TOKYO—Japan's ministry of education wants to boost overall science-related spending next year by 5.8%, to $14.7 billion. But amid increasing support for most programs there is one big loser: nuclear power. Spending on nuclear-related research will drop 9.8%, to $2.3 billion. A large chunk of that reduction applies to Monju, the troubled experimental fast breeder reactor. The allocation essentially puts Monju on hold pending a review of the nation's energy policy.
"We want to think about the role of Monju" within a broader energy policy, education minister Masaharu Nakagawa said at a press briefing today unveiling the budget request for fiscal 2012, which starts in April. He said Monju and other nuclear fuel cycle efforts would receive a "maintenance budget" of $445 million. "But there will be a bit of a hiatus in new research and development efforts until the long-term direction [of energy policy] is settled," he added.
The education ministry accounts for the bulk of Japan's science spending, particularly for basic research. Details on governmentwide science spending are not yet available. Requested budgets are usually adopted by the Japanese legislature with minimal changes.
Japan has pursued fast-breeder technology, through which a reactor can produce more plutonium than it burns in hopes of cutting or eliminating imports of nuclear fuel. The ill-starred Monju reached initial criticality in April 1995 but then suffered a disastrous coolant leak and fire in December 1995. Officials tried to cover up the extent of the accident, resulting in a public backlash that kept Monju idle until May 2010. But shortly after restarting operations, a mechanical problem put Monju out of action again.