• The Associated Press

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The Saga Prefectural Assembly on Wednesday endorsed a plan for a nuclear power plant to use fuel made from weapons-grade plutonium, boosting the country’s efforts to expand its atomic energy program, assembly official Miyuki Yamashita said.

The prefectural government and the town that hosts the power plant will still have to give their approval before Kyushu Electric Power Co. can begin using MOX fuel — a mixture of plutonium oxide and uranium oxide.

Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa has said Kyushu Electric plans to introduce MOX fuel in the No. 3 reactor at its Genkai plant in 2010, adding that it meets Saga’s standards.

The governor is seeking a meeting with Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshihiro Nikai to gain safety assurances from the central government on the project, said Masatoshi Kondo, a Saga prefectural official.

Kondo said the prefecture will not make a final decision on the project until the meeting is held. The central government signed off on the plan in September.

Critics say MOX is too volatile and produces highly radioactive waste.

Earlier plans to use small amounts of MOX in fuel at existing reactors were delayed after 1999 revelations that a British nuclear power firm faked data about a shipment of the recycled fuel it had reprocessed for a Japanese utility.

Kepco fire but no leak

FUKUI (Kyodo) A fire alarm went off Wednesday evening at a radioactive waste-treatment facility in the Oi Nuclear Power Plant as smoke filled the building, police said.

The utility said there were no radioactive leaks.

Two workers were sent to a hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation, according to Kansai Electric Power Co.