Japan is set to start decommissioning its troubled Monju fast-breeder reactor after decades of accidents, cost overruns and scandals. It is the beginning of the end of a controversial project that exposed the shortcomings of the country’s nuclear policy and the government’s failure to fully explain the risks and the costs. In July, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency will begin decommissioning what was hailed as a “dream” reactor that was expected to produce more nuclear fuel than it consumed. The government has so far spent more than 1 trillion yen ($9.44 billion) on the plant, which has barely ever operated. The plan approved by the Nuclear Regulation Authority on March 28 to decommission the reactor, located in central Japan’s Fukui Prefecture, calls for the extraction of spent nuclear fuel to be completed by the end of the fiscal year through March 2023. Full decommissioning is expected to take about 30 years. Total costs to shut down the reactor are currently estimated at 375 billion yen, but that could climb, as the full technical requirements and the selection of the nuclear waste sites are not well understood. Japan does not have the technological ability to manage the decommissioning process on its own, and must enlist the help of France, which has more experience with fast-breeder reactors. Among the technical challenges is handling the plant’s sodium coolant, which is highly reactive and explodes on contact with air. Many of the problems with Japan’s nuclear policy were brought to light by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster caused by the tsunami and earthquake of March 2011. Such problems have included the high costs of plants, the selection of nuclear disposal sites, and the threat of shutdowns due to lawsuits. Japan’s nuclear policy has largely been gridlocked since the disaster. But the Monju project had many problems before the Fukushima catastrophe.
Nikkei Asian Review 6th April 2018 read more »