Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda answers a question at a meeting of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday.
Japan's international nuclear cooperation projects are expected to expand following the effectuation of pacts with Vietnam, Jordan, Russia and South Korea that will most likely come in January, observers said.
The bilateral agreements with these countries will be approved by the Diet on Tuesday.
The government's nuclear power development and plant export policies were put on hold under the administration of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan following the March 11 outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. But the current administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has made a fresh start in promoting nuclear power and technology exports.
Given such developments, negotiations regarding civil nuclear cooperation accords with emerging economies such as India are likely to be put into high gear, observers said.
At a meeting of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday, Noda stressed the importance of early Diet approval for the nuclear cooperation accords with the four countries, saying: "It is important for Japan to cooperate with foreign countries by providing technology with high levels of safety. I want to really obtain your understanding [of the government position]."
The accords had been signed with the respective governments this past January. The four countries have already finished domestic procedures to put into effect the agreements with Japan.
Japan plans to export nuclear power plants to Vietnam and Jordan while Russia expects Japan to entrust it with uranium enrichment. With South Korea, Japan will export nuclear reactor parts.
The government had planned to obtain Diet approval on the nuclear cooperation agreements during its ordinary session. However, the plan was shelved due to the policy chaos caused by the nuclear crisis and Kan's decision to move away from nuclear power development. Behind Noda's hasty efforts to break the stalemate were pending nuclear plant export contracts with Vietnam and Jordan.
After a summit meeting between Japanese and Vietnamese leaders on Oct. 31, the two countries issued a joint document on nuclear plant exports. Japan can no longer postpone the effectuation of the accord.
As for Jordan, a joint venture formed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and Areva SA, a major French nuclear engineering firm, is currently competing with Russian and Canadian companies for a nuclear power contract.
"The Jordanian side has been strongly calling for the nuclear cooperation agreement to be approved by the Diet before the end of this year," a senior Foreign Ministry official said. Concerned, the ministry appealed at the Liberal Democratic Party's Foreign Affairs Division last Tuesday that "the timing for receiving an order is close at hand."
Diet deliberations on the agreements have focused on whether a policy put forth by the Democratic Party of Japan to lower reliance on nuclear power is consistent with the DPJ-led government's policy of promoting nuclear technology.
Ryoichi Hattori, a lower house member of the Social Democratic Party, criticized the government at the lower house Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on Friday, saying, "It's extremely contradictory to insist on breaking with nuclear power at home and promoting it overseas."
The LDP, which has called for nuclear plant exports, is concerned about whether or not the Noda administration is really serious about maintaining a nuclear technology export policy.
On Aug. 5, 21 days before Kan announced he would step down as prime minister, his Cabinet approved a government response on nuclear plant exports at the Diet that read: "Nuclear technology exports will be promoted while paying heed not to damage the trust between states." At the time, Kan had expressed his intention to reexamine Japan's nuclear export policy during Diet deliberations. But then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano and Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, among others, coordinated government views to bring back the government's policy to maintain exports. "We had received an inquiry from Vietnam [about the government's policy] on the matter. So if the government didn't work out a Diet answer like that, a Japanese firm was at risk of losing the contract that it had been awarded informally."
Based on the Diet answer, the Noda administration decided that it is not contradictory to promote nuclear technology while decreasing reliance on nuclear power plants. During the lower house Foreign Affairs Committee meeting Friday, Noda emphasized that "Japan's nuclear technology can claim to have the highest levels of safety." The prime minister went on to say, "It is a responsibility of this country to share the experience and lessons from the [Fukushima] crisis with the international community and contribute to enhancing international nuclear safety levels."
Eventually, the LDP agreed to accept the government's policy, making certain that the nuclear cooperation accords will pass through the current extraordinary Diet session. New Komeito, for its part, has decided to oppose the agreements, arguing that the government's future energy policy remains unclear.
Now that nuclear plant exports are once again a major policy point for the Noda administration, the number of countries that Japan will conclude bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreements with is likely to increase. According to the Foreign Ministry, negotiations are under way with India, Turkey, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil and Mexico. With India and Turkey, Japan plans to export nuclear plants. Unofficial talks are also in progress with several other countries.
During their talks on Oct. 29, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and his Indian counterpart Shri S.M. Krishna confirmed the policy of accelerating negotiations on conclusion of an agreement. The two countries are expected to hold talks later this month when Noda is scheduled to visit India.
Aware of concern regarding the safety of nuclear plants in the aftermath of the March 11 disaster, Noda has taken extra care in answering questions at the Diet, saying, "The government won't necessarily expand nuclear technology exports indefinitely."
"If agreements can be reached with the countries we're currently negotiating with, it's possible to cover almost all countries with plans to promote nuclear construction projects," a high-ranking official of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said.
(Dec. 6, 2011)