US Cooperation for Fast Reactor: Not Enough To Hang onto Life-Prolonging Measures

It has been announced that Japanese nuclear research institutes and companies will cooperate with a U.S. company in developing “fast reactors.” It is a different type of reactor that uses faster-moving neutrons to bombard the uranium fuel, in order to increase the efficiency of combustion.

There are growing expectations among the government and related companies that the cooperation with a U.S. company will help train resources and accumulate technology for Japan’s nuclear industry.

However, the development of fast reactors is already facing a serious impasse in countries such as Japan and France, which have been conducting research for a long time. It is unlikely that the plan by the emerging U.S. company will go smoothly.

The assumption that it will contribute to Japanese technology is also a bit naïve. It is only natural that the U.S. company would want data and knowledge from Japan, which has invested a huge amount of money and made many mistakes. It is not clear what kind of return there will be for providing this information.

Technical cooperation could only serve as an excuse for the Japanese nuclear industry to continue its fast reactor business, which has no future. There is no point in this cooperation. It should be reconsidered.

The U.S. company is TerraPower, a venture company founded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and others. The company is planning to build a fast reactor nuclear power plant with an output of 345,000 kilowatts in the state of Wyoming, located in the western region of the U.S.

Gates and his team are focusing on nuclear power plants from the perspective of combating climate change. Unlike coal-fired power plants, nuclear power plants do not directly emit carbon dioxide. This is one of the reasons why nuclear power is being used as an opportunity to decarbonize the world.

The development and widespread use of fast reactors is expected to take a decade or so. Will they be able to contribute sufficiently to the urgent need to combat climate change?

The government has limited funds and resources. Shouldn’t they be used to promote renewable energy?

Monju, a prototype reactor, was decommissioned in Japan in 2016 due to a series of serious accidents and scandals, after a massive investment of over 1 trillion yen.

While ordinary nuclear power plants use water to cool their reactors, fast reactors use sodium, which reacts violently when exposed to air. Therefore, the risk is high.

In Japan, fast reactors have been positioned as the central facility of the “nuclear fuel cycle,” a concept in which spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants is reprocessed to extract plutonium, which can be used as a raw material for nuclear weapons, and then used again as fuel.

The concept has already proved to be a failure due to its danger and high cost. The government and related companies must face this reality instead of clinging to life-prolonging measures.

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