FUKUI – The Fukui Prefectural Government effectively gave the go-ahead Monday for restarting a process leading to Japan’s first use of reprocessed spent nuclear fuel for burning in reactors.
Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa expressed his intention to allow Kansai Electric Power Co. to manufacture overseas mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel for use in the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant.
Nishikawa said he will formally convey the prefecture’s decision to Kepco’s president before the end of the week.
With the consent, Kepco is expected to sign a contract with an overseas company by the end of this month on MOX production and to actually introduce the fuel in the reactors in fiscal 2007, starting in April that year, sources close to the utility said.
The governor said he decided to restart the MOX project, which has been stalled since 1999 due to a safety data falsification scandal, after Kepco took a series of measures last October to prevent a recurrence of data falsification.
“We appreciate the measures taken by Kepco to regain the trust of local residents,” Nishikawa told a news conference.
The measures included stationing Kepco staff overseas to inspect the MOX manufacturing process, establishing a double-checking system to ensure that manufacturers strictly manage data on the nuclear fuel, and asking third parties to verify the data.
Nishikawa also indicated the prefectural government will require Kepco to submit reports on each stage of the inspection of imported MOX fuel.
The national government and Riichi Imai, mayor of Takahama, which hosts the nuclear plant, earlier endorsed the measures, which prompted the prefecture to follow suit.
Some antinuclear groups reacted angrily to Nishikawa’s announcement. Green Action Kyoto submitted a petition to the governor not to give a formal go-ahead for restarting Kepco’s MOX program.
The Kyoto-based group said measures taken by Kepco are still insufficient to guarantee the safety of the MOX fuel to be imported.
It also submitted a letter of protest to the prefectural government, saying the governor’s statement is an act of betrayal for many local residents and the group will continue to take action against the MOX program.
Since 1997, the national government has pushed for use of MOX at conventional nuclear power reactors as a key to its policy of recycling spent nuclear fuel.
Kepco’s MOX plan was originally approved by the national government in 1998 and by the Fukui Prefectural and Takahama Municipal governments in June 1999.
But the plan stalled after the coverup scandal, which broke when it was revealed in September 1999 that British Nuclear Fuels PLC had doctored inspection data on MOX it had produced for the Takahama plant. The imported MOX fuel was subsequently shipped back to Britain.
Japanese power utilities, including Kepco and Tokyo Electric Power Co., plan to introduce MOX as fuel at 16 to 18 nuclear reactors by 2010.