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2015年11月15日 (日)

行革公開検証 もんじゅが焦点だ

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 10
EDITORIAL: Scrap Monju reactor project and use money to develop renewable energies
(社説)行革公開検証 もんじゅが焦点だ

The annual public review of policy programs by the government to identify wasteful spending ends on Nov. 13. For three days, the government’s administrative reform promotion council has been scouring the budgets of ministries and agencies for savings.

The focus of the budget review this year is the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority recently recommended that the operator of the troubled-plagued experimental reactor, the government-affiliated Japan Atomic Energy Agency, should be replaced.

Certain expenditures related to the Monju project, mainly state subsidies, were examined in the public review. But the council should take this opportunity to scrutinize all aspects of the controversial project instead of evaluating only the subsidies. We are keen to see the panel demonstrate that continuing the project doesn’t make sense and the reactor should be decommissioned from the viewpoint of administrative reforms.

It is already clear that the Monju project is a financial folly.

The construction cost, which was originally estimated at 35 billion yen ($285 million) when the project was in an early planning stage in the 1970s, has ballooned to 1 trillion yen. Although the reactor has been offline for more than 20 years due to a series of accidents and scandals, 20 billion yen is still spent annually, or 50 million yen a day, for maintenance.

The maintenance costs of the reactor under the initial budget for the current fiscal year are almost equivalent to the amount (23.8 billion yen) being shelled out to promote renewable energy projects for local power production and consumption.

The outlays for the Monju project are far larger than the spending on a demonstration project to build a transmission network for wind power generation (10.5 billion yen) or the appropriation to support research for the development of geothermal power sources (8 billion yen).

Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan widened the scope of its energy policy to make greater efforts to develop and promote alternative power sources, including renewable energy.

Instead of spending a huge amount of taxpayer money to keep Monju alive, the government should use the cash to build a new, cleaner energy future for this nation.

Japan is facing a serious fiscal crunch. The government is drowning in a sea of debt as its welfare spending is surging amid the rapid aging of the nation’s population.

The government has no choice but to raise taxes while cutting its expenditures on social security, education and other programs.

It cannot afford the luxury of pouring a hefty sum of money into a questionable nuclear reactor with no prospects for practical operation.

The Monju project has survived for so long despite its troubled history because nobody loses money when the reactor is out of operation.

When a reactor operated by an electric utility is shut down because of an accident or a scandal, the company will immediately face a rise in costs that hurts its financial standing.

In contrast, Monju is treated as a research reactor, and the national program gets funded almost automatically.

Both the industry ministry and the science and technology ministry, which are in charge of the nuclear power policy, have a clear interest in supporting the continuation of the Monju project.

If this project is terminated, these ministries will be forced to make a sweeping review of the entire nuclear fuel recycling program and tackle the formidable challenge of disposing of plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel.

This year’s public budget review is led by Taro Kono, the newly appointed minister in charge of administrative reform who has been a champion of the cause.

We urge Kono to make the decision to scrap the Monju project as a step to press ahead with meaningful administrative reforms.

There is definitely no reason for approving annual spending of 20 billion yen as the cost of postponing this decision.


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