Kansai Electric Power (Kepco) is to return the batch of MOX fuel it received in October last year to Sellafield. The company has also announced that it has banned BNFL from bidding for MOX or reprocessing contracts. The decision follows BNFL’s admission that the fuel’s quality control data was false (See NEI, January 2000, p3). Kepco said the ban will remain in place until it is satisfied BNFL has resolved this issue. Japanese authorities are nervous of any risks following the accident at the JCO plant in Tokai-Mura.

“There is not a problem with the fuel, but we decided not to use it because BNFL did not follow proper procedures,” said Kepco’s Ryuzo Hasegawa.

A BNFL statement issued in response to Kepco’s decision said: “The question of how to deal with the fuel assemblies currently in Japan is a matter on which there will need to be further discussions between the governments involved as well as the companies. This is not a safety issue but a quality assurance issue”.

The issue has reached government level. Japanese Foreign Minister, Yohei Kono, told his opposite number in the UK, Robin Cook, that he hoped the government would take measures to restore confidence in BNFL. Cook said the government will act to try and ensure that a similar incident never happens again. Anna Walker, of the UK Department of Trade and Industry, is planning to visit Japan in February to try to persuade Japan to continue to import MOX fuel from the UK. The UK government is BNFL’s lone shareholder.

Three workers have been sacked following the incident, blamed for entering false data. But without management accepting some responsibility and new quality control procedures being put in place it is unlikely BNFL will regain Kepco’s trust. BNFL has indicated managers at Sellafield may be disciplined.

• The MOX fuel fiasco could cost BNFL its ISO 9002 quality assurance status. Inspectors from Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance, which administers the standard, have investigated the company’s management processes as a result of the MOX data falsification.