From my book, Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk:
By global standards, Japan has a relatively extensive nuclear complex. It has a vast network of commercial nuclear power plants and it has uranium reprocessing capabilities at Tokai. It has two established breeder reactors, Joyo reactor, which began operation in 1977, and the Monju reactor, with troubled beginnings in 1994.
As of early 2012, Japan calculated that it had invested $12 billion in its experimental ‘Monju’ sodium-cooled, fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture.[i] Designed to operate on plutonium from reprocessed, spent reactor fuel, Monju has been beset with problems since its construction began in 1986.
The reactor began operation in 1994, but was soon shut down because of a major fire caused by a sodium leak in 1995.[ii] The operator attempted to hide the incident by having workers alter their reports and through the creation of a strategically truncated video of the accident.[iii]
Operations resumed in 2010, but another malfunction occurred.
The death knell of the breeder fast-breeder program occurred in a February 23, 2012 review by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, which concluded that technological considerations prevented the program from being a realistic option.[iv] By this time Japan has vast stockpiles of plutonium, stored domestically and abroad.[v]
At the time of the Fukushima disaster, Japan had an inventory of more than 46 tons (8.7 Tons in Japan, approximately 37 tons in Europe) of separated plutonium.[vi] 46 tons of plutonium equals to 41,730 kilograms. Joseph Trento claims Japan’s inventory of plutonium is actually 70 tons.[vii] It was recognized that efforts would need to be made to draw down these plutonium stockpiles. The commission recommended that some of it be recycled into MOX fuel that could be used in adapted boiling water reactors.
LATEST DEVELOPMENT in the Monju Fast-Breeder reactor is below.The NRA has stated that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency is unfit to operate the reactor. Does this mean the NRA is pushing to have the Monju program terminated or is it merely looking for a more effective operator?
Masanobu Higashiyama Nuclear regulator: Agency 'unfit' to operate Monju fast-breeder reactor, The Asahi Shimbun, November 3, 2015, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/sci_tech/technology/AJ201511030054Majia here: Interesting development I'll have to watch carefully.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority is set to demand sweeping changes at the operator of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, a money-guzzling, problem-plagued project considered vital in the government’s program to recycle spent nuclear fuel. The NRA is expected to come down hard on the government-affiliated Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which manages and operates the reactor in Fukui Prefecture, at a regular meeting on Nov. 4....
“Our assessment is that the agency is unfit to manage and operate the Monju,” Shunichi Tanaka, the NRA chairman, said at an emergency meeting on Nov. 2. “The agency cannot solve its problems on its own, and we will make our own judgment.”
[i] J. Daly (27 February 2012) ‘Another Fukushima Causality: Japan’s Fast-Breeder Reactor Program’, Oil Price.Com, http://oilprice.com/alternative-energy/nuclear-power/another-fukushima-casualty-japans-fast-breeder-reactor-program.html, date accessed 8 June 2012.
[ii] T. Suzuki (February 2010) ‘Japan’s Plutonium Breeder Reactor and its Fuel Cycle’ in T. Cochran, H. Feiveson, W. Patterson, G. Pshakin, M. Ramana, M. Schneider, T. Suzuki, and F. von Hippel (eds.) Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status: A Research Report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (pp. 53-61), http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr08.pdf p. 54.
[iii] ‘Monju Costs Far Surpass Usual Nukes: Trouble-Prone Reactor Has Rung Up Far Higher Tab than Initially Planned’ (4 July 2012), Japan Times, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120704f1.html, date accessed 5 July 20 12.
[iv] J. Daly (27 February 2012) ‘Another Fukushima Causality: Japan’s Fast-Breeder Reactor Program’, Oil Price.Com, http://oilprice.com/alternative-energy/nuclear-power/another-fukushima-casualty-japans-fast-breeder-reactor-program.html, date accessed 29 February 2012.
[v] S. Tatsujiro (2010) ‘Japan’s Plutonium Breeder Reactor and its Fuel Cycle’ in T. B. Cochran, H. A. Feiveson., W. Patterson, G. Pshakin, M.V. Ramana, M. Schneider, T. Suzuki, F. von Hippel (eds) Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status: A Research Report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (pp. 53-61), http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr08.pdf.
[vi] Tatsujiro ‘Japan’s Plutonium Breeder Reactor.’
[vii] J. Trento (19 April 2012) ‘US Circumvented Laws to Help Japan Accumulate tons of Plutonium’, National Security News Service, http://www.dcbureau.org/201204097128/national-security-news-service/united-states-circumvented-laws-to-help-japan-accumulate-tons-of-plutonium.html, date accessed 20 April 2012.