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Work starts to decommission problem-plagued Monju reactor

“The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) on Aug. 30 started work to decommission the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture…
The decommissioning work is scheduled to take 30 years and cost $ 3.33 billion.”
Staff members of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency operate equipment to remove nuclear fuel assemblies from a storage tank at the plant of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, on Aug. 30.
August 30, 2018
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) on Aug. 30 started work to decommission the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture, a once-promising project that struggled with problems, even in preparations for its dismantlement.
The work started a month later than scheduled because of a series of equipment trouble. The JAEA workers also face an enormous challenge because Japan has no experience in decommissioning a fast-breeder reactor.
The JAEA will use overseas experiences as a reference for the delicate process.
Before the start of the work, JAEA President Toshio Kodama told staff members in a speech at the plant in Tsuruga, “I want you to tackle this work by bracing yourselves.”
Monju had been a key facility in the government’s nuclear fuel recycling program.
Construction of the reactor started in 1985, but a series of accidents, including a sodium coolant leak in 1995, as well as cover-ups kept the reactor offline for most of its life.
In 2016, after 1 trillion yen ($9 billion) had been spent on the project, the government finally decided to abolish Monju.
The decommissioning work is scheduled to take 30 years and cost 375 billion yen.
One of the riskiest parts in the decommissioning process is handling the liquid sodium, which reacts strongly with water and air.
In the first of the four-stage decommissioning project, the JAEA will transfer 530 nuclear fuel assemblies, currently kept in the liquid sodium-filled nuclear reactor and storage tank, to a water-filled pool by fiscal 2022.
In the work that began on Aug. 30, the JAEA will remove 160 nuclear fuel assemblies from the storage tank, wash away the sodium, and place them in the pool.
From 2019, the agency will transfer nuclear fuel assemblies from the reactor to the storage tank and then to the pool.
In December this year, the JAEA will also start to transfer about 760 tons of sodium, which has not been exposed to radioactive substances, to its storage tank. Later, the agency will remove about 910 tons of radioactive sodium from the reactor and other equipment.
In the following stages, the agency will dismantle the nuclear reactor, the turbine and other facilities.
However, no decision has been made on how to dispose of the nuclear fuel removed from the reactor and the storage tank. Monju has used mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, which contains plutonium and currently cannot be reprocessed in Japan.
“It’s realistic to ask an overseas company to reprocess it,” said Toyoshi Fuketa, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the government’s nuclear watchdog.
If reprocessing expenses in a foreign country are added, the overall decommissioning costs will sharply increase.

September 3, 2018 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Decommissioning of Monju Fast-Breeder Reactor Accepted by Fukui Governor

Capture du 2017-06-07 23-03-30.pngThe Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture


Fukui governor accepts decision to decommission Monju reactor

Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa has ditched his opposition to the central government’s plans to decommission the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in his prefecture.

Nishikawa had criticized Tokyo for deciding to decommission the reactor in Tsuruga without offering adequate assurances to local residents about such a massive project.

But during a meeting held at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo early June 7, he said, “Decommissioning of the Monju fast-breeder reactor is inevitable.”

At the meeting, attended by relevant Cabinet ministers, the government presented Nishikawa with a basic policy to remove spent nuclear fuel from the reactor in five and a half years and complete decommissioning in 30 years.

Hirokazu Matsuno, the science and technology minister, explained that the basic policy includes a plan to transfer spent nuclear fuel outside the prefecture as demanded by Fukui prefectural authorities.

The government will soon formally adopt the basic policy on decommissioning. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which operates the Monju reactor, will then draft its own plan for the project.

The government decided to decommission Monju at the end of last year and was initially expected to present the basic plan in April. However, Nishikawa had been airing concerns about the decommissioning.

Fukui governor approves scrapping of Monju reactor

The governor of Fukui in central Japan has consented to dismantling the prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in the prefecture.
The Japanese government decided in December to scrap the Monju reactor over a period of 30 years, following a series of safety management problems. It cited rising costs.
Governor Issei Nishikawa had opposed the plan, expressing concerns about the safety of the dismantling process.
Nishikawa met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and science minister Hirokazu Matsuno on Wednesday in Tokyo.
Matsuno explained the basic plan for scrapping the reactor. The science minister said spent nuclear fuel and sodium coolant would be moved out of the prefecture in future.
He also said the government will come up with a development plan for the host city of Tsuruga by the next fiscal year. He said this would make the city a hub of nuclear research and personnel training.
Governor Nishikawa said he confirmed the government’s basic plan for decommissioning and revitalizing the community. He said he had no choice but to accept the decommissioning. He emphasized that the process be carried out safely.

June 9, 2017 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Gov’t set to continue nuclear fuel cycle project despite Monju closure. Time to scrap nuclear fuel cycle, not just Monju reactor


Gov’t set to continue nuclear fuel cycle project despite Monju closure

The government formally decided at a meeting of Cabinet ministers concerned with nuclear energy on Dec. 21 to decommission the trouble-plagued Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.
Over 1 trillion yen in taxpayers’ money has so far been invested in the reactor — the core facility in the government’s nuclear fuel cycle project in which spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed and reused in nuclear reactors.

Nevertheless, Monju, operated by the government-affiliated Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), will be shut down after being in operation for a total of only 250 days since the reactor reached criticality for the first time in 1994.

Still, the government, which is poised to continue the nuclear fuel cycle project, also agreed at the Dec. 21 meeting to draw up a road map by 2018 toward developing a fast reactor for the project.

In other words, the government is moving toward its “next dream” even without clarifying the cause of the failure of what they called “dream nuclear reactor” Monju and who is responsible for the fiasco.

“It’s extremely important to maintain the nuclear fuel cycle project and promote the development of a fast reactor,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference following the decision.

However, continuation of the project will likely pose a challenge. The government’s nuclear fuel cycle project involves two cycles — one centered on a fast-breeder reactor and the other in which mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, nuclear fuel made from reprocessed plutonium and uranium, is used in nuclear plants.

With the decision to decommission Monju, the cycle involving a fast-breeder reactor has failed. At the same time, the government has failed to smoothly press forward with the cycle involving the use of MOX fuel since most nuclear power plants have been idled since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011. The No. 3 reactor at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant is the only nuclear reactor using MOX fuel, which is currently in operation.

A spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture is undergoing safety screening by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), and pools holding spent nuclear fuel at atomic power stations across the country are filled to 70 percent of their capacities on average. Japan’s stockpile of plutonium, which can be converted to use in nuclear weapons, has kept growing. By the end of 2015, the plutonium Japan possessed domestically and overseas had amounted to 47.9 metric tons.

The development of a fast reactor poses technological challenges. While a breeder reactor is designed to increase the amount of plutonium, the government emphasizes that a fast reactor that it is aiming to develop will play the role of an “incinerator” for nuclear waste such as by reducing the volume of high-level radioactive waste.

However, no experiment has been conducted on a fast reactor using actual radioactive waste. Hirofumi Nakamura, head of JAEA’s planning and coordination division, acknowledged that the technology has not even reached the stage prior to putting it into practical use.

Serious questions persist about the feasibility of a fast reactor for economic reasons, and such a reactor is often dubbed as “modern alchemy.”

The basic structure of a fast reactor and that of a breeder reactor are basically the same with the only differences being fuel types and arrangements. Therefore, a fast reactor, which is supposed to play the role of an incinerator for spent nuclear fuel, could be converted into a breeder reactor that produces plutonium.

A senior official of JAEA admits that “there is room for converting a fast reactor into one that breeds (plutonium).”

A fast reactor can be put into practical use after the development and production of experimental, prototype and then demonstration reactors. The government participates in the joint development of ASTRID, a French demonstration fast reactor. However, it remains unclear whether data and knowledge gained from the project in France, which is rarely hit by earthquakes, can be utilized in quake-prone Japan.

France is aiming to begin to operate the fast reactor in the 2030s, but the necessary funds for the project have only been allocated up to 2019. Questions remain as to whether Japan, which has aborted its project involving Monju, a prototype reactor, can be involved in a project to develop an upper-tier demonstration reactor.

Even those within the governing coalition are calling for caution in Japan’s involvement in the joint development project in France. “Japan shouldn’t ride on someone’s (France’s) back,” said Hiroshi Hase, former education, culture, sports, science and technology minister.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka dismissed the feasibility of a demonstration reactor. “I understand that a demonstration reactor isn’t realistic,” Tanaka told a news conference on Dec. 21.

Government still refuses to face up to reality, failure of Monju project

The government officially decided on Dec. 21 to decommission the troubled Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor and instead develop a new fast reactor to maintain Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling program.

The decision can be likened to a theater director determined not to declare an end to production despite dropping the spendthrift leading actor whose scandals have prevented him from performing on stage.

Fearing possible repercussions from the termination of the production, the director keeps promising to stage the play “sometime in the future.” The director refuses to say clearly when the play will be staged because there is no actor in sight who can substitute for the dismissed one.

But this policy decision cannot be simply laughed away as an absurd piece of political theatrics. An enormous amount of taxpayer money has already been poured into Monju, and the government is poised to spend a huge additional amount to deal with its demise.

There is no doubt the Monju project has been a costly failure. The government cannot be allowed to put the debacle behind it by simply scrapping the experimental reactor and having the science and technology minister offer to return part of his salary for several months.

Despite an injection of more than 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) of public funds into the project, the reactor has been mostly out of operation for the 20-odd years since it first reached criticality in 1994. Decommissioning the reactor will require an additional expenditure of nearly 400 billion yen, according to a government estimate.

An exhaustive postmortem for the project to identify the causes of its failure is in order.

The government should not waste any more money or make unreasonable efforts to keep its nuclear fuel recycling program alive.

The government has made the questionable claim that “a certain amount of useful knowledge” has been acquired through the Monju project that can be used to develop a new fast reactor. Instead, the government should confront the grim reality of this undertaking.

Four years ago, the science and technology ministry submitted a report on technological achievements in the Monju project to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission.

The report included estimated levels of achievements, weighted in terms of importance, in different areas.

The degree of achievement, expressed as a percentage, for equipment and system tests was, for instance, 16 percent. The figure for reactor core tests and irradiation issues was 31 percent, while that for operation and maintenance was nil. The overall achievement level was estimated at 16 percent.

Does the government believe this poor track record justifies its claim that “a certain amount of useful knowledge” has been obtained?

The clear moral of the Monju saga is that a huge price must be paid for failing to take a hard look at the reality and underestimating risks and problems.

Serious concerns about the cost-effectiveness of a nuclear fuel recycling program and the risk of nuclear proliferation from accumulating stockpiles of plutonium led many countries to give up developing fast-breeder reactors. Japan, however, bucked the trend and embarked on building Monju.

When sodium leaks occurred overseas, Japanese proponents insisted that such an accident would not happen at the Monju reactor.

When a sodium leak accident did occur at Monju in 1995, they made false announcements and covered up vital information.

Monju resumed operations in 2010 after a long hiatus, but mechanical trouble soon caused it to be shut down again.

Eventually, the ability and competence of the Monju operator, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, was called into question.

The government’s decision to decommission the reactor has long been delayed apparently because of fears that the step would raise questions about how to reprocess spent nuclear fuel in the recycling process and could have a negative impact on nuclear power generation itself.

The government should take this opportunity to confront the reality of its nuclear fuel recycling policy and try to create a new nuclear power policy that can win support of the public through open and broad debate.

Forging ahead with the plan to develop a fast reactor without following this process would be tantamount to betraying the people.

Editorial: Time to scrap nuclear fuel cycle, not just Monju reactor

The government formally decided on Dec. 21 to decommission Japan’s Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor, yet will continue to pursue the nuclear fuel cycle in which plutonium is extracted from spent fuel through reprocessing to be used again. This stance by the government takes the existence of fast reactors and the nuclear fuel cycle as a foregone conclusion.

Over 1 trillion yen in public funds has been injected into the Monju project, yet due to recurring trouble and scandals, the reactor has operated for just 250 days over 22 years. The Nuclear Regulation Authority went as far as to point out that Monju’s operator, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, was not capable of running the reactor and should be replaced.

It is only natural for the reactor to be scrapped, but there remains a problem in that the government has closed its eyes to various issues in reaching its decision. Why was it unable to act sooner to put an end to the waste of taxpayers’ money and decommission the reactor? Disregarding any probe into such issues, the government went ahead and made its decision behind closed doors. This is no way to win public approval.

An even more fundamental problem is that while the government is set to decommission the Monju reactor, it has decided to proceed with the development of a demonstration fast reactor — a step up from Monju.

Fast reactors form a cornerstone of the nuclear fuel cycle. The decommissioning of Monju should mean the cycle is broken, and if that is the case, then what needs to be reviewed above all is the fuel cycle policy itself.

The government, however, is still trying to promote fast reactor development, on the grounds that maintenance of the nuclear fuel cycle was included in the nation’s basic energy policy that the Cabinet approved in 2014.

As a step in that direction, the government has proposed taking part in France’s project to build the Astrid fast demonstration reactor, but the feasibility of this project remains unclear, and the government’s move sticks out as a seemingly stop-gap measure.

The reason the government has stuck to maintaining the nuclear fuel cycle is that as soon as it takes down its fuel cycle banner, spent fuel that was previously a “resource” becomes mere “waste.” As a result, the Aomori Prefectural Government would probably have to ask power companies to take back the “resources” that have been piling up at the nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in the prefecture. And once the storage pools for spent fuel at the nation’s nuclear power plants are full, those plants’ reactors will have to be taken offline.

Politicians should be sitting down and working out measures to solve this problem; maintenance of the nuclear fuel cycle should not be used as an expedient.

Some may see officials as wanting to maintain the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from the viewpoint of potential nuclear deterrence, but this position lacks persuasiveness.

Five years and nine months have now passed since the onset of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, and as we prepare to usher in a new year, there are still people living in temporary dwellings and other places to which they evacuated. And the government is trying to widely push the swelling costs of the disaster cleanup, reactor decommissioning, and compensation payments onto the public.

Looking squarely at this reality, fast reactor development is not something the government should be placing priority on tackling. It should give up on the nuclear fuel cycle and put the money to use in measures to assist Fukushima’s recovery.


December 23, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Time for gov’t to come clean on Monju reactor muck-up

monju 6.jpg


Good, and not so good: “With Monju’s shutdown, Japan’s taxpayers are now left with an estimated bill of at least 375 billion yen ($3.2 billion) to decommission its reactor, on top of the 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) spent on the project.
Japan is still committed to trying to make the technology work and will build a new experimental research reactor at Monju, the government said.
“We need to terminate the impossible dream of the nuclear fuel cycle. The fast breeder reactor is not going to be commercially viable. We know it. We all know it,” senior LDP lawmaker Taro Kono said recently at a Reuters Breakingviews event in Tokyo.” “

Japan pulls plug on Monju, ending $8.5 billion nuclear self-sufficiency push

Japan on Wednesday formally pulled the plug on an $8.5 billion nuclear power project designed to realize a long-term aim for energy self-sufficiency after decades of development that yielded little electricity but plenty of controversy.

The move to shut the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor in Fukui prefecture west of Tokyo adds to a list of failed attempts around the world to make the technology commercially viable and potentially cut stockpiles of dangerous nuclear waste.

“We do not accept this,” Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa told ministers involved in the decision.

“This abrupt change in policy breeds deep feelings of distrust for the government,” said Nishikawa who strongly backed the project because of the jobs and revenue it brought to a prefecture that relies heavily on nuclear installations. He said decommissioning work for Monju would not start without local government approval.

Four conventional commercial nuclear stations lie in close proximity to Monju, earning Fukui the nickname “nuclear alley.”

Those like most other nuclear stations in Japan remain closed pending safety reviews or decisions on decommissioning after the Fukushima nuclear crisis of 2011 led to the eventual shutdown of all reactors in the country.

The Fukushima crisis sparked strong anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan, making it harder to pursue projects like the Monju facility which has faced accidents, cover-ups and regulatory breaches since construction began in 1985.

The plant was built to burn plutonium derived from the waste of reactors at Japan’s conventional nuclear plants and create more fuel than it used, closing the so-called nuclear fuel cycle and giving a country that relies on overseas supplies for most of its energy needs a home-grown electricity source.

With Monju’s shutdown, Japan’s taxpayers are now left with an estimated bill of at least 375 billion yen ($3.2 billion) to decommission its reactor, on top of the 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) spent on the project.

Japan is still committed to trying to make the technology work and will build a new experimental research reactor at Monju, the government said.

But critics within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) think it will be another futile attempt.

“We need to terminate the impossible dream of the nuclear fuel cycle. The fast breeder reactor is not going to be commercially viable. We know it. We all know it,” senior LDP lawmaker Taro Kono said recently at a Reuters Breakingviews event in Tokyo.

Time for gov’t to come clean on Monju reactor muck-up

On Dec. 19, the central government informed Fukui Prefecture that the Monju fast-breeder reactor would be decommissioned. In its 22-year history, Monju has cost Japanese taxpayers more than a trillion yen, and been in actual operation for a grand total of 250 days.
Nevertheless, on the same day the government broke the news about Monju’s impending end to Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, it also decided internally to continue attempts to develop fast-breeder reactor technology, and all without any examination or investigation into why Monju failed in the first place.

Fast-breeder technology holds out the promise of “dream reactors” that produce more fuel than they use. However, its cost and complexity have proven too much for other would-be developers, and Britain, the United States and Germany all abandoned their own fast-breeder efforts in the 1990s. Monju reached criticality in 1994 with high hopes that it would prove the technology’s efficacy, and become the “Model T” of fast-breeder reactors.

However, the reactor suffered repeated mishaps including a 1995 sodium leak, and never surpassed 40 percent of its power output capacity. Even so, the government claims that “much technological knowledge was gained (from Monju) that can be put to use for the development of the next test reactor.” That is, the government has not admitted that Monju was a failure.

Or to put it another way, no one is willing to take responsibility for the Monju money pit, and Japan’s taxpayers have been stuck with the bill.

Meanwhile, the government’s committee on fast-breeder development decided unanimously on Dec. 19 to pursue, in cooperation with France and using domestic facilities, the construction of a new experimental reactor. It must be pointed out, however, who sits on this august body. Joining officials from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency — who run the Monju project — are those from two nuclear fuel cycle boosters, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan. Rounding out the membership is the chief of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which makes nuclear reactors.

The proceedings of these committee meetings — which are, as a rule, “private” and therefore never revealed to the public — have always been based on the presumption that the problem-plagued nuclear fuel cycle policy (reprocessing spent fuel into MOX mixed-oxide fuel) will continue.

Continuing the fuel cycle and the fast-breeder project is costing Japan enormous sums, and if in the end it fails, the Japanese people may very well end up paying for it. To prevent another Monju muck-up, the government should conduct a very public examination of exactly what went wrong.

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s Monju fast-breeder reactor is seen in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture

December 23, 2016 Posted by | Japan | | Leave a comment

The Scrapping Monju Saga

monju npp x.jpg

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s Monju fast-breeder reactor is seen in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture

Japan to scrap Monju reactor

The Japanese government will decommission the Monju nuclear reactor in Fukui prefecture after a series of safety problems.
Science minister Hirokazu Matsuno and industry minister Hiroshige Seko informed Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa of the plan in Tokyo on Monday.
Government officials said resuming operations at the fast-breeder reactor would take at least 8 years and cost more than 4.5 billion dollars.
Instead, the officials plan to develop a new fast reactor through cooperation with France.
The government is considering installing a new experimental reactor at the Monju site and making the area a nuclear research and development center.
Nishikawa criticized the plan, saying the government hasn’t fully discussed whether nuclear fuel recycling is possible without the resumption of the Monju reactor.
He said there hasn’t been enough debate about a new operator if the government scraps the reactor.

Plan to decommission troubled Monju reactor meets local criticism

TOKYO (Kyodo) — The central government’s plan to decommission the Monju fast-breeder reactor came under heavy criticism Monday from the governor of the prefecture where the trouble-prone nuclear facility is based.

Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa said the move to decommission the reactor is “totally unacceptable” after being told of the plan in a meeting with the central government on Monday.

“I strongly demand the government review the plan,” Nishikawa said, stating the central government had not provided sufficient justification for the decommissioning.

Nishikawa also said the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which operates the plant, is not capable of safely dismantling the reactor, having been disqualified from operating the facility by a nuclear regulatory body last year following revelations of a massive number of equipment inspection failures in 2012 and other blunders.

The government was planning to officially decide to decommission the reactor at a ministerial meeting Tuesday but the schedule is likely to be pushed back as it is still trying to convince local residents about its plan.

In a separate meeting on Monday, the government said it expects scrapping the Monju reactor to cost more than 375 billion yen ($3.2 billion) over the next 30 years, based on a plan to begin the decommissioning process next year.

It expects 225 billion yen for maintenance, 135 billion yen for dismantling the facility, 15 billion yen for extracting spent nuclear fuel and preparation works for decommissioning.

The fee could further expand if the decommissioning process takes longer than estimated, the government said.

The government originally intended the Monju reactor to play a key role in achieving a nuclear fuel cycle aimed at reprocessing uranium fuel used in conventional reactors and reusing the extracted plutonium and uranium.

But it has remained largely offline since first achieving criticality in 1994, due to a leakage of sodium coolant and other problems.

In addition to revealing the decommissioning fee, the government also compiled a plan to develop an alternative fast reactor to Monju at the meeting attended by industry minister Hiroshige Seko, science minister Hirokazu Matsuno and Federation of Electric Power Companies Chairman Satoru Katsuno among others.

While maintaining its policy to promote the nuclear fuel cycle, the government plans to compile a roadmap by 2018 to develop the alternative fast reactor.

December 19, 2016 Posted by | Japan | | Leave a comment

Monju scrapping would mean disposing of 760 tons of radioactive sodium, MOX fuel



About 760 tons of radioactive sodium remain in the piping and other equipment of the trouble-prone Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor, which may be ordered decommissioned, Jiji Press learned Sunday.

It has not been decided how to dispose of the radioactive sodium, said sources at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of Monju. If the government decides to scrap the reactor, sodium disposal is expected to be a difficult challenge.

Sodium is used as a coolant at Monju, while water is used at conventional nuclear reactors. Sodium is a tricky chemical element that burns intensely if it comes into contact with air or water.

According to the agency, the Monju reactor has some 1,670 tons of sodium. Radioactive substances are contained in 760 tons of the total as it circulates inside the reactor vessel.

The Monju reactor needs to be drained of the sodium if it is to be demolished.

Radioactive and chemically active sodium has to be sealed in containers. There is no precedent of radioactive sodium disposal in Japan.

We plan to consider the method of disposal if a decision is made to decommission it (Monju),” an official said.

Monju, located in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, is a core facility in Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle policy as the reactor produces more plutonium than it consumes.

More than ¥1 trillion, mostly from state budgets, has been invested in Monju. But the 280,000-kw reactor has operated for only 250 days since it reached criticality, a self-sustained nuclear fission chain reaction, for the first time in April 1994, due to a raft of problems, including maintenance flaws, a sodium leak and fire and attempted coverup.

In November 2015, the Nuclear Regulation Authority advised the government to replace the operator of Monju. The government is carrying out a thorough review of the Monju project, including the possibility of decommissioning the reactor.

The disposal of mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel used at Monju is another significant issue. The amount of MOX fuel, a blend of uranium and plutonium recycled from spent nuclear fuel, that needs to be disposed of is estimated at 21 tons, but Japan is not equipped to carry out disposal.

One option is to consign the disposal to a foreign country and receive the return of uranium and plutonium after the processing, along with radioactive waste.

But the agency’s cost estimate of ¥300 billion for decommissioning Monju does not include the expense of the overseas entrustment of MOX fuel disposal.

The agency aims to entrust France with the disposal of some 64 tons of MOX fuel that has been used at its Fugen advanced converter reactor, but no contract has been concluded. The Fugen reactor, also in Tsuruga, is slated to be decommissioned.

Spent MOX fuel contains larger amounts of highly toxic radioactive substances than spent uranium from conventional reactors.

The disposal of radioactive sodium and MOX fuel at Monju is emerging as additional difficult challenges for the government at a time when the final disposal site has not been decided for high-level radioactive waste from nuclear plants across Japan.

November 7, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Japan’s renewed nuclear fuel recycling dream faces obstacles

After finally acknowledging the failure of its fast-breeder reactor, Japan plans to continue pursuing nuclear fuel recycling in a French project, but this program also faces an unclear future.



Jean-Marie Carrere, manager of the Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) program, said the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) will decide in 2019 on whether to build the fast demonstration reactor.

The decision, he said, will be based on the results of 1 billion euros (about 115 billion yen) in research and development.

Carrere told Japanese reporters in Marcoule, southern France, on Oct. 14 that the CEA has no intention to scrap the ASTRID project, and that it was looking forward to Japan’s financial contributions.

But he did suggest the ASTRID project would require many changes following Japan’s decision to decommission the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture.

The CEA, lacking a fast reactor in operation in France, had planned to conduct some of its fuel-burning experiments at Monju.

Carrere indicated the CEA could possibly seek a partnership with Russia, which has a fast reactor the size of Monju.

The money-losing, problem-plagued Monju reactor was one of the pillars of Japan’s efforts to create a nuclear fuel recycling program. The plan was to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium, which would be burned in nuclear reactors.

Fast-breeder reactors, such as Monju, are supposed to produce more plutonium than they burn.

According to Carrere, the concept for ASTRID has been completed, and it is now in its preliminary design phase. If the decision is made to build the reactor, the goal would be to put it into operation around 2030, he said.

The fast reactor is expected to generate 600 megawatts of electricity.

Relevant Cabinet members have discussed Japan’s direction in this field in a “committee for fast reactor development.”

Some expect joint research in the ASTRID project would allow Japan to keep alive its fast reactor research and maintain its nuclear fuel recycling policy, even if Monju is scrapped.

However, a senior science ministry official said in September that Japan could end up serving as a cash cow for the French project.


November 4, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Ministry mulls 2020 start for Monju decommissioning after nine-month activation

Just before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, very nice…. Is the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi, yet not under  control, yet unsettled, not enough for them???

“Under the plan, a nine-month trial period will be created from the spring of 2019 during which the reactor will run for four months in a bid to minimize the risk of accidents.”

Monju plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.jpg


The science and technology ministry overseeing the trouble-prone Monju fast-breeder reactor is considering starting decommissioning of the facility in 2020, ministry sources said Tuesday.

It is the first time a specific time frame for decommissioning work for the Monju reactor in Fukui Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast has been revealed in a proposed plan by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

The move comes as the government is fundamentally reviewing the Monju project, including the decommissioning of the reactor, which has been plagued with a series of safety problems and has come under fire for being costly.

The plutonium-burning Monju has hardly operated over the past 20 years, due to a spate of problems and incidents, despite its intended key role in Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling policy.

The plan to start scrapping the reactor is on the condition of running the reactor for a short period of time to obtain necessary data for the future development of fast reactors.

Under the plan, a nine-month trial period will be created from the spring of 2019 during which the reactor will run for four months in a bid to minimize the risk of accidents.

Other countries have also shown interest in fast-reactor technology due to its purported use in radioactive waste reduction among other benefits.

But the Nuclear Regulation Authority has been reluctant to allow the reactor’s restart.

During a government panel meeting held Oct. 7, the ministry presented an estimate that if Monju is reactivated, at least ¥540 billion ($5.2 billion) would be necessary over a 16-year period.

One of the sources said the cost of running the reactor for only a short period of time would be ¥200 billion at most. With necessary safety measures in place following the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns in 2011, the ministry believes no additional work is needed to meet regulatory requirements for its brief operation.

The government will continue to discuss the matter through the panel and formally decide by the end of the year.

The Monju reactor dates back to 1980, when the nation began trying to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. Almost all oil, coal and gas burned in Japan is imported.

Still, the reactor was costly and suffered under mismanagement and repeated accidents, only going live for a few months during its more than three decades of existence.

Monju first reached criticality in 1994 but was forced to shut down in December 1995 after a leak of sodium coolant and a fire. There was a subsequent attempt at a cover-up.

In November 2012, it emerged that the operator, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, had failed to properly check as many as 10,000 of the reactor’s components, as required by the safety rules in place at the time.

In November last year, the Nuclear Regulation Authority declared that the government-affiliated JAEA was “not qualified as an entity to safely operate” the facility.

It told the government either to find an alternative operator or scrap the project. The government was unable to find new management.


October 27, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Fukui poised to benefit from decision to scrap Monju


Big money pull a million strings
Big money weave a mighty web
Big money draw the flies
— Rush, “The Big Money”

Last month’s announcement that the Monju experimental fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, would likely be decommissioned was an acknowledgement of what had been obvious for decades. Namely, that Monju was too fraught with technical and political problems to have ever stood a chance of success.

For Kansai, the decision brought a feeling of relief among those concerned about a plutonium-producing plant in their backyard, but a feeling of “now what?” among everyone else. No political leader in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara or Kobe either wistfully eulogized or passionately protested the recommendation that Monju, which has cost more than ¥1 trillion, be scrapped. In Fukui, however, it was a different story.

For more than four decades, Fukui’s leaders have finessed the art of extracting (extorting?) as much money from Tokyo as possible in exchange for cooperation in continuing not only Monju but also 13 commercial nuclear reactors, a concentration of nuclear power plants said to be the densest in the world.

Massive amounts of tax money were funneled into the prefecture by the Liberal Democratic Party for all sorts of uses. Some were noble (construction of modern train stations, schools, hospitals and social welfare facilities). Some were corrupt (propaganda museums that played down the risks of nuclear power, all expense-paid “study” tours to Europe’s nuclear reactor towns for local residents that included sightseeing trips to Paris).

Nobody really knows how much money, directly and indirectly, went to Fukui and Tsuruga over the decades for “bearing the burden of Monju.” Unofficial guesses put the figure in the billions of yen. But what has residents in Kansai, and elsewhere, concerned is how much it will cost them, in the form of future government payoffs to Fukui, to be rid of Monju.

The prefecture certainly has friends in high places looking out for its interests. Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, a favorite of Shinzo Abe, represents Fukui’s 1st district. That’s the one without nuclear power plants, but she’s very close to those in Fukui who support them. Then there’s Tsuyoshi Takagi, who served as reconstruction minister. He’s from Tsuruga and represents Fukui’s 2nd district in the Lower House, an area that hosts those 13 commercial nuclear reactors. In short, Fukui has powerful allies who will work hard to ensure all manner of new funding flows to the prefecture and to Tsuruga over the coming decades.

Making matters better for Fukui but worse for taxpayers elsewhere, three commercial reactors will be decommissioned over the next few decades. You can be sure Fukui politicians from the governor on down are drawing up a long wish-list of pork barrel projects they will demand the central government, as well operator Kansai Electric Power Co., fork out in exchange for consenting to each reactor’s decommissioning plans — plans that might include disposing high-level radioactive waste generated by decommissioning in Fukui, over the objections of residents.

In short, decommissioning means big money for Fukui in the years ahead in the form of subsidies, jobs and service-industry income. And not just at Monju, where the basic cost was recently estimated at ¥540 billion.

With predictions it might cost ¥8 trillion to scrap the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and perhaps a dozen commercial reactors probably heading for the scrap heap in the next decade, Japan has entered the “age of nuclear power decommissioning.”

There’s big money involved that will draw a swarm of flies, especially in towns and prefectures hosting the power plants. Taxpayers elsewhere, therefore, will need to be especially vigilant and handy with the flyswatters and insect repellent.

October 15, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Resuming Monju reactor operations may cost over ¥540 billion

Monju plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.jpg


The cost of resuming operations at Japan’s trouble-plagued Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor is estimated to top ¥540 billion ($5.2 billion), the science ministry says.

The estimate was presented Friday at a meeting of government and private-sector officials who discussed the fate of the reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.

More than ¥1 trillion ($9.7 billion) has been spent on Monju, but it has only operated for a total of 250 days in the past 20 years due to a series of problems, including a leak of sodium coolant.

The government is considering options, including decommissioning the reactor. It plans to make a decision by the end of this year.

The ministry said the costs may far exceed ¥540 billion if the safety screening process by regulators is lengthy. The estimate does not include expenses for decommissioning the reactor.

The science ministry wants Monju to be maintained while the industry ministry is opposed to the idea.

Opposition to keeping Monju in place is expected to grow if a massive amount of money is needed for it to go back online.

The meeting brought together science minister Hirokazu Matsuno and industry minister Hiroshige Seko as well as nuclear industry executives, including Satoru Katsuno, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan.

October 11, 2016 Posted by | Japan | | Leave a comment

Nuclear cash cow Monju now a liability for residents as plant faces ax


The ¥1 trillion Monju plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, faces being scrapped after years of mishaps, cover-ups and waste. For decades, residents and businesses enjoyed the cash it brought in but now realize the contaminated debris needs storage.

KYOTO – In February 1983, Mayor Koichi Takagi of Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, spoke to residents in the town of Shiga, Ishikawa Prefecture, who were hoping the town would be chosen as the site for a new nuclear power plant.

Tsuruga already hosted two conventional reactors and, just a couple weeks before Takagi’s visit to Shiga, preparations began for the construction of a new fast-breeder reactor called Monju, named after the bodhisattva of wisdom. An old Japanese saying goes: “out of the counsel of three comes the wisdom of Monju,” meaning that, by putting their heads together, even those of ordinary intelligence can think up an idea as good as one from Monju.

Takagi, who also served as head of a nationwide group of mayors whose towns and villages hosted nuclear plants, had some sage advice for his audience. He said nuclear plants were a cash cow and that the media just sensationalized reports of mishaps.

Thirty-three years later, the Monju plant appears heading for the scrap heap. Its history has been one of controversy and scandals, including a 1995 sodium leak and fire, and subsequent cover-up attempt.

Last month, the government decided on an overhaul of the Monju project, looking to decommission the idle facility.

Tsuruga is unhappy that the cash cow, which meant billions of yen to the local economy over the decades, is drying up, while the central government faces questions about the entire future of Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle program.

Monju began as a policy decision made nearly a half century ago in reaction to what was seen as a worldwide problem in the conventional nuclear industry, a scarcity of uranium for conventional nuclear plants.

According to the industry vision of the middle of the 1970s, plutonium-fueled breeder reactors were supposed to replace uranium-fueled light water reactors in order to save what was thought to be scarce natural uranium resources in a world with rapidly expanding nuclear power programs,” said Mycle Schneider, a Canada-based nuclear energy consultant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency then forecasted over 4,000 conventional reactors in the world for the year 2000. In reality, only one-tenth of the plants was built, more uranium resources were identified, and the uranium price plunged.”

Decommissioning Monju is expected to take three decades, once it finally gets under way. But a host of fundamental questions remain about not only Monju but also Japan’s nuclear fuel-recycling program, in which Monju was to have played a critical role.

On a practical level, these questions begin with how much the entire decommissioning process will cost. In 2012, the Science, Education, and Technology Ministry estimated that it would require at least ¥300 billion.

But that estimate does not include how much the central government might have to spend in Tsuruga and Fukui Prefecture over the coming years on various forms of public works projects in exchange for smooth local political cooperation in scrapping Monju. Over ¥1 trillion has already been spent on the plant.

Fukui residents and politicians are sure to raise strong objections if the central government concludes the only viable option for the tons of high-level radioactive waste generated by Monju’s decommissioning process is to store at least part of it within the prefecture.

With three conventional nuclear reactors in the prefecture scheduled to be scrapped by midcentury, Gov. Issei Ishikawa has warned he will not tolerate having Fukui serve as a nuclear garbage dump. He has demanded that waste generated from decommissioning be disposed of outside the prefecture.

Adding Monju to the list of reactors to be decommissioned means seeking further local cooperation. That may only come after guarantees of more central government support, in the form of tax money, to help Fukui bear the burden of the decommissioning.

Meanwhile, question marks are cast over the remainder of Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling program, especially the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant in Aomori Prefecture. However, experts say it is unlikely to get the ax anytime soon.

Terminating Rokkasho and plutonium policy remains a long way off due to the vested interests and impacts this would have on nuclear power. But the Monju decision is a major step along that path,” said Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany, who follows Japan’s nuclear power policy closely.

In immediate terms, (Monju’s decommissioning) will not impact the use of MOX fuel in light water reactors. That’s more affected by the lack of operating reactors with Ikata No. 3 being the only MOX-fueled reactor operating; Rokkasho justification will be based on using MOX fuel in LWR’s most particularly at Oma.”

The Oma nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture, which is scheduled to start operating in fiscal 2024, will run 100 percent on MOX fuel.

For many in Fukui who have long opposed Monju, there are also concerns about not shutting down the entire nuclear fuel recycling program and suspicions that despite the government’s policy of not possessing, manufacturing or introducing nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government wants to keep that option open, as a diplomatic tool at least, via the fuel recycling program.

Japan has about 48 tons of plutonium stockpiled domestically and in Europe, and we need to be careful. The plutonium could be converted into nuclear weapons, and we need to make sure it’s not used for this purpose,” said Tetsuen Nakajima, abbot of Myotsu-ji, a Shingon Omuro temple in Wakasa Bay in Fukui Prefecture, and a long-time anti-nuclear activist.

Such suspicions remain because Abe has in the past said he believes the possession of “small” nuclear weapons would not violate the Constitution. Members of his Cabinet, notably Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who is from Fukui, have also argued previously for a national debate on the matter.

Finally, experts question what the government’s intentions are for a new committee on fast-breeder reactors it plans to form by year-end. The new committee will be centered in the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, and will include nuclear power-related government agencies and representatives from the utilities and firms in the sector.

Keiji Kobayashi, a former nuclear physics instructor and fast-breeder expert at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, is a longtime opponent of Monju. He says Japan might not be done entirely with fast-breeder reactors.

Plans for the committee include clarifying a goal on the development of a demonstration reactor and creating a detailed road (map) to achieving that goal,” he said. “Does that mean another reactor will be built? There are unanswered questions about what will happen to not only Monju but the fast-breeder reactor program in general.”

Kobayashi was referring to the possibility of Japan participating in France’s Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) program to develop next generation fast-breeder reactor technology via research at a demonstration reactor for research purposes.

Burnie of Greenpeace Germany says ASTRID is still in the planning stage, over budget and behind schedule, and that the prospects for it being built in France are dim. In addition, while Japan’s METI backs the idea of a demonstration reactor with French cooperation, the education ministry is reportedly more skeptical, noting that France closed its Super Phoenix fast breeder reactor in 1997 after numerous accidents, including, like Monju, sodium leaks.

October 5, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Japan signals end for $10 billion nuclear prototype

“Tokyo believes it would be difficult to gain public support to spend several hundreds of billion yen to upgrade the Monju facility, which has been plagued by accidents, missteps and falsification of documents.”


Japan signalled on Wednesday it would scrap a costly prototype nuclear reactor that has operated for less than a year in more than two decades at a cost of 1 trillion yen (£7.6 billion).

Tokyo believes it would be difficult to gain public support to spend several hundreds of billion yen to upgrade the Monju facility, which has been plagued by accidents, missteps and falsification of documents.

There is also a strong anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan in reaction to the 2011 Fukushima atomic disaster and calls to decommission Monju have been growing in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, with scant results from using around 20 billion yen of pubic money a year for maintenance alone.

Monju was designed to burn plutonium from spent fuel at conventional reactors to create more fuel than it consumes. The process is appealing to a country whose limited resources force it to rely on imports for virtually all its oil and gas needs.

Science Minister Hirokazu Matsuno, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko and others had decided to shift policy away from developing Monju, a fast-breeder nuclear reactor in the west of the country, the government said.

They had also agreed to keep the nuclear fuel cycle intact and would set up a committee to decide a policy for future fast reactor development by the end of the year.

A formal decision to decommission Monju is likely to be made by the end of the year, government officials said.

The decision would have no impact on Japan’s nuclear recycling policy as Tokyo would continue to co-develop a fast-breeder demonstration reactor that has been proposed in France, while research will continue at another experimental fast-breeder reactor, Joyo, which was a predecessor of Monju.

“The move will not have an impact on nuclear fuel balance or nuclear fuel cycle technology development or Japan’s international cooperation,” Tomoko Murakami, nuclear energy manager at the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, said.

Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan had planned to build a commercial fast-breeder before 2050, but that may be delayed given the difficulties at Monju, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday.

October 2, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

How does the Monju fast-breeder nuclear reactor work?

Monju plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.jpg



The Japanese government is moving toward decommissioning the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture. The Mainichi answers common questions readers may have about what kind of reactor Monju is, and the state of international research on other fast-breeder reactors.

Question: The Monju reactor is supposedly a power generating device, but how does it work?

Answer: The reactor uses one of three high-speed neutrons that are released when plutonium-239 undergoes nuclear fission, causing more plutonium-239 to undergo nuclear fission and creating heat. The other two neutrons are collided with uranium-238 — which is not usable by normal nuclear reactors — to create more plutonium-239. The reactor is called a “fast-breeder” because it uses “fast” neutrons to “breed” more nuclear fuel.

Q: What were the original research objectives at Monju?

A: Generally, the development process of fast-breeder reactors is to create an experimental reactor followed by a prototype reactor, a testing reactor and then a practical-use reactor. Monju is at the second of these stages. Its research objectives included improving nuclear safety and reducing nuclear waste.

Q: What are other countries’ fast-breeder reactor programs like?

A: There are few countries that are actively involved in this kind of research. One example is Russia, which has been running its prototype reactor “BN-600” since 1980 and in 2015 it began power production at a testing reactor called “BN-800.” Russia aims to have a practical-use reactor by around 2030. Meanwhile, since 2011, China has been generating power at its testing reactor “CEFR,” and it is also aiming for a practical-use reactor by around 2030. India also planned to start a prototype reactor this year, but its plan has fallen behind schedule.

Q: What about in developed countries?

A: France is planning to begin running a reactor called ASTRID around the year 2030. However, rather than producing nuclear fuel, this reactor is primarily aimed at shortening the radioactive life of nuclear waste products, recovering resources and otherwise dealing with the issue of nuclear waste. France is aiming for commercial operation of the reactor in the 2040s.

On the other hand, the United States, after putting its prototype reactor development plans on indefinite hold in 1977 due to concerns about costs and nuclear proliferation, canceled its fast-breeder reactor plans. In 1991, Germany canceled its construction of a prototype reactor, partially due to financial difficulties. In 1994, the United Kingdom shut down its prototype reactor as well.

Fast-breeder reactors use sodium for cooling, which reacts violently when exposed to water or air, making it difficult to handle, and accidents have occurred. Another point against fast-breeder reactors is that for the time being there is little concern that uranium used for fuel at nuclear plants will run out, reducing the need for creating more nuclear fuel. (Answers by Shuichi Abe, Science & Environment News Department)


September 25, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Ministries spar as Japan focuses on fast reactor project in France


The industry and science ministries were at odds over Japan’s shift toward France for nuclear fuel recycling efforts after Tokyo decided to scrap a “made-in-Japan” pillar of its energy policy.

The industry and science ministries were at odds over Japan’s shift toward France for nuclear fuel recycling efforts after Tokyo decided to scrap a “made-in-Japan” pillar of its energy policy.

Hiroshige Seko, minister of economy, trade and industry, stressed the significance of working with France, a global leader in fast reactor technology, after a Sept. 21 meeting of Cabinet members agreed to terminate the problem-stricken Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor project.

Seko told reporters that his ministry, which is in charge of the nation’ s energy policy, is pinning its hopes on joint research, including France’s ASTRID (Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration) fast reactor.

ASTRID is a crucial project for both Japan and France,” Seko said. “Japan has already participated in the project and has obtained various insights.”

The Monju fast-breeder reactor and the ASTRID fast reactor use similar technologies but are different.

Monju was designed to use plutonium as fuel for electricity generation and to produce more plutonium in the process.

ASTRID is centered on generating energy by consuming plutonium.

In addition, ASTRID is at a more advanced development stage than Monju.

There are four stages in the development of a nuclear reactor: experimental, prototype, demonstration and commercial.

ASTRID is in the demonstration stage while Monju is a prototype reactor.

Japan and France are already cooperating in the field of nuclear energy.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed that Japan would cooperate with France on preparations for a fast reactor project when he met with French President Francois Hollande in June 2013.

The two countries also concluded a tie-up in technological development and cooperation for fast reactors, including ASTRID, in May 2014.

Prospects are brighter than Monju, and France is a reliable partner,” said an industry ministry official.

But the science ministry, which has clashed with the industry ministry over the fate of Monju, is skeptical.

It says the France-led project does not necessarily promise success, citing Super-Phenix, France’s demonstrator fast-breeder reactor that was forced to shut down after a series of accidents, including a sodium leak, like Monju.

The science ministry has oversight in the first two stages of reactor development, while the industry ministry takes over for the two more advanced stages.

ASTRID is expected to go into operation in the 2030s, but the science ministry said that schedule could face delays.

Sources familiar with the project also say ASTRID will likely cost more than initially expected.

Japan could end up serving as a cash cow,” a senior science ministry official said.

However, the industry ministry is not budging on its stance.

What matters is that Japan keeps alive its research on a fast reactor,” a high-ranking ministry official said. “Japan should not dwell on a home-grown project.”

September 25, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , , | Leave a comment

Japan to scrap troubled ¥1 trillion Monju fast-breeder reactor

Monju plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.jpg

The Monju plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, is seen in this file photo from January. Its scrapping will leave a massive plutonium stockpile that cannot be reduced quickly

The government decided to cut its losses Wednesday on the ¥1 trillion Monju fast-breeder reactor, pulling the plug on the project after years of mishaps, cover-ups and waste.

At an extraordinary meeting, the Cabinet decided to decommission the idle facility in Fukui Prefecture but reaffirmed a national commitment to obtaining a nuclear fuel cycle.

At the end of the Cabinet meeting, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will set up an expert panel on fast-breeder reactor issues that will “carry out an overall revision of the Monju project, including its decommissioning” by the end of this year.

Fast-breeder reactors like Monju are designed to produce more plutonium than they consume. The government has long envisioned them as playing a role in the nation’s nuclear profile.

During the same meeting, the government also pledged to draw up a road map of developing “demonstration fast reactors” by the end of the year.

A demonstration reactor is more advanced than a prototype reactor like Monju. Specifically, Japan is considering participating in France’s project to develop a fast-breeder reactor of the demonstration type, documents submitted to the meeting by industry minister Hiroshige Seko showed.

But given the record of Monju’s serious accidents and mismanagement scandals, Seko’s pledge to go to the next development stage — with little public explanation on the failure of the Monju project itself — is likely to draw strong criticism from the public.

Monju dates back to 1980, when work began amid the realization of a need to reduce reliance on fossil fuel. Almost all oil, coal and gas burned in Japan is imported.

Monju not only absorbed fistfuls of taxpayer money, but also suffered repeated accidents and mismanagement while only going live for a few months during its three-decade existence.

The Monju reactor reached criticality for the first time in 1994 but was forced to shut down in December 1995 after a leak of sodium coolant and fire. There was a subsequent attempt at a cover-up.

In November 2012, it emerged that the operator, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, had failed to check as many as 10,000 of Monju’s components, as safety rules require.

In November last year, the Nuclear Regulation Authority declared that the government-affiliated JAEA was “not qualified as an entity to safely operate” Monju.

It told the government either to find an alternative operator or scrap the project. The government was unable to find new management.

On Wednesday after the Cabinet meeting, education minister Hirokazu Matsuno said investments of another ¥500 billion would be needed if the Monju reactor were to be maintained.

And it is also true we have yet to find an (alternative) entity to run Monju,” he noted.

Later the same day during a briefing for reporters, government bureaucrats emphasized that the government has yet to draw any conclusion on the fate of the Monju reactor.

But the comments of Suga and Matsuno were widely interpreted as signaling that the Cabinet is willing to eventually mothball the Monju reactor.

Meanwhile, decommissioning Monju will raise international concerns over Japan’s massive plutonium stockpile, extracted from spent fuel at the nation’s dozens of conventional nuclear power plants.

The stockpile is estimated at 48 tons of plutonium, enough to produce thousands of atomic bombs.

With no way to consume plutonium directly, the government plans to continue using MOX fuels — a mix of plutonium and uranium — in conventional nuclear reactors.

But most commercial reactors remain idle in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, and for now the rate of consumption will be slow. The No. 3 reactor of the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture is currently the sole active unit that uses MOX fuel.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to reactivate more reactors once the NRA completes its safety checks.

Meanwhile, the matter remains a divisive one between government ministries.

The education and science ministry, which oversees the Monju project, reportedly opposes scrapping the reactor, arguing its importance in setting up a nuclear fuel cycle and tackling the plutonium oversupply.

But the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees national nuclear policy, reportedly backs Monju’s scrapping as officials fear its tainted reputation could fuel opposition to nuclear power.

At the same time, METI wants to keep the fuel cycle policy afloat. It has reportedly argued for Japan’s participation in France’s ASTRID project to develop a demonstration fast-breeder reactor. ASTRID, or Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration, will use more advanced technologies than those on which Monju was based. But the project is still in the designing phase, which will continue at least until the end of 2019.

Sodium coolant used for fast-breeder reactors can catch fire easily and is very difficult to handle, which is why no countries have developed such a reactor yet.

September 23, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment