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Japan watchdog to halt test nuclear reactor over safety

Japan’s nuclear watchdog on Wednesday said that the nation’s trouble-plagued next-generation test reactor will not be allowed to restart due to safety violations, dealing a setback to the country’s pro-nuclear government.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s decision is the latest blow to the Monju fast-breeder reactor and Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle program. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is hoping that Monju will be a key part of Japan’s plans for disposing of atomic waste and reducing the nation’s plutonium stockpile.

Monju uses plutonium fuel instead of conventional uranium and produces radioactive substances that can be reused as fuel. After nearly 50 years in the works, the problem-plagued reactor, located in the city of Tsuruga in western Japan, is still struggling to get online.

The watchdog’s five commissioners unanimously agreed that the reactor’s operator, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, ‘is not ready to sufficiently secure the safety of Monju.’ They said the operator had repeatedly failed to conduct mandatory inspections on an array of equipment and come up with improvement plans.

Many experts have said Monju is a basket case and that Japan should abandon plans to achieve a full nuclear fuel cycle. The previous government tried to terminate Monju under its nuclear phase-out plan.
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