April 2002

The government has approved an advisory report which concludes it is safe to use plutonium/uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel at nuclear plants

AFX-ASIA, Tokyo, April 2002

[Posted 10/04/2002]

The government has approved an advisory report which concludes it is safe to use plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel at nuclear plants.

The Nuclear Safety Commission said a "sufficient technological basis has been established" to ensure the safe use of plutonium at light-water reactors, provided the ratio of MOX to total fuel of a plant is about one-third.

But the advisory panel also called for special care in an annual report on nuclear safety, citing the fuel's extremely high radioactivity level, which is 200,000 times that of a type of uranium.

The commission also reaffirmed its support for plans by the Japanese electric industry and government to use the so-called "pluthermal" method at 16-18 nuclear reactors in the country by the year 2010.

In the pluthermal process, plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel is combined with uranium oxide to create MOX fuel, which is then burned in light-water reactors.

The plans stalled in May last year when residents in the small northern Japanese village of Kariwa rejected a move by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) to convert an existing nuclear reactor there to a pluthermal plant.

The resistance was seen as a blow to the government's scheme to promote the method as an answer to the needs of the resource-poor nation, which relies on 51 nuclear reactors to provide about one-third of its electricity.

The pluthermal scheme took another knock in 1999 when Kansai Electric Power Co, which serves Osaka and its vicinity, suspended its planned use of MOX fuel imported from British Nuclear Fuels PLC (BNFL).

The commission's annual report added it was necessary for MOX users to inspect on the spot the quality of such nuclear fuel to be shipped to Japan.

Japanese ecology group, Green Action, said that the report was deceptive.

What the NSC (Nuclear Safety Commission) fails to inform the Japanese public and international community is that experience with MOX fuel at nuclear power plants in Japan is virtually non-existent, and that use of MOX fuel internationally is minimal when compared to use of uranium fuel," the group said in a statement.

It added that the commission had also failed to say that the "scale of MOX fuel use in Japan will be unprecedented."

"There is to be a higher concentration of plutonium in the fuel, and a higher burn-up rate," it said.

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