「もんじゅ」 安全意識の抜本改革が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 18, 2013
JAEA must drastically improve its safety awareness on Monju
「もんじゅ」 安全意識の抜本改革が必要だ(5月17日付・読売社説)

The de facto “operation ban” to be ordered for the prototype fast-breeder reactor is extremely serious.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has decided to order the Japan Atomic Energy Agency to suspend preparations for resuming operations at its trouble-plagued prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju in Fukui Prefecture. The decision was made because of slipshod inspections of the reactor.

The JAEA, which operates Monju, reported to the Secretariat of the NRA in January this year that the agency had failed to check about 10,000 parts of the reactor during its inspections. Furthermore, the secretariat’s on-site inspection later found the agency had even failed to check important equipment such as an emergency power device.

Inspections of equipment are fundamental to ensuring safety. The JAEA, which is the core organization for nuclear research in this country, seems to have adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward the basics.

It is inevitable for the agency to come under severe criticism.

Monju is a key reactor for development of a nuclear fuel cycle to effectively utilize uranium resources.

The reactor, however, was suspended for more than 10 years due to a sodium coolant leak in 1995 shortly after a test operation. Operations were resumed in 2010, but were suspended once more after a nuclear fuel in-vessel transfer machine fell. Many people are expressing doubts about the cost of the reactor as a budget of nearly 1 trillion yen has been spent on it so far.

The agency must handle the reactor in a way that does not cause the public to further lose trust in it.

Unbelievable remark

Despite the situation, JAEA President Atsuyuki Suzuki reportedly said during the NRA Secretariat’s hearings, “It is inevitable for mistakes to be made while we carry out formalities.”

This is an unbelievable statement as it comes from an expert who once served as chairman of the now-defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. He seems to have little sense of responsibility in ensuring the safety of nuclear power.

Were there no problems in the frequency and methods of the inspections? The activities of the agency should be thoroughly examined to clarify where the problems lie. It is also important to verify whether adequate funds were appropriately secured to ensure optimal allocation of staff, as well as for the inspections.

With the idling of Monju, criticism has been raised over the research and development of nuclear power and the nuclear fuel cycle. Under the circumstances, measures must be put in place to keep up the morale of the Monju and related staff.

Nuclear fuel cycle

Asked about the nuclear fuel cycle at a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee on Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “Japan possesses a high level of nuclear fuel cycle technology. Japan will cooperate with other countries to continue to promote the cycle.”

This is a reasonable view if we consider it from the standpoint of the energy security of Japan, a resource-thirsty country.

Abe also pointed out, “Each country has been struggling with how to handle spent nuclear fuel.” A fast-breeder reactor can efficiently burn radioactive substances in spent nuclear fuel. This specific reactor should be positioned as the main pillar of the nuclear fuel cycle.

The NRA reportedly will not lift its suspension order until the JAEA confirms it has undergone organizational reforms. To avoid the operation ban being prolonged, the NRA must give the JAEA concrete instructions on what reforms it should carry out to ensure Monju’s operations resume in the near future.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 17, 2013)
(2013年5月17日01時16分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2013-05-19 08:06 | 英字新聞

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