Second batch of MOX delivered to Saga reactor

Controversial nuclear fuel stirs safety concerns in Kyushu

by Eric Johnston

GENKAI, Saga Pref. — The second of three deliveries of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel manufactured in France arrived at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai No. 3 reactor in northern Saga Prefecture early Saturday morning.

If plans proceed on schedule, this plant on the Sea of Japan coast will see the country’s first commercial use of the controversial fuel later this year.

Security was tight as a small flotilla of Japan Coast Guard ships escorted the Pacific Heron into the dock beside the plant. Heavy security checks were in place for all vehicles entering the main gate.

About 75 antinuclear protesters from around Japan were gathered in front of the main entrance, calling for a halt to the MOX program over safety and environmental concerns, especially the issue of nuclear waste.

“The entire MOX plan needs to be rethought, especially since there is no way to dispose of the radioactive waste that results from using the uranium-plutonium fuel,” said Yasutaka Yoshimori, a local antinuclear activist.

Kyushu Electric officials, citing security reasons, refused to divulge how much MOX would be given to Genkai. The Tokyo-based Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center says both the Pacific Heron and its sister ship, the Pacific Pintail, are likely carrying about 1.7 tons of plutonium in 69 fuel assemblies, of which 20 would be unloaded at Genkai.

CNIC also believes 28 units were unloaded at Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka No. 4 reactor in Shizuoka Prefecture last week, and that the Ikata No. 3 reactor in Ehime Prefecture will get the final 28 in a few days.

The government and nuclear power officials have repeatedly said MOX is safe, and, together with French maker Areva insist shipping it halfway around the world does not increase nuclear proliferation risks.

But Greenpeace warns that the largest shipment of MOX fuel to Japan presents a great proliferation risk.

“There is enough plutonium (in all of the MOX shipments) to make 225 nuclear weapons,” Greenpeace said in a statement back in March.

Kyushu Electric will be conducting tests on the Genkai No. 3 reactor, which burns conventional uranium fuel, until August, after which it will and make preparations to load it with MOX. If all goes according to schedule, the plant will use MOX to generate electricity for Saga Prefecture and the Fukuoka area by November.