21 Décembre 2016
December 21, 2016
By RYOKO TAKEISHI/ Staff Writer
The government on Dec. 21 formally turned out the lights on the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, which cost more than 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) but operated for only 250 days.
A meeting of relevant Cabinet ministers connected with nuclear energy policy decided on Dec. 21 to mothball the embattled project.
But befitting its long history of problems, the end did not come quietly as Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa blasted the central government for opting for decommissioning without giving adequate consideration to whether the work will actually be safe.
On the morning of Dec. 21, Nishikawa met with Hirokazu Matsuno, the science minister, and Hiroshige Seko, the economy minister.
Responding to the concerns previously raised by Nishikawa about the overall evaluation of the Monju project and the establishment of a safety control structure to oversee the decommissioning process, the central government officials promised to continue discussions with Fukui prefectural government officials.
Pledging to set up a comprehensive structure to lead the decommissioning, the government asked for the understanding of the Fukui prefectural government and said a more detailed plan for decommissioning Monju would be presented in April 2017.
But Nishikawa was not satisfied. In particular, he criticized the government approach of having the Japan Atomic Energy Agency assume the lead role in decommissioning Monju.
Saying he could not consent to that position, Nishikawa told reporters that he, as governor, had not given his approval for the decommissioning.
Nishikawa has pointed to concerns of his constituents because the Nuclear Regulation Authority has stated the JAEA has not adequately dealt with maintenance and management of the Monju reactor.
Nishikawa said he would continue to ask the central government for a more detailed explanation.
While agreeing to decommission Monju, the central government also decided to continue developing a fast reactor.
Science ministry officials said it would take a minimum of eight years to prepare a new reactor at the Monju site so it could resume operations as a fast reactor. It would also cost 540 billion yen to operate that reactor for an eight-year period.
The cost of decommissioning the fast-breeder reactor would be a minimum of 375 billion yen.
However, the central government has decided that proceeding with the development of a new fast reactor would create greater returns for the investment.
Decommissioning will start in the next fiscal year with preparations to remove the spent nuclear fuel, the removal of which will take until fiscal 2022. The entire decommissioning process is expected to be completed in 30 years.
When the Monju reactor was planned in the 1950s, it was considered a "dream" project that would produce more fuel than it consumed.
Monju was begun with the hope of producing a quasi-domestic energy industry for Japan, which has few natural energy resources.
Monju reached criticality in 1994, but the leaking of sodium coolant occurred the following year, causing a fire. The manner in which that accident was dealt with, as well as other problems in subsequent years, led to Monju barely being in an operable state.
In November 2015, the NRA recommended to the science minister that a new body be established to run Monju.
The science ministry took more than six months to establish a new body, but could not obtain the cooperation of electric power companies or equipment manufacturers.
In September 2016, the relevant ministers handling nuclear energy policy decided on a comprehensive review of the Monju project, including the possibility of decommissioning.
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government formally decided Wednesday to decommission the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in western Japan's Fukui Prefecture, which has barely operated over the past two decades despite its envisioned key role in the country's nuclear fuel recycling policy.
The decision in a ministerial meeting Wednesday, concluding a process that has included discussion of Japan's overall fast-reactor development policy by a government panel, comes despite failure to obtain local support for the plan.
The government has invested more than 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) in research and development for the reactor, having originally hoped it would serve as a linchpin of nuclear fuel recycling efforts as it was designed to produce more plutonium than it consumes while generating electricity.
With resource-poor Japan relying on uranium imports to power its conventional reactors, the government will continue to develop fast reactors in pursuit of a nuclear fuel cycle in which Japan seeks to reprocess spent fuel and reuse plutonium and uranium, extracted through reprocessing.
But Monju's fate is sure to prompt further public scrutiny of the fuel cycle policy, with many nuclear reactors left idled after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. The public also remains wary of nuclear power generation after the disaster.
With the facility's decommissioning, and the accompanying loss of jobs and subsidies, the central government also risks damaging its rapport with Fukui, which hosts a number of other currently shuttered nuclear plants along the Sea of Japan coast.
The government has calculated it will cost at least 375 billion yen over 30 years to fully decommission Monju. It plans to remove the spent nuclear fuel from the reactor by 2022 and finish dismantling the facility in 2047.
Monju achieved sustained nuclear reactions, technically called criticality, in 1994. But it experienced a series of problems including a leakage of sodium coolant the following year and has been largely mothballed for the subsequent two decades.
Restarting operations at the plant would have cost at least 540 billion yen, according to government forecasts.
"We will decommission Monju given that it would take a considerable amount of time and expense to resume its operations," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told Wednesday's meeting.
"The nuclear fuel cycle is at the core of our energy policy," Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters after the meeting. His ministry will take over from the science ministry in overseeing the development of more practical fast reactors.
"We will make full use of the highly valuable knowledge and expertise acquired at Monju as we move forward with fast reactor development...first by concentrating on creating a strategic roadmap," Seko said.
Earlier Wednesday, the central government held a consultation meeting with Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, who told reporters afterward that he remains opposed to the scrapping of the facility.
Nishikawa said in the meeting that decommissioning cannot begin without the approval of both the prefecture and the city of Tsuruga, where Monju is based.
"The governor told us today...that he wants a more thorough explanation of the specific mechanisms by which decommissioning will be carried out," Seko said after the decision was made.
"We will create opportunities for dialogue with the local area."
Nishikawa had said at a similar meeting Monday that the central government had not given enough justification for decommissioning Monju or considered the plant's operation history sufficiently.
He has also argued that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which operates Monju, is incapable of safely dismantling the reactor.
A nuclear regulatory body recommended last year that the JAEA be disqualified from operating the facility following revelations of mismanagement, including a massive number of equipment inspection failures in 2012.
Science minister Hirokazu Matsuno instructed JAEA President Toshio Kodama on Wednesday to come up with a decommissioning plan by around April next year. The government has said it plans to take third-party technical opinions into account in working out how the decommissioning will take place.