Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

【#398】Monju Decommissioning Means Fall of Japan

Koji Okamoto / 2016.09.21 (Wed)

September 20, 2016

     The Japanese government is trying to use mass media to decommission the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor. As the Monju generates electricity and stands at the core of the nuclear fuel cycle, it basically should be put under jurisdiction by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry instead of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. A conventional wisdom is that decommissioning of the Monju means giving up on the nuclear fuel cycle. A spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant under construction in Aomori Prefecture will become a disposal facility for onerous radioactive waste and produce useless plutonium. In a bid to maintain the nuclear fuel cycle program for its own interests, METI has developed strategies how to gloss over contradictory proposals and abandon the Monju.

French technology cannot replace Monju
     METI is depending on France’s ASTRID (Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration) Project. METI has failed to tell the government of the fact the French project has almost faltered. METI is planning to win funding for Japan’s cooperation in the ASTRID Project and introduce the ASTRID technology into Japan if the government decides to decommission the Monju.
     However, the ASTRID is a facility for disposing high-level radioactive waste rather than for generating electricity. Its objective and system are completely different from those of the Monju. Furthermore, the ASTRID is vulnerable to earthquakes and cannot replace the Monju that combines proprietary technologies of earthquake-prone Japan.
     France decommissioned the Super Phoenix demonstration fast breeder reactor 20 years ago after operating it little. Instead, it operated the Monju-class Phoenix prototype fast breeder reactor for 30 years and acquired sufficient data. As a nuclear weapon country, France also has ample knowledge and technologies for reprocessing spent nuclear fuels. If funding is given, France can promptly revive its nuclear fuel cycle.
     In contrast, as it is realistically impossible for Japan to possess nuclear weapons, it will be difficult to maintain nuclear fuel cycle technologies if the Monju is decommissioned. A decision to decommission the Monju amounts to Japan’s termination of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Nightmare of dependence on overseas energy sources
     Resources-poor Japan has no choice but to depend on overseas energy sources. The Monju is a mine that produces plutonium fuel while generating electricity. The Monju cost of 2 trillion yen is low as an investment for children 50 years away.
     Japan has promoted the nuclear fuel cycle and pursued the Monju to secure future energy. However, the Abe administration defers unpopular policies. While coaxing relevant business operators and Aomori Prefecture, the administration is carrying the nation in the direction of terminating nuclear energy use. It has made business operators exhausted and has exploited the amateurish Nuclear Regulation Authority to deteriorate Japanese nuclear technologies. Decommissioning of the Monju is the extension of such policy. In a domino phenomenon, light water reactors and the nuclear fuel cycle will disappear in the near future.
     Ukraine, which has experienced the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident, is still a big nuclear power generator covering half its electricity supply with nuclear energy. However, it depends on Russian natural gas for the remaining half. Ukraine faces national security risks due to its failure to achieve energy self-sufficiency. Japan having little domestically produced energy may follow the same fate as Ukraine by depending heavily on China and Russia for energy supply.

Koji Okamoto is Professor and Head of Department, the Nuclear Professional School, the University of Tokyo.