OSAKA – Two ships carrying uranium-plutonium oxide fuel for the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, will arrive on June 27 — the first batch of MOX to be sent to Japan since the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.
The controversial fuel is destined for reactor 3 at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant. But with the reactors still idle and stricter safety regulations taking effect next month, it’s unclear how long the fuel might sit in storage. The Nuclear Regulation Authority still has to clear the plant before it can be restarted.
The U.K.-registered Pacific Heron and Pacific Egret left France in mid-April with 20 MOX fuel assemblies. While Kepco and French nuclear firm Areva SA, which made the fuel, have not released figures, Greenpeace estimates the two ships are carrying about 10 tons of MOX, which is made with weapons-grade plutonium.
Kepco hopes to restart the units 3 and 4 after new regulatory standards take effect next month. The utility has said it won’t restart them without approval from Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, although it is not legally necessary.
That is not expected to be a huge political problem. Nishikawa is strongly pro-nuclear, but he has also said his judgment on giving the green light to restart reactor 3 and its new MOX fuel load will be based on the new regulatory standards.
For Takahama, the arrival of the MOX is seen as a critical step to economic recovery. About ¥4 billion, or nearly 55 percent of Takahama’s fiscal 2013 budget, comes from nuclear-related subsidies provided by the central government. In past years, over 60 percent of its budget has come from such subsidies.
Over 40 local firms have contracts at the town’s four nuclear power plants for a variety of goods and services. During regular inspections, which occur roughly once every 13 months, up to 2,500 of Takahama’s 11,000 residents have been hired to help the inspectors, and the secondary economic impact on local stores and hotels, with their guests from Kepco and the central government, is huge.
Takahama estimates keeping just one reactor idle will cause an an annual revenue loss of ¥500 million in subsidies and secondary economic benefits.