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Friday, Dec. 17, 1999

Kepco may cut off MOX supplier


Staff writer OSAKA -- Kansai Electric Power Co. said Friday that it may end its relationship with the British company that manufactures mixed plutonium-uranium fuel (MOX) following revelations the firm falsified data for a batch of it due to have been burned early next year in Kepco's No. 4 reactor in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture. In addition, the power company said it will look elsewhere, possibly France or Belgium, to remake the MOX fuel. During a meeting with 40 antinuclear activists at the company's Osaka headquarters, Kepco officials apologized for failing to conduct proper inspections at the British Nuclear Fuels Limited plant in Sellafield, England. Kepco had repeatedly insisted no data falsification occurred, even after antinuclear activists pointed out statistical anomalies in BNFL's reports. Minister of International Trade and Industry Takashi Fukaya said Thursday no more MOX could be imported from BNFL until Kepco completed its investigations. Kepco said this meant that, in addition to the fuel for the No. 4 reactor, it was canceling a separate agreement with BNFL to manufacture fuel for the No. 3 reactor in Takahama. "As far as MOX for Takahama No. 3 goes, we're back to square one and are considering where to have the fuel manufactured," one Kepco spokesman said. Although Kepco still has contracts with BNFL, one MITI official involved in nuclear power policy and speaking anonymously said the ministry would refuse to grant Kepco permission to import fuel from BNFL for an indefinite period, no matter what Kepco's own investigations reveal. Kepco officials refused to comment. They also refused to respond to reports that MOX for Takahama No. 3, currently in Sellafield, will be remade in France or Belgium. Both countries are major manufacturers of nuclear fuel, and Tokyo Electric Power Co. already has contracts with a Belgian manufacturer for MOX. In addition, Kepco has reportedly signed a contract with a French nuclear power company to manufacture another batch of MOX fuel that could be delivered next year. Although activists in Fukui Prefecture say the deal was finalized prior to BNFL's revelations, Kepco officials refused to divulge the details of that agreement, and did not say when the fuel might be ready for shipment to Japan. Pressure on Kepco is mounting both within Japan and abroad to suspend its MOX program. Nearly 20 percent of Takahama voters have submitted a plebiscite on MOX use to the mayor and the Takahama city council will take up the issue in January. In Britain, BNFL's relationship with Kepco faced questioning in Parliament earlier this week. As late as Wednesday, a spokesman for the British secretary of state for the environment, transport and regions said BNFL fuel shipped to Japan was safe. Kepco officials continue to maintain that although data falsification occurred, the fuel was safe.



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