TSURUGA, FUKUI PREF. - The operator of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture is suspected of falsifying an inspection report after regulators later found new pieces of equipment there that hadn’t been inspected, Nuclear Regulation Authority sources said Thursday.
The experimental reactor in Tsuruga is run by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. It is designed to use extracted plutonium and uranium to produce more fuel than it burns while generating electricity. The problem-ridden reactor, however, was effectively banned from operating last May after its lax safety inspections were revealed.
The discovery and the JAEA’s alleged failure to report it to the regulators are all but certain to keep the reactor from operating for some time, although the aging Monju project is expected to stay alive under the government’s revamped energy policy.
In November 2012, Monju reactor equipment was found not to have been inspected in about 10,000 cases.
JAEA said in its report last September that while it had failed to inspect reactor equipment in about 14,000 cases, it finished inspecting all of the pieces, roughly 47,500 in all, that were subject to the investigation, including those that had not previously been inspected.
But when the regulators inspected about 80 pieces of reactor equipment last month, at least nine that were related to the Monju reactor’s secondary cooling circuit had not been inspected by JAEA, the sources said. And JAEA failed to report it.
The operator has acknowledged its failure to report, according to the sources. A JAEA official declined to comment on the matter.
The sources said JAEA also made improper corrections to inspection records in more than 100 sections, a deviation from its internal regulations.
While the regulators had planned to inspect 700 pieces of equipment last month, they stopped doing so after inspecting about 80 of them, because they found many that hadn’t been inspected and many corrections in JAEA’s inspection records.
The Monju project has been regarded as central to achieving the government’s long-sought nuclear fuel cycle, which aims to reprocess spent fuel and reuse the extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel.
But the reactor has remained largely offline since first achieving criticality in 1994 due to a series of problems, casting doubt on the project’s viability.