Science minister inspects troubled Monju nuclear reactor


Science and technology minister Hiroshi Hase inspected the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor on Wednesday after nuclear regulators last month asked his ministry to change the facility’s operator following a series of safety lapses.

Ahead of the visit to the reactor, operated by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, Hase held talks with Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa at the prefectural government office in the city of Fukui. Hase also met with Tsuruga Mayor Takanobu Fuchikami.

During his visit to the Monju reactor, Hase received a briefing from JAEA President Toshio Kodama and Kazumi Aoto, who is in charge of the plant.

The minister inspected the reactor, which is still filled with uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel despite being idle since 2010, and watched staff work in the central control room.

Hase asked whether a crane he could see was ever used, to which Aoto answered that it was used to move equipment and regularly received safety checks, according to JAEA officials.

During their meeting in the Tsuruga city government office, Fuchikami handed the minister written requests on five items, including promoting understanding of nuclear power.

Hase responded by saying the ministry would consider it.

Asked by reporters about the safety lapses at the reactor, Hase said he felt there may have been lack of communication between those who worked at the plant and the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Referring to the NRA’s request to change the operator of the Monju reactor, Hase said discussions involving experts was needed.

During his meeting with Fukui Gov. Nishikawa, Hase said he also planned to hear feedback on the matter from local governments.

In November, the NRA concluded that the JAEA lacked the ability to operate the Monju reactor safely. It asked the ministry, which oversees the reactor, to respond to its request within six months.

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    I’m glad to see that a political blue-blood with no relevant training or experience has gone up to the Monju plant to get this whole experimental nuclear reactor business back on track! I’m sure that after casting their amateur eye briefly over the plant, and asking a few officials hand-picked by the operator some lay man’s questions, they’ll get to the bottom of things much faster than anyone else could have done.