Screeners demand review of Monju fast breeder reactor

November 21, 2011

Experts tasked with screening government programs have called for a drastic review of the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor, which remains suspended despite more than 1 trillion yen ($13 billion) spent.

"The government is pouring money on top of 1 trillion yen already spent even though it will not be completed in 40 years," Yuichiro Tamaki, a Lower House member of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and one of the reviewers, said. "Can we continue this program?"

The policy examiners on Nov. 20 also called on the government to drop 2.2 billion yen of the 21.5 billion yen the science ministry has requested for Monju-related programs in the fiscal 2012 budget.

Monju came under scrutiny on the first day of the Government Revitalization Unit's four-day policy review. The DPJ has conducted three rounds of similar exercises since it came to power in 2009.

Ruling coalition lawmakers and private-sector experts have been commissioned to screen government programs in 10 categories, from nuclear power to social security.

Conclusions are not binding on the government, which is not required to change policies or reduce budgets.

Still, the decision on Monju is expected to influence discussions at the Energy and Environment Council, which will decide how to review energy policy by next summer, because distrust of nuclear power policy has mounted since the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Policy reviewers proposed that the government drastically review the program, including whether research and development should be continued.

Some said Monju should be decommissioned.

Masaharu Nakagawa, science minister, indicated that the government will not abandon the Monju program.

"We want to narrow down the program, rather than continuing it as is," he told reporters. "An investment of 1 trillion yen could come to naught if we put an end to the program."

Nakagawa also suggested that his ministry may exclude the 2.2 billion yen earmarked for Monju's output test from the fiscal 2012 budget.

Monju, located in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, was long shut down after sodium leaked in 1995. Only months after it was restarted in May 2010, it was suspended again due to an accident.

A fast breeder reactor "breeds" nuclear fuel by producing more plutonium than it consumes.

The government took up nuclear power policy on the first day of the policy review to draw public attention to its efforts to cut spending because it plans to raise taxes for reconstruction from the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and other purposes.

Renho, minister in charge of government revitalization who goes by her first name, said she wants to reflect conclusions of policy reviews on government policies.

(This article was written by Sachiko Miwa and Hisae Sato.)

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The Monju prototype fast breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Monju prototype fast breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • The Monju prototype fast breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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