January 2002

Kansai Electric cancels MOX orders

The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, 28 December 2001

[Posted 02/01/2002]

Kansai Electric Power Co. decided Wednesday to cancel orders for mixed oxide fuel (MOX) from a French company due to fears it would fail stricter fuel checks.

New government controls introduced in July last year were considered too strict for the fuel, which was intended for use in the company's pluthermal project.

The decision effectively puts Kansai Electric's pluthermal ambitions on hold at least for several years.

The government has long talked of using plutonium-uranium mixed oxide as a fuel for ordinary nuclear reactors.

The MOX project is considered a key part of the national nuclear power policy.

But the project's future is increasingly in doubt. It remains uncertain whether the nation's largest utility, Tokyo Electric Power Co., will be able to proceed with its own pluthermal operations anytime soon.

The Kansai Electric project has been dogged by scandal, most notably when inspection data on MOX fuel ordered from a British nuclear fuel company was found to have been falsified.

Kansai Electric does not have any useable MOX fuel on hand because it suspended all orders while the earlier case was being investigated.

The six containers of MOX fuel ordered from France will be destroyed at a cost to Kansai Electric of around 6 billion yen.

The company's decision underscores the unexpectedly strict stance taken by inspectors from the government's Agency of Nuclear and Industrial Safety. The policy marks a sharp departure from the past, when the government and the utilities worked together to promote nuclear power.

The inspection agency was created through a reorganization of government ministries and agencies in January. It brought together inspectors previously separated in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and the Science and Technology Agency.

Skeptics believed the new regulatory body would lack teeth because it was set up within the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes the use of nuclear power.

But the agency's unprecedented, strict position showed its independence from the economy ministry and surprised its critics.

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