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Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Japan 'should consider nuclear arms'

Japan is the only country ever attacked by nuclear weapons

A new political appointee in Japan's defence ministry has sparked controversy by suggesting that the country should consider getting nuclear weapons despite a decades-old ban.

Shingo Nishimura, one of two parliamentary vice-ministers appointed by the prime minister earlier this month, said: "Parliament needs to discuss whether perhaps it is better for Japan to arm itself with nuclear weapons."

[ image: Hiroshima protest: Many Japanese are opposed to nuclear weapons]
Hiroshima protest: Many Japanese are opposed to nuclear weapons
Japan, the only nation ever attacked by atomic bombs, has for more than 30 years adhered to its "three principles" which ban the possession, production and import of nuclear weapons.

In an interview with the Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Playboy - which has no editorial link with the US version - Mr Nishimura said that in his personal opinion, a nuclear weapons arsenal provides a deterrent against nuclear attack.

"If there were no punishment for rape, then we would all be rapists. But that's not the case as punishment acts as a deterrence," he was quoted as saying.

[ image: Hiroshima was devastated by nuclear attack]
Hiroshima was devastated by nuclear attack
Other members of the Japanese Government have distanced themselves from Mr Nishimura's remarks, saying that they were his personal opinion.

Public broadcaster NHK said that Defence Minister Tsutomu Kawara had later warned Mr Nishimura not to state personal views which differ from the official government line.

Top government spokesman Mikio Aoki told a regular news conference that he planned to question Mr Nishimura personally on the meaning of his comments.

The minister is no stranger to controversy. Along with three colleagues, Mr Nishimura hit the headlines in May 1997 when they landed on a disputed island in the East China Sea and planted a Japanese flag.

Japan, China and Taiwan all claim the islands, known as the Senakakus by the Japanese and the Daioyus by the Chinese.

Nuclear leak

Mr Nishimura's comments on nuclear weapons come at a sensitive time in Japan, which has been left reeling by the worst nuclear accident in its history.

The head of the firm responsible, JCO, on Tuesday apologised to legislators at a parliamentary hearing.

[ image: Tokaimura: Japan's worst nuclear accident]
Tokaimura: Japan's worst nuclear accident
Hiroharu Kitani told politicians that the accident, in which at least 69 people were exposed to radiation after an uncontrolled atomic reaction, should never have occurred and that he was extremely sorry.

JCO has already admitted that workers at the Tokaimura plant use buckets to transport dangerous radioactive materials and that an illegal operating manual was used.

The firm is also facing a criminal investigation, and some executives could face jail sentences if they are found guilty of negligence.

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