Reopening hope for fast breeder

29 June 2001

The governor of the Fukui prefecture and the mayor of Tsuruga City agreed to approve safety clearances for Monju, Japan’s prototype fast breeder reactor. This will enable the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC) to proceed with modifications which are designed to protect against a repeat of the 1995 accident, when an estimated three tonnes of liquid sodium leaked from its cooling reactor. JNC had applied to the local governments last December for permission to carry out these modifications.

Although the safety clearances do not in themselves constitute approval to restart the reactor, they are an essential first step and suggest that local oppostition to the project may be diminishing. The safety checks are expected to take about a year. After the checks, JNC will need the approval of the local authorities again, this time in order to begin actual construction work, which is itself expected to take about 17 months.

The accident, followed by the revelation that plant officials had tried to keep a videotape of the accident scene secret, eroded public confidence in the nuclear industry.

Last month the country’s nuclear industry suffered yet another setback when citizens of the tiny farming village of Kariwa narrowly voted against loading MOX at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa (see NEI June 2001, p6). Although the referendum was not legally binding, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) has agreed to postpone loading for another year.

The 28 fuel assemblies, manufactured by Belgonucleaire, were delivered to the plant at the end of March. Tepco had been planning to use the current maintenance outage at unit 3 to load the fuel. The next inspection outage is not due until summer 2002.

A total of 1925 (53.4%) voted against using the fuel, while 1533 were in favour and a further 131 with reservations. Voter turnout was 88.1%. The residents of Kashiwazaki City, which has a larger population than Kariwa village, were not consulted.

Following a meeting with the mayors of Kariwa and Kashiwazaki City, the govenor of the Niigata prefecture, Ikuo Hirayama, asked Tepco president Nobuya Minami to postpone using MOX. Hirayama said the result of the referendum showed that the project had not won the understanding of the Kariwa villagers. However, the mayors have agreed they will not change their support for the project.

Mr Minami emphasised that he is not abandoning the project and said his company and the government will make further efforts to gain public acceptance for MOX. Mr Minami said that the referendum result was a consequence of a lack of “heart-felt” understanding between Tepco and the people of the village. Tepco will set up a group to run the public relations campaign for its so-called “pluthermal” plan to use MOX in LWRs.

Japan had been due to start using MOX in 1999, but was forced to delay its plan after the controversy over BNFL’s falsification of data on MOX fuel shipments to Kansai Electric Power.

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