Key findings:

  • Japan’s nuclear industry has taken a beating in public opinion due to cost overruns, technical glitches and accidents like the Fukushima disaster three years ago next week.
  • Despite this, support for the Rokkasho plant among the country’s leaders remains high because of a tightly-woven network of regulators, utilities, labor leaders and local politicians who are dependent on a continuing stream of funding for nuclear power.
  • Japan’s enthusiasm for nuclear power has been nurtured by the utilities, which spent $27 billion on advertising over the past four decades and lavished contributions on members of the leading Japanese political party.
  • Although the government's policy has long ruled out the production or possession of nuclear arms, some Japanese politicians have supported the production of additional plutonium on grounds that it sends a useful signal to potential aggressors about Japan's capability to make such weapons.
  • Eager to block that development, the U.S. has brought a stream of Japanese diplomats and military officers into highly restricted nuclear weapons centers to remind them of the robustness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. They also have gently urged Japan not to take steps that would add to its existing plutonium stocks. But neither of these steps amounts to firm advice that Rokkasho should not be opened.