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Survey of newspaper editorials on decommissioning the Monju reactor

By Tsugumasa Uchihata

 

A decision has been made to decommission the Monju fast breeder reactor (in Fukui Prefecture), which was dubbed the “dream reactor” and was supposed to be the key facility for the reprocessing of nuclear fuel. Except for Yomiuri Shimbun, all newspapers agreed that the decision is appropriate and that it came too late. However, they expressed different opinions on nuclear fuel recycling, with Sankei arguing that this is “necessary,” while Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun demanded that the program be scrapped.

 

All newspapers were critical of the fact that over 1 trillion yen has been spent for the Monju project so far but the reactor had barely operated in the more than 20 years of its existence even though it required an annual maintenance cost of 10-20 billion yen.

 

However, the papers differed in their opinions on the future of nuclear fuel reprocessing. The government’s policy is to persist in this project, and it has decided to create a new body for the development of a new fast breeder reactor.

 

Mainichi asserted that continuing with this project will mean continuing to rely on nuclear plants in energy policy. It argued that “one of the lessons from the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is the high risk of relying on nuclear power in earthquake-prone Japan. The country will have to stop doing so sooner or later. The government should put an end to the policy of nuclear fuel reprocessing with the decommissioning of Monju.”

 

Asahi indicated that “nuclear fuel recycling is becoming anachronistic. Japan will have to reconsider this project from scratch.” The power industry has not been clamoring for the development of fast breeder reactors because fuel processing is labor-intensive, establishing the technology for using sodium is required, and the cost is high. On the other hand, demand for uranium as fuel for conventional nuclear reactors is low and prices have gone down. Asahi was critical of the development of new fast breeder reactors, “which may end up like Monju.”

 

In contrast, Sankei predicted that “even though uranium prices are stable right now and oil prices are also low, it is premature to conclude that this situation will continue in the future. It would be wise to realize long-term usage of uranium through nuclear fuel reprocessing.” It proposed building an experimental reactor more advanced than Monju, claiming that “there have been epoch-making advances in the development of materials and simulation technology since the 1980s, when Monju was built. We look forward to the development of a new Monju that will demonstrate the true value of fast breeder reactors.”

 

Yomiuri, which like Sankei supports nuclear fuel recycling, called for caution in making the decision to decommission Monju, stating that the condition should be ensuring the continuation of nuclear fuel reprocessing. It warned that “any further delay in the development of fast breeder reactors might mean the regression of the overall nuclear fuel reprocessing project.”

 

Nikkei took the position that “the review of the Monju project will be a major turning point in Japan’s nuclear energy policy. Now is the time to take a second look at the importance and feasibility of nuclear fuel recycling, its cost, and other issues.”

 

A formal decision on decommissioning Monju will be made before the end of 2016. At this point, one can hardly say that the opinion of the local community which had provided all possible support to the project to build the “dream reactor” has been fully taken into consideration. The government will have to spend time consulting with Fukui Prefecture and the relevant municipal governments from now on. (Slightly abridged)

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