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Genkai-3 First to Begin Long-Delayed Pluthermal Program

Sixteen MOX1 fuel assemblies shipped from Areva's Melox MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant in France arrived at Kyushu Electric Power Company's Genkai-3 Nuclear Power Plant on May 18 this year. Kyushu Electric finished loading the fuel on October 17 during a periodic inspection which started in August. It is the first time MOX fuel assemblies have been loaded into a Japanese nuclear reactor based on the utilities' pluthermal2 plans. Genkai-3 began start-up tests on November 5 and is now moving towards commercial operation. However, progress from receipt of the fuel to the commencement of start-up tests has not been smooth. This article discusses the local campaign against the implementation of pluthermal at Genkai.
Cartoon by Shoji Takagi

The initial focus of the campaign was the management of spent MOX fuel. In the absence of a plan to reprocess the spent fuel, it must be stored locally long-term. Civil society groups quickly pointed out this fact. The government's 2005 Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy states, "Study on the measures to be taken for ... spent MOX fuel from LWRs will start in around 2010". However, there is no chance that such a study will commence in 2010 and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has delayed reviewing its nuclear policy. It seems that the reason why AEC is delaying the policy review relates to the delay in commencement of commercial operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant.

The Committee to Consider Pluthermal and Saga's Next 100 Years (Saga 100 Years Committee) (NIT 128) takes the position that at the very least MOX fuel should not be loaded before there is a clear explanation of what will be done with the spent fuel. On July 2 it demanded that Saga Prefecture provide such a public explanation. There is still no official policy about whether spent MOX fuel is destined for reprocessing or direct disposal.

Another problem has emerged in relation to quality control of MOX fuel pellets (NIT 132). It was announced on August 19 that MOX fuel pellets produced at Areva's Melox MOX fuel fabrication plant in France for Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) had failed KEPCO's own quality standards and that KEPCO had decided to reduce its order from 16 fuel assemblies to 12. The problem pellets represent 25% of the total order. According to KEPCO, Melox claimed that the pellets were usable but KEPCO's own standards were more strict. Questions naturally arose about the quality of pellets produced by Melox for Kyushu Electric. During negotiations on October 7 between the government and NGOs, including the Saga 100 Years Committee, the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency (NISA) said that it understood that the pellets used at Genkai met Kyushu Electric's internal standards, but that it "cannot rule out the possibility that there could be fuel which KEPCO failed". The following day the Saga 100 Years Committee submitted a petition to the Governor of Saga Prefecture and the Mayor of Genkai Town demanding a meeting to explain the situation. It also demanded that Kyushu Electric publish its inspection data.

Numerous other demands have been submitted, including a petition, which so far has been signed by 460,000 people, demanding cancellation of the pluthermal program. However, on October 15 Kyushu went ahead and loaded MOX fuel and on November 5 began start-up tests. The Saga 100 Years Committee responded by beginning an indefinite sit-in outside the head office of Kyushu Electric in Fukuoka City.

Besides Genkai-3, MOX fuel was also shipped to Shikoku Electric's Ikata-3 (Ehime Prefecture) and Chubu Electric's Hamaoka-4 (Shizuoka Prefecture) Nuclear Power Plants. MOX fuel is scheduled to be loaded into Ikata-3 during the periodic inspection beginning in January 2010 and into Hamaoka-4 during the periodic inspection beginning around November 2010.

Introduction of pluthermal at Chugoku Electric's Shimane-2 Nuclear Power Plant, Hokkaido Electric's Tomari-3 Nuclear Power Plant and KEPCO's Takahama-3&4 Nuclear Power Plants have obtained local approval. Four other electric power companies - Tokyo Electric (TEPCO), Hokuriku Electric, Tohoku Electric and Japan Atomic Power Company - have not yet obtained local approval. Of these, Tohoku Electric has applied for local approval and the prefectural government has commenced an inquiry and held forums with local citizens. Fukushima Prefecture has reopened a long-dormant inquiry regarding approval of the introduction of pluthermal in TEPCO's Fukushima plants, but there are no moves in Niigata Prefecture due to the Chuetsu-oki Earthquake. Official consideration of the pluthermal plans of the other two companies has not yet begun. Finally, J-Power's Ohma Nuclear Power Plant, which is designed to be capable of operating entirely on MOX fuel, is under construction. On November 11 J-Power announced that it had signed contracts to purchase MOX fuel (about 240 assemblies containing 1.3 tons Puf) from seven other utilities. J-Power does not have any plutonium of its own.

Hideyuki Ban (CNIC Co-Director)

1. MOX is an abbreviation for "mixed plutonium and uranium oxide".
2. 'Pluthermal' refers to the use of plutonium (MOX) fuel in thermal reactors (i.e. light water reactors), as opposed to in fast breeder reactors.

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