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Friday, April 19, 2002

Flawed MOX likely to be shipped back to Britain in June: Greenpeace


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel being stored at a nuclear plant in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, will probably be shipped back to Britain in June, the environmental watchdog group Greenpeace said Thursday.

The fuel, purchased by Kansai Electric Power Co., consists of nearly 255 kg of plutonium. It has been sitting in Takahama since fall 1999, after if was revealed that data related to the fuel's quality control procedures were faked by the manufacturer, British Nuclear Fuels PLC.

For the past 2 1/2 years, the Japanese and British governments have been negotiating when the fuel would be shipped back to Britain; June has been mentioned as a possible date.

Kepco officials did not deny the Greenpeace report, saying only that transport details have yet to be worked out.

"The route the ships will use when they return the fuel has not been decided yet," Kepco spokesman Hiroshi Kakihira said.

Shaun Burnie, a representative of Greenpeace International who tracks plutonium shipments, said the same two British ships used to bring the fuel to Japan in 1999 will be used to return it to England.

"The Pacific Pintail and the Pacific Teal are now undergoing logistical preparations," he said. "One ship will actually carry the fuel, while the other will act as an armed escort vessel."

Burnie said both ships are expected to leave Britain for Japan around the end of this month, and, "If all goes as planned, will depart Takahama with the fuel in June."

The most difficult aspect of transporting the fuel back to Britain will be to secure the permission of countries along the return route for the ships to pass through their territorial waters.

One route, across the Pacific Ocean and through the Panama Canal, "is the one that is preferred by the Japanese government," Burnie said. "However, many Caribbean nations oppose the route, and the U.S. may be worried about possible terrorist attacks while the ship is going through the canal."

The second possibility is around Cape Horn, the Greenpeace official said, adding that the Chilean government is likely to oppose this plan.

"The third route is to go through the South Pacific, through the Solomon Islands (and the Cape of Good Hope). That route has problems, too, but it may be the most diplomatically feasible."



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