Shedding Light in the Darkness

When Nuclear Power Fails


Japan has finally agreed to scrap an experimental fast-breeder nuclear reactor that drained government finances for decades.  Government ministers decided to decommission the trouble-plagued “Monju” reactor. It has cost Japan about 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) while operating only 250 days since it started up 22 years ago, due to continuing problems. The reactor was named after the Buddhist deity of wisdom (Manjusri in Tibetan Buddhism).

Once envisioned as playing a key role in Japan’s nuclear fuel-recycling policy, the controversial Monju prototype was designed to produce more plutonium than it consumes while generating electricity.

The government has calculated it will cost at least $3 billion over 30 years to fully decommission the facility. It plans to remove the spent nuclear fuel from the reactor by 2022 and finish dismantling by 2047.

It was estimated that Monju would have required costly upgrades to meet new safety standards introduced after meltdowns at Fukushima,  with at least 540 billion yen ($4.6 billion) and eight more years of work estimated to restart Monju.

Sodium is used as a coolant at Monju. The reactor needs to be drained of the sodium if it is to be demolished. Radioactive and chemically active sodium has to be sealed in containers. There is no precedent of radioactive sodium disposal in Japan. The disposal of the mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel used at Monju is another significant issue. The amount of MOX fuel, a blend of uranium and plutonium recycled from spent nuclear fuel, that needs to be disposed of is estimated at 21 tons, but Japan is not equipped to carry out its disposal.

Monju was temporarily shut down on December 8, 1995 due to a leak of sodium coolant. Ironically, December 8 was the day Sakyamuni attained enlightenment. An employee who had lied at a press conference minimizing the accident, committed suicide afterwards.

Another Japanese reactor, Fugen, was also named after a Buddhist deity, Fugen Bosatsu. The Bukkyo Times reported: “There was a debate among Zen priests over the naming. However, there is no evidence that priests were directly involved in giving the names Monju and Fugen.” Fugen was decommissioned in 2003 because the technology had become obsolete. Dismantling the reactor will take 25 years and cost around 100 billion Yen.

Japan Today reported: “the wisdom of giving bodhisattva names to potentially dangerous nuclear reactors had been in doubt long before the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power.”

A statement from Eiheiji (Temple of Eternal Peace), the head temple of the Sodo sect of Zen Buddhism declared, “atomic energy is against the teachings of the Buddha as it can potentially destroy life.”

Japanese officials are seeking another fast reactor to replace Monju.


Monju, Kamakura Era Treasure of Saidai-ji (Nara)


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