Jim Auer states the obvious: that the Iraq deployment is all about securing Japan against the North Korean threat. He states another obvious point--that Washington thinks that loose lips in Japan about a Japanese nuclear breakout are an attempt to encourage the Chinese to lean hard on the North Koreans.
But I think Okumura-san goes to far in saying Japanese security specialists share Auer's and Washington's belief.
As evidence, I offer the Sankei Shimbun's front page article of December 25 disclosing the contents of a secret government report prepared this summer. That the article appeared on Christmas Day is the likely reason it has not been more widely discussed.
核弾頭試作に３年以上 費用２０００～３０００億円 政府内部文書
Government internal report says Japan over three years away from a miniaturized warhead at a cost of 200 to 300 billion yen
It became public knowledge on December 24 that an internal government document exists stating, “It will take at least 3 to 5 years until Japan can go into trial production of a miniaturized warhead.” According to the document, entitled, “As regards the possibility of national production of atomic weapons” while Japan does have uranium enrichment facilities and the technology and equipment for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, there are technical barriers that prevent the immediate conversion of these [capabilities]. Although a debate has emerged in one segment of Japanese society on the occasion of North Korea’s nuclear test regarding the need for nuclear armaments or a review of the “Three Non Nuclear Principles”, it has been confirmed that even if a decision were made to proceed with arming Japan with nuclear weapons, Japan will be basically starting from zero.
The internal government document was completed on September 20. Well before the October 9 nuclear test by North Korea, specialists within various branches of the government quietly conducted a survey and compiled [the report]. It says that to produce a prototype miniaturized warhead will take more than 3 years, a budget of 200 billion to 300 billion and several hundred technicians. If Japan were to declare itself a nuclear weapons state in the interim, Japan could not immediately by itself check the ‘nuclear threat’ posed by North Korea
As for the materials to be made into nuclear weapons, they will be either of two types, namely, HEU used in the Hiroshima atomic bomb or Nagasaki-type plutonium. There are nuclear fuel cycle processing facilities at Japan's nuclear fuels manufacturing center of Rokkasho (in Aomori Prefecture) and uranium enrichment and a nuclear power station spent fuel reprocessing plant at the Tokai civilian nuclear research group facility (in Ibaraki Prefecture).
However, neither is appropriate for production the nuclear materials out of the fuel designed for use in light water reactors. The uranium enrichment facility can produce 3% LEU. Operating the centrifuges in order to produce [HEU] would lead to constant breakdowns. It would essentially be impossible to scale up over the short term.
The internal government document concludes that in order for Japan to arm itself with nuclear weapons, it would, in the end, have to construct a graphite moderated nuclear reactor for the efficient production of Pu 239. It would also be necessary to establish a reprocessing line for this reactor. Furthermore, Japan will have to push itself to aquire the technological knowledge required for the manufacture of miniaturized warheads.
(Editor: Tamura Hideo)
Now to me, the leaking of the contents of this report to the Sankei Shimbun...
1) Reassures the Chinese that the smart folks in Japan know that breakout is impossible.
2) Slams the door on the knuckles of certain right wing pundits both here and in the United States who have been arguing for Japan's entry into the nuclear weapons club.
3) Drives a stake through the heart of the "Japan is at most 6 months away from being a nuclear power" canard.
4) Indicates there are at least a few individuals inside the government who think that politicians discussing Japan's possibly becoming a nuclear weapons state needs to be exposed for the nonsense it is.
(Some of this material cross-posted from Arms Control Wonk and Global Talk 21)