Technology & Science

Japan official calls for scrapping of troubled Monju reactor

The head of the Japanese ruling party's policy council said Tuesday that the government should consider scrapping the problem-plagued Monju plutonium-breeder reactor.

Plutonium-breeder reactor has operated only 250 days in the past 22 years

In this aerial photo taken in Jan. 2016, the fast-breeder reactor Monju stands in Tsuruga, Fukui prefecture, on the Sea of Japan coast. (Kyodo News via AP)

The head of the Japanese ruling party's policy council said Tuesday that the government should consider scrapping the problem-plagued Monju plutonium-breeder reactor.

Monju, designed to burn plutonium and produce more of it while generating electricity, was once considered a "dream reactor" for resource-poor Japan. But the 1 trillion yen ($13 billion) reactor has hardly operated since a major accident in 1995, months after it went online. Improving its safety would require billions of more dollars.

"It's time to make a concrete decision, including decommissioning," said Toshimitsu Motegi, the Liberal Democratic Party's policy council chairman.

His comment comes one day before key Cabinet ministers related to the Monju program are set to meet to reach an agreement. The key ministers — including those from the industry, environment, foreign and finance ministries — are reportedly leaning toward scrapping the reactor due to the huge costs to maintain Monju, which is now considered a white elephant.

Monju has operated only 250 days in the past 22 years, and yet it has cost some 20 billion yen ($260 million) just to maintain the facility, said Motegi, who has served as industry and trade minister. Maintaining and upgrading the decades-old reactor to conform with post-Fukushima safety standards would require several hundred billion yen, he added.

Anti-nuclear sentiment has run high among the Japanese public since the March 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima, and there have been growing calls to close down Monju. The reactor also poses a burden on Japan, whose stockpile of plutonium reprocessed elsewhere from spent fuel is already causing international proliferation concerns.

Last November, Japan's nuclear authority urged the science ministry, which oversees Monju, to disqualify its operator over poor safety records or scrap the reactor. A recent ministry report failed to present a drastic reform plan.

There have been discussions on using Monju for other purposes, including experimenting with fuel waste reduction.