India hopes that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s expected sweep of upper house elections in July will pave the way for the final signing of a bilateral civil nuclear agreement.
While Tokyo supported the Indo-US nuclear deal and the exemption that it granted India from international technology sanctions, successive Japanese governments have struggled to find the political support to translate this into a bilateral nuclear agreement. This partly reflects the entrenched strength of anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan, the only country to have been a victim of nuclear bomb.
New Delhi wants an upfront right to reprocess nuclear fuel that comes from Japanese. “We may never get any fuel from Japan,” admit Indian officials, but it is determined to get the principle embedded in the agreement.
A Japan deal is necessary because any Indian plan to buy French, Korean or American nuclear reactors will founder on the global monopoly held by the Japanese Steel Works for reactor pressure vessels. This monopoly is likely to continue for a number of more years. India’s Department of Atomic Energy has also eyed Japan’s fast-breeder programme as a possible partner.
India says a Japanese agreement should not require of India anything beyond the 301 agreement signed with the US. However, Japan’s strong nonproliferation lobby has sought to extract additional commitments in such areas as nuclear testing. Japanese officials say that this is exacerbated by the fact the present foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, is from Hiroshima.
New Delhi was surprised at a recent Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting when Japan, while supporting a US-sponsored move to make India a member of the global nuclear technology grouping, demanded India provide more information on India’s dual technology export controls. New Delhi complained to Tokyo that the Japanese officials echoed the view of China, a country opposed to India’s joining the NSG. A Japanese diplomat sought to glide over the incident, saying it was “a miscommunication”.
India accepts Japan’s bureaucracy will wage a guerrilla struggle against a clean nuclear agreement until Abe is able to win the upper house and begin to firmly impose his agenda on his government.