The government announced the draft outline of its fast-breeder reactor development policies at the meeting of the Council on Fast-Breeder Reactor Development on Nov. 30. According to the draft outline, a demonstration fast-breeder reactor will be constructed in Japan to replace the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, which is likely to be decommissioned. A 10-year road map for the development of the reactor will be compiled in 2018. Without taking into account the lessons learned from Monju, which has cost about 1 trillion yen and has been inoperative for most of its 20-year history, discussions are moving forward based on the preconceived notion that a fast-breeder reactor should be developed.
The Council is chaired by Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko, and its members include Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hirokazu Matsuno and representatives of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), the Federation of Electric Power Companies, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The level of technological knowledge that would be gained from Monju if it were restarted “can be obtained through other means,” says the draft outline. The Council thus decided that decommissioning Monju would not have an impact on the construction of a demonstration reactor as technological findings gained to date can be applied. According to the draft outline, the government will radically review Monju with an eye toward decommissioning.
There are four stages of fast-breeder reactors: experimental reactors, prototype reactors, demonstration reactors, and commercial reactors. Commercial reactors, the most advanced type, can be put to practical use. Japan will apparently move forward with building a demonstration reactor even though there are still issues that should have been resolved using Monju, such as confirming safety and finalizing power generation technology.
The government has been saying that even if Monju were decommissioned, Japan would continue its development of fast-breeder reactors by cooperating with France’s ASTRID, which is scheduled to go online around the year 2030. The Council, however, decided to develop a demonstration reactor in Japan in light of criticism that it is risky to depend solely on an overseas project for facilities critical to the nuclear fuel cycle program, which is the core of Japan’s energy policy.
It has not yet been decided when or where the demonstration reactor will be built. From the beginning of next year, a working-level task force will be established to draw up a road map. The draft outline designated ASTRID as a supplementary facility and said that domestic facilities would also be used, including the JAEA’s experimental fast-breeder reactor Joyo and Advanced Technology Experiment Sodium (Na) Facility (AtheNa), which are both in Ibaraki Prefecture.