Japan’s $12B Monju Fast Breeder Reactor Program On Hold After 2 Decades of Dev’t

Almost a year after the Fukushima nuclear facility incident that left thousands of lives lost, Japan’s dreams of being able to unceasingly recycle nuclear fuel has met a big roadblock, amid expert opinion that using a once-through cycle for nuclear fuels is the most viable option at this point. With this, more than two decades of work and US$ 12 billion in investment seem to be going down the drain.

An aerial view of Japan's Monju prototype fast breeder nuclear reactor at Tsuruga, central Japan, in this file photo. The Japan Atomic Energy Commission is moving to mothball the facility and keep the technology on hold for the next 20-30 years due to technological considerations. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

Japan’s Monju fast breeder reactor was supposed to be a “dream reactor,” says the program’s director-general Satoru Kondo. It was supposed to be able to power Japan for 100 to 200 years. However, the dream has taken decades to pursue, and even with the reactor going “critical” in 1994, it has only generated elecrticity for one hour.

The experimental facility in Fukui Prefecture started construction in 1986, and is intended to reprocess spent nuclear reactor fuel to produce plutonium, which can be subsequently recycled to generate electricity for the country’s 54 nuclear reactors. However, a February 23 report by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission in review of the country’s fuel cycle production policy has deemed that a fast-breeder reactor program is not the most viable option due to technological constraints, at least in the next two to three decades, according to Oilprice.

The Japan Atomic Energy Commission subcommittee commented in a draft document summarizing its discussions that the country’s best option during the next 20-30 years instead of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel would be instead to recycle plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) reactor fuel. The subcommittee recommended that spent nuclear fuel be treated in the “once-through” cycle, where after it is burned in a nuclear reactor the spent fuel is buried after being used in nuclear reactors just one time rather than recycled.

As such, US$ 12 billion invested in the past 20 years remains to be an unfulfilled dream. Japan will have to continue importing costly uranium fuel. Japan’s nuclear power industry is “back to square one” in its quest for limitless energy — at least in the next couple of decades.