China's disarmament ambassador blasted Japan on Tuesday for its growing stockpile of nuclear fissile materials, expressing concern they could be used to make nuclear weapons and that there are "political forces" in the country pressing for nuclear armament.
At the U.N. General Assembly's First Committee, which addresses disarmament issues, Japan insisted its handling of plutonium and enriched uranium is for peaceful purposes and remains transparent.
Chinese envoy Fu Cong said in a speech to the committee that Japan's fissile materials inventory is large enough to manufacture more than 1,000 nuclear warheads.
"Over the years, Japan has accumulated a huge amount of sensitive nuclear materials, giving rise to grave risks both in terms of nuclear security and nuclear proliferation," he said, adding that the inventory "far exceeds its legitimate needs."
The Japanese government says its plutonium stock is intended for atomic power generation, although most of the country's reactors have remained offline since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
"Some political forces in Japan have continuously clamored for the development of nuclear weapons, claiming that Japan should have nuclear weapons if it wants to be a power that could sway international politics," Fu said.
Speaking to reporters after his speech, Fu claimed that Japan could produce nuclear weapons in an "extremely short" period of time using its stockpile of separated -- or weapons-convertible -- plutonium because of the country's advanced level of technology.
"Japan has everything and the only thing that is missing is the so called political decision," Fu said, noting it is a "very special country" in terms of technological know-how.
He also slammed Japan's nuclear fuel recycling program for atomic power plants, citing the Rokkasho reprocessing plant being built in northeastern Japan, which he says would allow Japan to attain more fissile materials.
"Given the lack of feasible ways to consume these materials, it can be predicted that the imbalance of supply and demand of nuclear materials in Japan will aggravate further," he added.
On China's own nuclear arsenal, Fu said that Beijing adheres to a "nuclear strategy of self-defense" and keeps its nuclear force at "the minimal level required by its national security."
Japan's disarmament envoy Toshio Sano said that Tokyo's efforts to maintain transparency in its nuclear fuel program has been recognized by the international community.
He said Japan operates under the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguard system and has done so for more than 50 years.
"Japan will continue to adhere to the course that we have taken to date as a peace-loving nation," he said in response to Fu's remarks. He added that Japan maintains its policy focus exclusively on national defense so that it will not become a nuclear power that poses a threat to other countries.
Also on Tuesday, Japan introduced to the committee a draft resolution on the elimination of nuclear weapons aiming for its adoption for the 22nd year in a row, while Austria spearheaded a move to submit a draft motion seeking to outlaw such weapons.
This year's document sponsored by Japan and co-sponsored by around 50 other countries encourages world leaders and young people to visit "the cities devastated by the use of nuclear weapons" and listen to "testimonies of atomic bomb survivors," to raise awareness of the humanitarian impact of the use of nuclear weapons.
The resolution recalls that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Expressing regret over a lack of consensus at the review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons held in New York this spring, it encourages states to engage in multilateral forums to "explore effective measures necessary for achieving a world free of nuclear weapons."
A call for the establishment of "an inclusive and effective open-ended working group" toward this objective in an earlier draft was struck out, due to a duplication of demand in a resolution by other countries.
Japan had attempted to include an invitation to world leaders and young people to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the cities atom-bombed by the United States in 1945, in a final document of the NPT review conference but the invitation was dropped due to opposition from China. The conference itself eventually collapsed without an outcome instrument.
Austria, meanwhile, jointly proposed with a group of around 40 countries another draft resolution appealing to states, international organizations and other stakeholders to seek "efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons."
Their document is based on a "humanitarian pledge" paper that Austria had introduced at the NPT review conference.
If adopted, it would encourage calls for outlawing nuclear weapons advocated by some nonnuclear countries. Japan, a nonnuclear state, has been reluctant to back a measure to ban the weapons because of protection ensured by the "nuclear umbrella" of the United States.
The committee on disarmament started its annual session earlier this month. It continues through next month as resolutions are voted on before they are put before a plenary General Assembly session in December.