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Interview

Japan needs secret patents to guard national security: LDP's Amari

Ruling party heavyweight calls for small modular reactors to meet climate goals

Akira Amari, the secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, speaks with Nikkei at LDP headquarters on Oct. 12. (Photo by Suzu Takahashi)

TOKYO -- Japan needs a way to keep patents with national security implications from being made public, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's new secretary-general told Nikkei on Tuesday, bringing intellectual property into Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's economic security push.

This should be included in economic security legislation set to be submitted to parliament in 2022, Akira Amari said, warning that current law could "become an obstacle to securing a technological advantage."

While patent filings in Japan are generally made public after 18 months, other countries can block the release of applications involving technology with potential military uses, to keep them out of the hands of foreign countries or terrorist groups. In certain cases, the authorities provide compensation for forgone revenue from licensing, for example.

Amari also advocated replacing nuclear power facilities nearing the end of their 40-year life span with small modular reactors, which are reputed to be safer and to take less time to build. The latest draft of the government's basic energy plan calls for nuclear to be 20% to 22% of the power generation mix in fiscal 2030 but provides no details on the number of facilities needed for that goal.

Edited excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What should be included in the economic security legislation?

A: There's a danger that patent law will become an obstacle to securing a technological advantage. Right now, when a patent is granted, it's made publicly available. That allows others to make the same things -- including some that can be diverted to military use. We absolutely need a way to keep patents secret. There are [systems for this] all over the world, but not in Japan.

Research with military applications has been conducted using Japanese public research funds in countries that pose a risk to Japan. Such cases should be excluded from government support. The U.S. has a mechanism to prevent that. The question is, what protective measures should we implement to prevent technology and research leaks at universities and research organizations?

It's important for all ministries and agencies to come out with basic concepts and specific checklists to promote economic security, and provide guidance to the industries they oversee.

Q: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said he will update Japan's national security strategy. Should he mention the importance of economic security?

A: Yes. There's a close connection developing between security that involves force and security that involves the economy. Our national security framework should have space for economic security. We're in an era when we have to keep an eye out for not just [conventional] espionage, but also economic espionage.

Q: Does the basic energy plan approved by previous Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government need to be revised?

A: The basic draft has been approved by the cabinet and is open for public comment. For now, there's no need to change it into something new.

There are points in the plan that aren't completely worked out. The government aims to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 46% from fiscal 2013 levels in fiscal 2030. The reduction target had originally been around 39%, but it was ultimately raised to 46%. How will we get that additional 7% that hasn't been fully accounted for?

Nuclear power plants will assume quite an important position for the 46% target. The biggest question is whether we can do a full-fledged restart. The more we keep idle, the bigger the gap will be between our planned measures and the target.

Accelerating renewable energy will be the top priority. We must show what additional steps we're going to take for our fiscal 2030 operational objective.

The new government also needs to be prepared to add more. They have to state clearly how many reactors they plan to restart to get to this figure.

I consider small modular reactors the right way to go, and I don't understand why replacing [existing reactors] is such a problem. If we have to rely on some amount of nuclear power to address climate change, we need to consider the idea of substituting in more-advanced technology.

Q: Is a stable majority for the ruling coalition your goal for the upcoming lower house election?

A: The prime minister said that our goal is for the public to choose the LDP and [coalition partner] Komeito to continue to run the government. As secretary-general, I'll add however many seats I can above the minimum necessary to maintain power to ensure greater stability.

Q: Will exceptions have to be made to the "retirement age" of 73 for proportional-representation seats?

A: We [apply] it quite strictly when candidates run for both [proportional-representation seats] and in single-member districts. It's not necessarily the case that your career is over without exception [at that age], but retirement at 73 is the overriding principle. We'll keep going on with the retirement-age system as our baseline.

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