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Japanese Nuclear Attack Submarine

Japan has no nuclear submarine and has never built any in partnership with the United States. The nuclear submarine, with virtually unrestricted range, endurance, mobility, and power, is at the apex of military technology. Of course, such capability requires extensive specialist infrastructure, and it is enormously expensive. These two factors have restricted nuclear submarine ownership to a handful of navies, where they are he pre-eminent capital ships of the fleet. Although major naval powers like the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union turned quickly to submarine nuclear propulsion as soon as it became technically feasible, other navies have remained committed to conventional diesel-electric submarines, largely for coastal defense.

Japan considered a nuclear attack submarine program in the early days of the Cold War. On 05 May 1959, the Director of the Japanese Defense Agency confirmed that early studies had been conducted on the possibility of a nuclear propulsion program. Possible explanations for the nuclear program not being developed include its high cost, constitutional restrictions and the ability of the conventional fleet to adequately cover areas patrolled by the JMSDF. Another possible factor in the decision not to proceed with a nuclear program may have been American influence, though the public record is silent on this point. It is known that the United States actively discouraged Itailian development of a nuclear attack submarine in this timeframe. US indications that nuclear propulsion was not needed by Japan and that US assets would be available if the requirement arose was demonstrated by the stationing of Submarine Group Seven in Sasebo, Japan. This is one of only two Groups stationed overseas.

Asking why Japan has no nuclear attack submarines may be the wrong question - rather, one might equally well inquire why states such as India have long sought nuclear attack submarines. Rodney Hutton has argued that four factors: national security, factional interests, technological momentum and institutional interactions, influence - the decision making process surrounding submarine acquisitions. "The development of a conventional submarine fleet is strongly influenced by national security issues. The remaining three factors are also present in each case of submarine acquisitions, but to a much lesser degree. Indian and Chinese nuclemo submarine developments are difficult to justify based solely on security threats due to the submarine's lack of strategic integration and the availability of low cost conventional submarines to cover professed strategic interests. In each case, factional interests influenced the control of the nuclear programs, while at the decision-making level, nuclear submarines are perceived as an avenue to higher intemational standing or as a means to fulfilling the intemational role to which the counily aspires."

There are several reasons that other countries have acquired nuclear attack submarines and Japan has not. Apparently military authorities are quite aware of Japanese "nuclear allergies." According to the Japan Times, "In 1988, W. Jackson Davis, professor of biology at the University of California, conducted an environmental assessment of possible damage from an accident involving a nuclear-powered submarine at Yokosuka. The study found that people within a 100-km radius of the accident site, including Tokyo and all of Kanagawa Prefecture, would be affected. Deaths from exposure to radiation itself and from genetic damage would amount to 100,000 a year."

The great advantages nuclear submarines have over conventional submarines are speed and endurance. Nuclear submarines are independent of the surface, for as long as their food supplies last. Conventional submarines typically have submerged speeds of about 20 knots, while nuclear submarines typically can do better than 30 knots. This considerably decreases transit time to its target. But these advantages are of little concern to Japan, whose Maritime Self Defense Force is overwhelmingly concerned with operations in waters immediately adjacent to the home islands. In May 1981, President Reagan and Prime Minister Suzuki agreed to the increased defense responsibilities "in Japanese territories and its surrounding air and sea space." The reach of the submarine and escort flotillas extends well beyond the standard 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) out to a 1,000 nautical mile radius in accordance with the 1981 Japan-US communique. This range encompasses Russian strategic access points to the Pacific and extends southward to Taiwan. Beyond these limits, Japan relies upon the US Navy to protect its overseas interests.

All other coutnries [to date, the notable future exception being Brazil] which have acquired nuclear attack submarines are also nuclear weapons states, and have built nuclear powered attack submarines prior to and as a path to building nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines. Nuclear powered attack submarines might come in handy, and it would only be sensible to try to solve the nuclear propulsion problem separately from [and generally before] to the underwater launch of ballistic missiles problem. Japan has no nuclear weapons, no sea launched ballistic missiles, and no ballistic missile submarines. Presumably, if Japan were to acquire nuclear weapons, submarines would be an attractive basing mode, and Japan would acquire nuclear powered attack submarines along the way.

In October 2005 the U.S. Navy announced plans to retire the conventionally powered Kitty Hawk in 2008 and replace it with a nuclear-powered carrier, later identified as the George Washington. The US Navy was moving to an entirely nuclear-powered carrier fleet. Neither the USS John F. Kennedy or USS Kitty Hawk were viable options to fulfill the critical and high-tempo mission of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces" beyond 2008, by which time both conventional carriers had retired.

Ryoichi Kabaya, mayor of Yokosuka, Japan, presented a petition opposing the plan to U.S. Ambassador to Japan J. Thomas Schieffer. Kabaya expressed concerns about the safety of nuclear-powered vessels. The United States welcomed the 14 June 2006 announcement by Kabaya that he has accepted the planned deployment to Japan of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

The Japanese people are the only nation in the world to have experienced the horror of nuclear weapons used in war. The "nuclear allergy" metaphor was used most predominantly in the late 1960s to brand opponents of Japan's nuclearization as 'allergic'. By locating antinuclear sentiments in the medical context of disease, those trying to nuclearize Japan were able to invoke the entailment of the need for a 'cure'. A gradual increase in the number of nuclear-powered (and undoubtedly nuclear-weapon loaded) U. S. ships and submarines making port calls to Japan, criticism of the antinuclear sentiments from the viewpoint of 'international common sense', and the initiation of a propaganda campaign, were used to try to 'cure' the Japanese people's antinuclear 'allergy'. The metaphor functions by transferring the image of 'harmlessness' associated with an allergen to nuclear weapons, and by transferring the image of 'abnormal' associated with a reaction to an allergen to those Japanese opposed to nuclear weapons.

In 1966 the submarine Snook became the first U.S. nuclear-powered warship to visit Yokosuka. In 1973 the conventionally powered aircraft carrier Midway visited Yokosuka, touching off Japanese opposition against moves to deploy the carrier there. Authorities on both sides tried to allay public concerns by promising that the carrier would remain in Yokosuka for only a few years. The promise was broken as Yokosuka became a carrier home port.

Silent Service, the first manga [adult comic strip] about Japan`s postwar military, began running in November 1989, and was made into a video in 1995. As the story progresses, the Sea Bat, a Japanese nuclear submarine built under a secret Japan-U.S. agreement, glides silently to a stop beneath the surface of a calm sea. Things take an unexpected turn when the crew under Capt. Kaieda mutinies. Moments later the Sea Bat sends Japan`s prime minister a shocking message: We are declaring this submarine an independent country - Yamoto - and want to sign a friendship treaty with Tokyo. In return we will provide Japan with nuclear weapons, help it win a war of independence from the United States and rid itself of the collective guilt of its past. Now the US and Japan are in a frantic search for the renegade sub while the Captain follows through on his plan that will rock the relations with the two countries to its core.

Public understandings and trust are needed for ensuring nuclear safety. Issues on the existing nuclear power plants have been growing over the past decade of various safety-related accidents/incidents: the ageing, decommissioning, establishment of a nuclear fuel cycle, radioactive waste disposal, etc. The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan (NSC) marked its 30th anniversary in October 2008. As of the beginning of the year 2010, 54 nuclear reactors were in service in Japan for commercial power generation ("commercial reactor" in this document), while two (2) other units are under construction and 12 units are under preparations for construction. Eighteen (18) out of the existing 54 units will mark their 30th anniversary of operation in 2010.

The criticality accident at the uranium conversion facility of the Tokai Plant, JCO Co., Ltd. (JCO) occurred on September 30, 1999, exposing three duty workers to a big amount of radiation, killing two of them eventually. Local residents were asked by the local government to evacuate from the site or to remain indoors. This Accident also gave serious impacts on the local residents, by the harmful rumor of damage to local industry such as agriculture and tourist business. The Accident also brought an eye-opening shock in Japan and internationally.

In November 2001, a pipe rupture occurred in the residual heat removal system at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station Unit 1 of Chubu Electric Power Co., Inc. In August 2004, a pipe break in the secondary cooling system piping killed five workers on duty at the Mihama Power Station Unit 3 of the Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc. Pipe wall thinning due to inappropriate pipe management caused the break.

Misconduct cases also seriously affected the society, in addition to the accidents. Following the disclosure of data alteration by TEPCO in 2002, a series of misconduct cases were discovered. The comprehensive checks from 2006 to 2007 revealed many cases of misconduct of data alterations and concealments by the electric power companies. Such misconduct cases seriously damaged the reliability of safety management by the nuclear operators and the government. The trust restoration was an urgent issue.

Major earthquakes successively occurred around nuclear power stations: the Miyagiken-Oki Earthquake in August 2005; the Noto Hanto Earthquake in March 2007; and the Niigata-ken Chuetsu-Oki Earthquake in July 2007 (the Earthquake in this document). Particularly, the Earthquake struck the TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa (KK) Nuclear Power Station, with the ground motions far exceeding the design values. The fundamental safety functions of the Station were maintained, but extensive damage was experienced mainly at peripheral facilities. The fact that the facilities were exposed to the ground motions exceeding the assumed level must be recognized with sincerity and the actions for ensuring and improving the seismic safety of nuclear facilities were strongly required.

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Page last modified: 16-07-2012 18:45:53 ZULU