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A planned project by Kansai Electric Power Co. to use recycled plutonium to fuel nuclear reactors in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, assures nuclear safety, a government panel on nuclear safety concluded Monday.

After approving the plan, the Nuclear Safety Commission submitted its report to International Trade and Industry Minister Kaoru Yosano on the same day.

The plan involves the use of mixed-oxide fuel, or MOX, which has drawn controversy over safety issues. Kansai Electric Power hopes to begin using recycled plutonium at the Takahama No. 4 reactor in spring and at the No. 3 reactor by 2000.

The plan by the Osaka-based utility company calls for one-fourth of the fuel to be used at the the No. 3 and No. 4 nuclear power plants in Fukui to be replaced by MOX fuel.

MOX — a uranium-plutonium mix that is extracted from spent nuclear fuel — is not used currently at nuclear plants in Japan. The Atomic Energy Commission, an advisory panel to the prime minister, is expected to approve the plan today.

After the plan gets the nod from Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, Yosano is expected to grant Kansai Electric Power permission to revamp the reactors, concluding the central government’s procedures for the launch of the nation’s first plutonium recycling project.

The focus then turns to whether the plan will get approval from the Fukui Prefectural Government, which in May approved safety tests but has yet to decide about the project itself. Some experts remain skeptical about the safety of the project, warning that the mixed fuel appears more difficult to handle than uranium.

Local residents have echoed that concern, particularly after it was revealed in October that a Tokyo-based engineering firm affiliated with Japan Atomic Power Co. falsified data on containers for transporting MOX fuel.

Genden Engineering falsified data on the density of the raw materials and volume of hydrogen and boron contained in them. The materials shield the neutrons of MOX fuel.

The alteration of the data was found on a certificate submitted to British Steel Engineering, which supplied the materials.

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