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Tokyo Electric Power Co. will postpone the debut of a contentious plutonium-based fuel at a Niigata Prefecture nuclear plant due to local opposition, Tepco President Nobuya Minami told reporters Friday.

Tepco had planned to use plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel in the No. 3 reactor of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, which straddles the towns of Kariwa and Kashiwazaki in Niigata Prefecture, hoping to start the project as early as possible.

However, Kariwa residents voted against the plan to use MOX fuel in the reactor in a May 27 plebiscite, the country’s first such vote on the so-called pluthermal project.

“We must halt (the project) for the time being,” Minami said, acknowledging that the utility will not fuel the reactor with MOX during a regular inspection scheduled through July 13.

Minami went on to say, however, that there was room to gain public acceptance of the project, especially regarding its safety, if Tepco were to make further efforts.

Minami’s comments came after he met with Takeo Hiranuma, minister of economy, trade and industry, Hiroshi Ishikawa, president of Kansai Electric Power, and Hiroji Ota, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies.

In the meeting, Hiranuma asked the top executives to make more efforts to gain public support for the controversial nuclear fuel recycling project, a ministry official said.

Hiranuma said the government would also make efforts to gain public support for nuclear fuel recycling since the program lies at the core of the country’s energy policy.

Earlier in the day, Niigata Gov. Ikuo Hirayama, Kashiwazaki Mayor Masazumi Saikawa and Kariwa Mayor Hiroo Shinada agreed to keep pushing Tepco to respect the outcome of Sunday’s plebiscite in Kariwa and scrap the pluthermal project.

Under the project, which combines the words plutonium and thermal, the government and power firms plan to use MOX fuel in light-water reactors. The fuel is made by mixing uranium with plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel.

The government considers the pluthermal project an integral part of its policy of nuclear fuel recycling, especially as its fast-breeder reactor program has remained in limbo since the 1995 shutdown of the Monju reactor in Fukui Prefecture.

Plans by power firms to introduce MOX fuel at their plants have also been delayed due to opposition by local residents around the plant sites.

Following the plebiscite, in which more than half of voters rejected the project, both Saikawa and Shinada voiced opposition to it.

The government and power industry plan a public relations blitz to change the public’s view of MOX.

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