TSURUGA, FUKUI PREF. – Operations have begun to remove a rare type of spent fuel made of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide from a nuclear reactor in central Japan, operator Kansai Electric Power Co. said Monday.
The removal of MOX fuel rods from the No. 3 reactor at the Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture is the second such operation to be performed in Japan, following a removal at the Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime Prefecture earlier this month.
By Wednesday, Kansai Electric plans to remove eight of 28 MOX fuel rods that had been in use at the reactor since December 2010, the firm said.
The eight MOX fuel rods will be replaced with uranium fuel.
The Osaka-based company said it also plans to remove 73 uranium fuel rods at the reactor, which is now undergoing regular maintenance.
Kansai Electric said it will store the spent MOX fuel rods temporarily in a cooling pool at the plant, as Japan has no reprocessing facilities for them despite government and power companies’ plans to reuse the plutonium extracted when the spent mox fuel is reprocessed.
The MOX fuel, which is made of plutonium and uranium extracted when spent fuel is reprocessed, was first used at a Japanese nuclear plant in 2009.
The government and the power industry have promoted use of the fuel, believing it is a key component of resource-poor Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling program and can help the country reduce its stockpile of plutonium — which can be used to make nuclear weapons.
Kansai Electric said that it plans to reactivate the No. 3 unit of the four-reactor Takahama plant in early April and restart commercial operations a month later. The three other units at the Takahama plant are also offline due to regular inspections.