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28 March, 2016

MEXT’s Special Committee on Monju Hears from Fukui Governor and Others

A meeting was held on March 23 of a special committee under Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) to address the future of the prototype fast breeder reactor (FBR) Monju, owned and operated by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA). The committee members heard from officials from Fukui Prefecture and Tsuruga City, the political jurisdictions hosting Monju.

Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa called the situation “truly regrettable,” noting that the FBR has not been operated for more than 20 years due to frequent problems after the sodium leakage in 1995. He also pointed out that the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) had issued a recommendation to MEXT—the ministry with authority over JAEA—to replace JAEA, as it was revealed that it repeatedly made insufficient inspections of equipment.

The governor went on to say that Monju was positioned in the national Strategic Energy Plan to become an international research base for studies on waste volume reduction, the mitigation of danger, and other improvements to technologies related to nuclear nonproliferation. He said a state of indecision should not be allowed to continue, urging the government to consider its responsibility seriously.

Meanwhile, Mayor Takanobu Fuchigami of Tsuruga City spoke of the need to preserve JAEA’s accumulated knowledge and to effectively utilize its human resources, building a system for the safe operation of Monju in the future.

Referring to the local community’s history of contributions to ensuring nuclear safety, he said the NRA’s recommendation to MEXT “disregards the siting area,” and that the NRA “has not met its responsibility to explain.”

In response, special committee members asked the municipal and prefectural heads to understand that, by its nature, there are differences between Monju and ordinary nuclear power reactors, and that such differences include how to respond to problems.

The NRA recommendation had asked MEXT to find another main operating body to replace JAEA. At the meeting, MEXT representatives admitted that some valid issues had been pointed out—including management resources and tense relations with JAEA—in a review of how the Ministry had handled problems of insufficient maintenance and management in the past.

Regarding the main operating body for Monju, MEXT indicated that it would have to possess a technological governance system that would enable it to respond independently and promptly.

JAIF President Akio Takahashi, a member of the special committee, expressed doubt that the issue could be resolved through an extension of discussions, as they have until now.

Responding to the press after the meeting, Special Committee Chairman Akito Arima said his hope was to reach a conclusion by the end of May, and that an “ideal system” would eventually emerge.

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