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Nuclear Power and “Nuclearization” – Environmental and Security Challenges

Updated On: Nov 10, 2006

North Korea’s nuclear test has opened a can of worms as East Asia tries to grapple with a nuclear rogue state and self-reflect on their own nuclear policies.

All of a sudden, a handful of East Asian states are feared for possessing ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. Indonesia, under suspicions since the former Suharto regime had professed to its interest in procuring Scud missiles, is now in the hotseat. So hot that the IAEA came out to make an open declaration to put an end to speculation. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a statement that it believes Indonesia will not develop nuclear weapons and that Indonesia is keen only to utilize nuclear technology for power generation.

IAEA also certified that Indonesia had cleared the international agency’s set of requirements and guidelines to have civilian nuclear facilities. IAEA defends the right of Indonesia to possess nuclear technology. "Nuclear energy is a future energy, so the development of a nuclear power plant should not be monopolized by the rich countries alone, and the poor countries should be given the chance to use nuclear energy in power generation," IAEA Public Information Director Marc Vidricaire said to the international media on 7 November 2006 Tuesday.

Nuclear armaments have become a political storm in Japan as Japanese opposition party leaders call for the Foreign Minister Taro Aso's resignation for his nuke stand. Leading the way, Kazuo Shii, Chief Commissioner of the Communist Party of Japan, said in Tokyo that Aso's tolerance of the call for a nuke debate has incurred domestic and foreign criticism, and if he does not take action to appease the criticism, the only way for him is to resign.

The leader of a much bigger opposition party, Mizuho Fukushima, Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party, told reporters in Hokkaido Sapporo that Aso's stand on the nuke issue destroyed Japan's sustained efforts on the nuke disarmament and elimination and sent a wrong signal to the international society on Japan’s nuclear ambitions. She warned that her party could unite with other opposition parties moving a motion for distrust case in the parliament if Aso refuses to resign.

Criticisms of Japan’s nuclear debate has also emanated from the incoming United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon who expressed alarm at some Japanese politicians’ (Taro Aso and Shoichi Nakagawa) call for a nuclear weapons program. He had specifically voiced his reservations in both capacities as South Korea’s foreign minister as well as the incoming UN Secretary General.

This political storm have stoked up such powerful emotions that the ruling LDP parliamentary chief Toshihiro Nikai had to move decisively to step out and admonish both Nakagawa and Aso for raising the debate. Nikai is a well-known dove amidst Prime Minister Abe’s hawkish cabinet. Abe himself was insulated from criticisms when he quickly endorsed the 1967 policy where postwar Japan has refused to construct nuclear weapons. It is the principles and not the capabilities that is at debate here.

In the final analysis, however, even IAEA’s Public Information Director conceded that the application of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes can be easily abused in the development of nuclear weapons. Therefore, a number of countries has been discouraged to apply nuclear energy, whereas many other countries can freely do this, he added.

In another volatile region, this debate is especially fierce as six Arab states (EgyptAlgeriaSaudi Arabia, the United Arab EmiratesMorocco and Tunisia) have announced their intentions to have nuclear power.

While Egypt remains relatively free from scrutiny, the debate over the amorphous standards of who can have nuclear power is swirling around AlgeriaSaudi Arabiaand UAE who are criticized for having nuclear power ambitions even though they are oil-rich while Morocco and Tunisia are under scrutiny for their abilities to maintain nuclear power facilities under their highly-circumscribed economic capabilities. The question for critics of Arab nuclearization is the intentions behind the programs. If energy was plentiful in some of these cases, then what is the purpose of civilian nuclear applications?

How the international community selects which states are eligible for civilian nuclear applications rages on as the superpowers debate and square off over Iran andNorth Korea’s declared nuclear ambitions. The latter has already detonated one bomb and is feared to be looking at another while the former is a few years away from one and is adequately funded by East Asia’s oil dollars for its nuclear program. Iran, therefore, is not short of funds to develop both longer-range missile and nuclear weapons program simultaneously.

Sources:

Six Arab Countries Seeking Nuclear Power (Straits Times, 8 November 2006)

Regional Seminar on Nuclear Security in Asia kicks off in Tokyo (Jakarta Post, 8 November 2006)

No reason to suspect RI developing nuclear weapons, IAEA says (ANTARA News, 7 November 2006)

Asia's oil needs strengthen Iran's position (Straits Times, 7 November 2006)

Ban alarmed by nuke debate (Today, 7 November 2006)

Japanese opposition party leaders call for FM's resignation for nuke stand (People’s Daily, 5 November 2006)