A plan to ship mixed-oxide fuel from Europe for the first time has been submitted to the United States, government officials said Friday.
The action kicked off official discussions between Japan and the U.S. under the Agreement of Cooperation, which concerns peaceful uses of nuclear energy, they said.
Under the plan, containers of mixed plutonium-uranium oxide fuel will be transported to Japan from Britain and France aboard two British-flagged freighters. The freighters assigned to carry the fuel will not be escorted by any naval or coast guard vessel. Instead, they will be refitted and armed to escort each other.
The Maritime Safety Agency will guard the freighters when they come into Japanese waters, the officials said. The amount of MOX fuel to be transported has not been made public.
The officials simply said that fuel to be used at nuclear power plants operated by Osaka-based Kansai Electric Power Co. and Tokyo Electric Power Co. will be transported by the 4,709-ton Pacific Teal and the 5,087-ton Pacific Pinstripe — both owned by Britain’s Atomic Energy Authority.
MOX fuel is to be used at Kansai Electric’s Takahama Nuclear Power Station in Fukui Prefecture and Tepco’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Station in Fukushima Prefecture.
But Kansai Electric announced the same day that its plan to introduce plutonium-thermal system this spring will be delayed, as the transportation of the MOX fuel from Britain is likely to take place only after summer.
The company originally planned to use the MOX fuel in its No. 4 reactor in Takahama during a regular inspection of the plant from late April to early July.
It will take some two months to transport the MOX fuel from Britain, and final inspection of the fuel by Japan must also be undertaken after its arrival, Kansai Electric officials said.
The last plutonium shipment to Japan was the controversial transport of plutonium oxide from France aboard the Akatsuki Maru in 1992.
An international coalition of antinuclear groups, including Greenpeace, has urged Japan not to go ahead with the MOX transport plan.
They have pointed out that the transport arrangement violates the 1987 U.S.-Japan nuclear cooperation agreement, which requires that such fuels be escorted by an armed ship or that substitute safety measures be implemented after the approval of the United States.