Tepco gets green light for MOX nuclear fuel

The Agency of Natural Resources and Energy approved Thursday the use of plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide fuel at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s No. 3 nuclear reactor at the No. 1 Fukushima plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.

Tepco officials said that while the firm has not decided when to ship in the MOX fuel, it would like the project to proceed with the understanding of local residents.

The MOX fuel is to be used in the company’s so-called pluthermal nuclear power program. The agency on Thursday approved the use of 32 MOX fuel rods.

The nuclear reactor currently has 548 uranium fuel rods, 32 of which the firm hopes to replace with MOX fuel. In the future, the firm hopes to increase this figure to about one-third of the total.

However, in September it was revealed that fuel maker British Nuclear Fuels PLC, had falsified data in a series of safety checks on MOX fuel shipped to a Kansai Electric Power Co. nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, casting doubt on Tepco’s fuel.

The Tepco program was put on hold after the Kansai Electric data fiasco.

Data on the Tepco MOX had been submitted to the agency, affiliated with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, on Aug. 1.

The agency’s green light comes on the heels of a request filed Wednesday by citizens’ groups in Tokyo and Fukushima with the Fukushima District Court asking for a temporary injunction against use of the fuel.

The request asks the court to halt the use of MOX fuel at Tepco’s No. 1 Fukushima nuclear plant.

The groups argue that a report compiled by the company in September shows checks conducted by the Belgian maker of the fuel, Belgonucleaire, were unreliable.

The fuel was shipped to the reactor last September for use in Tepco’s pluthermal program.

Tepco had told MITI in February that the Belgian nuclear fuel manufacturer conducted quality-control checks on the MOX fuel shipped to Japan and found no defective products.

However, the citizens’ groups maintain that Tepco manipulated data.

The groups are urging Tepco to disclose all of the information to the public and to give an honest explanation.

The fuel program involves burning MOX fuel pellets inside light-water reactors to generate heat for producing electricity.