• Kyodo

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The village of Kariwa, Niigata Prefecture, announced Thursday it will hold a plebiscite May 27 over a plan to use plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel at a local nuclear plant.

The plebiscite will be the first to be held by a local government over the use of MOX fuel at a nuclear plant. The result may have a significant impact on utilities and the state’s nuclear power policy.

Residents will be asked if they approve, oppose or have reservations about Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s plans to introduce the so-called pluthermal process at the No. 3 reactor of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

The pluthermal process entails using MOX fuel to power a thermal reactor. The fuel is made by mixing uranium with plutonium chemically extracted from spent nuclear fuel.

The pluthermal process, involving commonly used light-water reactors, has been placed at the center of Japan’s use of plutonium since a sodium coolant leak and fire shut down the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, in December 1995.

Utilities including Tepco and Osaka-based Kansai Electric Power Co. plan to begin the process by 2010 at 16 to 18 reactors.

The plan, however, was marred in 1999 after British Nuclear Fuels PLC falsified data on fuel manufactured for shipment to Japan. The quality-assurance data on a consignment of MOX fuel was intended for use in the Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.

Kariwa residents can cast ballots from Thursday through May 26 if they are not able to vote on the plebiscite date, a village election management committee said.

As of Wednesday, there were 4,092 eligible voters in the village, the committee said.

Village Mayor Hiroo Shinada in late April gave the plebiscite the green light after the local assembly passed an ordinance April 18 calling for the move.

In March 1999, the assembly rejected a petition calling for a plebiscite on the issue. Last December, however, the assembly passed a similar bill submitted by assembly members, but Shinada vetoed it and ordered the assembly to vote again.

The bill was rejected in January.

The ordinance finally was passed by the assembly April 18 after a group of village residents and assembly members filed an official petition with Shinada on March 29 asking that the village establish an ordinance to allow the plebiscite.

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