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Thursday, March 7, 2002

U.S. approves return of MOX fuel to Britain


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Kansai Electric Power Co. Inc. announced Wednesday that the U.S. government has approved the return of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel stored in Fukui Prefecture to Great Britain.

The fuel, which contains approximately 255 kg of plutonium, has been sitting in storage at a nuclear power plant in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, since October 1999. KEPCO decided not use the fuel, manufactured by British Nuclear Fuels Limited, following revelations the British company falsified quality-control data.

Approval by the United States was required under a Japan-U.S. treaty governing peaceful uses of nuclear materials. The treaty covers materials that originate in either country, and the fuel in question originated in the U.S.

KEPCO officials said that BNFL will assume the costs and responsibility of returning the fuel but would not comment on reports from the media and from antinuclear activists that the fuel may leave Fukui Prefecture by late summer.

"We are currently discussing the exact arrangements and the timing of the return," said Tetsuya Kitajima, a KEPCO spokesman.

BNFL and KEPCO officials have said that they hope to return the fuel to England, where it was recycled and the data was falsified, by the end of the year.

Steven Ready, a Canadian antinuclear activist with Green Action Kyoto, said that due to political considerations in the the U.K., BNFL probably won't receive the fuel until October at the earliest.

"Assuming two months for the ship to make the voyage from Japan to England, it's possible it could set sail from Fukui in late summer and arrive in October," Ready said.

It was Green Action Kyoto, along with Fukui and overseas antinuclear groups, that first called into question the safety of the BNFL fuel after their own independent check of the quality-control data revealed statistical anomalies.

A major concern this time will be security measures. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. last year, public concern in Japan and Europe about pirates boarding ships with nuclear materials is particularly strong. BNFL said that two armed vessels, carrying armed police from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, will escort the shipment.

In 1999, the fuel arrived in Takahama on only one ship.

Before the transfer takes place, KEPCO said it will discuss the return with Fukui authorities while continuing to try to broaden public support for its MOX program.



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