February 2001

Concerns expressed over plutonium stocks

Japan Times, 28 February 2001

[Posted 28/02/2001]

The Atomic Energy Commission expressed concern Tuesday that further delay in the use of uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel at Japanese nuclear power reactors could create large stockpiles of surplus plutonium. The government body made the remarks one day after Fukushima Gov. Eisaku Sato refused to sanction the use of MOX fuel at a reactor run by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Tetsuya Endo, a member of the commission, said MOX is important because the key issue in preventing nuclear proliferation is how to deal with plutonium.

"If such use of plutonium (as MOX fuel) is abandoned, plutonium with no specific purpose will be stored in Japan, affecting the country's atomic energy policy," Endo said.

The MOX fuel program constitutes a key part of the national nuclear fuel cycle policy, which aims to prevent plutonium from piling up.

MOX, which is made up of pellets of uranium dioxide and plutonium dioxide, is designed to be burned in light-water reactors. Plutonium is obtained by reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants.

Panel member Noriko Kimoto said, "The fundamental problem is public distrust and anxiety toward the atomic energy policy."

Other members emphasized the need to foster greater understanding of nuclear energy and its background.

"We can recognize what we should do with atomic energy in consideration of environmental issues and limited resources," said Tetsuo Takeuchi, another member. "Since the silent majority does not view the issue as something that affects their lives, we need to do more to appeal to them," he said.

Fukushima Gov. Sato told the prefectural assembly Monday that he will not permit MOX fuel to be used at Tepco's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Sato's announcement is likely to derail Tepco's plans to start using MOX in the reactor as early as in April. It may also delay introduction of the fuel at other nuclear plants in Japan.

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