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Thursday, Jan. 20, 2000

Britain steps up scrutiny of BNFL-Kepco links

Staff writer OSAKA -- The British Parliament is stepping up calls for an investigation into the relationship between a British utilities company and Kansai Electric Power Co. following the company's admission that it falsified nuclear fuel data for Kepco's nuclear power plants in Fukui Prefecture. On Thursday, Kepco said it would halt further contracts with British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. for production of mixed oxide fuel until it could trust the company again. Kepco decided not to use the fuel already produced by BNFL for the Takahama No. 4 reactor late last year, when BNFL admitted quality-control data for the MOX fuel pellets had been falsified. The affair has led to a number of questions being raised in Parliament and although Kepco said it plans to ship the fuel back to England, a British trade official said neither Kepco nor BNFL could make any decision until the two governments have investigated the matter. After the fuel for the No. 4 reactor arrived in Takahama last October, antinuclear activists and some local politicians expressed concern that fuel data appeared suspicious. Prior to its arrival, BNFL admitted that data for a separate batch of fuel for the Takahama No. 3 reactor had been falsified. BNFL admitted in mid-December that data had also been falsified for the No. 4 fuel. Kepco, however, continued to maintain that the fuel was technically safe. Company officials said they decided to stop the program out of public concern, and made the decision after Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced it was suspending its own MOX program out of public fears over nuclear safety. Kepco's decision to suspend future contracts with BNFL came one day after a representative of Britain's Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, which oversees the export of nuclear fuel, told Parliament there were issues that both governments need to investigate before Kepco or BNFL reach any conclusion on what to do with the MOX fuel still sitting in Takahama. David Lowry, a London-based activist, said David Chaytor, a Labour politician, had submitted a further list of questions to the minister concerning the Kepco-BNFL relationship. "A number of questions, including the status of Japanese MOX contracts, whether or not the British government has apologized to the citizens of Fukui Prefecture, who will bear the costs of returning the fuel to England, and whether or not Kepco and the Japanese government, or BNFL and the British government, will pay for security, were submitted," Lowry said. In addition, Parliament has put forward a motion calling for BNFL to get out of the MOX business by looking into different ways to deal with plutonium. The motion is open for members of Parliament to sign until November and Lowry said that although such a motion would not be debated, it would be presented to the Cabinet if 150 politicians sign it. Kepco officials had no comment on events in London, but admitted that signing new contracts with BNFL would be politically difficult.

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