Tatsujiro Suzuki's Interview
Tatsujiro Suzuki's Interview
Tatsujiro Suzuki is a professor and vice director at the Nagasaki University Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA). His academic work focuses on civilian nuclear energy and nonproliferation. Suzuki was previously Vice Chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. In 2014 he joined RECNA, and served as its director from 2015-2019. In this interview, Suzuki discusses his opinions on international nuclear issues and policies. He shares his views on how countries can work together to promote nuclear nonproliferation. He also describes his reflections on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and RECNA’s current projects.
Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. I’m here in Nagasaki, Japan. It’s February 19, 2019. And I have with me a distinguished guest. Please say and spell your name.
Tatsujiro Suzuki: Okay. My name is Tatsujiro Suzuki, T-a-t-s-u-j-i-r-o, last name Suzuki, S-u-z-u-k-i. I am a nuclear engineer and I graduated from the University of Tokyo, 1975. And then I went to MIT’s technology and policy program, majoring in nuclear engineering. Since then, I’ve been mostly working on civilian nuclear energy and nonproliferation. That’s my academic field.
I came back to Japan in 1978, and then I joined a consulting company. And then after that, I studied energy policy. I went back to MIT again, from 1985 to 1995, again studying nuclear energy issues. Particularly plutonium issues, which is my field. Plutonium is a byproduct of a civilian nuclear program. It can be used for both nuclear weapons and also for energy purposes. So it’s a sensitive connection between civilian nuclear energy programs and nuclear weapons. I’ve been working on this plutonium issue for about 40 years now. Anyway, I came back to Japan in 1995 and joined a center, a research institute for the nuclear power industry, which is the Private Power Industries Research Institute, mostly working on nuclear energy policy issues. Then in 2010, I joined the [Japan] Atomic Energy Commission, the government body who advises the government on nuclear energy policy.
In 2011, as you know, we had the experience of a civilian nuclear accident at Fukushima. That was one of the biggest events in my life, and it changed my approach to civilian nuclear energy fundamentally. Then in 2014, I joined the Nagasaki University Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition. Since then, I am living in Nagasaki. I became the director of the center in 2015. So since then I’m here.
At this time, my major research interest is in Northeast Asia nuclear issues. And still I’m working on plutonium issues. Those are two major fields that I’m working on. As the director of RECNA [Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University] we are looking at, again, Northeast Asia weapon issues, nuclear energy issues. Sorry, Northeast nuclear weapon-free zone issues as a major target of our research. And, also, of course, we are looking at global nuclear issues. We are particularly interested in the impact of the Ban Treaty [Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons] on nuclear energy and also nuclear weapon proliferation issues in the Japanese government, and also in a global sense. We just are starting a new project, a kind of theoretical study on alternative ideas to nuclear deterrence doctrine. This is a new security study led by my colleague, Professor [Fumihiko] Yoshida. One of the groups which I am in is dealing with so-called emerging technologies, which is cyber attack or AI, all these new technologies–how these new technologies will impact nuclear risk. So this is a new project we just started.
I've been working on nuclear energy issues for more than 40 years. I did a study on nuclear safety issues and I believe that the nuclear light-water reactor particularly – the nuclear reactor safety has been solved. Basically, no more serious accidents will happen. Even if it happens, probably we can manage the crisis–we can manage the accident. I believe the Japanese nuclear industry is capable of dealing with a crisis. But you know, it never occurred to me that that kind of serious accident would happen in Japan. But anyway, since the [Fukushima] accident happened – as an engineer, we approach the risk of accident as a kind of probability times consequence. After Fukushima, both those criteria are no longer useful. Probability is no longer true. I mean, the very low probability that we assigned. The consequence: typically, we look at the number of deaths per accident. But this time, there’s no direct deaths related to radiation yet, but the economic and social consequences of the accident are so enormous, and fundamentally changed my mind regarding how to measure the risk of nuclear power. It’s very difficult to say now that maybe there’s no death related to nuclear accident. But if you go to Fukushima, there are many families who lost their land, families that divided over when to return to the city, and many couples divorced. And some people committed suicide because their life has changed–they lost their jobs and so on. So the social, ethical implication of the nuclear accident is quite enormous. It’s fundamentally changed my mind.
Kelly: Well, I ask you: I have read some studies. I’m no expert on this, but there has been some criticism that perhaps the advice given to the people was too conservative, in that they overestimated the negative impacts. And people were afraid. The fear was far greater than the actual–
Kelly: Now, what do you think of that? Is there some validity to that?
Suzuki: Yes. If you consider as a group–probably the health consequences of the accident are smaller than people, individual people, feared. But the probability of getting cancer is less relevant to each individual person. If you were in the town during the accident, even if you were tall, the probability you and your children get cancer is very, very small. Your fear will not disappear. So it’s a psychological impact. It’s different from the realistic, and probably the actual risk maybe. The perception that you may get a disease–cancer eventually–at any other point in the future–that will change your mind, or that will change your life fundamentally.
Kelly: Well, it’s interesting, because I think we do, scientists I’m saying now, probably do a poor job of helping people understand relative risk.
Kelly: Because, 25% of us – and the numbers may be going up as we are able to escape other forms of death, or you know, diseases that cause mortality – cancer is 25% in our future. So it’s the excess cancer that you worry about, but of course, it’s hard–
Suzuki: But the thing is they didn’t have to worry about those things if there were no accident. The point is, it is easy to tell the story about the probability of risk and so on. But from their perspective, they are the victim of the accident, even if it’s a small increase of the risk, which is not necessarily a risk for them. Some of them may have to leave the area, and they have lost land, they have lost their families. It is a serious social risk. I agree with you that eventually they will understand, probably, the consequence is not too large, even for food, for instance. Food issues were seriously overestimated in the beginning. But now people think that that’s okay. So eventually, they will understand.
Kelly: I think you probably could talk about Chernobyl in the same kind of light.
Kelly: There was more death by alcoholism. There were abortions performed, because people were afraid they would have deformed children. There were all these fears that caused people more anguish and more suffering than the reality. At least that’s some of the stories.
Suzuki: Yeah. I would say it’s not just the radiation fear, but it’s a kind of feeling of victimhood. Why you have to suffer this kind of–it’s not their fault. Some people argue they have received maybe enough compensation financially, but it’s very hard for them to be satisfied with whatever–you receive the money. This is social– you know, a human rights issue, more or less. It’s not a scientific or technical issue, and it is difficult. My point is that if you want to assess the risk of a nuclear accident, it’s not just technical analysis. You need those social, ethical, human rights. Non-technical experts should join to assess the impact and see how they are different from other risks of energy technologies. Unfortunately, Japan has not done that. Only technical assessment has been done, which is itself is also very uncertain. But what I’m arguing is that after the Fukushima accident, when you assess the nuclear risk, you need not only technical experts, but social, human, individual, and ethical questions must be evaluated also.
Kelly: You’re talking about assessing the impact of an accident in those terms.
Kelly: How would you apply that looking forward? What advice do you have for the government or for the industry going forward?
Suzuki: I think if I chose one word, it’s a trust issue. You need trust from those people, whatever we do. I’m giving advice, I’m writing a paper on this issue for a long time, but fundamental–the most significant impact of the accident was loss of public trust. As you suggested, we can explain all the scientific evidence, but if you lost trust, all these numbers don’t mean much for them. I think the important thing is how you recover the trust between the people and the government, and people and the nuclear industry. Unfortunately, that trust has not been recovered. And the measures the government and the industry have taken–they did many, many things–but it’s not good enough. That’s my feeling.
Kelly: Now, it is very interesting. Twenty, thirty years ago, the French government had 80% of its power from–
Suzuki: Nuclear energy.
Kelly: And the power plants were commonly located not far from communities.
Kelly: The power plant companies would invite the community for candlelight dinners in the open space of the reactor. They had school groups go through the facilities time after time. There was a lot of sharing of this is who we are, come see us, come and explore the reactor and so forth. So there was a lot of trust-building. I mean, I know things have changed in France as well with respect to attitudes. But it is a challenge globally for the industry to repair this, and I hope you have some good ideas. [Laughter]
Suzuki: It often happens that when some serious accident or event happens–which triggers losing the public trust, then you have to change the behavior of the government or industry. Or you have to make maybe legal, institutional changes to make sure that the public sees that, oh, we have changed, the government has changed.
Suzuki: That hasn’t happened in Japan. That’s the problem. My argument is that when you say, you reflect on what we have done – “We made mistakes and we have to learn lessons from the accident” – then you have to change your behaviors. You have to change your institutions. We have to change legally. We change only the regulations. But other than that, they haven’t done much. For instance, as you said, the dialogue with the public, the way they do it is almost the same as before Fukushima. Information disclosure is almost the same. The same institution is working on nuclear issues. I mean TEPCO [Tokyo Electric Power Company] is still TEPCO.
I would say that we need a fundamental change. I mean, nuclear energy policy itself hasn’t changed much. That is surprising to me. At RECNA, our institute right now, our center, does not deal with civilian nuclear energy much. That is my personal work. But in relation to the nuclear proliferation issue, the plutonium and fissile materials are my important work, which I’m still working on. Regardless of the future of nuclear energy, we have to deal with this huge amount of plutonium stockpiles–47 tons. And how to reduce plutonium stockpiles. This is not just a nuclear energy project. This is a security issue; this is a nonproliferation issue. At the RECNA this is one of the big issues we are dealing with.
This is not easy. Not only Japan; the U.S., France, UK, and Russia have also large plutonium stockpiles. It does not mean they are allowed to do it, just because they are nuclear weapon countries. They have to also reduce the plutonium stockpiles. I’m proposing that they have to work together, and it should be a global kind of international cooperation scheme on how to reduce the plutonium stockpiles. It is true that the plutonium stockpile is increasing due to the civilian reprocessing program. So it does relate to the civilian nuclear programs. I believe, personally, that the so-called reprocessing, which is to recover the plutonium from the nuclear spent fuel, must be phased out eventually. There is no need for plutonium for civilian use at this moment. That has a civilian policy, nuclear energy policy, implications. At the RECNA our main focus is how to deal with fissile materials globally.
Kelly: In Japan, the UK, I think France – you do have reprocessing facilities now.
Suzuki: Yes. They still continue to separate plutonium. The UK, they will stop separating plutonium in the next few years or so. They decided not to continue. So France, Japan, Russia, and maybe China. And South Korea is also interested in it. Only a few countries. Although India and Pakistan–they do have a reprocessing plant for both military and civilian purposes. They still continue to separate, but the amount they separate is not so large. France, Japan, and Russia could be the only three or four countries. If they work together, we hope they can stop reprocessing.
Kelly: One of the issues for commercial use of fuel is that in a reactor, you only use a very small percent before it’s then recycled out or removed. So you’re really throwing away the potential of extracting more value out of that effort. You know, economically. There’s got to be some solution.
Suzuki: Yes. We hope, yes.
Suzuki: Yes. I think there is a strong commitment by the nuclear industry and the government to continue this nuclear fuel cycle policy. It is difficult to change such a huge institutional – I mean, industry and institutions to change in direction.
Suzuki: But gradually, many countries, you know, phasing out reprocessing–eventually the UK will do that. I hope that the French will realize. I think their reprocessing plant is becoming very old, so if they decided not to build a new one their program will phase out.
Kelly: Right. But then you’re left with more and more residual material of which to dispose. What about originally during the 1990s when we were recovering weapons materials? They were mixing it to be used in civilian or for electricity purposes.
Suzuki: That was easier for highly-enriched uranium. They diluted to low-enriched uranium that can be used for commercial programs. That has been done. But for plutonium, even if you make it commercial fuel, it’s still very expensive. So, no utilities are interested in—
Kelly: That process alone is expensive.
Suzuki: So the government has to pay for it. It is an expensive operation, but you have to do it. The United States is now currently not using it as a commercial fuel, but it’s directly disposing plutonium. But that also takes some time. Anyway, it is both technical and a social-political issue, too. Somebody has to accept the plutonium.
Kelly: Exactly. We’ve had a little problem in our country.
Suzuki: Yes. Everywhere probably.
Kelly: At any rate. That’s another issue.
Suzuki: The disposal of nuclear waste is another big issue, and that is related to this plutonium issue, too. Eventually, you have to dispose of plutonium underground. Somebody has to say, “Yes, okay, you can put the plutonium in there.” That’s difficult, again. This is not just one country’s problem, it’s global.
Suzuki: Yes, anyway. So that’s what I’m working on.
The biggest change happening in nuclear fuel is, of course, the Ban Treaty and also the North Korean issue. We hope that the Japanese government or any other country who is under the nuclear umbrella will rethink its security policy to change their attitudes on nuclear weapons. This Ban Treaty may change the social perception about the benefit of nuclear deterrence.
We’re working on how to – we’re questioning the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence. If you look at the current situation in Northeast Asia, the Japanese government says we are safe because of extended nuclear deterrence. Then at the same time, we are afraid of attacks from North Korea. This proves that nuclear deterrence may work or may not work. Relying on nuclear deterrence will not give you a guarantee of safety. So what’s the alternative? That’s what we’re trying to develop– a theory.
In the reality also, the best way of course is to end the war and the conflict. So I think it’s great that North and South Korea agreed to end the Korean War. Now the United States may agree also to end the Korean War. That would change the perception of the security environment quite fundamentally in Northeast Asia. We are hoping that these series of summits lead to fundamental change in the security environment of Northeast Asia, and hopefully the Korean peninsula will become a nuclear-free zone eventually.
Then if Japan can join the proposal we are making, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, we can declare a nuclear weapon-free zone. Then China, Russia, United States will provide a negative security assurance to those three countries. Then that’s our goal. That’s our vision. Then we don’t need the nuclear umbrella in theory. That will eventually make it possible for Japan to join the Ban Treaty. That’s our goal. That’s our hope and we’re working on it right now.
This is not my field, but at RECNA we believe this is a big task for Nagasaki City and Hiroshima City also, how to transfer the experience of hibakusha [atomic bomb survivors] to the next generation. We send every year about eight to ten young students to the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] review conference prep committee, conference. They learn by themselves about the nuclear disarmament issues and they try to convey the message from Nagasaki, and they face difficulties of understanding each other. They can come back and develop their own peace education programs. This is very important for us if you consider the age of hibakusha.
I think the younger generation – what they have done so far is more than we expected. They believe that this is not a past issue, that this is a current issue. They can work by themselves, not necessarily for the sake of the hibakusha, but for them. So they develop their own programs to look at current issues, how to resolve the nuclear issues by themselves. That’s a new type of peace education program. In the past, peace education programs focused on the bomb experience, which is still very important, but that doesn’t solve the problem of nuclear disarmament, nuclear proliferation.
I think peace education should cover wider issues, including history, but also the future. That’s another important thing. We also develop graduate courses–master’s degree on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation. And hopefully there will be a new generation of experts who come up from the program. That’s another thing we’re working on right now.
Kelly: Is this a unique degree program?
Suzuki: It is still part of the social science department, but it’s a kind of minor major. You can claim yourself as a minor major in nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation. This is unique. It is true that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation has been taught in the context mostly of security or international relations. But our course is a little broad. We also teach civilian nuclear energy issues, and also civil society, stronger civil society and so on. So it’s a little bit wider.
But anyway, the nuclear disarmament issue has to be seen again not in the context of just international security. This is human security issues and human rights issues. Individual persons would be affected by a nuclear bomb. Same as in the case of civilian nuclear energy. If you look at the global–the number of deaths, or global social risk or whatever, you just don’t see the individual person’s rights. But the impact of nuclear accidents or the impact of nuclear attacks, it’s not just as a group, but each individual has their own life. So we have to look at those, each individual life story.
It’s very important. Otherwise, you will not see the story to yourself. I mean, these are not the government, just dialogue. This is a human life issue. That is the main ICAN [International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons] approach. It’s the humanitarian issue. Each individual would be affected by nuclear war, and even civilian nuclear accidents. That’s another important aspect that we have to look at if you discuss nuclear weapon issues.
All the security experts only talk about national security, military security– not discussing each individual’s life. At RECNA we believe that is also an important part of our program, to deliver how you look at this nuclear weapon issue as a personal life issue. That’s my connection with the civilian nuclear energy risk discussion, too. Nuclear energy experts only talk about energy security and the big country as a whole, but they ignore the people’s lives affected by the nuclear accident.
Kelly: What’s also becoming more evident is that global climate change–
Kelly: Is a reality and a fearsome one. I mean, the tsunami, the earthquakes, you know, hurricanes we’re having, the droughts. At any rate, it’s clearly upon us. At least I would think most scientists believe that. That should be part of the equation.
Kelly: That needs to be part of the equation, because that’s certainly as much impact on people’s lives, or potential impact on people’s lives.
Suzuki: Yes. Exactly.
Kelly: As the possibility of an eruption of a power plant. And it seems to me – or whatever the worries are. So I think that people should look at, you know, the full picture.
Suzuki: Yeah, I agree. Climate change is a serious issue. I’ve been working on this one too. You need this one also. It’s not just pure energy policy, it’s climate change. If you want to deal with climate change, you have to change the whole social structure, economic structure. Decarbonizing the economy is a huge task. You just cannot just say, “Oh, build nuclear plants or [inaudible].” You can calculate those energy mixed structures, but the fundamental shift to a decarbonizing society is much beyond just talking about the energy mix. For instance, the carbon price is just one way. Economists always argue that’s the best way to do it. But this carbon pricing, it’s basically we change the perception and the behavior of the people’s life. After the Fukushima accident, what happened was, in Japan, people just conserve energy much more aggressively. It’s surprising that the energy consumption has not grown after the Fukushima accident. It’s just declining. So the economic structure, it’s changing in Japan, because of course, the price of fossil fuel goes up, but also the impact of Fukushima. That’s a very interesting impact of social change.
If you look at climate change, we cannot achieve carbon reduction based on business as usual. Global society has to change its whole infrastructure based on non-carbon technology and non-carbon strategy. This is quite a big task. I agree with you that we have to look at this. This is another serious risk we are facing, but people don’t see it much. At the same time, again, each individual life, as you say, will be affected by climate change also. My field is energy policy. I look at energy policy on climate change based on how you change the structure of energy consumption or carbon emissions, not just by looking at the particular energy mix. It is very difficult to do that. But unfortunately, the energy policy in Japan at least is based on the assumption that the economic structure will continue as before. Then you see the increase of electricity demand, increase of energy demand, and an increase of fossil fuel consumption.
They are building still coal power plants. That has to be changed. In order to change, you have to put a price on carbon, you have to create the incentive mechanism to reduce carbon-based energy. You need an incentive to lead a much more efficient life. The policy has to be changed quite substantially. Otherwise, we cannot achieve [carbon reduction]. In the Japanese case, our system at least, probably because of the population decline, energy consumption has quite substantially declined. We can achieve 60% reduction by 2050 or so, but 80% reduction is not achievable, and we need the extra measures to do it.
Nuclear power should play an important role in that whole aspect, but their contribution is probably minor. Unless you have a fundamental shift in decarbonizing the economy, you cannot achieve—if you want to achieve as business as usual, you usually have to build a huge number of renewable energy and nuclear power, which is very difficult to do. Unless you change the social structure, it’s very difficult to achieve carbon reduction–what 80%, 100%. You have to do it at 100% by 2050. That’s very difficult to achieve.
Kelly: One of the things that I think about is the new generation of reactors, which are foolproof, if you like. I mean, modular reactors that can be installed, buried 50 feet below earth, or 100 feet, and that they just consume the fuel as they operate. They might operate as long as 100 years and then they’re done, they’re buried. This is, you know, I think a very interesting–
Suzuki: Very interesting, yes.
Kelly: –very interesting, promising approach. I mean, they’re working on –
Kelly: Is this TerraPower?
Suzuki: TerraPower, yes.
Suzuki: Bill Gates, yeah.
Kelly: It may be 20 years out, but you know, give people time, it could be that there is a new way–
Kelly: –to have a safe, non-carbon–
Suzuki: Safe and innovative nuclear power.
Suzuki: Yeah. It’s certainly a hope and I don’t rule it out, of course. The problem is that those concepts have been proposed more than maybe 30 years.
Kelly: Even that. I think Edward Teller is one of the people on the patent.
Suzuki: Oh, yes. Right.
Kelly: Like a 1930s or 1940s thing.
Suzuki: Right. So–
Kelly: I don’t know.
Suzuki: I think that it is unfortunate. This is kind of a path of dependence on the technology. Once you build a big infrastructure based on the existing reactor design, it’s very difficult to shift from one to another. Unless as a society, you have to really commit to change infrastructure. Usually, the companies, if I talk to them, of course they are waiting for the new reactor to come. But they do not want to give up the existing–
Kelly: Right. It’s a huge investment.
Suzuki: I’m hoping, of course, that this innovative reactor will eventually be realized. But we cannot count on it. That’s my point. Any innovation of energy technology may come up in the next 20 or 30 years, but we have to assume that it may not come. We have to change. I think it’s easier to believe, oh, a new technology will come up, so you don’t have to change your lifestyle. That optimism may work, but it may not work. My question is that as a society, as a policy-making, on the public policy, we have to–can we rely on those innovations and without changing, you know, our kind of behaviors. My guess is the chance is less than 50/50.
It may be true, carbon capture and storage or any other innovative technology may come. But nuclear technology is a very difficult technology. Once you’re committed, it’s very difficult. You know, the modular reactor concept has been there for a long, long time, and somebody has to prove this is going to work. Nobody succeeded. So it may work; it may not work. That’s my assumption.
Kelly: Yeah. There’s that, the TerraPower, but then there’s the more immediate modular reactor–
Kelly: Just smaller versions of what we have.
Suzuki: Yes. It may work.
Kelly: It may work–that may be more acceptable. That may be more appropriate.
Suzuki: If it works that’s great. I’m not, of course, against introducing those reactors. But again, Exelon, the utility company, they tried the small modular reactor and they gave up, because that thing is so difficult. You have to change the [inaudible] process also. That will change a quite significant risk also. South Africa tried a high-temperature gas module reactor, which is very promising technology. I like it very much. I hope that they will succeed. And they gave up eventually.
Again, it’s not a pure technical thing. It’s more social infrastructure barriers to introduce new technologies. We have a project, the so-called Global Nexus Initiative. It’s the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Center for Global Partnership [misspoke: Partnership for Global Security]. They have been trying to, exactly like you say, develop a strategy to meet climate change targets. How can we introduce new innovative technologies in the next 20 years or so? Then you have a list of tasks to be achieved. It’s a long list. One of them, of course, is nuclear proliferation and the other is, of course, nuclear waste issues, public trust, and economics of nuclear power, and then licensing change. I think that process needs to be changed to accommodate those innovative technologies. It is a long list. It does not mean we have to give up. We should continue to develop. But time is running out, you know. The critical time period for climate change is next 30 years, until 2050. We have to reduce carbon emissions quite substantially. So I hope that the innovation will come in time, but I cannot rely on it. That’s my feeling.
Kelly: Right. The countries whose populations are growing, certainly the demand of the existing population for more electricity, more power, India and China–
Kelly: They’re building nuclear reactors now.
Suzuki: Yes. I hope there will be no accident.
Kelly: I hope not.
Suzuki: One more serious accident, then it’s gone.
Kelly: That’s true.
Suzuki: It’s very difficult. China and India have their own safety regulations and I’m not studying [it], so I can’t tell, but it’s very difficult. It is very important for us to work with them to make sure that safety regulations–
Suzuki: Are working, yeah.
Kelly: Absolutely. Our industries haven’t really – Japan and the United States. The future that depends on, you know, this new generation. Or you know, the Indian and Chinese and other countries’ reactors to be safe and reliable.
Suzuki: Right. So I am hoping. But you know, the share of nuclear energy in the global power designation is only 10% right now, and it’s not growing. Even if we deal with the Chinese and Indians’ whole nuclear programs, I don’t think–the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] estimate is that the share of nuclear power will go down. The contribution of nuclear power on climate change is important, but it’s not–
Kelly: It’s not on track to take over a larger share, right.
Suzuki: Yes. We have to think about other measures to meet climate change.
Kelly: Right. Yeah.
Suzuki: I think nuclear power is important in many countries. I mean in the energy mix, but in the global sense, the role of nuclear energy is not increasing. That’s my unfortunate observation.
Kelly: For all the reasons you’ve listed, yeah. No, it’s tough, it’s very tough. Well, I know we’ll talk more about RECNA. Is there something we haven’t pursued?
Suzuki: Let’s see. We could talk about the North Korean issue. I think–
Kelly: That would be good.
Suzuki: The last year’s sudden shift of the North Korean strategy is a welcome, of course, sign for us. The difficulty, of course, is that the past history tells us that they can cheat. The important thing is how not to repeat the past mistakes. We think that this time one big difference is that South Korea has committed seriously to end the war on the Korean peninsula. That will change the perception of North Korea’s security environment. If the United States joins this ending of the Korean War, that will be a big difference from the past negotiations.
But we try to make it irreversible. Two things. One is, of course, verification. How are you going to verify what the North Koreans want to do? It’s not necessarily complete verification, because in reality, there’s no complete verification. Any treaty verification is not perfect. But with every institutional scheme, legally binding verification scheme, it’s harder for North Korea to cheat–not only for North Korea, but also South Korea and the United States and Japan if they join together. Any country should be verified, all the policies and measures– if those are taken to proceed with this whole denuclearization process, including the United States’ promise must be verified. Verification should work for all parties.
How you design the verification, this whole denuclearization process, is a big issue. It’s very difficult, because there’s no international scheme to verify a country who currently has a nuclear weapon to dismantle. U.S. and Russia verification is only a two countries verification scheme. Which is useful to belong, but it’s not the international verification scheme. That’s not the use. There is no international verification scheme for nuclear dismantlement. Once you dismantle nuclear weapons, and once the facilities are no longer dealing with nuclear weapons, then the IAEA can come in as a known military facility. The IAEA verification scheme is only effective after they declare these civilian, non-military facilities, non-military nuclear materials. Before that, the IAEA cannot verify. So it is difficult.
We are proposing this has to be a unique verification scheme, including nuclear weapon states and the IAEA. But once you build the scheme, this scheme can be used for a ban treaty. The Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, TPNW, doesn’t have any verification scheme for nuclear disarmament. They say, “We’re going to build a competent authority and then the new additional protocol will probably set up the new verification scheme.” So no firm verification scheme has been established. But if you build this scheme in a regional sense, to verify North Korea’s nuclear disarmament step-by-step, this could be a good model for a global verification scheme. This is a very important area that RECNA is interested in. One other issue is the regional peace regime, I would call this. It’s not just North Korea’s issue. This is Northeast Asia as a whole. We don’t have any permanent institution to discuss security issues in Northeast Asia. Europe has it, so we should have some kind of permanent institutional scheme to discuss regional security issues, so that even disarmament on conventional weapons can be discussed, or regional technical issues or historical issues. Bilateral talk is very difficult to solve a problem. So this has to be a multinational regional security dialogue framework. That’s another thing we are trying to–
Kelly: So that has to involve, would you say the Russians and the Chinese and, you know–
Suzuki: Oh, yes.
Kelly: And the Koreas and Japan.
Suzuki: Yes. Japan also, of course.
Kelly: Right, of course.
Suzuki: So, this is the Northeast Asia–
Kelly: There are a lot of issues all entwined–
Kelly: –if you bring all those players.
Suzuki: Unless we solve those issues. Going back to Japan’s depending on extended nuclear deterrence, comes from those regional security concerns. North Korea is just part of– even [if] North Korea denuclearized, Japan’s need on extended nuclear deterrence will continue. Hopefully, this regional scheme will be discussed eventually. Ending the Korean War will be a good starting subject to discuss this regional scheme. Ending the Korean War cannot be done without this regional talk. Not just U.S., North Korea and South Korea. We have to involve China. That’s what we’re trying to aid.
Those are two key things. And of course, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, as I said, hopefully, will lead to a nuclear weapon-free zone in Northeast Asia. That will make it possible for all these non-nuclear weapon states in the region to possibly join the Ban Treaty. So RECNA has been working on the so-called Nagasaki process, which started three years ago, to aim at establishing a nuclear weapon-free zone in Northeast Asia. Also as well as a peace and security dialogue we established, called Panel on Peace and Security of Northeast Asia. This we hope will involve the North Koreans as an attractive process. It will take a long time, but hopefully, this will be a vehicle for the region to be involved in the whole denuclearization process. And, eventually, leading to the peace regime in Northeast Asia.
Kelly: I like it. It sounds good.
Suzuki: Hope so.
Suzuki: Yes. The current Japanese government, of course, is not so enthusiastic about the idea. But we keep talking to them, and you never know. There may be a next election and maybe–you never know–politics are always unpredictable. So even within the LDP [Liberal Democratic Party] maybe some more developed Prime Minister may come. The Komeito [Party] is strongly in favor of nuclear disarmament. We just keep pushing the government and again the United States may change the president in the next three years. So–
Suzuki: You never know the politics. We just hope that continuing as a non-governmental institution, we have to keep on working on this denuclearization process and eventually change the Japanese policy, too.
Hopefully. I hope [Masao] Tomonaga-san will speak about that, too.
Kelly: That’s great. Do you feel that there are a lot of counterparts who are working hard in other countries? I mean, obviously, there are a hundred and what, 23, or 63 different regions and countries and, you know, 7,000 cities that are signed up for Mayors for Peace. But you’re interconnected with places like the University of Chicago and MIT and other institutes in the United States. And I assume Europe, right, that are working on non-proliferation?
Suzuki: Yeah. I should have mentioned that I am also working as a member of Pugwash. Pugwash has been working on this kind of Track II process and many countries’ experts. Those are individuals, not the government, but they have some influence with the government. I’m going to go to the UK next week to have a Europe Pugwash meeting. We still don’t have a strong Northeast Asia Pugwash group. This is a problem. This was a problem, actually. Pugwash, historically, was very strong in Europe and the United States, but not in Northeast Asia. South Asia also.
That’s one area, one thing. We have already recognized our own collaboration with the Pugwash. Last year’s conference in Moscow was co-organized by Russian Pugwash and the international Pugwash also. Hopefully, Pugwash and the RECNA can work together.
Kelly: Did Moscow happen two years ago, or it did it happen–
Suzuki: Last year.
Kelly: Last year.
Suzuki: Last year, the RECNA meeting – it’s called PSNA, the Panel on Peace and Security of Northeast Asia – meeting took place in Moscow. Then North Koreans of the Moscow Embassy people came, so we invited them. The last one was–before Moscow, it was in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. We invited them; they couldn’t come. But this time, at least they sent a delegate from the embassy. This year, we don’t plan to have a meeting, but instead, we’re going to have organized workshop in Seoul with the Sejong Institute. We try to have a stronger connection with South Korea. Also my colleague Yoshida-san has a good collaboration with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. It’s all a non-governmental network of experts who try to provide policy advice, theoretical work, and also a connection with the governmental people. Eventually, this could be a useful base for a new government to adopt new policies eventually.
The Japanese government–they so far, the last three years–they are tough. They are strongly committed to nuclear deterrence. So it is hard. But we hope we will develop a new thinking to influence their policies.
I think the TPNW–I think it’s going to be a trigger for people to change their mind, their behaviors or motivations. One that is interesting is divestment from the nuclear weapon industry. Just last month, the Mizuho Bank announced that they will not invest in companies who are associated with nuclear weapons. That’s a first thing for a Japanese bank to announce, and that kind of thing, like climate change also, once you have an international agreement and treaty, that will change the mind of leaders in the private sector. Hopefully, that will put pressure on the government eventually.
But the public, I don’t know. If you look at the public poll, of course the majority are in favor of the Ban Treaty. Japan should sign the Ban Treaty. But at the same time, they also “understand,” so-called, the current Japanese government policy, because of the North Korean and Chinese threats. So the public’s mind also is divided. We have to provide a solution to solve this nuclear dilemma. We have to work on those, to resolve those people’s minds also.
Kelly: Nothing is ever easy. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.
Suzuki: I know. Of course, it’s not easy. But you know, Reagan and Gorbachev almost agreed to complete nuclear disarmament. So you never know. Hopefully, new leaders will come and deliver.
Kelly: You never know. The world turns on a dime. No one anticipated the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Suzuki: That’s it.
Kelly: And the end of the Cold War.
Kelly: No one anticipated it, and it was sort of an accident.
Suzuki: That’s true.
Kelly: It was. It’s just, I love it, the best kind of accident. [Laughter]
Kelly: Yeah, yeah, I love it. So you just don’t know.
Suzuki: But I think when the time comes, you know, the policymakers need policies to continue to those–
Kelly: Oh, yes.
Suzuki: So we should be prepared to provide those policies.
Kelly: Exactly. You’re creating a vision, blazing the path forward.
Suzuki: I hope so.
Kelly: This whole idea of a Track II science collaboration, it’s proven if you look back through the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Kelly: I mean, [Nikita] Khrushchev was getting information about United States’ capabilities from the scientists who’d worked with–
Suzuki: I see.
Kelly: –you know, through the Pugwash and other similar Track II exchanges. That gave, you know, both sides, [John F.] Kennedy and Khrushchev, some confidence that they had these choices and not those choices. They just understood better. So it’s very important.
Suzuki: Right. So, hopefully–
Kelly: Hopefully, it will pay off. It will pay off. That’s great. One last question was when you were talking about the verification issues, and, you know, with your MIT connections. The treaty between the United States, well, the United States and several other partners and Iran I thought was a pretty good, solid treaty, with verification steps spelled out in great detail.
Kelly: To what extent, I know it is sort of not on the table right now, but is that a possible–
Suzuki: Right. The JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] is a good reference for us. Definitely, a bilateral scheme, and it’s gone beyond IAEA kind of standardized verification scheme. It’s high in transparency. But Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons at this moment. So it’s much easier.
Kelly: Well, they were close.
Suzuki: It’s much easier if you have. But I agree, the JCPOA was a very good reference for us for a North Korean scheme. We can develop a similar verification scheme. It could be a regional one and go beyond IAEA safeguards. They even allow the military facilities to be inspected by IAEA, so that’s one good example. But they don’t have a nuclear weapon, so I still say it’s easier. The North Koreans is much more difficult, because they do have nuclear weapons. When they declare how many nuclear weapons they have, how can we trust? Very difficult. How can we verify? Almost impossible.
So I think even, you know, if you have nuclear weapons, no one, only except the United States, declares the exact number of nuclear warheads. We cannot verify either. I think verifying nuclear disarmament is a big challenge. Not only in North Korea, but in all other countries also. Mutual verification is one way to do it. Only nuclear weapon states can verify each other–the dismantlement. That’s why verifications of this region, North Korea–if North Korea was to be trusted, they have to accept China or United States verification, inspection.
Kelly: Right, right. Well, maybe it will be the beginning.
Suzuki: I hope so.
Kelly: You know?
Suzuki: I hope so, I hope so.
Kelly: Of the whole process that could be applied then across the board.
Suzuki: I agree. That’s why we think that too much demand on North Korea, so-called complete verification, will change their attitudes and go back to the old scheme. I hope that step-by-step verification, step-by-step nuclear dismantlement is the way to go. I hope people understand that. But hawkish people don’t like the idea of step-by-step. Even step-by-step has to be verified quite accurately with international trust. Otherwise, it’s very difficult. So I hope North Korea will accept an international verification team.