'could build 7,000 nuclear bombs'
The Guardian, April 08, 2002
by Jonathan Watts in Tokyo
Japan has the technology and the plutonium to make
thousands of nuclear
weapons, one of the country's most influential politicians declared
weekend in comments that are likely to stir up the ire of both China
survivors of the wartime atomic bombings.
Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of the opposition Liberal party, made the comments
against a backdrop of increasing Japanese concern about the economic
military rise of its Asian neighbour.
"China is applying itself to expand its military power in the
becoming a superpower," he said. "If China gets too inflated,
people will get hysterical."
However, he boasted that Japan would never lose a military confrontation
it became serious about strengthening its defences.
"It would be so easy for us to produce nuclear warheads. We have
plutonium at nuclear power plants in Japan to make several thousand
warheads," he said.
Although military analysts and anti-nuclear groups have long claimed
Japan could develop nuclear weapons, politicians usually steer clear
subject, which rekindles painful memories of the 200,000 killed by the
bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The government has a non-nuclear
The timing is also sensitive because the Japanese prime minister, Junichiro
Koizumi, will visit China next week. Li Peng, chairman of the Chinese
parliament, is currently visiting Japan to mark the 30th anniversary
Mr Ozawa is known for rocking the boat with his uncompromising statements
and political tactics. In 1993, he led a defection that pushed the Liberal
Democratic party out of power for the first and only time since 1955.
Three years ago, a member of his party was forced to resign as a junior
defence minister after calling for a parliamentary debate on whether
should acquire a nuclear deterrent.
Mr Ozawa insisted, however, that his latest comments were aimed at
improving Japan-China relations.
Anti-nuclear campaigners welcomed the candidness of the statement,
that Japan's plutonium stockpile of 38 tonnes - including material being
reprocessed in the UK and France - was part of an undeclared weapons
programme able to make more than 7,000 warheads.
Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International said: "[Ozawa] has exposed
myths of it being a peaceful energy programme for a resource-poor country."