Japan can rapidly develop a nuclear arsenal

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Jan 14 06:58:56 MST 2003

 North Korea's apparent willingness to use the possibility of reaching
Japan with nuclear  weapons as a deterrent against U.S. attack may provide
Japan with a  credible excuse for rapidly creating its own nuclear arsenal.

 But the North Korean actions are not the main cause of the movement in that
direction.  Ultimately Japan's need to effectively compete with the current
dominance of  the United States in Asia and the Pacific, to confront the
growing economic and political weight of China, and to play a bigger role in
the struggle over the disintegrating and unstable former Soviet Union are
the more fundamental causes.

The defeated imperialist contenders of World War II, Japan, Germany, and
Italy remain the only major imperialist powers of  potential or actual
worldwide reach
that do not have their own nuclear weapons arsenals.  The United States
voices possible support for such a move by Japan partly because the US
rulers have very few options for opposing it should Japan decide to go
ahead.  The U.S. prefers to be as close to a nuclear monopoly as possible.
Because of Israel's dependence on Washington, the U.S. regards Israel's
nuclear arsenal, although not without some anxiety, as an expression of its
Fred Feldman
Japan Today
Tues, January 14, 2003


Japan could go nuclear in months
by Marc Erikson

  On Jan 3, Washington Post syndicated columnist
Charles Krauthammer wrote, "We (the U.S.) should go to
the Chinese and tell them plainly that if they do not
join us in squeezing North Korea we will endorse any
Japanese attempt to create a nuclear deterrent of its
own. Even better, we would sympathetically regard any
request by Japan to acquire American nuclear missiles
as an immediate and interim deterrent. If our
nightmare is a nuclear North Korea, China's is a
nuclear Japan. It's time to share the nightmares."

  It's not clear how shared nightmares would make for
a safer Northeast Asia. But there can be no doubt that
if Japan saw fit to become a nuclear power, it could
do so in less than a year's time - without American
help and borrowed nukes and to China's certain

  There is also a fast-growing body of opinion in
Japan saying that that's precisely what the country
should do. Latest on that is a December "Nuclear
Declaration for Japan" by influential Kyoto
University international-relations Professor Terumasa
Nakanishi (co-author with Fred Charles Ikle,
undersecretary of defense for policy in the Ronald
Reagan administration, in a widely noted Foreign
Affairs article "Japan's grand strategy") and literary
critic Kazuya Fukuda calling on the Japanese not to
cave in to the North Korean nuclear threat.

  "The best way for Japan to avoid being the target of
North Korean nuclear missiles is for the prime
minister to declare without delay that Japan will arm
itself with nuclear weapons," they write. They
also want Japan to get on with construction of a
missile-defense system, post haste.

  Recall, too, that in April last year Liberal Party
president Ichiro Ozawa created a massive furor
claiming (rightly, by the way) that Japan - to deter
any China threat - could easily produce "thousands
of nuclear warheads" from plutonium extracted from the
spent fuel of its more than 50 commercial nuclear
reactors. In late May, chief cabinet secretary Yasuo
Fukuda followed suit and told a news conference (right
again) that Japan's war-renouncing constitution
does not prevent it from possessing nuclear weapons.

  A few years back, such declarations by noted
academics or statements by high-ranking politicians
and government officials would have been unthinkable.
Quite evidently, they no longer are.

  Significant political hurdles remain. But those
could come down in a hurry should North Korea in its
present escalation mood launch another ballistic
missile across Japan's bow as in August 1998. As
for technical feasibility, Japan for two decades or
more has had the scientific and technological
capability and the tools and materials to make nuclear
bombs in short order - and by now not just crude but
highly sophisticated ones. Asked how long it would
take, a Japanese defense official offered the -
tongue-in-cheek? - detail of 183 days.

  The North Korean nuclear (or other WMD)-tipped
ballistic missiles to Japan is real enough. While it
was the 1998 Taepodong 1 launch that alerted the
Japanese public to the danger, North Korea at the time
and now had about 100 Nodong 1 missiles deployed and
ready whose range of about 1,200 kilometers (perhaps
up to 1,500 km) covers most of Japan. As real as this
threat is Japan's ability of drawing even and then
quickly ahead in any nuclear missile arms race. It has
the missiles; it has the fissile materials.

  According to figures published annually by the Japan
Atomic Energy Commission, at the end of 2001 the
country owned 38 tons of separated reactor-grade
plutonium (RGPu) - about six tons stored in Japan, the
remainder in reprocessing plants in France and the
United Kingdom. The amount stored at home increased by
400 kilograms during the year from reprocessing at the
Tokai facility of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Development

  This percentage increase will grow rapidly when a
larger commercial-size reprocessing plant in Rokkasho
comes on line in 2005. But who needs it? Six tons is
enough for anywhere from 400-800 warheads.

  There have been claims, including by Japanese
officials anxious to deny any weapons-making purpose,
that RGPu could not be used for weapons production.
That's utter nonsense. According to the latest U.S.
Department of Energy guidance on the subject, "The
degree to which the obstacles to the use of RGPu can
be overcome depends on the sophistication of the state
or group attempting to produce a nuclear weapon. At
the lowest level of sophistication Japan could build a
weapon from RGPu that would give an assured, reliable
yield of one or a few kilotons, and a probable yield
much greater than that. At the other end of the
(sophistication) spectrum, states using modern designs
could produce weapons from RGPu comparable to weapons
made from WGPu (weapons-grade plutonium)."

  Japan decidedly is at or near the higher end of the
sophistication spectrum. Moreover, it could easily
upgrade RGPu to WGPu, produce weapons-grade uranium
from low-enriched uranium (WGU) by laser separation,
or just produce WGU in its commercial centrifuge
Beyond that, at its Osaka Laser Engineering
Laboratory, Japan has one of the world's largest, most
powerful lasers for use in inertial confinement (or
laser) fusion experiments.

  Weapons testing could be done there as it is in a
comparable facility to the United States' Lawrence
Livermore lab. Indeed, not only could fission-weapons
designs be tested on a small scale, the same goes for
much more sophisticated and high-yield hydrogen
(thermonuclear fusion) weapons.

  Technically, Japan is ready. Politically, North
Korea may push it over the brink.

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