Greenpeace calls for the termination of failed breeder reactor program following plutonium accident
RELEASE ENERGY 2017.06.08

Greenpeace calls for the termination of failed breeder reactor program following plutonium accident

Tokyo, 8 June 2017 – Greenpeace calls on Japan to finally terminate its unsuccessful plutonium Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) program following an accident that exposed 5 workers to radiation in the Plutonium Fuels Research Facility (PFRF) at the O-arai Research and Development Center in Ibaraki prefecture north of Tokyo. The accident led to the inhalation of plutonium into the lungs of at least four of the five workers.
Plutonium is a man-made transuranic compound that is particularly toxic, and is used for both nuclear weapons and in plutonium _ uranium mixed oxide fuel (MOX). The PFRF conducts research and produces MOX fuel for testing in the Joyo experimental fast breeder reactor. The Joyo reactor has been shutdown for more than ten years.

“Our thoughts are with the five workers and their families who have been so tragically affected by this radiological accident,” said Shaun Burnie, nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany in Tokyo.

Only two months ago, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) condemned the approach of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) to nuclear safety at the Joyo reactor. Though the NRA itself has a track record of lax regulation, it suspended the review for the restart of the Joyo reactor.

On 26 April, Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the NRA, called the proposal to bring the reactor back online “absolutely unacceptable”. He asked, “has the JAEA seriously reflected on the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant?” In December 2016, a final decision was taken to decommission the prototype Monju FBR, also owned by JAEA, which had failed to operate since an accident in December 1995.

“The JAEA is incapable of learning from nuclear accidents because by its very nature the technology they are trying to develop will have accidents. That is the history of plutonium fast breeder reactors in Japan and across the world. The JAEA is not fit for purpose, and the health of these workers has been put at unnecessary risk for a shutdown nuclear reactor, Joyo, that should never be restarted. The NRA did the right thing in terminating Monju _ now it needs to act and stop the Joyo reactor. Japan’s entire fast breeder development program must be terminated,” said Burnie.

Notes:
[1] While the accident at the JAEA lab involves microgram amounts of plutonium, on the same day as the accident, Kansai Electric’s Takahama unit 3 began operation with MOX fuel containing over 1000 kilograms of plutonium.

[2] The PFRF has been in operation since 1974 and has been the principle center for the testing and manufacturing of MOX test fuel, including for the Joyo reactor. The most severe nuclear accident in Japan prior to the 11th March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident, took place in September 1999 at the JCO facility also in Ibaraki, where workers were manufacturing uranium fuel for the Joyo reactor.

Contacts:
Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist, Greenpeace Germany, email: sburnie@greenpeace.org, mob: +81 (0)80-3694-2843 (Currently based in Japan)

Chisato Jono, Communications Officer, Greenpeace Japan, email: chisato.jono@greenpeace.org, mob: +81 (0) 80-6558-4446

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