TSURUGA, Fukui Pref. – Antinuclear activists and others are furious after discovering that the Fugen advanced thermal reactor here, which was shut down in May by a radioactive leak and is scheduled to be dismantled, will resume operations for 10 months.
“The Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute, which will spend huge amounts of money to operate the reactor for less than a year, lacks a sense of citizenship,” said Kiyoshi Yoshimura, a former Tsuruga Municipal Assembly member who has long campaigned against nuclear power generation.
The 165,000-kilowatt reactor, which is run by the government-operated institute in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, is undergoing final checks for the restart, according to the operator. It will be shut down at the end of March next year.
Even if the reactor is restarted in May as scheduled, it will have to shut down in November for a fuel change, meaning that it will be in operation for only 10 months.
The institute shut down the reactor after a tritium leak was detected between the outside of the reactor container and the concrete wall surrounding the facility. The tritium escaped from a worn pipe in the space.
The institute estimates the cost of the final checks to come to 4.9 billion yen, including 900 million yen to replace an 85-meter-long pipe.
Opponents said the checks are a waste of tax revenues, but an institute official said, “Continued operation is quite meaningful, to get as much data as possible.”
Fugen, named after a Buddhist saint, is a light-water-cooled reactor using heavy water as a moderator that facilitates nuclear fission.
Heavy water is used as a moderator for efficient use of fuel, but it costs 50,000 yen per liter. Fugen uses as much as 200,000 liters of heavy water.
“It’s like guzzling super high-quality whiskey,” an institute official said.
Fugen’s development has cost 280 billion yen, three times the cost of a typical nuclear reactor, and the electric power industry, which was to shoulder its future development expenses, has backed away, forcing the institute to decide to shut it down.
The central government initially was scheduled to stop the operation in fiscal 2000, but postponed it until the end of fiscal 2002 at the request of the Tsuruga Municipal Government and local businesses, who are worried about the effects on employment in the region.
“Should the operation be suspended, the local community cannot benefit from nuclear fuel taxes and spending for construction work,” a former senior municipal official said.
“But it may be irresponsible to say that if Fugen had been suspended as originally scheduled, there would not have been such wasteful spending,” he said, with a wry smile.
The former municipal assembly member criticized the state’s inconsistent energy policy, saying, “The state bowed its head to bring Fugen, but now it has quickly withdrawn from it. I wonder how long the state can take care of Monju.”
Monju, a fast-breeder nuclear reactor also in Tsuruga, has been dormant since it was shut down after a sodium coolant leak in 1995. The government is thinking of letting the institute modify the reactor and restart it.
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