April 19, 2014 5:01 am JST

Japan aiming to grow nuclear plant exports with new pacts

TOKYO -- Japan is discussing nuclear energy agreements with five more countries, making progress on a key component of the government's plan to boost exports of infrastructure, including nuclear power plants.

     It has already signed such deals with 14 countries and organizations, including Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, and is in talks with India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

     The agreements forbid recipients from distributing components or fissile material, as well as using the technology or materials for military purposes.

     The push to export nuclear technology had lost steam after the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government accelerated talks following its launch in  December 2012. Abe himself visited Turkey last May to help secure a contract involving Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

     Each reactor order is worth about 500 billion yen ($4.8 billion). The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that worldwide installed nuclear capacity will grow 20-90% by 2030. Abe aims to lift infrastructure exports to 30 trillion yen by 2020 from 10 trillion yen now, and nuclear plants will be essential to reaching this goal.

     Improving safety will be key. The freeze on new nuclear plant construction in Japan has narrowed the foundation for technical development. The country's new basic energy plan calls for securing highly skilled personnel in the field, but researchers are pivoting away from it, forcing the government to work out concrete steps to foster new talent.