” 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. ”
by Nikkei Asian Review