• Kyodo

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The city of Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, will not give the go-ahead to renovate the trouble-plagued Monju fast-breeder reactor prototype until after the Supreme Court clears it of nuclear safety concerns, Mayor Kazuharu Kawase said Monday.

The move comes in the wake of the central government’s decision Friday to appeal a Nagoya High Court decision nullifying its 1983 approval to build the plutonium-producing reactor in the city.

While expressing disappointment with the high court ruling, Kawase said the city may not be able to host the reactor if the top court judges that it poses significant safety threats, suggesting a delay in local approval.

The reactor began operations in August 1995, but was shut down after a sodium coolant leak sparked a fire in December that year.

As part of the government’s move to restart the reactor, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in December approved a plan by the state-run Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute to renovate Monju with a view to reactivating it.

Kawase did not say exactly when the city’s approval, which the reactor operator had requested by March, would come, saying, “We’ll study discussions by the municipal assembly and a prefecture panel on the subject.

“We invited the facility because we were convinced that the state took (the appropriate) safety measures. But if the appeals court deems its safety level extremely low, then we can’t let Monju remain in our community,” he said.

However, at the same time he noted the central role the reactor occupies in the nuclear fuel-recycling project for a country without significant natural resources.

“Our city can contribute greatly to research and development” related to the energy recycling project centered on fast-breeder reactors like Monju, Kawase said.

Monju, a government-designed 280-mw reactor, can create more plutonium than it consumes and was to play a key role in the national policy of recycling spent nuclear fuel for more energy extraction.

After the 1995 accident, and subsequent coverup attempt by the operator, residents living near Monju and others sued the government to seek a repeal of the state’s approval for building the reactor.

The Fukui District Court rejected the demand in 2000, but on Jan. 27 the Nagoya High Court’s Kanazawa branch overturned the lower court ruling.

The high court supported the plaintiffs’ claim that deficiencies in the government’s preconstruction safety checks led to the 1995 accident and pointed out the plant’s structural defects.

The high court decision marks the first time a court has favored plaintiffs seeking to halt construction and operation of one of the nation’s nuclear reactors.

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