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Gov't eyes new research reactor in line with decommissioning of Monju

The government is moving ahead with arrangements to construct a new research reactor in Fukui Prefecture, in line with the decommissioning of the trouble-plagued Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, it has been learned.

Officials are considering placing the research reactor in the Fukui Prefecture city of Tsuruga, where the Monju reactor now stands. The Fukui Prefectural Government has asked the national government to convert the surrounding area into a base for nuclear power research. An outline of the project will be presented this month at a meeting of related Cabinet ministers, in which a final decision will also be made on the decommissioning of Monju.

It will be the first time for a research reactor to be established in Japan since the construction of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency's High Temperature Engineering Test Reactor in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture, which first reached criticality in 1998. There are 14 research reactors in Japan overseen by the agency and universities, but there are none in Fukui Prefecture. Only three of the 14 reactors meet new safety standards implemented in the wake of the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. The three reactors are overseen by Kyoto University and Kindai University.

Work to decommission reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant will be stepped up in the future. Meanwhile, other old reactors are being decommissioned, and officials had feared that if reactivation of idled research reactors did not progress, then there would be fewer opportunities for nuclear engineers to train, and hinder the cultivation of personnel.

The government is contemplating setting up a small reactor like the experimental research reactors of universities, and it will consider the primary contractor and other details in the future. Officials intend to push ahead with decommissioning the Monju reactor at the same time as utilizing the work for obtaining knowledge in safety research. In line with the construction of a new research reactor, the government will seek to turn the area into a base for nuclear research and personnel training.

Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa on Nov. 25 made a request to Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hirokazu Matsuno and Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko to provide concrete measures to cultivate human resources in the field of nuclear power.

In a meeting of the industry ministry's Council on Fast Reactor Development on Nov. 30, officials agreed on the construction in Japan of a demonstration reactor -- the step after a prototype reactor like Monju -- by utilizing collaborative research relating to the ASTRID fast demonstration reactor that France is building, and the Joyo fast experimental reactor in Oarai.

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