Japan is to establish a committee on fast reactor development that will aim to finalise a policy by the end of the year and carry out “a fundamental review” of the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor programme, according to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (Jaif). The committee will include government ministries, power utilities, reactor vendors and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), which operates Monju. Jaif said issues surrounding fast reactor development that need to be resolved include setting a target for completing a demonstration fast reactor, gathering information on Monju, and how best to use the experimental fast reactor Joyo, also operated by JAEA.

Reports in Japan last week said the government has decided to decommission Monju, which reached criticality for the first time in 1994, but has mostly been offline since 1995. It has already cost Japan JPY1,000bn ($9.8bn). Monju is designed to use mixed fuel rods of uranium and plutonium, and to produce more fuel than it consumes and was seen as the key facility supporting the government’s policy for nuclear fuel recycling. However, Japan signalled on 28 September that it would scrap the facility, believing it would be difficult to gain public support to invest more to upgrade it. Monju has been plagued by accidents, missteps and scandals involving falsification of documents. Its maintenance currently costs some JPY20bn a year.

Science Minister Hirokazu Matsuno, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko and others favour a policy shift away from developing Monju, the government said. However, they had also agreed to keep the nuclear fuel cycle intact, including reprocessing of used fuel. A formal decision to decommission Monju is likely to by the end of the year, government officials said.

The decision would have no impact on Japan's nuclear recycling policy as Tokyo would continue to co-develop a fast-breeder demonstration reactor that has been proposed in France, while research will continue at another experimental fast-breeder reactor, Joyo, which was a predecessor of Monju.

"The move will not have an impact on nuclear fuel balance or nuclear fuel cycle technology development or Japan's international cooperation," Tomoko Murakami, nuclear energy manager at the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, said.

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has approved the creation of an organisation to oversee and govern used fuel reprocessing, jaif said on 26 September. The Spent Fuel Reprocessing Organisation will be based in Aomori City in northern Japan, and one of its first tasks will be to decide how much nuclear utilities should contribute towards the cost of reprocessing. Reprocessing will continue to be the responsibility of Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.