Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Japan struggles to handle plutonium as fast-breeder reactor project becomes unrealistic

Japan has been fighting an urgent and difficult battle to dispose of accumulated plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel as it has become increasingly unrealistic to realize the country's long and expensive fast-breeder reactor project.

One gram of plutonium is said to have energy equal to 1 kiloliter of petroleum. If plutonium is mixed with uranium to create "MOX (mixed-oxide) fuel" and is burned at a fast-breeder reactor, more plutonium is produced than consumed. But now that it has become difficult to realize the government's project to build a fast-breeder reactor that was once dubbed a "dream reactor," Japan has been hard-pressed to dispose of accumulated plutonium.

Japan started the construction of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, in 1985, and succeeded for the first time in generating power at the fast-breeder reactor in August 1995. But in December 1995, a fire broke out at the facility when sodium used as coolant leaked out. The operation of the reactor was resumed in 2010, but it has been plagued by a series of problems ever since, and therefore it is extremely difficult to put it into commercial use. Read More

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