(MENAFN - Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) Japan on Thursday resumed operations of Monju fast-breeder nuclear reactor for the first time since it was shut down more than 14 years due to a sodium leak and a cover-up. The experimental reactor in Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture in central Japan was activated at 10:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) when an engineer removed control rods that prevent nuclear fission.
If the resumption goes well, the Monju reactor, operated by the state-run Japan Atomic Energy Agency, is expected to reach criticality, in which a nuclear-fission chain reaction becomes self-sustaining, on Saturday. At a news conference after the relaunching ceremony, agency chief Toshio Okazaki affirmed that his agency will place top priority on maintaining safety.
According to the agency, it plans to gradually raise Monju reactor's power output and spend three years to complete the test run before starting full-fledged operations in the spring of 2013. The government aims to put the fast-breeder reactor into commercial use by 2050.
The Monju reactor had been shut down since a sodium leak from its coolant system caused a fire in December 1995. No one was hurt and no radiation was released, but the accident and cover-up raised concern over the safety of nuclear power. It was resumed after a shutdown of 14 years and five months, following last month's approval by the governor of Fukui Prefecture.
Unlike regular light-water reactors that run on uranium, a fast-breeder reactor uses plutonium-uranium mixed oxide, or MOX, made from spent nuclear fuel from existing plants. Monju, with a capacity to generate 280 megawatts of electricity, is capable of producing more energy than it consumes, and serves at the core of Japan's nuclear fuel policy.
Japan has spent a total of JPY 920 billion (USD 9.8 billion) on the Monju project, according to the agency. The project requires about JPY 23 billion (USD 245 million) in annual running costs for the next several years.