suspends use of MOX fuel
Japan Times, 27 February 2001
Public concerns prompt Sato to block introduction
at Fukushima plant.
FUKUSHIMA (Kyodo) Fukushima Gov. Eisaku Sato on
Monday said the prefectural government will not allow Tokyo Electric
Power Co. to start using plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel at a nuclear
reactor in the prefecture for the time being. "I believe it is impossible
for the MOX fuel to be loaded any time soon," Sato told the prefectural
The governor's statement could further delay the start of the nuclear
power industry's MOX program and also affect the national government's
nuclear fuel cycle policy.
The controversial fuel was shipped to the No. 1 Fukushima nuclear plant
in September 1999 but has yet to be used due to the concerns of local
residents over its safety.
Sato had maintained a cautious stance regarding the fuel's introduction
at the Fukushima plant, noting that the general public had yet to embrace
the so-called pluthermal project, in which the plutonium-uranium mixed
fuel is burned in light-water reactors.
Tepco, for its part, had said it would proceed with the program by
securing local understanding. The firm reiterated this position Monday.
Sato's declaration of a continued suspension, however, has made it
increasingly unlikely that the firm will be able to introduce MOX fuel
to the plant's No. 3 reactor when it undergoes a regular inspection
in April, as was initially planned.
The national government has been trying to promote the pluthermal program
as a key part of its nuclear fuel cycle policy. MOX uses plutonium obtained
by reprocessing spent fuel from nuclear power plants.
Fast-breeder reactors were once expected to carry the main thrust of
the fuel cycle policy. However, Monju, the nation's only prototype fast-breeder
reactor, remains shut down after a 1995 fire and subsequent coverups.
But the government has yet to obtain widespread public support for
the pluthermal program, as the September 1999 nuclear-criticality accident
at a uranium fuel processing plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, damaged
people's trust in the nuclear power industry.
The use of MOX fuel at Tepco's Fukushima plant was originally scheduled
to begin in February 2000 but was postponed after it came to light that
safety data on fuel shipped for use at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Takahama
plant in Fukui Prefecture had been falsified.
Tepco is also planning to start using MOX fuel at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa
nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture, but Niigata Gov. Ikuo Hirayama
has indicated that he does not want the Niigata plant to become the
first one using the controversial fuel.