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Monju fast-breeder reactor operator insiders say project is a failure: survey

Employees of the operator of the troubled Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, which the government may decommission, say that the reactor is a failure or criticize the project in other ways, according to a labor union survey.

A survey conducted by one of the labor unions representing workers at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), the results of which the Mainichi Shimbun has obtained, shows that over half of the respondents said the government should consider decommissioning the trouble-plagued reactor.

The JAEA was founded in 2005 through a merger between the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC) and the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. (PNC). There are two labor unions within the JAEA -- the Japan Atomic Energy Labor Union (JAELU) comprised mainly of those who worked at PNC and Genken Roso mainly representing those employed by JNC.

Genken Roso conducted the latest survey on all 234 members between December last year and January this year after the Nuclear Regulation Authority advised the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology last November to consider replacing JAEA with another body as the operator of the Monju reactor. Of its members, 71 responded. The respondents do not include workers at Monju since the union does not have a branch in Tsuruga.

JAEA employs some 3,130 workers across the country, of whom about 380 work at the Tsuruga business headquarters that supervises Monju.

According to the results of the survey obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun, some respondents wrote critical views in the survey's section in which they were asked to freely express their opinions on Monju.

"It's questionable to continue to use a massive amount of money for the reactor," one of them said.

"Monju is a failure. The reactor should be shut down after reviewing the project," another wrote.

"Fast-breeder reactors require extremely difficult technology, and it's difficult to commercialize such a project," a further respondent said.

One other employee insisted that the project should be split from the JAEA.

When asked about the future of Monju, 57.7 percent said the government should consider decommissioning the reactor while only 8.5 percent said the project should be continued under the supervision of the JAEA.

Moreover, 71.8 percent replied that they do not think the JAEA has become an organization that has never betrayed the trust of the public as a result of reforms following revelations in 2012 that the group omitted check-ups on about 10,000 items in the Monju reactor.

An official of the Genken Roso union said, "Since the response rate is low, the outcome doesn't represent the opinions of all members."

However, Fumiya Tanabe, who previously served as a senior researcher at the JAEA, pointed out that the results of the survey shows the true opinions of employees.

"The outcome shows workers' real feelings. They are also probably dissatisfied with the current situation of the organization, in which an annual 20 billion yen in taxpayers' money is injected into the idled Monju while sufficient funds can't be spent on other research projects," said Tanabe.

The JAELU's Tsuruga branch, which has 240 members, has conducted a similar survey but has withheld its results.

Commenting on the outcome of the Genken Roso survey, a JAELU official said, "Employees' enthusiasm to work hard for the future of Japan remains unchanged."

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