Japan has the technological know-how to produce a nuclear weapon, but has no immediate plans to do so, the foreign minister told a parliamentary committee Thursday, in one of the clearest confirmations by a Cabinet minister of the country's capability.
Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who has called for discussion of Japan's non-nuclear policy, also repeated the official government position that the country's pacifist constitution, which allows for the country to defend itself, does not forbid possession of an atomic bomb for defense purposes.
"Japan is capable of producing nuclear weapons," Aso told a parliamentary committee on security issues. "But we are not saying we have plans to possess nuclear weapons."
His remark comes a month after Defense Agency chief Fumio Kyuma made similar comments. Kyuma said on Oct. 25 that "perhaps we do have the potential to make nuclear arms." But he opposed "careless debate" on whether Japan should go nuclear.
Japan, the only country ever attacked by atomic weapons, has for decades espoused a strict policy of not possessing, developing or allowing the introduction of nuclear bombs on its territory.
The non-nuclear stance, however, has come under increasing scrutiny since North Korea conducted its first nuclear test on Oct. 9, which raised severe security concerns in Japan, and broader fears that a regional arms race could be triggered. Just months prior to the North's nuclear test, it test-fired several ballistic missiles capable of hitting Japan.
Kiyomi Tsujimoto, of the opposition Social Democratic Party, criticized Aso for supporting debate on possessing nuclear weapons at a sensitive time.
"The international community is greatly concerned about Japan's plutonium possession," she said. "As foreign minister, Mr. Aso, are you aware of global impact of saying it's not bad to discuss nuclear possession under the circumstances?"
Japan's huge plutonium stockpile from nuclear power stations is a major international concern, partly because it could be a target of terror attacks or could be turned into nuclear weapons.
Aso denied fanning the debate, reports AP.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has asserted several times since the North's test that Japan would not stray from its non-nuclear policy, and he has refused to initiate a formal review of that stance.