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* Decommissioning Monju reactor to cost a further $3.2 bln
* Monju beset with accidents, missteps since construction
By Osamu Tsukimori and Aaron Sheldrick
TOKYO, Dec 21 Japan on Wednesday formally pulled
the plug on an $8.5 billion nuclear power project designed to
realize a long-term aim for energy self-sufficiency after
decades of development that yielded little electricity but
plenty of controversy.
The move to shut the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor in
Fukui prefecture west of Tokyo adds to a list of failed attempts
around the world to make the technology commercially viable and
potentially cut stockpiles of dangerous nuclear waste.
"We do not accept this," Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa told
ministers involved in the decision.
"This abrupt change in policy breeds deep feelings of
distrust for the government," said Nishikawa who strongly backed
the project because of the jobs and revenue it brought to a
prefecture that relies heavily on nuclear installations. He said
decommissioning work for Monju would not start without local
Four conventional commercial nuclear stations lie in close
proximity to Monju, earning Fukui the nickname "nuclear alley."
Those like most other nuclear stations in Japan remain
closed pending safety reviews or decisions on decommissioning
after the Fukushima nuclear crisis of 2011 led to the eventual
shutdown of all reactors in the country.
The Fukushima crisis sparked strong anti-nuclear sentiment
in Japan, making it harder to pursue projects like the Monju
facility which has faced accidents, cover-ups and regulatory
breaches since construction began in 1985.
The plant was built to burn plutonium derived from the waste
of reactors at Japan's conventional nuclear plants and create
more fuel than it used, closing the so-called nuclear fuel cycle
and giving a country that relies on overseas supplies for most
of its energy needs a home-grown electricity source.
With Monju's shutdown, Japan's taxpayers are now left with
an estimated bill of at least 375 billion yen ($3.2 billion) to
decommission its reactor, on top of the 1 trillion yen ($8.5
billion) spent on the project.
Japan is still committed to trying to make the technology
work and will build a new experimental research reactor at
Monju, the government said.
But critics within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
think it will be another futile attempt.
"We need to terminate the impossible dream of the nuclear
fuel cycle. The fast breeder reactor is not going to be
commercially viable. We know it. We all know it," senior LDP
lawmaker Taro Kono said recently at a Reuters Breakingviews
event in Tokyo.
($1 = 117.6100 yen)
(Editing by Manolo Serapio Jr.)