TOKYO — A civilian nuclear cooperation pact between Japan and India cleared the Japanese House of Representatives on Tuesday, paving the way for Tokyo to export nuclear power equipment and technology to the fast-growing economy not part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
As the lower house is given supremacy in dealing with treaties under the Japanese Constitution, the bill is set to gain parliamentary approval despite fears by the opposition bloc that the South Asian nuclear weapons state could make military use of the technology.
The pact was signed in November when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Tokyo. The deal prohibits New Delhi from using nuclear materials and technologies for developing atomic explosion devices and requires the country to accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Under the accord, India will be allowed to reprocess nuclear materials and byproducts supplied, but cannot make highly enriched uranium except with an agreement from Japan. Highly enriched uranium has the potential to be used in the production of nuclear weapons.
A separate document confirmed that Japan will halt the nuclear deal if India breaks its 2008 promise to maintain a moratorium on nuclear testing.
The main opposition Democratic Party has been opposed to the bill, citing the lack of a legal guarantee to limit the use of nuclear technology to civilian purposes as the provision to suspend the nuclear treaty was not included in the pact itself.
The Japanese government has insisted the treaty secured the strongest rights to respond to India’s nuclear tests, but unlike Japan’s nuclear deals with Jordan and Vietnam, the pact with India does not clearly specify nuclear testing as a condition for terminating the deal.
Opposition parties have asked the government why the deal does not mention “nuclear tests” as a condition to halt the pact. During the negotiation, India had firmly rejected adoption of the wording.
Adding to such concerns, the deal has a controversial provision saying that consideration should be given to whether a situation that would bring an end to the pact has emerged in response to actions by other states that could affect India’s national security.
Referring to the provision, Democratic Party lower house member Rintaro Ogata cautioned last week that Japan may not be able to stop cooperation based on the pact if India conducts a nuclear test as a countermeasure to a similar experiment by its neighbor Pakistan.
It also remains unclear whether Japan will be able to terminate the deal following India’s subcritical nuclear experiments. Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has said Tokyo will “respond appropriately” if it confirms such tests have taken place, but he stopped short of saying if Japan will suspend cooperation under the deal.
India conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998 without joining the NPT regime, which is designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
Some civic groups in Japan oppose the pact, saying it goes against the nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament goals that Japan pursues as the sole victim of a nuclear attack.
An international ban on exports of nuclear plant equipment to India was lifted in 2008, prompting Tokyo to begin negotiating the civilian cooperation pact with India in 2010. The South Asian country has already signed similar nuclear deals with Britain, France, Russia and the United States among other countries.
India is estimated to possess up to 120 nuclear warheads.