TOKYO, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Japan's experimental fast-breeder nuclear reactor will be restarted as early as February 2010 after repeated delays in final safety checks, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) said on Wednesday.
The 280-megawatt Monju plant, designed to produce more nuclear fuel than it consumes, has been shut since December 1995 following a massive leak of liquid sodium, just months after the reactor first started power transmission.
A JAEA spokesman said the company's top executive told the local Fukui Prefecture earlier in the day that the restart is scheduled by the end of March at the latest.
JAEA in January had postponed the restart schedule indefinitely from the previous target of February 2009 to take into account repair work on holes discovered in the reactor's auxiliary building and other safety checks.
The Monju plant is located in Fukui prefecture, 400 km (250 miles) west of Tokyo.
Fast-breeder reactors have been beset by technical difficulties and many countries have abandoned the costly programmes.
Onju is a cornerstone of resource-poor Japan's nuclear fuel cycle programme, with the government spending more than 860 billion yen ($9.02 billion) on it. ($1=95.35 Yen) (Editing by Joseph Radford)