FUKUI – Kansai Electric Power Co. was given formal, final approval Saturday to restart a stalled program using reprocessed spent nuclear fuel in nuclear power reactors.
In a meeting with the utility’s president, Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa announced a decision to follow the national government and the Takahama Municipal Government in allowing Kepco to use mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel at its Takahama plant.
With the consent, Kepco is expected to sign a contract, probably later this month, to manufacture MOX fuel overseas. Kepco aims to use MOX fuel in 2007 at the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama plant, making it the first utility in Japan to use reprocessed nuclear fuel for power generation.
Kepco’s plan had been stalled after a data falsification scandal surfaced in September 1999, but the Fukui governor decided to restart the project earlier this month after the utility took preventive steps last year.
During their meeting, Nishikawa told Kepco chief Yosaku Fuji, “I request you take each step appropriately in order not to repeat the problem.”
“We regret that we had inadequacy,” Fuji responded. “We intend to advance (the project) carefully to ward off a recurrence.”
The MOX plan was originally approved by the national government in 1998 and by the Fukui and Takahama governments in June 1999.
The plan stalled after the data falsification scandal, in which British Nuclear Fuels PLC doctored inspection data on MOX fuel it produced for the Takahama plant.
Fuji declined to say if Kepco will rule out the British firm in the planned new contract, although it is widely expected that it would prefer French nuclear fuel firm Cogema in view of apparent local sentiment against the scandal-tainted BNFL.
“At the moment, we are not completely excluding it,” he said. “We will seek products that are as safe as possible.”
In Takahama, Mayor Riichi Imai asked Kepco Vice President Tetsuji Kishida to develop the plan “by placing utmost priority on safety and responding to residents’ trust.”
Local opponents, though, still express concern about the safety of the project, which advocates say will help address Japan’s energy needs.
Takashi Watanabe, a town assembly member, said: “We cannot trust the claim by the government and Kansai Electric Power that pluthermal is safe. The data falsification scandal has proved this.
“Takahama residents are living with worries about the four reactors located here and have no obligation to cooperate further in the national energy policy,” Watanabe said. “The safety of the four reactors is what they should recheck and they should stop the (pluthermal) plan.”
Kepco took a series of measures in October to prevent a recurrence.
These included stationing staff overseas to inspect the manufacturing process.