Safety must be guaranteed as a precondition for the government giving the green light to the export of nuclear reactors to Vietnam.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung have reached an agreement under which Japan will be granted a contract to build two nuclear reactors, each with an output of 1 million kilowatts, as part of the second phase of the construction of a nuclear power station in Ninh Thuan, southern Vietnam. Operations at these reactors are scheduled to begin in 2021 and 2022.
The government will go ahead with Japan’s exports of reactors to Vietnam after the Diet approves the bilateral nuclear power agreement.
In a speech to the U.N. in September, Prime Minister Noda said he would ensure the world’s top level of safety as a precondition for exporting nuclear power complexes. Japan must not export danger and concern by placing priority on profit over safety. Maximum caution should be exercised in ensuring safety before giving the green light to exports.
At a bilateral summit in October 2010, Japan agreed to be a partner in the development of nuclear power plants in Vietnam. Vietnam had asked Japan to extend low-interest loans for the project, provide the most advanced technology, help develop a skilled nuclear power workforce, process radioactive waste and extend other forms of cooperation as a condition for granting Japan the contract.
One cannot help but wonder why the government, which is pursuing reduced reliance on nuclear power, has chosen to give the green light to exports of nuclear reactors. As the reasons for exporting nuclear technology, the government has explained that it will help stabilize the global energy supply, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, maintain and improve technology and skills in Japan, and contribute to Japan’s economic growth.
True, the construction of a single nuclear reactor is reportedly a 500-billion-yen project. The government, which has been worried that domestic demand is shrinking, declared in its new growth strategy in June that it will promote the sale of infrastructure packages including nuclear power plants abroad.
Still, the government has failed to bring the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant under control and is still trying to get to the bottom of the disaster’s cause. The crisis has uncovered various problems with the management of nuclear power plants, including plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s failure to assume that all external power sources could be lost for such a long period in case of a disaster. If Japan chooses to unconditionally export nuclear reactors in pursuit of profits at this stage, it will never win international confidence.
Vietnam, for its part, is aiming to secure stable power sources to help attract foreign investment and sustain its economic growth. The country has already placed an order with Russia for the construction of two nuclear reactors, but reportedly intends to avoid excessive reliance on a single major provider. In that sense, it places high expectations on Japan’s nuclear power technology. It is only natural that Japan, which has been in negotiation with Vietnam over nuclear reactor exports, feels obliged to respond to the country’s request.
Still, if Japan — which has witnessed a stunning collapse of the myth of nuclear power’s safety — moves to export nuclear reactors, it needs to keep in mind that it must ensure their safety.
It is a matter of course that Tokyo must upgrade the safety of nuclear power plants while paying close attention to the results of investigations by the government’s accident investigative panel and a similar panel to be set up in the Diet.
Japan may enter negotiations with other countries on exports of nuclear reactors and technology. The executive and legislative branches of the government should hold substantive discussions on the issue to prevent the government from permitting exports to numerous countries without restraint.