Japan PM promotes nuclear exports at central Europe summit

WARSAW (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a push on Sunday for his country's nuclear technologies at a summit in Warsaw with leaders of four former communist European countries, as part of his bid to boost the Asian powerhouse's exports.

Abe recently unveiled plans to treble Japan's infrastructure exports to 30 trillion yen (S$399 billion) a year, a target that could not be reached without nuclear reactors.

At Japan's first summit with the so-called Visegrad Group - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - Mr Abe sought to interest the four in Japanese nuclear technology.

"We stressed the necessity of strengthening cooperation, especially in the area of energy policy," said Mr Abe after the meeting.

A joint statement issued following the talks said Japan welcomed the fact that "private sectors of both sides demonstrated keen interest in concrete forms of cooperation in nuclear energy and safety".

Nuclear power has become a sensitive issue in Japan after the Fukushima No. 1 plant went into meltdown in 2011. Reactors spewed radiation over a wide area, after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a massive tsunami.

In the wake of the disaster, Japan turned off its 50 reactors for safety checks, but has restarted two of them, saying it needs to head off possible summertime power shortages.

Despite vocal public opposition, Mr Abe has said he wants to restart other units when they are proven safe.

In his first visit to Europe since taking office last December, promoting his country's nuclear technologies was high on the agenda.

Japan specialist Mariusz Dabrowski from the Poland-Asia Research Centre told Agence France-Presse: "Now whenever Prime Minister Abe shows up abroad, it's Japanese nuclear technology that he promotes."

At talks on Sunday ahead of the Visegrad summit, Mr Abe and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk agreed to hold further talks on nuclear power and renewable energy.

Warsaw is planning to build its first nuclear facility by 2024, while the neighbouring Czech Republic has plans to expand its Soviet-designed Temelin plant.

Both are multibillion dollar contracts for which Japanese companies have bid.

Poland, which currently relies on its vast coal reserves to produce about 90 per cent of its electricity, is scrambling to find alternative energy sources - including nuclear and shale gas - in order to meet European Union greenhouse gas emission limits by 2020.

Describing Poland as "an engine of economic growth in Europe", Mr Abe said he and Mr Tusk also discussed boosting bilateral trade.

Japan-Poland trade reached an estimated 3 billion euros (S$5 billion) in 2011, according to latest Polish government data.

Japanese exports to Poland, which are dominated by cars, LCD monitors and electronics, accounted for 2.6 billion euros of the total.

Car engines, pork and pork products, jet engines and razors topped Polish exports to Japan.

Mr Abe also noted the potential for trade with the four Visegrad countries, a market of 64 million consumers.

Following his visit to Warsaw, the Japanese Prime Minister is to head to Northern Ireland where he will attend the G-8 summit, which opens on Monday.

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