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Monju reactor faces long-term suspension over lax safety system via The Asahi Shimbun

Japan’s nuclear watchdog will indefinitely suspend the use of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor over the operator’s disregard for safety that continued even after the Fukushima nuclear crisis raised concerns across the nation.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s order will deal a further blow to Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling program, which has long been plagued by technical problems and scandals.

In the latest case, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, operator of Monju, was found to have skipped inspections of nearly 10,000 pieces of equipment since 2010, including crucial devices in the safety and emergency systems at the plant, based in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.

The company also violated its own safety regulations, according to the NRA.

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The Monju, which can produce more nuclear fuel than it consumes, is a core component of Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling program along with a spent fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.

The program involves extracting plutonium from spent nuclear fuel and recycling it as fuel. Japan has spent nearly 1 trillion yen ($10 billion) on the Monju program, but problems continue to pile up.

The Monju reactor started a trial run in 1995, but it was soon halted due to sodium leakage. It resumed operations in May 2010, only to be taken offline three months later after a fuel exchanger fell into the reactor.

In September 1997, the government imposed a one-year suspension on Monju’s operations over a falsified report on the sodium leakage.

The NRA’s order will be different from the 1997 suspension order.

The latest order means that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency cannot even make preparations for a restart, such as checking the exchange of fuel, functions of control rods and airtightness of the containment vessel.

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