• Kyodo

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Work started here Thursday to modify the Monju experimental fast-breeder reactor, which has remained shut down since it suffered a sodium leak and fire nearly 10 years ago, the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute said.

The work, expected to last 17 months, is aimed at enhancing the detection of similar accidents and minimizing their impact at the fast-breeder reactor complex, designated as a prototype for future reactor models.

“Human error-induced disasters can be prevented through our efforts. I want you all to proceed with the work with the priority on safety,” Yuichi Tonozuka, president of the institute, told about 800 workers who took part in a ceremony launching the work.

The work is a prerequisite for restarting the Monju, which is designed to generate more plutonium than it consumes for power generation.

The reactor is expected to be ready to go on line in early 2008 after the modifications are tested.

The move comes three months after the Supreme Court overturned an earlier high court ruling that invalidated the central government’s 1983 approval of its construction due to safety concerns.

The Fukui Prefectural Government, which hosts the complex in the city of Tsuruga, had agreed in February to the start of the modification work.

The Monju project was approved by the state in 1983. It began delivering power in August 1995.

But in December 1995, more than a ton of volatile liquid sodium leaked from a secondary cooling system at the reactor, causing a fire. While no radioactivity leaked and nobody was injured, a design flaw was blamed for the leak, which officials tried to initially cover up.

The precursor to the institute, the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp., which ran Monju at the time of the accident, came under severe criticism after it was made known that it had concealed video footage showing the extensive damage from the leak and that it had submitted a falsified report.

The state has spent more than 800 billion yen on Monju.

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