Japan’s Nuclear Diplomacy Post-Fukushima

  • 2015•02•03     Tokyo

    On 28 January 2015, the United Nations University hosted a conversation between Ambassador Toshiro Ozawa, recent Permanent Representative of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna, and Dr. David Malone, Rector of UNU, as part of the UNU Conversation Series. This series provides a unique public platform for influential experts, world leaders and respected scholars to share personal insights on contemporary global affairs, politics, and media.

    The conversation with Ambassador Ozawa focused on Japan’s nuclear diplomacy post-Fukushima. The Ambassador served as a diplomat for Japan for 41 years, and thus the conversation opened with the Ambassador’s reflections on challenges faced by diplomats. He stated that career diplomats are professionals and can deal with changes of government as they occur. However, the difficulty he faced in Vienna from 2012-2014 came from a need to work with a very confused government in Tokyo due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident that occurred in March 2011. The years after the Daiichi accident turned into one of the most challenging periods of his career.

    The conversation progressed to focus on Japan’s experiences with nuclear issues, such as the events of WWII, the nuclear testing that occurred near Japan in 1954, later referred to as the ‘Lucky Dragon’ incident, and most recently the Fukushima events. Rector Malone reflected on how these events had caused Japan to become hyper sensitive to nuclear issues. Ambassador Ozawa highlighted the fear experienced by the public as a result of the Lucky Dragon incident and admitted that nuclear policy has always been a “bone of contention” for Japan. He emphasized that in a crisis, “pathos (emotion) will always beat logos (logic)”. This fact has contributed to the continued unclear nuclear policy shown by Japan.

    Ambassador Ozawa admitted that nuclear energy will most likely be part of Japan’s energy matrix in the future, although he personally advocates renewable energy and calls for continued research and development on the nuclear front to ensure greater safety. This perspective was also reflected in his thoughts on the tradability of Japan’s nuclear technologies, as he stressed the importance of safety and non-proliferation insurances.

    In a discussion with the audience, Ambassador Ozawa touched upon a range of issues, including Japan’s feed-in tariff (REFIT) policy, the problems this policy has caused for renewables such as solar energy, the importance of improving existing technology, and the divided opinion of the media vis-à-vis nuclear energy. Ambassador Ozawa underscored three points that he felt were at the crux of Japan’s nuclear policy: the appreciation expressed by the government for the assistance received after the Fukushima Daiichi accident; providing information on the on-going reconstruction effort; and, sharing the lessons learned as a result of this accident. The conversation closed with Rector Malone underlining the need for continued study and thought on ethics in both a professional and personal context.