New Delhi: Despite the political bonhomie resulting from Prime Minister Narendra Modi`s visit to Japan, there are major hurdles to civil nuclear cooperation between the two nations, especially India`s not adhering to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a Japanese nuclear industry leader says.
It is a mental block, given the impact on the Japanese public psyche of the exploding of atomic bombs over Japan by the US at the end of the Second World War, said Takuya Hattori, president of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum.
"India`s not adhering to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the biggest obstacle to nuclear cooperation between India and Japan," Hattori told IANS on the sidelines of an international conference on nuclear energy held recently in Moscow.
Given its historical experience, Japan was among the countries that had reacted strongly to India`s nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998.
"The hurdles to nuclear cooperation emanate from Japan`s position that no reprocessing of spent fuel would be done in India," Hattori said.
The key to India`s nuclear programme is the indigenous pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWR) run on natural uranium fuel which is scarce in India and needs to be imported. However, the PHWR can also be used to produce fissile plutonium-239 for civil or military use after reprocessing the spent fuel.
India`s position is that it should get the same treatment applicable to nuclear weapons states under the NPT, which it has not signed but has unilaterally undertaken to respect, and that conditions imposed on India are more stringent than those applied to other nuclear weapons states like China and the US.
The second element of India`s nuclear programme are pressurised light water reactors (PWRs) sourced from countries like France (Jaitapur), the US, Japan and Russia, which is building the Kudankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu, the first unit of which got grid-connected early this year.
Japan is a world leader in the manufacture of pressurised reactor vessel components and Japanese companies are their biggest suppliers.
"A small number of Japanese companies have great expertise in heavy forging material for turbine generators of the reactor pressure vessel," Hattori explained.
Made of special steel, these components are capable of withstanding high pressures and temperatures, as well as the intense neutron bombardment from the reactor core over a 40-50 year period.
"These companies have their order books booked going ahead up to five years," he said.
"Japan also maintains that in the event of a nuclear test by India, the components supplied would be immediately returned to Japan," the nuclear industry veteran said.
A condition that India feels would be almost impossible to implement because it involves shutting down, dismantling and then shipping massive, highly radioactive components. The same hazards apply to the transport of highly radioactive spent fuel across thousands of kilometres.
Towards overcoming such historical hurdles, India has been asking Japan to show more flexibility in reaching an agreement with along the lines of civil nuclear agreements India has signed with countries like the US, France, Britain, South Korea and Canada.
Hattori, who has been vice president of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, said that public attitude is ambivalent in Japan about nuclear energy, which accounts for around 30 percent of the country`s power generation.
"While 60 percent of Japanese are neutral about nuclear power, with 20 percent each way strongly for and against, of the neutrals 40 percent are against the restarting of Fukushima," Hattori said.
He blamed the "lack of imagination to foresee" the height of the 2011 tsunami waves that breached the plant walls as being the cause of the disaster. The protective wall, that proved inadequate, had been built on the basis of recorded data of tsunamis in the area.
Meanwhile, Japan`s Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi said Thursday it would be very difficult to restart Fukushima`s second unit, which escaped severe damage, unlike unit one nearby, amid strong calls from locals to decommission its reactors, Japanese media reported.