21 Septembre 2016
September 21, 2016
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
September 21, 2016 at 11:55 JST
The head of the Japanese ruling party's policy council said Tuesday that the government should consider scrapping the problem-plagued Monju plutonium-breeder reactor.
Monju, designed to burn plutonium and produce more of it while generating electricity was once considered a "dream reactor" for resource-poor Japan and a centerpiece of its fuel recycling ambitions. But the 1 trillion yen ($9.8 billion) reactor has hardly operated since an accident in 1995, months after it went online. Improving its safety would require billions of more dollars and considerable time.
"It's time to make a concrete decision, including decommissioning," said Toshimitsu Motegi, the Liberal Democratic Party's policy council chairman.
His comment came one day before key Cabinet ministers related to the Monju program are to meet to reach an agreement. The ministers--including those from the industry, environment, foreign and finance ministries--are reportedly leaning toward scrapping Monju due to the huge costs of maintaining the reactor, which is now considered a white elephant.
Monju has operated only 250 days in the past 22 years, and has cost about 20 billion yen per year just to maintain the facility, said Motegi, who has served as industry and trade minister. Maintaining and upgrading the decades-old reactor to conform with new safety standards introduced after the Fukushima nuclear accident would require several hundred billion yen, he added.
Anti-nuclear sentiment has run high among the Japanese public since the March 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima, and there have been growing calls to close down Monju. The reactor's production of more plutonium than it uses also poses a burden on Japan, whose stockpile of plutonium reprocessed elsewhere from spent fuel is already causing international proliferation concerns.
Motegi said Japan's spent fuel recycling plan would not change without Monju.
Japan has largely switched to an alternative approach of mixing plutonium with uranium to make MOX fuel, which can be used in conventional reactors.
Last November, Japan's nuclear authority urged the science ministry, which oversees Monju, to disqualify its operator over its poor safety record or scrap the reactor. A recent ministry report failed to present a drastic reform plan or find a new operator with expertise in running the specialized reactor, which uses sodium, which is flammable, as a coolant instead of water.
Local officials in Tsuruga, Monju's location in western Japan that relies on government subsidies and employment from the project, oppose the reactor's decommissioning.
There have been discussions about using Monju for other purposes, including experimenting with fuel waste reduction.
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The government decided Wednesday to rethink its policy on the plutonium-burning Monju fast-breeder reactor that has hardly operated over the past 20 years despite its intended key role in Japan's nuclear fuel recycling policy.
"Regarding the Monju project, we will fundamentally review it by the end of the year, including (the option of) scrapping it," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a meeting of ministers concerned, referring to the costly and trouble-prone reactor in Fukui Prefecture.
But the government is likely to remain committed to Japan's long-held policy of reprocessing uranium fuel burned in conventional reactors for reuse and to the development of fast-reactor technology.
Suga said a panel to discuss the country's fast-reactor development policy will be launched and the fate of the Monju reactor will be discussed there.
The Monju reactor is a prototype created as part of a four-stage research and development project that began in the 1960s toward commercializing fast-breeder reactors. It was once touted as a "dream reactor" for resource-poor Japan as it is designed to produce more fuel than it consumes.
The move to scrap the Monju reactor reflects a growing reluctance in Japan to continue hefty spending pursuing what had been viewed as an ideal nuclear fuel cycle, especially as nuclear power has come under intense public scrutiny in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. The project has already cost more than 1 trillion yen ($9.8 billion) in taxpayer money.
The problem-fraught development of Monju also led to concern over the build-up in stocks of plutonium, which the reactor was meant to burn. Plutonium is a material that can be used to make nuclear weapons.
More recently, the government has pushed a plan to burn plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel, known as MOX fuel, in conventional reactors as a way to consume plutonium, yet that plan too has not proceeded as expected amid safety concerns.
According to sources close to the matter, the government is likely to opt to continue fast-reactor development, such as by using the Joyo experimental reactor in Ibaraki Prefecture created as the first stage of the fast breeder reactor development project.
Fast reactors refer to plutonium-fueled reactors in which the fission chain reaction is sustained by fast neutrons. Monju is intended to be a fast reactor for plutonium "breeding," meaning that it could produce more plutonium than it consumed.
Japan may also consider partnering with France to develop a fast reactor, the sources said.
Monju has remained largely offline since first achieving criticality in 1994, due to a leakage of sodium coolant and other subsequent problems.
The reactor had only been operational for 250 days before the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster was triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. That catastrophe forced the government to review its energy policy.
Revelations of a massive number of equipment inspection failures in 2012 and continuing blunders also took a toll, leading a nuclear regulatory body newly created after the Fukushima crisis to conclude last November that the operator, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, is not qualified to safely operate the reactor.
However, the science ministry overseeing the Monju project failed to find a new operator. The ministry then proposed a different idea for its continued operation, but the government is leaning toward scrapping it, partly because of the heavy cost of restarting it.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has estimated it will require at least 580 billion yen to restart the reactor, including funds needed to upgrade the facilities to meet new safety requirements introduced after the Fukushima disaster.
That figure is based on the assumption that it would take about 10 years to complete the work to refurbish the facilities, and another five or six years to accumulate data by running the reactor.
The Japanese government plans to hold on Wednesday a meeting of concerned Cabinet ministers to discuss the future of an experimental reactor in Fukui Prefecture.
The prototype Monju fast-breeder reactor has had a series of safety management problems.
It is believed that officials recognize a need to continue a program to develop a fast-breeder reactor. But for Monju, they are expected to confirm a policy to drastically review its operation, including possibly decommissioning it.
Following a recommendation by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the education and science ministry, which holds jurisdiction over Monju, was supposed to pick a new operator to replace the Japan Atomic Energy Agency currently operating the experimental reactor.
But no new operator has been named yet.
Against this background, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, education and science minister Hirokazu Matsuno, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko and other concerned ministers are to have a meeting at the prime minister's official residence on Wednesday. They are expected to discuss what should be done about Monju, and about the future of the program to develop a fast-breeder reactor.
They are expected to confirm the need to set up a new government panel to discuss the policy for fast-breeder reactor development.
Maintenance of Monju costs about 200-million dollars annually. If it is to be kept in operation, an additional several billion dollars would be needed to make the reactor more earthquake-resistant.
The Cabinet members are likely to confirm the policy to drastically review the Monju program. Some members of the government and the ruling coalition are negative about keeping Monju in operation.
The government officials hope, by the end of this year, to come up with a conclusion about what to do with Monju and the policy for the future development of a fast-breeder reactor. But they plan to have careful debates on the matter because the education and science ministry as well as Tsuruga city, which hosts Monju, want the reactor program to be continued.
September 21, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The government is set to discuss later Wednesday whether to rethink its pursuit of the costly and trouble-plagued Monju fast-breeder reactor that was tasked with playing a key role in Japan's nuclear fuel recycling policy.
The outcome of the discussion is expected to be announced following a meeting of Cabinet ministers concerned, which could include the option of scrapping Monju -- once touted a "dream reactor" in the resource-poor country as it can produce more fuel than it consumes. But the reactor in Fukui Prefecture has hardly operated over the past 20 years.
The possible conclusion to close Monju can be seen as the latest sign of the faltering fuel recycling policy, in which Japan seeks to reprocess spent fuel and reuse plutonium and uranium, extracted through reprocessing, as plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel.
The commercialization of Monju had also been awaited because it consumes the so-called MOX fuel that contains plutonium, a material used in nuclear weapons. But prospects have remained dim and the government has pushed for plans to burn MOX fuel in conventional reactors, yet the plan has also not proceeded as expected.
Monju has remained largely offline since first achieving criticality in 1994, due to a leakage of sodium coolant and other subsequent problems. The government has spent more than 1 trillion yen ($9.8 billion) for the project.
The reactor had only been operational for 250 days before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant crisis began in March 2011, which forced the government to review its energy policy amid heightened public concerns over nuclear safety.
Revelations of a massive number of equipment inspection failures in 2012 and continuing blunders further took a toll, leading a nuclear regulatory body newly created after the Fukushima crisis to conclude that operator Japan Atomic Energy Agency is not qualified to safely operate the reactor.
But the science ministry overseeing the Monju project failed to find a new operator for it. The ministry then sought its survival by proposing a different idea, but sources close to the matter have said the government is leaning toward a decision to scrap it.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has also estimated it will require at least about 580 billion yen to restart the reactor, including funds needed to upgrade the facilities to meet new safety requirements introduced after the Fukushima crisis.
The figure is based on the assumption that it needs about 10 years to complete the work to refurbish the facilities and another five to six years to take necessary data by running the reactor.