JAEA faces shakeup over Monju lapses

Geological tech research for waste to be axed

JIJI

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency will be streamlined and possibly renamed in light of the flawed inspections last year at its troubled Monju fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture, the science and technology ministry has decided.

In an effort to reform the JAEA, the ministry wants to limit its responsibilities to research and development related to Monju, and to the development of technologies for decommissioning the leaking Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

After receiving detailed reform plans from the JAEA this autumn, the ministry plans to draft a legal revision to the law governing its organization and consider changing its name, according to the decision reached Thursday.

Monju, in Tsuruga, will be placed under the direct control of the head of the JAEA or its successor. The organization will then invite people who have headed nuclear plants or other power utilities to take charge of reactor safety at Monju.

Private power utilities “will be asked to dispatch” acting plant chiefs, section chiefs and team leaders to help manage Monju.

The JAEA was established in 2005 by integrating the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute, which ran Monju, with the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, which just engaged in basic research.

The broader operations have been hit for leading to the safety lapses at the troubled plant.

The ministry’s headquarters for reforming JAEA placed four tasks — developing technologies to extract the melted fuel from Fukushima No. 1′s reactors, improving the safety of nuclear power plants, research and development on Monju, and developing human resources — as the agency’s social missions.

In the meantime, the ministry will spin off JAEA’s radiation and fusion power research units to other research institutions, allowing it to reduce its workforce, which stands at 3,890, by 400 to 500 people. This will also allow it to shrink its budget, which was ¥182.8 billion for fiscal 2013.

Research on geological technology for disposing of highly radioactive waste will be transferred to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan, where it will likely be discontinued.

Measures to improve safety at the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, are being considered separately, after radioactive substances were inadvertently vented into the environment earlier this year.