By Ryo Sakuma and Hideo Nakamura
The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) is a world-renowned institute that observes the Galaxy, black holes, etc. The institute is now mulling a policy that would enable it to apply for a research outsourcing program sponsored by the Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) of the Defense Ministry, Shimbun Akahata learned. The program is called the “security technology research promotion system.” The system entrusts universities and research institutes with basic research that could lead to upgrading military equipment. The Abe administration created the system with the aim of obtaining advanced technologies with potential military applications developed by the civilian sector.
At a professors’ meeting three years ago, the NAOJ adopted a resolution “not to apply” for the security technology research promotion system. During another professors’ meeting held in July this year, however, board members under the leadership of Director General Saku Tsuneta presented a new policy that enables the institute to apply for the system if certain conditions are satisfied including the publicizing of research results.
During the meeting, the professors were divided between those in favor of and those against the new policy, sources said. In response to Akahata’s inquiry about the new policy, Director General Tsuneta replied, “Because it was a significant change in our policy, I fully explained the change and asked the professors for their opinions.” The director general also expressed his intention to listen to opinions from both technical and administrative personnel. At the same time, Tsuneta stressed that “a professors’ meeting is not a decision-making body that determines NAOJ policy.” He said that he is unable to specify a timeline for the NAOJ’s final decision but will decide whether the institute will adopt the new policy by proposing it to another committee, which is the established decision-making process.
After repeated discussion, NAOJ researchers once decided not to apply for the ATLA-sponsoring system, but the board members abruptly tried to overturn the decision in a top-down manner. NAOJ officials are voicing doubts about and opposition to the new policy. The NAOJ employees’ union requested Director General Tsuneta to have thorough discussions on the matter and to hold a professors’ meeting to adopt another resolution.
NAOJ is a “front-runner for peace” that has long rejected cooperating in military research. What is going on at the institute now?