First MOX shipment since 3/11 arrives in Fukui

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Japan’s first shipment of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel since the Fukushima nuclear crisis broke out on March, 11, 2011, arrived early Thursday at the Sea of Japan port of Takahama, Fukui Prefecture.

But the fuel, which took more than two months to get here from France and is intended to be used in reactor 3 of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear plant, is likely to sit in storage for a while.

The central government has yet to approve either the restart of reactors 3 and 4, which Kepco will seek after new safety standards go into effect next month, or the use of the MOX fuel in reactor 3.

Questions over both the necessity of the fuel and what new safety standards the Nuclear Regulatory Authority might impose on the use of MOX remain unanswered.

The U.K.-registered Pacific Egret entered Takahama on Thursday morning to deliver the cargo. Kepco disclosed that 20 MOX fuel assemblies ordered from the French firm Areva SA were shipped.

The fuel was originally ordered in 2010 and was scheduled to have been delivered by summer 2011 but was put on hold after the Fukushima meltdowns.

Dozens of protesters from around Japan greeted the ship’s arrival.

“Kepco does not have permission to restart the Takahama plant,” said Aileen Mioko Smith of the Kyoto-based group Green Action. “On top of that, there is no post-Fukushima accident regulatory standard for MOX fuel.”

After the ship’s arrival, anti-nuclear groups presented petitions to Kepco officials, questioning the economic logic of importing MOX when it still had not obtained formal permission to burn it.

“For the utilities, the costs of manufacturing, transporting, burning, and then disposing spent MOX fuel are many times greater than the costs of using conventional uranium. In the extreme economic conditions of recent years, we question this method at a time when we’re told electricity costs will rise,” a petition addressed to Kepco from four major Japanese anti-nuclear groups stated.

Kepco said it will apply for the restart of the Mihama reactors 3 and 4 in July, as well as the later restart of reactors 3 and 4 at its atomic plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture. Those two units, the only reactors currently online in Japan, have to shut down for inspections in the coming months.

After applying for state permission to restart the reactors, Kepco will seek final approval from Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa.

While fundamentally pro-nuclear, Nishikawa indicated earlier this month that applying to restart the reactors and loading unit 3 with MOX are separate issues.