The Fast Reactor and Its Fuel Cycle Developments in Japan: Can Japan Unlock its Development Path?

Tatsujiro Suzuki, "The Fast Reactor and Its Fuel Cycle Developments in Japan: Can Japan Unlock its Development Path?," Science & Global Security, 17, no. 1, (2009): 68-76.
This paper reviews the history, status, and probable future of fast reactor and associated fuel cycle development in Japan. The fast breeder reactor and its closed fuel cycle have been the cornerstone of Japan's nuclear-energy development program since the 1950s. For economic, technological, and political reasons, Japan's development and implementation of these technologies is significantly delayed. The budget for fast breeder reactor development has steadily declined since the mid-1990s, and its commercialization target has slipped from the 1980s to the 2050s. An accident at the Monju prototype reactor contributed to delays and triggered a fundamental shift from R&D and early commercialization to an emphasis on advanced fuel cycles. Nevertheless, Japan is still committed to fast-reactor development. This paper examines the motivation for its continued commitment to a fast reactor program and concludes that several non-technological factors, such as bureaucratic inertia, commitments to local communities, and an absence of R&D oversight, have contributed to this entrenched position. Japan is currently reorganizing its R&D programs with the goal of operating a demonstration breeder reactor by approximately 2025. This effort is in response to the government sponsored Nuclear Power Nation Plan and the Bush Administration's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. Breeder R&D programs face significant obstacles such as plutonium-stockpile management, spent fuel management, fuel cycle technologies, and arrangements for cost and risk sharing between government, industry and local governments. As a result, it is unlikely that fast breeder reactor (FBR) and fuel cycle development programs will move forward as planned.

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