January 2000

BNFL: Fuel shunned by Japan's Kansai

Financial Times, 12 January 2000
By Andrew Taylor, Utilities Correspondent

[Posted 13/01/2000]

A leading Japanese electricity company plans to return suspect nuclear fuel to Britain after the manufacturer, British Nuclear Fuels, admitted that quality control records may have been falsified.

Kansai Electric Power (Kepco) said that it will send the plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (mox) fuel back to BNFL as soon as it gains permissions to ship the nuclear fuel through international waters.

The Japanese government has suspended further deliveries of mox fuel from BNFL following the discovery that records may have been falsified.

The British government plans to send a senior Department of Trade and Industry official to Japan next month in a bid to rebuild bridges and get the nuclear contract reinstated. Anna Walker, director general of energy at the DTI, is expected to visit the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and Kepco.

The Japanese company said on Tuesday (11 January) that it would return the suspect fuel, which was delivered to its Takahama power station last Autumn. While there has been no accusation that the fuel is unsafe, Japanese authorities are anxious to be seen not be taking risks following the country's worst ever nuclear disaster at a uranium processing plant at Tokaimura last September.

Ryuzo Hasegawa a Kepco spokesman said on Tuesday: "There is no problem with fuel but we decided not to use it because they (BNFL) did not follow proper procedures."

The British company said: ``The question of how to deal with the fuel assemblies currently in Japan is a matter on which there will need to be further discussions between the governments involved as well as the companies. This is not a safety issue but a quality assurance issue.''

A freeze on future fuel imports could threaten the future of BNFL's 300m ($492m) Mox production plant at Sellafield in Cumbria and delay government plans for a partial privatisation of the nuclear group. A sale of up to 49 per cent of BNFL could raise about 1.5bn.

Japan accounts for about 50 per cent of the potential market for BNFL's Sellafield Mox Plant. The plant was completed 18 months ago but the government has delayed giving full clearance to operate until its economic viability can be proved. Shipments of nuclear fuel from Britain and France to Japan have attracted strong protests from environmental groups which previously have attempted to prevent ships sailing by blocking ports.

Tokyo Electric Power Company last week said it would postpone loading a Belgian shipment of mox fuel into its Fukushima 1 nuclear plant, originally planned for next month, until checks had removed any doubts over its safety.

The fuel shipment to Tepco was manufactured by Belgonucleaire, a nuclear power group owned equally by Suez Lyonnais des Eaux, the French multi-utility, and the Belgian state, under a subcontract to Cogema, the French nuclear company.

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