The government is making final arrangements to scrap the trouble-prone Monju fast-breeder reactor after determining it will never obtain public support for a restart, government sources said Tuesday.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority urged the education and science ministry, which oversees the reactor, in November to replace the government-backed Japan Atomic Energy Agency with a new entity to improve safety and management of the project.
In response, the ministry informed the Cabinet Secretariat earlier this month of a plan to keep operating the reactor in Fukui Prefecture by spinning off part of the project from the current operator.
However, officials gave up on that plan and opted for its decommissioning after utilities and plant manufacturers showed reluctance to establish a new entity, according to the sources.
Many officials also expressed the belief that resuming ordinary reactors should be given priority.
According to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s 2012 estimate, the cost of scrapping Monju would be around ¥300 billion over 30 years, with the expense higher than for other reactors due to its complex operating system that uses sodium as a coolant.
To restart the reactor, hundreds of billions of yen would also be needed, including a significant sum to meet the latest safety standards and annual maintenance costs of ¥20 billion.
The government has already spent more than ¥1 trillion on the Monju project, as it seeks to recycle nuclear fuel to raise the national energy self-sufficiency rate, which stood at 6 percent in 2012.
If the decommissioning goes ahead, it would require a drastic change in the nuclear fuel cycle policy, in which Monju was to play a key part.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the relevant ministries and bodies are discussing the future of the reactor and that the government hopes to reach a final decision soon.
Meanwhile, the government plans to continue research and development into fast-breeder reactors, with an eye to utilizing the Joyo experimental sodium-cooled fast reactor in Ibaraki Prefecture or launching joint research with France.
A fast-breeder reactor can produce more plutonium than it consumes, and plutonium can be used as fuel for conventional and fast-breeder reactors by mixing it with uranium.
Monju has had a longtime track record of problems, starting with a major fire caused by a sodium leak in 1995. The series of problems have left it suspended much of the time since it first achieved criticality in 1994.