The Platform


The transfer of American nuclear technologies to Australia within the AUKUS pact has sparked a discussion in Japanese society about the need to switch the fleet to nuclear power and the development of nuclear technologies in general. Despite the active militarization of Japan’s military, Japanese society still reacts painfully to any mention of the word “nuclear.” This reaction can be expected since the Japanese are the only people in the world who have experienced the devastating power of nuclear weapons first-hand. What position will the new government take on this issue?

On October 4, Fumio Kishida was elected as the new prime minister of Japan. During the race, then-candidate Kishida avoided answering questions about the nuclear prospects of the Japanese fleet, speaking only about the need to improve the service conditions of Japanese sailors. Kishida’s uncertainty on such a sensitive issue is easily explained by his unwillingness to weaken his pre-election positions. However, as prime minister, he will have to decide whether to develop nuclear technologies.

The pacifist wing of the Japanese public dealt a preventive blow to the nuclear modernization of the Japanese Navy. Activist Setsuko Thurlow, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima, sent a letter to the newly elected prime minister calling for Japan to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In the letter, she also reminded the new leader of his pre-election promise to work towards creating a world without nuclear weapons.

Kazumi Matsui, the mayor of Hiroshima, supported Thurlow’s outreach. Matsui expressed the hope that the new government would become an observer at the conference of the parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In addition, Tokyo’s refusal to build nuclear-powered submarines will enhance the image of the country often accused of unjustified militarization.

In addition, Tanaka Terumi, an anti-nuclear activist, called it reasonable to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to reduce regional tensions and optimize defense expenditure.

Moreover, Fumio Kishida seems to share the position of opponents to nuclear weapons. This may be influenced by the fact that the prime minister grew up in a family of politicians from Hiroshima, and his nuclear disarmament plans let him gain popularity among the general population.

Nevertheless, public skepticism and Kishida’s anti-nuclear background go against the trend towards military opposition to China in the Indo-Pacific region. Tokyo has amended the Japanese constitution and changed its military doctrine in order to strengthen the concept of U.S.-Japanese deterrence to China. In light of the need for increased naval capabilities, the decision to obtain and develop nuclear propulsion technologies would hardly be called unexpected.

Fumio Kishida came to power in a very difficult period. His victory is largely explained by his election promises and the people’s hope for stabilizing the internal and foreign policy situation. The nuclear issue can become the central theme of Kishida’s rule as its decision will determine Japan’s nuclear development plans for many years to come.

Alan Callow was born in Japan, and graduated from Western Mindanao State University (Philippines). Alan is a freelance journalist with experience in writing about the Asia Pacific region.