Unfinished Monju lab shouldn’t go to waste: auditors

Kyodo

The operator of the troubled Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor should find a use for the facility’s laboratory, on which ¥83 billion has already been spent, the Board of Audit of Japan recommended Monday.

The yet-to-be-completed lab in Ibaraki Prefecture, designed to develop new nuclear fuel recycling technology, has been idle since its construction was halted in 2000 following several accidents involving the reactor, which is in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.

The Monju had been considered crucial to perfecting the country’s nuclear fuel cycle, in which spent nuclear fuel from Japanese power plants would be reprocessed for reuse as plutonium-uranium mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel. Its practical use was planned to begin around 2050.

The reactor first achieved criticality in 1994 but was shut down following a sodium coolant leak, resultant fire and coverup attempt in 1995. The predecessor body of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency halted construction of the lab five years later.

The board also pointed out the total money spent on the Monju project between fiscal 1980 and last March came to ¥1.08 trillion, whereas the agency earlier projected the cost would only run ¥926.5 billion.

The board urged the agency to make more accurate cost estimates to enhance the transparency of the undertaking by tallying up expenses incurred before fiscal 1980, salaries for research and development staff and property taxes paid to the city of Tsuruga.

Given that the project will come under scrutiny by the government cost-cutting panel later this month, the board said the pros and cons of continuing with development work should be decided based on accurate data after the agency has fully informed the public about the Monju’s costs.

Public anxiety about the safety of the accident-prone project has surged amid the triple-meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant triggered by the March 11 quake and tsunami.