Nuclearizing the World/Breaking the Nuclear Taboo in Japan


Japan set off wave of international concern last week when its chief cabinet secretary told reporters the country is considering breaking with its half-century-old policy banning nuclear weapons.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have given Japanese a deep aversion to nuclear weapons, and Japan has adhered to strict non-nuclear principles since the end of World War II.

Japan’s Prime Minister Koizumi sought to assure Parliament yesterday that Japan does not plan to end its taboo against nuclear weapons.

But the top aide’s comments came barely a week after another senior official said publicly that Japan could legally possess nuclear weapons, so long as they were “small.”

Japan has shown increasing willingness to engage in military actions in recent years. The country dispatched warships overseas this fall for the first time in more than 50 years as a show of support for the American war on Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is preparing to send off two boats loaded with enough plutonium to make 50 nuclear bombs. The plutonium was supplied by England and was originally intended for Japan’s sizable nuclear power industry. But Japan rejected the shipment and is now sending it back to its British suppliers.

The two “lightly armed” ships are set to embark on their 18,000-mile journey within the next week or two. Greenpeace and dozens of nations along the possible routes are protesting the voyage. They are particularly concerned that the ships amount to floating terrorist targets. A 1999 article in Jane’s Foreign Report described the “lightly armed” fleet as “totally inadequate for transporting half a ton of plutonium half way around the world.”


  • Steven Clemons, Executive Vice President, New America Foundation. He is also the co-founder of the Japan Policy Research Institute with Asia specialist Chalmers Johnson.
  • Shaun Burnie, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner in Japan.

Related links:


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