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A memo by US assistant to secretary of defense


October 03,2011
US strategy influence on Japan’s nuclear energy policy (Part 5)

On March 22, 1954 a memorandum entitled “Japan and Atomic Tests” was submitted by U.S. Assistant to the Secretary of Defense G. B. Erskine to the National Security Council (NSC) Operations Coordinating Board (OCB). It called on the U.S. government to make “a decision to build a reactor in Japan.”

The memo gave the following reason for the need to build a nuclear reactor in Japan: “A vigorous offensive on the non-war uses of atomic energy would appear to be a timely and effective way of countering the expected Russian effort and minimizing the harm already done in Japan.”

DoD leadership

The “harm already done in Japan” refers to the U.S. hydrogen bomb tests (Operations Castle) at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in the dawn of March 1, 1954, which exposed to radiation the tuna-fishing boat Daigo Fukuryumaru and many other fishing boats as well as residents of the Marshall Islands.

Being afraid of rumors, Daigo Fukuryumaru crew members secretly underwent medical treatment. This came to light in the Yomiuri Shimbun scoop on March 16.

Why did the U.S. Department of Defense take such a move? It is because the United States was afraid that the Soviet Union and other countries would expose the U.S. “atoms for peace” policy as a total deception and that this would adversely affect the continuation of U.S. hydrogen bomb tests.

U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles suggested a suspension of nuclear tests in response to international outrage concerning the Bikini incident. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), however, in April 1954 expressed their opposition to a stop to nuclear tests.

The United States planned to build atomic reactors in Japan to show the “peaceful use of atomic energy” for the purpose of facilitating the continuation of nuclear tests by the U.S. forces.

In fact, Operation Castle continued even after the Bikini incident, and the U.S. forces carried out 5 more hydrogen bomb tests between March 27 and June 20, 1954.

Meddling begins

The OCB on March 24 set up a working group (WG) to study the Erskine proposal. A WG memo dated March 30 pointed out, “The [Bikini] incident emphasizes the need for U.S. actions to implement the President’s December 8, 1953 address on the peaceful uses of atomic energy.”

Another memo dated April 28 proposed that the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) organize exhibitions on the peaceful uses of atomic energy and contact with Japanese scientists and engineers. These proposals took the shape of receiving Japanese students to study in the United States and holding atomic exhibitions in Japan with the support of the major mass media in Japan.

On January 4, 1955, the Japanese and U.S. governments exchanged official notes over compensation for the Bikini incident. A week later, the U.S. Embassy in Japan submitted a written statement consisting of eight items on U.S. assistance to Japan in regard to atomic energy, including plans to build experimental atomic reactors in Japan and receive Japanese students for advanced study in the United States.

(To be continued)


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