MOX Return Shipment: Containers yet to be Approved Nuke Info Tokyo No. 90

Two ships left the United Kingdom on the morning of April 26. The names of the two ships are Pacific Teal and Pacific Pintail. The ships are armed with British security guards. They arrived in Takahama port, Fukui prefecture, on June 14. It was in 1999 when the data falsification and fabrication scandal concerning MOX quality control was exposed. Consequently, following negotiation with the UK government and BNFL, the Japanese government and the Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) reached an agreement to return the controversial MOX fuel to the UK. Thus, the shipment this time is solely for the retrieval of that fuel.

After the scandal was exposed, KEPCO immediately entered into a contract with COGEMA, the owner of the French MELOX factory, to start additional MOX fabrication at the end of 1999. However, this fabrication of MOX by MELOX was finally cancelled by a decision of the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Trade (METI). The METI claimed that the said MOX did not comply with the improved quality control standard established in July 2001. Currently, KEPCO has no contracts with any companies for MOX fabrication. KEPCO stated that they would enter into a contract with COGEMA or BNFL after ensuring the return shipment of the Takahama MOX fuel.

Recently, a claim has been made that this transportation is illegal. KEPCO returned the once approved license application of the cask design to the Ministry of the Land, Infrastructure, and Transportation (MLIT), and on April 16, 2000, KEPCO submitted the modified license application for the design of the casks. This means that the two ships had left for Japan with casks that have not yet been approved. This is extremely roughshod approach, which means that the legal side of this issue would remain unsolved unless the new approval is issued before the two ships depart from Japan. In addition, the MLIT said that the cask approval is not needed if the transportation safety is confirmed. This is an unusual procedure that has never been seen before. Moreover, there has never been any fair explanation so far as to why this transportation needs to be rushed.

Meanwhile, this scandal-plagued MOX fuel has been retained unused in the storage pool in the Takahama nuclear power station. During these three years, 15% of the plutonium-241 has decayed to americium-241. According to KEPCO’s explanation, their rejection of the once-approved license was due to the unregistered information regarding the increased americium amount. At the same time, another issue was disclosed on a document attached to the license application form. In the attached document, which shows the radiation shield analysis of the cask in the light of the legal standard, KEPCO is using the reduced plutonium-241 figure estimated as at December 2004, while they are doing the same analysis with the increased figure for the americium.

This fact shows that transportation safety before December 2004 is not guaranteed, and we can say that the shipment to be conducted this time is violating the regulation.

In Fukushima prefecture, the governor is now promoting the energy policy, and on June 3, he stated that he would rethink the energy plan including the suspension of the Pluthermal plan. His statement shows the influence of strong opposition from citizens and also the rejection of the Pluthermal plan through the referendum in Kariwa village in May 2001. The Pluthermal plan supposed to have begun in 1999 is still being stalled due to the strong opposition of the citizens.

On July 5, the MOX fuel loaded ship departed for Britain by way of the Cape of Good Hope.

by Hideyuki Ban

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