TOKYO – Japan began on Thursday to remove nuclear fuel from the Monju fast-breeder reactor in the Fukui Prefecture, operator Japan Atomic Energy Agency said on Thursday.
This is the first key step in the plant’s decommissioning process that would be carried out in four stages and is expected to take around three decades to complete.
In the first stage JAEA workers would move 530 nuclear fuel assemblies – currently stored in the liquid sodium-filled nuclear reactor and storage tank – to a separate storage pool by the year 2022, JAEA said in a statement.
The once-promising plant had been plagued with problems and accidents since it started operating in 1995 and has not been operational since 2010.
A team of over 500 workers would be able to move around 100 rods – which is 19 percent of the 530 rods located inside and outside the reactor – by the end of the year, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Japan had hoped the fourth generation sodium-cooled fast-breeder reactor, which produces more plutonium that it consumes, would be a potential solution to a growing energy crisis in the country.
In 2016, the JAEA had agreed to dismantle the reactor due to the high cost of its maintenance.
Nuclear safety has been a particularly sensitive issue in Japan since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, the worst since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine in 1986.