Kansai cancels MOX burning

23 December 1999

Kansai Electric Power has withdrawn its application to use MOX fuel in its Takahama PWR. The decision follows an admission by BNFL that safety data regarding the MOX fuel delivered to Kansai in October was false (See NEI October p2). BNFL had previously stated that all the safety checks on the delivered batch were genuine.

“When the data falsification issue originally came to light, BNFL immediately launched a series of internal investigations,” said a company statement. “As a result of these investigations, it became apparent that another lot of fuel, other than those previously identified, contained irregularities in the quality assurance data.

“Consequently we support the precautionary action which has now been taken by our customer and the Japanese regulator.” Kansai has taken the decision in the context of a country still reeling from the Tokai-Mura criticality accident. Public feeling on nuclear issues is running high. The ultimate decision not to load the MOX fuel was made by Yukio Kurita, governor of the Fukui prefecture. A local referendum will now be held on whether to load MOX fuel at all.

Should Japan decide not to burn MOX fuel in its reactors, or to purchase all the fuel from France, BNFL’s part-privatisation could be in trouble. Sellafield’s reprocessing business is heavily dependent on a guaranteed market in Japan. The UK government is also due to make a decision on whether to give the MOX manufacturing plant the go-ahead.

UK energy minister Helen Liddell met BNFL chairman Hugh Collum to discuss the government’s “very grave concerns” over the situation.

“I have demanded a full explanation of this clearly unnacceptable failure by management,” she said. “I made it clear that steps must be taken to address this failure and to examine management performance generally.” Other results of Tokai-Mura’s impact include two new laws. One calls for periodic inspection of nuclear fuel processing facilities and the other focuses resposibility for dealing with a nuclear disaster in the hands of central government.

A governmental report has said the accident happened due to JCO sacrificing safety for operational efficiency. The report contains 110 proposals which the panel of authors considers necessary to rebuild public confidence in technology. A series of accidents has led to a sense that the country is losing its position as the world's leading technological nation.

“If we can rebuild Japan as a safety-conscious nation, we will be able to open up a bright new future not only for Japan but also for mankind,” says the report.

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