National

Monju operator will need to meet myriad safety, transparency standards: report

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

The next operator of the troubled Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor will need to meet a range of safety and transparency standards, including appointing outside experts to help manage the project, according to a report submitted to the science minister Friday.

But the report, by a government panel tasked with finding a new operator, stopped short of naming a replacement for the state-backed Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which the Nuclear Regulation Authority said in November is unfit to safely operate the reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which oversees the Monju project, must now find a new operator that will gain approval from the NRA. If it fails, it may have to pull the plug on the decades-long project.

The project costs around ¥20 billion a year in maintenance alone.

In a sign of his support, science minister Hiroshi Hase said Friday the ministry will decide on a potential new operator and report back to the NRA “as soon as possible.”

The ministry is also considering establishing a new company to run the reactor, it has been reported.

The panel report, headed by ex-education minister and former University of Tokyo Dean Akito Arima, recommended that the governance of the operator be beefed up by appointing outside experts to its management team.

The report said the reactor should remain idled until a concrete safety management system is established.

It warned this was the “last chance” for the ministry to consider ways to restart troubled Monju. If the government cannot allay concerns by the NRA and public over its safety, a restart will be difficult.

Monju is the nation’s sole prototype fast-breeder and was designed to produce more plutonium fuel than it consumes to generate electricity. It was once touted as dream reactor to solve Japan’s shortage of natural energy sources, but it has remained idled, except for a brief operational interludes, since it first reached criticality in 1994.

Following a series of safety lapses, the NRA, in its first official request to the science ministry, in November asked it to find a new operator to run the reactor, or fundamentally review the program.

The government has to date spent more than ¥1 trillion in taxpayer money on the project.