Japan fires up its fast breeder - Daniel Cressey - nature.com

Japan fires up its fast breeder

May 18, 2010 - Daniel Cressey - nature.com

Monju, Japan’s prototype fast breeder reactor, restarted operation yesterday. Located in Tsuruga on Japan’s coast, the reactor was shut down over 14 years ago following a coolant leak and fire.

Fast breeder reactors rely on fissile uranium and plutonium for their power, but they can also turn non-fissile uranium-238 into more plutonium, which can then be extracted and used as additional fuel. Although decades of work on the technology has resulted in most countries giving up on fast breeder reactors, partly because of safety concerns, they are a key part of Japan’s long-term nuclear ambitions.

In the short term, Japan aims to build eight new conventional nuclear reactors by 2020, hoping to reduce the country’s reliance on imported coal and oil, as well as cutting greenhouse gas emissions (see: Japan plans nuclear power expansion).

Monju will undergo a 3 month test period, running at 1% of its 280,000 kilowatt capacity, and reach full capacity in 2012. By 2050, the country hopes to commercialize the reactors.