The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 23, 2011)
Monju reactor program not appropriate for budget screening
「もんじゅ」 政策仕分けにはなじまない(11月22日付・読売社説)

The Government Revitalization Unit has proposed a drastic review of the Monju program, which aims to develop a next-generation nuclear reactor. The review will include whether the program should be scrapped.

During the unit's policy review session that started Sunday, all seven members of the screening committee, which includes Diet members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, criticized the program. "More than 1 trillion yen has been injected so far, but the program has borne no fruit," one screener said.

However, discussions lasted only for several hours and focused on how to use the program budget efficiently. There was almost no review of technical issues or verification of the program's merits and demerits from the viewpoint of long-term energy policy.

We cannot help but call the budget screening session a mere political performance that took advantage of the general atmosphere of "opposition to nuclear power generation" caused by the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.


Maintenance takes 20 bil. yen a year

The Monju prototype fast breeder reactor has been mostly suspended since operations began in 1994, due to a series of problems including a sodium leak in 1995.

Just maintaining the reactor costs about 20 billion yen a year.

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, an independent administrative institution, is responsible for research and development on the Monju project. Budget screeners raised such questions as, "Wasn't there laxity because you're a public research organization?" or "Was there no waste of money?" We think the screeners had sufficient reason to ask such questions.

However, Japan has been promoting the study of fast breeder reactors in an attempt to more effectively use uranium.

Fast breeder reactors can convert a type of uranium that cannot be burned in conventional nuclear reactors into plutonium that can be used as fuel.

The program has its eye on the future of Japan, which is a resource-thirsty country.

Countries such as China and India have also been developing such reactors, and China began experimental power generation this summer.

European countries and the United States are giving much attention to whether the stable operation of Monju in Japan, as an international R&D base for fast breeder reactors, is possible.

It is indeed problematic if the screeners do not take into account these circumstances and international trends.

Organizations such as the government's Energy and Environment Council and the Atomic Energy Commission have been reviewing nuclear power policy, and are scheduled to reach a final conclusion next summer.

The fate of the Monju program will have to be decided at that time.


Optimum energy mix needed

Nuclear power generation needs to be discussed from a long-term point of view, and the best combination of energy sources for the country must be chosen.

However, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano said during the budget screening session that if all the research funding for nuclear power plants was put into studying renewable energy sources, the nation's power needs could be satisfied.

This is not an easy task when we consider current technology levels.

Edano is downright irresponsible.

The ongoing budget screening has been dubbed a "policy proposing type screening." I

n addition to the Monju program, the session also discussed an R&D program on nuclear fusion among other nuclear programs.

However, as in the Monju case, the budget screening members were obsessed with the efficient use of money.

The nation's important policy measures must be decided through discussions from various angles.

In that sense, the budget screening has its limitations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 22, 2011)
(2011年11月22日01時16分  読売新聞)