February 2001

Governor suspends use of MOX fuel

Japan Times, 27 February 2001

[Posted 27/02/2001]

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 assembly.

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.

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