(Sankei: November 6, 2015 – p. 2)
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has decided to submit a recommendation concerning Monju, the fast breeder reactor (FBR) in Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture to the national government.
The recommendation is harsh, calling for the government to identify a new operator for Monju. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has been unable to fulfill basic maintenance requirements, as is evident from its failure to inspect components, and the pathetic outcome is that the JAEA has been deemed unfit to operate the FBR.
Monju has essentially been shut down for the past 20 years following a sodium leak found in December 1995 soon after the FBR had started to generate power. The annual maintenance costs for the reactor amount to between 10 and 20 billion yen, and roughly 1 trillion yen has been spent on the Monju project, including construction.
How have we come to this point where the decommissioning of Monju is being considered even though the FBR has not produced results? The key reason lies in its irresponsible operating structure. This is often found in organizations that depend heavily on the national government.
That mismanagement has led to the “lost 20 years and 1 trillion yen.” Going back to the era of the now-defunct Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC), the relevant government agencies, including the old Science and Technology Agency and today’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, needed to conduct strict inspections of the PNC’s organization and management. This is the duty and obligation of the national government to the taxpaying public.
MEXT will soon receive the recommendation from the NRA and will have to search for an entity to replace the JAEA as operator of Monju. But who will accept such a task? There are concerns that Monju has become too old to use. Even if more money and time were invested in the FBR, outstanding results cannot be expected.
We suggest that the government reconsider the personnel and organizational structure of Monju and then close the chapter of this prototype FBR and move on to the next stage of a demonstration FBR, which harnesses the latest technology and materials. If constructing a demonstration FBR in Japan looks difficult, there is also the option of joining hands with France, which is pursuing the same path.
Japan lacks energy resources, and the nuclear fuel cycle project, which is built around FBRs, is required for the effective use of uranium. The cabinet included the promotion of the project in its April 2014 Basic Energy Plan.
The nuclear fuel cycle project is closely related to the Japan-U.S. Agreement for Cooperation concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy and cannot be disregarded for Japan’s energy security either.
The NRA has criticized the JAEA for mishandling Monju safety issues, but as an administrative body of the national government, the NRA should realize that this matter could impact international relations as well. We are forced to face the fundamental question of what entity can manage atomic policy.