National

As Monju decommissioning nears reality, Fukui politicians lash out

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

News that the central government is finalizing plans to decommission the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture has sparked anger and fear among local politicians about what will happen to their economy, and could make Fukui’s cooperation in restarting other reactors more complicated.

In Tsuruga, where Monju is located, Mayor Takanobu Fuchikami said last week that decommissioning would hugely impact the local economy. Tsuruga receives government subsidies for hosting the plant and has a service industry that derives much of its income from officials, engineers, and others who visit the facility.

“If a decision is made to decommission, without taking in the long-term view and without ever having shown results, then we have to ask what all of the cooperation the city has given in the past to the Monju program was all about,” Fuchikami said.

On Wednesday, Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa added his voice, telling the prefectural assembly that Tokyo needed to think seriously about the future of the entire nuclear fuel recycling program, including Monju.

“For a long time, Fukui has assumed the responsibility of the national government’s Monju program. So the central government has an obligation to address the problem,” Nishikawa said.

Other Fukui politicians were more direct. Liberal Democratic Party prefectural assembly member Hiromichi Tanaka said the central government’s failure to decide on a new management structure for Monju raised questions about how serious they were about making it work.

Kazuhiko Sasaoka, another prefectural LDP member, said Tokyo’s handling of Monju was an insult to the prefecture and extremely irresponsible in terms of the nuclear fuel recycle policy.

An angry Fukui could cause problems for the central government and Kansai Electric Power Co., which operates commercial nuclear reactors in the prefecture and wants to restart the Takahama No. 1 and 2 reactors, which are over 40 years old.

Last month, asked about a July survey by the Fukui Shimbun that showed more than 50 percent of Fukui residents opposed restarting the Takahama No. 1 and 2 reactors, Nishikawa said the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s explanation of whether operating the old reactors would be safe is still insufficient.

“The central government says restarting reactors more than 40 years old is necessary to meet its long-term energy plan, which calls for nuclear power to make up 20 to 22 percent of the overall energy mix,” Nishikawa said.

“But it’s not just a matter of writing these figures in a plan. Why is it necessary for restarting older reactors to meet that plan, and what will happen to local governments (that host the reactors)? Those are the starting points for discussion.”

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which manages Monju, estimates decommissioning will cost more than ¥300 billion and take 30 years to complete. Currently, it costs about ¥20 billion a year to maintain the idled plant.

Additional costs, which are unknown, include the cost of shipping Monju’s spent fuel and radioactive waste to a mid-term storage facility. No such facility exists and there are no plans to build one anytime soon.

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