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Japan mulls U.S. fast reactor project

The Yomiuri ShimbunJapan is considering participating in a U.S. program to develop a fast reactor, it has been learned. Scheduled to begin operations as early as around 2026, the U.S. facility would be the world’s most advanced experimental reactor. Hitachi Ltd. will also participate in its design.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry aims to strengthen the Japan-U.S. nuclear power cooperation agreement as well.

A fast reactor is a high-performance reactor capable of efficiently using nuclear materials such as plutonium, which is reprocessed from uranium, in addition to the uranium used by a conventional reactor. The Japanese government sees fast reactors as a central player in a nuclear fuel cycle in which uranium resources are used effectively.

The U.S. experimental fast reactor is a sodium-cooled and versatile test reactor (VTR), which will be designed by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, a joint venture between General Electric Co. and Hitachi.

When construction will be started, and the scale of the reactor, will be decided in 2020.

The reactor will enable various experiments on the fuel and materials of nuclear reactors, such as fast neutron irradiation tests. Fast neutron irradiation tests can be conducted in only a few facilities in the world, so the U.S. test reactor is expected to greatly advance technological development related to fast reactors.

The Japanese government decided to decommission the Monju fast breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture in 2016, and has positioned the French demonstration reactor ASTRID (Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration) as a pillar of fast reactor development.

However, as the French government is reviewing its ASTRID project, Japan intends to deepen its relations also with the United States.

The development of fast reactors proceeds through four stages: the “experimental reactor” for basic research, the “prototype reactor” capable of generating electricity, the “demonstration reactor” for verifying economic efficiency, and the “commercial reactor” for practical use.

The U.S. test reactor is positioned as an experimental reactor and Monju as a prototype reactor. Observers believe fast reactors may be put into practical use around 2050 in Japan.Speech

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