During February, there were several developments in Japanese power companies' pluthermal*1 plans. Also, plutonium use plans for the 2008 fiscal year were released on March 7th.
Problems with MOX fuel for Kyushu Electric's Genkai-3
Fabrication of MOX fuel for Genkai-3 (PWR, 1180MW) began in October 2007. On 1 February 2008, Kyushu Electric Power Company announced that springs and end plugs which had not received the necessary quality checks had been used. France's MELOX is fabricating the fuel, but the end plugs of the fuel rods and the springs to hold the pellets in place were made by Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. In addition to end plugs and springs that had been quality checked by Kyushu Electric, test items which had not been checked were also sent to MELOX. This contingency was not covered in the technical manual. As a result, 1516 test fuel rods for which the end plugs and springs had not been checked were used. They will now all be replaced.
Kyushu Electric audited the quality assurance systems of both MHI and MELOX before fuel fabrication began, but one suspects that the audit was just a formality.
Other companies's plans
Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) carried out similar audits of Nuclear Fuel Industries Ltd. and MELOX on February 12 and February 18-21 respectively. KEPCO plans to introduce pluthermal in Takahama reactors 3 and 4 (both PWR, 870 MW). MOX fuel was fabricated for these reactors by BNFL in 1999, but the fuel was returned after it was discovered that quality control data had been faked. Preparations for fabrication of fuel, which had been suspended, were recommenced after the governor of Fukui Prefecture gave his approval on 30 January 2008.
On February 29th, Shikoku Electric announced that fabrication of MOX fuel for its Ikata-3 reactor (PWR, 890 MW) would commence at the MELOX plant in late March.
Chubu Electric received permission from the Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry in July 2007 to implement its pluthermal plan at its Hamaoka-4 reactor (BWR, 1137 MW). It received approval from Shizuoka Prefecture on 29 February 2008 and on March 4th applied to the Minister for inspection of the fuel it will import (document review).
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency completed its safety review of the pluthermal plan for the Chugoku Electric's Shimane-2 reactor (BWR, 820 MW) on February 26th. The Nuclear Safety Commission is now carrying out a double check.
Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and FY 2008 plutonium use plans
It is very significant that the electric power companies are now proceeding with their pluthermal plans (see table below, or download a pdf version). This lays the ground for the commencement of full operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant (see News Watch), in the sense that it creates an alibi that the plutonium extracted will not be surplus to requirements.
The fact that this is nothing more than an alibi is illustrated by the plutonium use plans released each year since 2006. As explained in NIT 117 in regard to the FY2007 plans, these plans are essentially meaningless. There is no indication of by when the plutonium separated at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant will be used up. Furthermore, the power companies intend to use plutonium extracted overseas before the plutonium extracted at Rokkasho. Consequently, their plutonium use plans provide no evidence that the plutonium extracted at Rokkasho will not be surplus to requirements.
Baku Nishio (CNIC Director) and Philip White (NIT editor)
*1. The term 'pluthermal' refers to the use of plutonium in the form of mixed oxide fuel (MOX) in 'thermal' - as opposed to 'fast' - reactors.