• Kyodo

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Two ships that left Britain in late April will arrive Friday at a special port for a nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture and will return to Britain loaded with plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in early July, according to sources familiar with the shipping plan.

The ships will transport the MOX fuel, currently stored at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s nuclear plant in Takahama, to British Nuclear Fuels PLC (BNFL), the British manufacturer of the fuel.

The voyage will face flotillas of protesters who warn of the threat of terrorist attacks on the ships carrying the plutonium-mixed fuel.

The shipment is to be conducted in the wake of a scandal in which BNFL falsified manufacturing data for MOX fuel shipped to Kepco in 1999.

Following the scandal, plans to use MOX fuel for the first time in Japan were canceled, and Tokyo and London agreed in July 2000 that BNFL would take the fuel back to Britain at the British firm’s expense.

The sources said Kansai Electric will probably take action to offer new contracts to manufacture MOX fuel, which is expected to eventually pave the way for the resumption of Japan’s stalled “pluthermal” energy project.

Kansai Electric’s plutonium thermal project will probably be resumed in 2005 at the Takahama plant, if procedures go smoothly, they said.

The project, in which MOX fuel is used in light-water reactors, is seen as the core of Japan’s nuclear recycling projects. Power companies throughout the country plan to start pluthermal use at 16 to 18 reactors by 2010, but such plans have been foiled due to opposition from local residents, including objection in a plebiscite.

Initially, Japan aimed to introduce the repeated use of plutonium in fast-breeder reactors, but the scheme hit a snag after a serious sodium leak at the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju in Fukui Prefecture in 1995. In addition, there was an attempt by the operator to cover up the extent of the accident.

Monju now sits idle.

According to the sources, the freighters will probably sail to Kobe for refueling and to allow the crew to rest after unloading a special container for MOX fuel at Takahama.

The ships will return to Takahama to pick up the MOX fuel and leave for Britain.

The special container will be moved to a facility where MOX fuel is stored. After the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry confirms there is no abnormality in the container, MOX fuel will be loaded into it, the sources said.

Before the departure, the ministry will check the safety of the container again by measuring radiation levels.

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