Local Governments Officially Accept Japanese Utility's Plan to Use Plutonium-Based Fuel
TOKYO A nuclear power plant in southern Japan is expected to start using fuel made from weapons-grade plutonium in 2010 after local authorities accepted central government assurances about its safety and offered their approval, officials said Sunday.
"We will make the utmost effort to ensure safety when we launch the project," Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshihiro Nikai said in reference to the use of MOX fuel -- a mixture of plutonium oxide and uranium oxide.
Nikai met Sunday with Genkai Mayor Tsukasa Terada and Saga prefecture (state) Gov. Yasushi Furukawa to discuss the plan by Kyushu Electric Power Co. to introduce MOX in its No. 3 reactor at its Genkai power plant in 2010.
Furukawa said the town and the prefecture separately gave their approval to the plant operator after meeting Sunday with Nikai, who also inspected the power plant.
"We took the final step because we now think we have safety assurances," Furukawa said. "I understand the government's energy policy as a resource-poor nation."
Furukawa, however, said he warned the utility company that the approval is based on trust and that the prefecture would retract the approval if there was a major accident.
The central government signed off on the plan in September, and local assemblies earlier this month endorsed the utility's proposal.
Resource-poor Japan is pushing for light-water reactor use of MOX fuel, which uses less enriched uranium than conventional fuel.
Supporters also say that using MOX is an effective way of consuming plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons. But critics say MOX is too volatile and produces highly radioactive waste.
Saga is the only Japanese prefecture currently moving ahead with the MOX plan, Furukawa said.
Earlier plans to use small proportions of MOX in fuel at existing reactors were delayed after a scandal in 1999 over allegations that a British nuclear power company falsified data about a shipment of the fuel it had reprocessed for a Japanese utility.
Genkai is 950 kilometers (590 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
Source: Associated Press