• Kyodo

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Plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel was unloaded from a British cargo ship here Saturday after the vessel arrived at a special port earlier in the morning amid tight security.

The 5,271-ton Pacific Pintail, which set sail from the French port of Cherbourg in January with 28 containers of the highly toxic MOX fuel, docked at the private port for Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station at 6:10 a.m.

After the unloading, the fuel was transferred to the storage site inside the plant’s compound later in the day. The shipment is the second of MOX fuel to Japan.

Tepco and Kansai Electric Power Co. took delivery of the first shipment of MOX fuel in the fall of 1999 for Tepco’s No. 1 nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture and Kansai Electric’s Takahama nuclear power station in Fukui Prefecture.

But fabrication of quality control data by British Nuclear Fuels PLC on these shipments of MOX fuel prevented the power firms from going ahead with their respective plans.

The Japan Coast Guard and police set up a security cordon at sea and on land before the ship docked on Saturday morning. The Niigata Prefectural Police mobilized 400 police officers to secure the area, while coast guard helicopters and planes patrolled the air.

Antinuclear activists from the village of Kariwa have opposed the use of MOX fuel at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant and plan to call for a local referendum on the issue.

About 300 activists staged a protest on the coast near the port, chanting slogans and carrying banners reading “Let’s stop pluthermal.”

MOX, a mixture of uranium dioxide and plutonium dioxide in pellet form, is designed to be burned in light-water reactors in a practice known as “pluthermal” use, a nuclear fuel recycling procedure. Plutonium is extracted by reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants.

Niigata Prefecture is rapidly emerging as the front-runner to introduce MOX fuel for use in power stations in Japan.

Fukushima Prefecture was expected to be the first prefecture to introduce MOX fuel. However, Fukushima Gov. Eisaku Sato said in late February that the prefecture will not accept the use of MOX fuel at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant for the time being.

It is also unlikely that Fukui Prefecture will accept MOX fuel at the Takahama station within the next few years.

Attention is therefore focused on what action local government leaders such as Niigata Gov. Ikuo Hirayama will take. Tepco is still planning to transfer the MOX fuel to the reactor of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant before the end of this year.

Fast-breeder reactors were once expected to be the main thrust of Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle policy. However, after the 1995 fire at the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, the government placed the pluthermal process at the center of its policy.

The Japanese government is planning to introduce the pluthermal process in between 16 and 18 reactors nationwide by 2010.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, which comprises seven reactors, has an output of 8,212,000 kilowatts, the largest in the world.

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