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5 Aug, 2009 20:38

Japan split over nuclear armament ban

America’s dropping of two nuclear bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 64 years ago contributed to Japan's non-nuclear weapons policy. But calls are growing in Japan to rethink the anti-nuclear stance.

On August 6, 1945, the United States used a massive atomic weapon against Japan, devastating the city of Hiroshima. Some 140,000 people were killed, including those who died after the attack from radiation-linked illnesses. Another atomic bomb, dropped three days later over the city of Nagasaki, killed about 74,000 by the end of year.

Every year the country mourns the anniversary of the bombings that contributed to postwar Japan adopting a firm non-nuclear weapons policy. Although not banning peaceful nuclear power, it forbids the nation from nuclear armament.

“Hiroshima and Nagasaki have created a very strong anti-nuclear attitude among the Japanese for generations," said Aleksandr Koldobsky of the National Research Nuclear University. "They’ve realized that the best way to avoid such tragedies is to reject nuclear weapons.”

But in recent years Japanese politicians have been going more and more public in questioning the policy. North Korea’s nuclear test in May only fuelled the debate.

“A view is growing that if North Korea goes further in its nuclear ambitions, Japan may consider having nuclear weapons," said Viktor Pavlyatenko, a senior scientist at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies. "And compared to previous decades, public opinion has become more favorable to the idea.”

Tokyo has repeatedly indicated that it has no intention of dropping its traditional defense strategy. But it's increasingly looking to ease its universal ban on weapons exports that would allow Japanese companies to join international weapons development programs.

“Japan is looking for a new role – from becoming a bigger regional and international player to having a new constitution that for more than 60 years has been perceived as American-written,” said Pavlyatenko.

For now Japan’s future looks free of nuclear weapons, but as the country marks the tragic anniversary, the debate on whether the country should stay the course is firmly underway.