During his visit to New Delhi last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on a civil nuclear cooperation. The nuclear agreement will allow Japan to export nuclear power plant technology to India. The deal will be unique in the sense that, first time in the history, Japan will export its nuclear technology to a non-NPT signatory state, India.
This is not going to be an easy assignment because there is a significant political resistance within Japan against any kind of nuclear deal with non-NPT signatory states. During the previous rounds of negotiations, Japan had consistently insisted on the "nullification clause" which would allow automatic freezing of India-Japan nuclear ties if New Delhi carried out any further nuclear tests. However, Japan expressed its satisfaction over India’s voluntary moratorium on further nuclear testing. Yet, it seems quite difficult for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to justify discarding of the “nullification clause” in the Japanese parliament.
Japan, the only country to witness the ruinous consequences of nuclear attack has to ensure a robust mechanism to prevent India from using the Japanese nuclear technology to enhance its nuclear weapons capabilities. Japan has long been a proponent of global nuclear zero; hence, in past it refrained from signing a nuclear pact with non-NPT signatory states. A nuclear agreement with India will affect Japan’s long standing against nuclear weapons development particularly when India is yet to sing nuclear nonproliferation regime.
Another problem that Japan would face in case of successful nuclear deal is the reprocessing of spent fuel which can be converted into nuclear weapons. India to reprocess nuclear fuel burned in a plant built with Japanese components and materials. In such a scenario, Japan needs to ensure that it has robust check on its nuclear technology particularly in context of Indian intentions to expand its nuclear arsenal by taking advantage of this pact.
Modi government at home is facing immense criticism for its nuclear pact with Japan. Soon after Fukushima disaster, much of the world constrained its dependence on nuclear energy. However, contrary to global trend, India has a vision to expend its nuclear program. India’s nuclear power market is estimated at $150 billion and it aims to boost energy generated from atomic plants to a quarter of the total by 2050. It will be beneficial for Japan based nuclear conglomerates to fetch billions of dollars at a time when nuclear power is under severe criticism. There is a massive protest underway in India against existing nuclear power plants. People are worried because, In case of a nuclear accident Like Fukushima the lives of millions of poor Indians will be at risk.
There is another factor that softened Japan’s tough stance on nuclear pact with India, the China factor and South China Sea dispute. Sino- Japanese relations have deteriorated over the past few years, and are likely to be exacerbated due to South China Sea dispute. Japan sees India as a reliable partner against China particularly in context of China’s growing influence in South China Sea, a resource-rich strategic waterway through which more than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped each year. There are reports that India will take an anti-China stand against South China Sea dispute. That’s the reason that Japan has relaxed its stance for a possible nuclear agreement with India.
However, a controversial Indo-Japan nuclear agreement will come up with a great cost. The agreement will pose serious questions on Japan’s policy behavior towards Non-NPT signatory states as well as its commitments to the global nuclear disarmament. Being a major player in the nuclear energy market, Tokyo has to be cautious regarding its nuclear arrangements with New Delhi which lacks a convincing track record due to its nuclear explosion back in 1974 that used plutonium from a heavy water reactor gifted by Canadian government for peaceful purposes.
Prime Minister Abe is under immense pressure from nuclear lobbies at home as well as in India to conclude a nuclear agreement with non-NPT signatory state, but it will also be a difficult task to convince opposing political leadership in Parliament.