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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

NHK video on Monju reactor

December 8, 2015



It was once dubbed a "dream reactor," but the dreams for the Monju nuclear plant in western Japan were shattered after a series of accidents that started 20 years ago on Tuesday.

The plant has been in operation for only 250 days over 2 decades.

1994... It was hailed as an answer to one of the downsides of nuclear power-- what to do with reactors' spent fuel. The multi-billion dollar Monju reactor was able to use the old fuel that contained plutonium to power itself.

But any hopes for the multi-billion-dollar facility were soon overshadowed by safety issues and mismanagement. In 1995, a leak of sodium used to cool the reactor led to a halt in operations. To make matters worse, video tapes from that time were concealed to cover up the details. Public backlash forced closure of the management company. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency took over.

But the problems didn't stop.

In 2010, a 3-ton piece of equipment fell into the reactor and couldn't be removed. In 2012, about 10,000 instruments were found to have not been properly inspected.

This former Monju director was open with NHK about the facility's problems.

"We were busy trying to bridge maintenance gaps. That significantly increased the workload of those on the spot. We had no manpower to spare, unable to properly manage things. That formed a vicious cycle, making things worse and worse on the shop floor."
Kazuo Mukai / Former Monju reactor director

The operator also admitted to the government that it failed to adequately assign and train a dwindling number of staff. Last month, the Nuclear Regulation Authority issued a recommendation to Science and Technology Minister Hiroshi Hase. It called for a new operator.

"We haven't seen acceptable improvements. We cannot fully trust the current organization."
Shunichi Tanaka / Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman

A former member of the national nuclear commission, Nagasaki University Professor Tatsujiro Suzuki, says there needs to be discussion on the reactor's future. "We need to once again debate the real necessity of the research and development of this sort of reactor and at what cost," he says. "Then we can decide whether to "go" or "not go" with Monju."

The Science and Technology Ministry is still considering whether to appoint a new management body to resume operation or de-commission it altogether.

But residents are not waiting. They've been fighting against any reopening. They plan to file suit against the Nuclear Regulation Authority to shut it down for good.


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