The failed fast breeder reactor, Monju, Japan

In Sept. 2016 the government finally decided to cut its losses on the plutonium fueled fast-breeder reactor in Monju, Fukui Prefecture, pulling the plug on the project after years of mishaps, cover-ups and waste. Decommisioning becomes a new business.


Description

Monju (in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture) was seen as a pillar of Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling program because it is designed to burn plutonium retrieved from huge stockpiles of spent fuel produced at nuclear power plants. Moreover, fast-breeder reactors are supposed to produce more plutonium than they burn while generating power. But Monju has operated on only 250 days over more than two decades because of many accidents, including a sodium coolant leak at the reactor in December 1995. The sodium coolant used in fast-breeder reactors is highly flammable and  very difficult to handle. So far, no country has developed a fast-breeder reactor for commercial purposes.

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Basic Data
NameThe failed fast breeder reactor, Monju, Japan
CountryJapan
ProvinceFukui Prefecture
SiteTsuruga
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Nuclear
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Nuclear power plants
Specific CommoditiesPlutonium
Uranium
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsTsuruga already hosted two conventional reactors and in 1983 preparations began for the construction of a new fast-breeder reactor called Monju.

Monju functioned for less than a year since its completion in 1994. The fast-breeder reactor — a cornerstone of Japan’s atomic energy strategy dating back to the 1950s — would use spent nuclear fuel from other atomic plants and is designed to produce more fuel that it consumes. The reactor, named after the Buddhist deity of wisdom, has barely operated since it first generated electricity in 1995, the year it suffered a sodium leak that led to a fire and subsequent attempted cover-up. Safety problems have continued to plague the facility ever since.

“The potential closure of Monju would be a major blow not just to the fast-breeder community in Japan, but also those supporting reprocessing of spent fuel,” M.V. Ramana, a professor at Princeton University’s Nuclear Futures Laboratory, said by email. [2]

Decommissioning will be big business, Monju means abandoning a project that has devoured more than 1 trillion yen ($9.82 billion) of government funds. According to other sources [3] the government has already spent 1.2 trillion yen (US$12bn) on Monju. The government calculated that it would cost another 600 billion yen (US$6bn) to restart Monju and keep it operating for another 10 years. Decommissioning has a hefty price-tag. According to a 2012 estimate by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, decommissioning Monju will cost an estimated 300 billion yen (US$3bn).
Project Area (in hectares)100
Level of Investment (in USD)13,000,000,000 USD
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Start Date1994
Company Names or State EnterprisesJapan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC), owner of Monju from Japan
Relevant government actorsJAPA, Japan Atomic Energy Agency

Government of Japan

Nuclear Regulation Authority
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters- Masaichi Miyashita, heads the secretariat of an anti-nuclear group in Fukui Prefecture (2016)

- "Stop Monju" and Citizens Nuclear Information Center, in 2001 campaigning for a million petition signatures for the scrapping of Monju FBR.

- 2010: December 8 is “Phase Out Nuclear Energy Day” in Japan. The “Phase Out Nuclear Energy Day” campaign, which now includes a wide range of people, is supporting campaigns around country December 8 is the anniversary of Monju's sodium leak and fire in 1995.

- Wise International.

- Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, Japan.

- Abbot of Myotsu-ji, a Shingon Omuro temple in Wakasa Bay in Fukui Prefecture
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFishermen
International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
“Japan has about 48 tons of plutonium stockpiled domestically and in Europe, and we need to be careful. The plutonium could be converted into nuclear weapons, and we need to make sure it’s not used for this purpose,” said Tetsuen Nakajima, abbot of Myotsu-ji, a Shingon Omuro temple in Wakasa Bay in Fukui Prefecture, and a long-time anti-nuclear activist.[4]
Forms of MobilizationLawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Fires
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Outcome
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Court decision (undecided)
Project cancelled
Development of AlternativesAnti-nuclear rally calls for more than just a Monju shutdown http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201609230047.html By RYUJI KUDO/ September 23, 2016. Thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators gathered in Tokyo on Sept. 22, 2016 to demand the government go beyond decommissioning the troubled Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor and abandon its plans to restart other nuclear power plants. “We definitely don’t need the money-sucking and dangerous Monju,” said Hisae Sawachi, a writer and a member of the organizing committee of the demonstration, which took place under the banner “No nukes, No war.” “Why don’t government officials have the courage to close down all the other nuclear power plants?”

The rally, at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, followed the government’s decision this week to unplug the reactor, which has hardly generated any electricity despite the more than 1 trillion yen ($9.9 billion) spent on it over two decades.

Masaichi Miyashita, who heads the secretariat of an anti-nuclear group in Fukui Prefecture, told the rally that officials in Tsuruga in the prefecture, where the reactor is situated, are opposed to the government decision to decommission the reactor and want to keep it.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Over two decades of technological failures. It was not the social opposition to nuclear power which won the day but rather the government that realized that Monju did not work, and that 10 billion dollars had already been uselessly spent.
Sources and Materials
References

Restarting Monju - Like Playing Russian Roulette. 2009. CNIC

Citizens' Nuclear Information Center. Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0065.
[click to view]

Links

[2] Japan’s Monju reactor a costly hot potato no one wants to handle, by Emi Urabe and Stephen Stapczynski
[click to view]

[1] Japan to scrap troubled ¥1 trillion Monju fast-breeder reactor BY REIJI YOSHIDA. SEP 21, 2016
[click to view]

[4] Nuclear cash cow Monju now a liability for residents as plant faces ax,

by Eric Johnston
[click to view]

(5)JAPAN'S SUPREME COURT SNUBS CITIZENS OVER MONJU. Nuclear Monitor Issue: #629. 10/06/2005. Attempts by Japanese citizens' to seek protection from the legal system were struck a cruel blow today when the Supreme Court overturned an earlier Nagoya High Court verdict, which had invalidated the license approval for the Monju fast breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.
[click to view]

(6) Fukui poised to benefit from decision to scrap Monju, by Eric Johnston
[click to view]

Media Links

[3] 5 October 2016, Dr Jim Green (Renew Economy), national anti-nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter published by the World Information Service on Energy.
[click to view]

Rokassho. DECEMBER 8: NUCLEAR PHASE OUT DAY. Nuclear Monitor Issue: #721. 16/12/2010. Kazuhide Fukada
[click to view]

Japan: Protest against planned reopening of Monju. Nuclear Monitor Issue: #560. 21/12/2001. About 750 people took part in a rally on 8 December to commemorate the 1995 accident at Monju, Japan's prototype fast breeder reactor (FBR), at Tsuruga City, Fukiui Prefecture. The demonstrators further expressed their opposition to the planned restarting of Monju.
[click to view]

Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (information on nuclear issues in Japan, including Monju).
[click to view]

Other Documents

[click to view]

Other CommentsKeiji Kobayashi, a former nuclear physics instructor and fast-breeder expert at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, is a longtime opponent of Monju. He says Japan might not be done entirely with fast-breeder reactors. “There are unanswered questions about what will happen to not only Monju but the fast-breeder reactor program in general.” [4].
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ContributorJMA
Last update15/11/2016
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