The Monju fast reactor in Japan is now scheduled to restart next February - after a sodium leak which forced it out of action almost 15 years ago.
A functional test program covering the entire reactor system is now complete and Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) have moved to the next phase of preparation. A chart from JAEA tentatively shows operation starting from February 2010 and entering full swing about two months later.
The prototype fast reactor, which would produce more nuclear fuel than it consumes, is a key part of Japan's national energy strategy and politicians have urged its speedy return. Nuclear reactors already provide 30% of Japanese electricity, and this is expected to grow beyond 40% into the middle of the century when fast reactors like Monju should be ready for widespread deployment. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has been tasked with developing suitable designs, while Japan as a nation is cooperating in efforts like the Generation IV International Forum.
Monju started up in April 1994 and was meant to generate 280 MWe, but a leak of its liquid sodium coolant during performance tests put it out of action from December 1995. A February return would be over a year later than the last published schedule, which was five months later than the one before.
Only Russia currently has fast reactors that provide power to the grid, the 560 MWe Beloyarsk 3 and a 12 MWe unit at Dimitrovgrad. Other nations that have used the experimentally in the past include France, Germany, Kazakhstan, the UK and the USA. A further Beloyarsk fast reactor is under construction at the moment and should produce 880 MWe from 2014, while there are plans for a 1200 MWe unit to start at Beloyarsk in the 2020s.