FUKUI (Kyodo) -- The science ministry said Friday it has decided to postpone a trial run of the trouble-hit Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture to allay public concern over its safety in the wake of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.
"We will forgo the 40 percent output trial we were planning during the current fiscal year to dispel public concern about the safety of the Monju reactor," Kanji Fujiki, head of the ministry's Research and Development Bureau, told Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa during a meeting about the ministry's budget request for the next fiscal year related to the reactor.
Separately, Fujiki also met with Kazuharu Kawase, mayor of Tsuruga, which hosts the Monju reactor, to convey the same message.
In the meetings, Fujiki said the recent resumption of discussions on reviewing the nation's nuclear policy guidelines, which were suspended following the Fukushima complex disaster, and the start of talks on formulating a new national energy policy lay behind the postponement.
"We need to carry out safety assessments and study measures to deal with severe accidents to improve safety," he said.
Nishikawa requested that the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry take the initiative in discussions within the government, indicating that he wishes to see the country stay on its existing course.
The Monju reactor and related research have been regarded as key to realizing the country's nuclear fuel cycle, in which spent nuclear fuel from power plants would be reprocessed for reuse as plutonium-uranium mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel.
Tsuruga Mayor Kawase, a strong advocate of the Monju project, told Fujiki, "The postponement is quite sad but inevitable. I believe that it will take time to ensure additional safety."
The reactor project, on which the country has so far spent around 900 billion yen, has been hobbled by a series of problems. The reactor first achieved criticality in 1994 but was shut down because of a sodium coolant leakage and resulting fire in 1995.
The reactor resumed operation in May 2010 after being idled for 14 years and five months, but after experiencing trouble in August that year, the launch of full operations was delayed.
(Mainichi Japan) October 1, 2011