Japan PM promotes nuclear exports at central Europe summit

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 ex-Communist European Union 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 ($300 billion, 225 billion euros) 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 -- Abe sought to interest the four in Japanese nuclear technology.

"We stressed the necessity of strengthening cooperation, especially in the area of energy policy," Abe told reporters.

A joint statement issued after 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 Daiichi 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, Abe has said he wants to restart other units when they are proven safe.

In his first visit to Europe since taking office in December, promoting his country's nuclear technologies was high on his agenda for boosting overall Japanese exports.

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

Both are multi-billion dollar contracts on which Japanese companies have bid.

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

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

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

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

Japan-Poland trade reached an estimated three billion euros in 2011, according to the 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.

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

Tokyo is currently in talks with the 27-member European Union -- with a combined market of 500 million consumers -- for what could be one of the world's biggest free trade deals.

The accord could cover some 30 percent of global economic output and 40 percent of trade. The next round of talks are due to take place in Tokyo on June 24-28.

It won resounding backing from the Visegrad prime ministers on Sunday.

Slovakia's Robert Fico insisted on the "rapid signature of the deal because the EU already signed an agreement like this with South Korea".

He was echoed by embattled Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas, who pointed to nearly 100 Japanese investments generating 45,000 jobs in his country of 10.5 million people.

Following his visit to Warsaw, the Japanese prime minister is to head to Northern Ireland to attend the G8 summit, which opens Monday.