• Kyodo

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The mayor of Genkai and the governor of Saga Prefecture told Kyushu Electric Power Co. President Shingo Matsuo on Sunday that they will grant the utility’s request to use the controversial uranium-and-plutonium mixed oxide fuel called MOX in the Genkai nuclear power plant.

Mayor Tsukasa Terada relayed his consent to Matsuo after a meeting with visiting Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshihiro Nikai and Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa on the issue. Furukawa followed suit later in the day.

“As Minister Nikai gave us assurances about safety and (prospects for) regional development, we finally approved it,” Terada told reporters, adding that any accident at the power plant could end up reversing the decision.

Separately, Nikai said he voiced the government’s determination to ensure safety there once operations commence.

The move came after the Genkai town assembly adopted a statement last month calling on the local government to accept the so-called “pluthermal” plan.

Under a safety agreement it has signed with the prefecture and the town, Kyushu Electric is obliged to receive prior consent to any changes it wants to make to the nuclear reactors at the Genkai plant.

Pluthermal, or plutonium-thermal power generation, burns MOX made from spent fuel at nuclear reactors. The method, approved by the Cabinet in 1997, is the core of Japan’s plan to recycle its steadily growing stockpile of plutonium.

Pluthermal generation has become the main pillar of the government’s policy of reusing nuclear fuel ever since a massive sodium coolant leak and coverup at the Monju experimental fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, in 1995, forced the closure of that facility.

Furukawa had vouched for the plan’s safety in previous announcements, while the central government approved it in September after carrying out safety assessment procedures.

Kyushu Electric first asked the central government for permission to install a pluthermal reactor in May 2004.

Shikoku Electric Power Co. is expected to be the next utility to get its pluthermal program off the ground, as the Atomic Energy Commission has already given the green light for MOX to be used in the No. 3 reactor at Ikata power plant in Ehime Prefecture. Final government approval is expected soon.

Quake-resistance unit

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will set up a division that will be in charge of checking nuclear reactors’ resistance to earthquakes, METI chief Toshihiro Nikai said Sunday.

Nikai unveiled the plan in Genkai, Saga Prefecture, after meeting with Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa about a plan by Kyushu Electric Power Co. to conduct plutonium-thermal power generation at a reactor in the town.

The division will be set up April 1.

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