|Japan could 'go nuclear' in
By Marc Erikson
January 3, Washington Post syndicated columnist Charles
Krauthammer wrote, "We [the US] 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 chagrin.
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, of 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 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.
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.
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.
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 1,500km) 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
Institute. 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 US
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 ... 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)."
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 plant. 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.
Japan is ready. Politically, North Korea may push it
over the brink.
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