Monju reactor may be axed: Hosono

Kyodo

The government will consider scrapping the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor during its operational review of the troubled nuclear facility, Goshi Hosono, minister in charge of the nuclear disaster, said Saturday.

“There are various opinions and (the government) should consider all of them, including the possibility of decommissioning the facility,” Hosono told reporters after visiting the complex in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.

Ruling Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers and private-sector experts demanded a thorough operational and budgetary review of the Monju project during the government’s energy policy screening session last week.

Hosono partly blamed the troubles of the Monju reactor on its age. The project started in the 1960s and the fast-breeder reactor was eventually built in the 1980s. The long-running Monju project is now at a “crossroads,” he said.

The Monju fast-breeder reactor had been expected to play a key role in establishing Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle, in which spent fuel from domestic nuclear power plants would be reprocessed and reused as plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.

The reactor first achieved criticality in 1994. But the Monju project has been plagued by a series of problems, including a leak of sodium coolant that started a fire in 1995.

Although the reactor resumed operations in May last year, it experienced further problems three months later and was suspended again.

The science ministry has requested ¥21.5 billion for the Monju project for the 2012 fiscal year, roughly the same amount as for the current fiscal year.

But during the Government Revitalization Unit’s latest “shiwake” budget review session, which examines budgetary requests for key policy measures and projects, examiners called for a drastic review of the Monju facility. The state has plowed more than ¥1 trillion of taxpayers’ money into the project over the past 30 years.

Meanwhile, a Lower House committee plans to demand that the government review the Monju project during the current Diet session that ends early next month, Diet sources said.