Work on first MOX plant starts

Kyodo News

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. started construction Thursday in Aomori Prefecture on the nation’s first commercial plant to produce plutonium-uranium mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel, an integral part of the nation’s nuclear fuel cycle aims.

The plant in the village of Rokkasho, scheduled to be completed in March 2016 at a cost of around ¥190 billion, is expected to serve as a key facility in establishing the infrastructure for recycling spent nuclear fuel.

It will be able to produce up to 130 tons of MOX fuel a year by changing powdered MOX, extracted from spent nuclear fuel at an adjacent reprocessing plant, into fuel pellets.

Power generation by burning MOX fuel at existing light-water reactors — dubbed “pluthermal,” for plutonium-thermal, in Japan — is under way at three reactors, in Fukushima, Ehime and Saga prefectures, but so far using fuel produced overseas.

The launch comes after the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry authorized the plant’s construction plan Friday.

The project itself was approved by the ministry in May following a longer-than-expected process of assessing the planned facility’s quake-resistance strength since 2005.

According to the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, the industry plans to introduce such power generation at 16 to 18 reactors nationwide by fiscal 2015.