(The horror, the horror...)
The troubled fast breeder that has cost a fortune just to maintain (sort of) over the past 30 years is now ready to restart, after the IVTM (In-Vessel Transfer Machine) that had fallen into the reactor in August of 2010 was finally removed in June last year after two failed attempts.
Just like Ooi Nuclear Power Plant (and couple of other plants in the same area), Monju is accessible by land by only one road, which ends at Monju. There are faults running under the plant, as the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency says it will review the faults in and around all the nuclear power plants in Japan.
NISA is on the way out, as the regulation of the nuclear industry will fall on the yet-to-be-created regulatory agency and adjunct commissions of experts and politicians.
Remember also that this reactor uses liquid sodium as coolant, which ignites on contact with air.
From Asahi Shinbun Fukui local version on June 22, 2012:
Monju to be restored next month [July]
Fast breeder "Monju" (in Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture), whose operation has been suspended due to numerous problems, is expected to be fully restored in mid July. Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) showed the restoration work to the press on June 21, demonstrating the equipment, newly installed after the accident [of the IVTM dropped inside the reactor], operated normally.
At Monju, the In-Vessel Transfer Machine that is used to replace nuclear fuel fell inside the reactor in August 2010, and the test operation was halted. The plan was to restart the operation by the end of March this year, but the restoration work has taken longer.
On June 21, as the workers at JAEA and the plant manufacturers looked on, two personnel from the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization (JNES) confirmed the newly replaced IVTM worked. They will confirm the operation of the electro-magnetic brakes attached to the control rods, and the test operation is set to resume in mid July.
Monju's operation has been nothing but "test operation" for nearly 20 years (the reactor achieved criticality in April of 1994), and for the most part it has been idle because of seemingly endless problems. The biggest of all was the leak of liquid sodium coolant that resulted in fire at the plant in December of 1995, but what was at issue was not so much of the fire incident itself. The Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation, who was running the plant at that time, downplayed the accident and hid the information of the accident.
More than anything else, the loss of credibility was what stopped Monju operation until March 2010, when the NISA deemed the reactor was "appropriately safe". The governor of Fukui set about restarting the plant. It reached the criticality in May 2010, only to have the IVTM dropped into the reactor 3 months later.
Here's the Google map of Monju location. Scroll to the northeast direction, you see Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant which has Japan's oldest boiling water reactor and pressurized water reactor. A known active fault runs through the middle of that plant, and Reactor 2 may be sitting right on top of yet another potentially active fault. You also see a landfill over the mountain from Tsuruga Nuke Plant. That's where they are building Reactor 3 and 4. (You have to admire the dare.)
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