• Kyodo

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One of two ships that will transport a load of controversial plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel back to Britain arrived Friday at a port used by a nuclear reactor in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture.

The Pacific Pintail will transport the MOX fuel, currently stored at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear plant, back to British Nuclear Fuels PLC (BNFL), the U.K. firm that manufactured it, in early July, sources familiar with the shipping plan said.

The other ship, the Pacific Teal, has not yet arrived.

In the morning, two cylindrical casks, each about 2.4 meters in diameter and 6.4 meters long, were offloaded from the vessel and transported to a building near the No. 4 reactor at the Takahama plant on trailers.

A small group of protesters chanting their objections to the MOX project assembled near the plant. Environmental and antinuclear groups have meanwhile blasted the planned journey as dangerous both from an environmental and security point of view.

It will be the first sea shipment of plutonium in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, and security authorities are on full alert.

The shipment follows a scandal in which BNFL falsified manufacturing data for MOX fuel shipped to Kansai Electric in 1999.

After the uproar, Japan’s plans to use MOX fuel for the first time were canceled, and Tokyo and London agreed in July 2000 that BNFL would take the fuel back to the U.K. at its own expense.

Despite the falsification scandal, the sources said Kansai Electric will probably offer future contracts to BNFL for the manufacture of MOX fuel. This is expected to eventually pave the way for the resumption of Japan’s now-stalled “pluthermal” energy project.

The project, in which MOX fuel is used in light-water reactors, is seen as central to Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling program. Power utilities across the nation plan to start pluthermal use at 16 to 18 reactors by 2010, although local citizen opposition has so far frustrated such plans where the reactors are located.

In a plebiscite in May last year, a majority of residents in the village of Kariwa, Niigata Prefecture, rejected a plan to use MOX fuel at a local nuclear plant.

Such opposition is a small but increasingly irritating thorn in the side of the government’s and the energy industry’s pronuclear policies.

At Takahama port, the MOX fuel will be loaded onto the ships after Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry officials have measured radiation levels and determined that everything is in order.

While neither the security authorities nor Kepco are disclosing the route due to security concerns, several coastal countries, including Chile, and environment groups strongly object to the planned shipment.

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