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31 May, 2016

MEXT Committee Issues Report on Requirements for Body to Operate FBR Monju

At a meeting on May 27, a report was issued by a special committee under Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) that is considering the status and future of the prototype fast breeder reactor (FBR) Monju, owned and operated by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA).

Inside the reactor building at the FBR Monju

The report, which details requirements for an appropriate operating body for Monju was personally handed by the committee’s chair, Akito Arima, to MEXT Minister Hiroshi Hase at the meeting.

In November 2015, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) had deemed Monju’s history of repeatedly revealed insufficient inspections of equipment to be a serious problem. At that time, it issued a recommendation to the minister of MEXT—which has jurisdiction over JAEA—that the Ministry should find another main body to replace JAEA and operate Monju more safely than the JAEA had.

The committee addressed the matter via interviews with personnel from the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC) and siting municipalities, as well as by visiting the site.

The report notes the requirements for such an operating body for Monju as follows:

  1. The ability to issue and carry out a safety plan based on the characteristics of a reactor at the R&D stage.
  2. A system enabling the site to, autonomously carry out maintenance, management, etc. in the manner of a power plant.
  3. A system to gather and utilize useful information, including that concerning commercial power plants.
  4. The certainty of continuing and advancing the technology developed by JAEA.
  5. Strong governance allowing for the proper reflection of the interests and demands of society on Monju’s operation.

Regarding the reform of the governance system, the report particularly noted the need to establish a management liaison council with external specialists participating, from the viewpoint of properly reflecting the demands of society in the management of the body.

Upon the issuance of the report, President Akio Takahashi of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF), a member of the committee, said that in order for Monju to continue successfully, strong leadership and a “godfather-like presence” were required.

After informing NRA about the report’s issuance, MEXT will begin considering a new main operating body in cooperation with related ministries and agencies, taking into account the positioning of Monju in the national Strategic Energy Plan.

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