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2015年11月 7日 (土)

もんじゅ勧告へ 核燃サイクル継続へ正念場だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nuclear fuel cycle project faces crucial juncture for its continuation
もんじゅ勧告へ 核燃サイクル継続へ正念場だ

The nuclear fuel cycle project is an important pillar of Japan’s energy policy. For the fuel cycle project to continue, there is an urgent need to rebuild its system.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) decided Wednesday that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), which oversees Monju, the fast breeder reactor, is not capable of operating and managing the reactor.

The NRA has also decided to issue a recommendation to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which supervises the agency, to find an entity to take over operations and management of Monju from the JAEA within six months.

If the ministry fails to find a new entity, the NRA will call on the ministry to drastically reexamine what to do with Monju in the future.

Unlike an ordinary nuclear reactor, Monju is a special reactor that uses sodium as coolant. It will not be easy to find a new entity to take over its operations.

The NRA’s decision to issue the recommendation can be viewed as a way of keeping pressure on the science and technology ministry to take rigorous measures, including the possibility of decommissioning Monju.

Monju achieved criticality for the first time in 1994. Following a sodium leak accident in 1995, however, the reactor has hardly been put into operation.

In November 2012, when the reactor was in preparation for its restart, the NRA conducted an on-site inspection at the facility and found that the agency’s safety checks, including the setting of regular inspection periods, for about 10,000 out of nearly 50,000 pieces of equipment at the plant, were not appropriate. In May 2013, the NRA ordered the agency to suspend the preparatory work for restarting the reactor.

Poor report card

Even after that, the agency was criticized repeatedly for inadequate safety inspections, while engineering staff at the plant dealt with the problems only belatedly.

Undeniably, there is a problem with the agency’s capability in dealing with the issues. It is understandable for the NRA to criticize the agency, saying, “The JAEA had been explaining that things would be improved, but it has been failing to achieve results.”

The responsibility of the science and technology ministry, which failed to improve this situation, is also extremely grave.

In its Strategic Energy Plan approved by the Cabinet in April last year, the government heralded once again the promotion of the nuclear fuel cycle. The government judged that changing the policy of promoting the nuclear fuel cycle would make it difficult for the nation to make effective use of a nuclear power generation in the future.

Meanwhile, the government considers Monju as a nuclear reactor essential to test such capabilities as efficiently reprocessing radioactive waste.

The latest development may create a hole in the Strategic Energy Plan. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference Wednesday, “The science and technology ministry should solve the issue promptly.” But measures to rebuild the system for the nuclear fuel cycle project should be discussed from a broad perspective by the government as a whole.

Many of the engineers who were in active service when Monju was constructed have already retired. The present plight shows the importance of maintaining and passing on technical knowledge. The NRA has also presented a viewpoint that a “deterioration in technical expertise” has made the matter more serious.

Measures to foster human resources engaged in nuclear power also need reinforcing.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 5, 2015)


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