Ministry reality check: Monju may have to go


The science and technology ministry has come up with four options on the future of the trouble-prone Monju fast-breeder reactor, including one to pull the plug on the controversial technology in light of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The ministry presented the options Wednesday during a meeting of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, which has been reviewing the national policy of establishing a nuclear fuel reprocessing cycle that would draw heavily on Monju.

For the first time, the panel will officially study the possibility of decommissioning the reactor.

One of the other options would be to maintain the existing plan and test-run the reactor for about 10 years with the aim of developing its technology to the stage it can be put to practical use.

Another would be to continue test operations for now and decide later whether to keep going based on the results.

The final option would be shifting the reactor’s purpose to burning radioactive waste as part of an international effort.

Monju, located in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, had been considered a key component in developing a national nuclear fuel cycle, in which spent fuel from nuclear power plants would be reprocessed for reuse as plutonium-uranium mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel.

The original goal was for Monju to use spent fuel from other nuclear facilities and produce more fuel than it consumes. But the reactor has been plagued by mishaps, casting doubt on the project’s viability.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology proposed the four options in response to the panel’s review of the nuclear fuel cycle policy. If that policy is scrapped, possible alternatives include burying spent nuclear fuel deep underground for direct disposal or continuing to pursue the reprocessing of spent fuel.

A kernel of progress

MORIOKA, Iwate Pref.

A group of researchers said Wednesday they have found that activated carbon made from corn cores is highly capable of absorbing cesium, raising expectations it could be used to prevent cesium contamination of farm products by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex.

“The contamination could be blocked by mixing the activated carbon with (farm) soil,” the group of researchers from the environmental health research center of the Iwate Prefectural Government and from Iwate University said.

Activated carbon made by burning corn cores, particularly those cultivated in the red soil in Dalian, China, is highly effective in absorbing hazardous metals and pesticides, according to Akira Sasaki, 59, senior researcher at the research center.

After the Fukushima nuclear accident broke out in March 2011, the group grew cabbage in two types of land with cesium in the ground — one with the activated carbon from Dalian and the other without it. The researchers found that the cabbage cultivated in the Dalian soil had around 60 percent less cesium.