Thursday, November 5, 2009

Japan nuclear plant uses MOX fuel



A Japanese nuclear power plant on Thursday started using recycled mixed-oxide or MOX fuel from a controversial shipment from France that arrived in the country amid protests in May.

A reactor at the Genkai nuclear plant in western Saga prefecture was activated after being loaded with MOX, a blend of plutonium and reprocessed uranium, said a spokesman of the plant’s operator.

The 1.18-million-kilowatt reactor is expected to reach the state of nuclear chain reaction overnight and generate power from Monday, said the operator, Kyushu Electric Power Co, one of three that ordered the MOX.

The recycled fuel, produced by French nuclear giant Areva, arrived in Japan by ship in May amid international protests led by environmental group Greenpeace, which has called for an immediate ban on MOX shipments.

The MOX ship took a secret route and travelled under armed guard.

The protesters argue that shipping MOX around the world represents an unacceptable risk because of the danger of an accident or a terrorist attack.

Greenpeace also warns that the widening use of MOX increases the dangers of nuclear proliferation, arguing that the plutonium in it is easier to extract for weapons use than the plutonium in conventional spent nuclear fuel.

Japan has few energy resources of its own and relies on nuclear power from 53 plants for nearly one third of its domestic electricity needs.

Opponents of the nuclear plants warn of the risk of an accident in Japan, which suffers some 20 percent of the world’s most powerful earthquakes.

Local residents and activists have also opposed the shipment and use of MOX, warning it is more dangerous than conventional nuclear fuel.

Japan previously obtained MOX, most recently eight years ago, but none was used amid a data cover-up scandal and a series of accidents at nuclear plants.

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