide fuel processing plant was halted following the nuclear accident in Fukushima last year.
MOX contains plutonium blended with natural uranium, reprocessed uranium, or depleted uranium. Construction of the facility clearly reverses Japan’s previous principle of eventually getting rid of its dependence on nuclear energy altogether. Instead, Tokyo appears bent on maintaining the troubled Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture despite growing public reservations about the safety of nuclear energy.
Earlier this month, the Diet revised the Atomic Energy Basic Act to include a controversial clause that nudges open the door to defensive use of nuclear arms.
In other words, Japan is stealthily moving toward nuclear weapons development. Japan has often acted as if it was in the vanguard of world peace and the anti-nuclear movement, citing its past as the first victim of atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. But few countries have been naïve enough to take it at face value in light of its past record of invading its regional neighbors and triggering the Pacific War.
Now Tokyo is displaying its schizophrenia by eyeing nuclear weapons after claiming just a year ago that it will get rid of all nuclear energy following the devastating accident at the Fukushima power plant.
Its main excuse is North Korea's own nuclear program. The North recently revised its constitution to legitimate its nuclear weapon development and started preparations for a third nuclear test. Japanese public opinion is swaying in support of rightwing groups there who want their country to develop nuclear weapons now that North Korea, which lobbed long-range missiles over Japan, has its own.
Hardliners in North Korea have formed a hostile mutual dependence with rightwing groups in Japan, who have pitched the North Korean menace in order to pave the way for Japan's own nuclear armament. Those in South Korea who are supportive of North Korea's right to develop nuclear weapons are effectively helping Japan arm itself with nukes. While South Korean society has been divided between those who support a nuclear-armed North Korea and those who oppose it, Japan used the North's ambitions as an excuse to gradually build up the infrastructure needed to develop its own nukes.
Unless South Korea gains a full understanding of the security structure in Northeast Asia and take stern measures, it will once again end up sandwiched between two terrifying threats, this time one nuclear-armed country in the North and another in the East.