Nearly one-fifth of the members of Japan's lower house of parliament believe Japan should consider the option of possessing nuclear weapons if the international situation warrants it, a major newspaper reported yesterday.
Japan has no nuclear weapons, and possessing them would be a huge switch in long-standing policy in a country where even discussing the possession of nuclear weapons has long been taboo. Japan suffered the only atomic bomb attacks ever launched, with hundreds of thousands of people killed or injured in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 during World War II.
Based on a survey of the lawmakers' policies conducted just before Sunday's elections for the 480-seat lower house, the Mainichi newspaper said 83 lawmakers, or 17 percent of the body's new membership, support considering the nuclear option.
All but 20 of those voicing support were from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, it said.
The newspaper attributed the results to heightened concerns in this country over Iraq and the threat from North Korea, which may already possess nuclear weapons and has demonstrated the capability to fire missiles with a range long enough to reach most of Japan.
Throughout the postwar era, Japan has maintained a policy not to build, possess or allow the deployment of nuclear weapons on its territory.
That anti-nuclear sentiment remains very strong here, and Koizumi has stated he has no intention of deviating from it. He was not among the 83.
His party, however, has been carefully testing the waters.
Yasuo Fukuda and Shinzo Abe, two prominent ruling party politicians and top advisers to the prime minister, are among other leaders who have broached the once-shunned issue within the last year, asserting that Japan has the right to bear nuclear arms.
Experts said the results were not unexpected.
"I don't think the percentage is worrisome," said Takashi Inoguchi, a professor of international relations at Tokyo University. "It is a normal response considering the situation surrounding the country."
Inoguchi added that the survey was phrased to include those who support considering the nuclear option, not just those who specifically believe Japan should in fact have the bomb.
"It just shows that there are an increasing number of people who think it is necessary to `consider' the issue," he said.
But survivors of the A-bomb attacks on Japan expressed disappointment.
"As more young people become lawmakers, fewer have experienced war, and they don't know the suffering nuclear weapons cause," said Nagasaki survivor Terumi Tanaka, who heads a survivors' support group.