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Pluthermal begins at Ikata-3
On March 2 Shikoku Electric Power Company's Ikata-3 reactor (PWR, 890MW) reached criticality with a load of MOX fuel1. It is the second reactor in Japan in which pluthermal2 has been implemented, following Genkai-3 (PWR, 1180MW), which began using MOX fuel in November 2009 (see NIT 133).

From February 9 to 12, 16 MOX assemblies were loaded when a total of 50 fuel assemblies were replaced during a periodic inspection which began on January 7. Power transmission began on March 4 and commercial operations are set to resume on March 30, after the periodic inspection is completed. The schedule slipped about one week from that announced in December 2009. The reason for the delay was the discovery of a leak of borated water on January 10.

The remaining 5 of the MOX assemblies that arrived from France on May 27, 2009 (see NIT 130) will be stored in the spent fuel pool and loaded during the next periodic inspection. Despite the fact that these 5 assemblies are unused fuel, they are being stored in the spent fuel pool because MOX fuel is more radioactive than uranium fuel.

1. MOX is an abbreviation for "mixed oxide of plutonium and uranium".
2. 'Pluthermal' refers to the use of plutonium (MOX) fuel in thermal reactors (i.e. light water reactors), rather than in fast breeder reactors.

Governor and mayors approve pluthermal for Onagawa
On March 18 Miyagi Prefecture Governor Yoshihiro Murai, Mayor Nobutaka Azumi of Onagawa Town and Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama of Ishinomaki City gave their consent for Tohoku Electric Power Company to implement pluthermal at its Onagawa-3 Nuclear Power Plant. They all demanded strengthened safety management. In addition, Onagawa Town demanded local economic stimulus measures. Tohoku Electric plans to begin using MOX fuel at Onagawa-3 by the 2015 fiscal year.

Fukushima Governor indicates conditional approval for pluthermal
On January 20, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reapplied to the Fukushima Prefectural government for prior consent for its pluthermal plan for the Fukushima I-3 (BWR, 784MW) reactor. Governor Yuhei Sato responded at the Prefectural Assembly's February 16 session that his consent was conditional on an assurance of seismic safety, aging countermeasures, and integrity of the MOX fuel. This is the first indication that pluthermal might finally be implemented since Fukushima Prefecture withdrew its consent following revelations in August 2002 of cover-ups of major problems at TEPCO's nuclear power plants.

In September 1999, 32 MOX fuel assemblies arrived at the Fukushima I-3 plant and have been stored there ever since. Over ten years later, TEPCO began inspections of the integrity of the fuel on February 25 this year. However, these are only visual inspections.

KEPCO, Kyushu to jointly ship MOX
On February 8, Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) and Kyushu Electric Power Company announced that they would jointly ship MOX fuel fabricated at Areva's Melox Plant in France. Two armed ships will provide mutual defense for each other. The name of the ships and the port will be announced a few days before departure. The date of departure, the route and the expected time of arrival in Japan will be announced on the day of departure, or on the following day. Fabrication of 12 assemblies for KEPCO and 20 assemblies for Kyushu Electric has been completed. However, for reasons of security, how many of these will be shipped this time will not be announced until after the shipment is completed.

On January 29 KEPCO announced that it plans to load 8 assemblies into its Takahama-3 reactor (PWR, 870 MW) during the periodic inspection beginning at the end of September this year and 4 assemblies into its Takahama-4 reactor (PWR, 870 MW) during the 2011 fiscal year. It said that the assemblies would be shipped by summer.

Local authority approves Tsuruga-1 operation beyond 40 years
On March 14, Japan Atomic Power Company's (JAPCO) Tsuruga-1 nuclear power plant (BWR, 357MW) will reach 40 years of commercial operation (see NIT 133). On February 22, Fukui Prefecture and Tsuruga City conveyed their approval to JAPCO of its plan to operate the plant until 2016. Governor Issei Nishikawa emphasized that he would not approve a further extension and demanded that safety checks be properly performed during the period of the extension.

Request to Aomori Prefecture to accept radioactive waste returned from Europe
On March 6, Masayuki Naoshima, Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, requested Aomori Governor Shingo Mimura and Rokkasho Village Mayor Kenji Furukawa to accept radioactive waste (besides high-level waste (HLW) - see article on NIT135 pages 1~3) returned from reprocessing plants in the UK and France. Governor Mimura agreed to commence consideration of the matter.

The Minister's request followed requests on March 1 by Toru Ishida, Director-General of the Agency for Resources and Energy (ANRE), and on March 2 by Shosuke Mori, Chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC), and Yoshihiko Kawai, President of Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd..

Previously, FEPC had applied in October 2006, but on that occasion Governor Mimura refused to consider the application, saying that it was premature to apply before the commencement of commercial operations of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. When reapplying, ANRE Director-General Ishida said, "If the schedule is delayed, there is a risk that Japan's international reputation will be damaged." Governor Mimura replied, "I need to hear from the Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry directly to confirm this." The Minister promptly visited Governor Mimura and confirmed this concern. He also undertook not to make Aomori Prefecture the final disposal site, thus extending to LLW an undertaking that already applied to HLW

Return of the radioactive waste from France is scheduled to begin in Fiscal Year 2013. The 4,400 canisters of waste to be returned are referred to as "low-level waste" (LLW) in Japan, but over half of these contain trans-uranic elements and are destined for geological disposal. Due to the fact that a new storage facility will not be ready by FY2013, FEPC's policy is to hold the waste in the Vitrified Waste Storage Center for HLW returned from overseas.

In the case of the UK, since an arrangement has been made to substitute this waste with HLW (see article on NIT135 pages 1~3), a radiologically equivalent' quantity of HLW will be returned in 70 canisters. Naturally, all of this is destined for geological disposal.

Prime Minister Hatoyama sales pitch to Vietnam
On March 3, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama sent a letter to the Vietnamese Prime Minister suggesting that Japan be chosen to build two nuclear power plants for the second phase of its nuclear power plan. It is reported that Vietnam has selected Russia to construct its first two nuclear power plants (2 x 1,000MW). It appears that concerns that Japan is losing out to the slick salesmanship of other countries induced the Prime Minister to go into bat for Japan's nuclear industry.

It is said that another reason why Japanese power companies cannot win nuclear construction contracts is that Japanese electric power companies are not involved. In this regard, the Nikkei Shimbun reported on February 27 that a new company will be set up with government funding and the participation of companies including Tokyo Electric Power Company and Kansai Electric Power Company, along with Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi to carry out studies to help win contracts for overseas nuclear projects.

One killed, six others injured at Sendai-1
On January 29, one person was killed and six others were injured at Kyushu Electric Power Company's Sendai-1 (PWR, 890MW) when they were burnt while checking electrical equipment. Two of the injured were still in hospital at the time of a February 22 report by Kyushu Electric.

The report suggested the following likely chain of events. While the workers were trying to install earthing equipment, there was a short when the equipment came into contact with the charged circuit. This caused an electric arc, which caused sudden heating of the surrounding air and metal. This in turn created a gust of hot gas, which burnt the workers.

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