According to Kyushu Electric Power Company, its Genkai-3 reactor, which currently contains 16 MOX fuel assemblies, was started up yesterday (Nov. 5) at 11am. Implementation of Japan's pluthermal* program using MOX fuel had been stopped since 1999 as a result of public opposition, falsification of quality control data for the MOX fuel and other cover-ups.
Quality control problems related to MOX fuel have changed in form, but still continue to this day. MOX fuel pellets produced at Areva's Melox MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant in France for Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) failed KEPCO's own quality standards. In response, KEPCO reduced the number of fuel assemblies it will import. Details have not been published, but we question the condition of the MOX pellets produced for Kyushu Electric. We also question whether the electric power companies' have adequate internal quality standards.
Safety margins are reduced when MOX fuel is used in nuclear reactors and the danger of accidents increases. At a time when earthquakes are occurring frequently, it is impossible to ignore the risk that this could lead to a catastrophic accident.
Also, the management plan for spent MOX fuel is not clear. Consideration was supposed to begin in 2010, but as a result of extensions to the commencement of commercial operations at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, consideration of the method of dealing with spent MOX fuel is likely to be postponed too. The radioactivity of spent MOX fuel decreases more slowly than normal spent fuel and is more difficult to manage. Also reprocessing of spent MOX fuel is more difficult. Commencing pluthermal in these circumstances is an especially egregious example of "an apartment with no toilet".
Contrary to the publicity, Japan's pluthermal program is not an "effective use of resources". There is no prospect that development of a fast breeder reactor will succeed. Without that there is no benefit in continuing with reprocessing technology. Reprocessing and use of MOX fuel are a serious nuclear proliferation danger and from an economic perspective they are a great burden on consumers.
At the same time as protesting the introduction of pluthermal at Genkai, we also demand that the program be expanded no further. Instead of forcing electric power companies to implement this totally unnecessary program, it should change its nuclear fuel cycle policy.
* The term 'pluthermal' refers to the use of plutonium in thermal reactors (i.e. light water reactors), as opposed to in fast breeder reactors. The fuel is made from a mixed oxide of plutonium and uranium (MOX).