French and Japanese nuclear fuel cycle may be affected by failures at Monju

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Monju Fast Breeder Reactor - JAEA

Residents of Fukui Prefecture in Japan have announced that they will file a lawsuit with the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to permanently shutdown the Monju fast breeder reactor.

A breeder reactor generates more fuel than it consumes.  The Monju reactor was not only supposed to process the nuclear waste generated at the operating nuclear reactors, but was also supposed to provide fuel for future reactors.  The facility has never lived up to its lofty expectations.  Japan has spent nearly 10 trillion Yen on the facility, and in return the Monju reactor has been kept offline for most of the past 19 years due to a massive leak, repeated failures, safety problems and organizational issues.

The resident lawsuit claims that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), operator of the Monju facility, is not qualified to handle operating the facility.

In November, the NRA asked the minister of Science to replace the JAEA within the next 6 months.  The regulating agency found that the JAEA should be replaced after it was discovered that the industry organization had been failing to properly address safety issues and was rubber-stamping safety inspections.

The Science Ministry is working to establish the requirements for hiring a new operator for the Monju facility, but the future of the fast breeder reactor program in Japan is very unstable if it is unable to find a new operator before the residents’ lawsuit gains traction.

The lawsuit by the citizens could also impact France’s Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) fast-breeder reactor project.  Japan and France have agreed to work together to research, develop, and promote fast breeder reactors.  France was supposed to use the Monju reactor to test fuel for the ASTRID project, which uses the same concepts – but since the facility is banned from operations and testing with no established date for coming back online and the volatility around whether or not the facility should operate at all and who should operate it continues unabated – France may be forced to scrap its plans to incorporate the Monju facility.

Monju Fast Breeder Reactor Timeline


Construction starts on Monju fast breeder reactor


Monju achieves criticality for the first time

December, 1995

On December 8th, 1995, sodium coolant leaked from the reactor piping at the Monju facility, causing a severe accident.  The operator of the facility released video footage of the leak, that video was later found to have been doctored.

November 24th, 2000

JAEA announces intentions to work towards restarting operations at Monju.

February, 2009

Holes discovered in Monju reactor’s auxiliary building (link)

May 6th, 2010

Monju reactor restarted after being shutdown for 14 years and 5 months following 1995 severe accident

August 26th, 2010

Monju critically damaged after three-ton in-vessel transfer machine, fell on the 60-foot high reactor vessel and got stuck, hindering access to the fuel and requiring nearly a year to extract.

October 13th, 2010

Operators unsuccessfully try to retrieve in-vessel transfer machine from atop reactor vessel.

June 23rd, 2011

In-vessel transfer machine lifted off of reactor vessel.

August, 2011

Shiraki-Nyu active fault discovered under Monju facility. (link)

November, 2012

In 2012, after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the JAEA was found to have failed to inspect over 10,000 pieces of equipment at the plant since July 2010 and falsified their inspection records. JAEA President Atsuyuki Suzuki resigns on May 17th, 2013 after criticism from NRA over falsification of records. (link)

May, 2013

NRA orders JAEA to cease restart operations at Monju and to keep fast breeder reactor shutdown.  NRA Chairman Tanaka says JAEA lacks “basic understanding of safety.”   Many safety issues continued to be discovered at the plant after the shutdown. (link)

June, 2013

It is discovered JAEA skipped inspections of another 2,300 pieces of equipment at Monju. (link)

September, 2013

JAEA report admits to failing to inspect equipment in 14,000 cases. (link)

November, 2013

NRA blames JAEA for unprecedented levels of neglect at Monju, including failing to document ids of visitors to sensitive areas, failing to conduct background checks on visitors, failing to regularly inspect security equipment, and constructing fences around restricted areas that did not meet regulatory standards. (link)

January, 2014

Hackers access computers at Monju facility and steal private data, internal e-mails, training records, and more. (link)

April, 2014

NRA inspectors suspect JAEA of falsifying inspection reports. (link)

March, 2015

NRA discovers JAEA failed to inspect degradation assessments of sodium circulation cooling pipes between November 2007 and March 2015. (link)

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