The first shipment of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel from Europe to Japan since the Fukushima accident in 2011 was completed today.
|The MOX fuel was unloaded on its arrival at the Takahama plant (Image: PNTL)
Two ships - the Pacific Heron and the Pacific Egret - arrived at Kansai Electric Power Company's (Kepco's) Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. Their cargo - 20 MOX fuel assemblies produced by Areva at its Melox plant - was then unloaded marking the completion of the fifth such MOX shipment to Japan.
The vessels, owned by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd (PNTL) - a subsidiary of International Nuclear Services (INS) - left the French port of Cherbourg on 17 April and travelled to Japan via the Cape of Good Hope and the south-western Pacific Ocean.
Areva signed a contract with Kepco in November 2008 to supply 32 fuel assemblies for use in Takahama units 3 and 4.
The shipment, which was postponed following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, could be seen as a sign of confidence by the Japanese utilities of restarting their reactors. All but two of the country's power reactors remain offline. However, last week Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) specified the regulations utilities will be required to meet in order to restart their reactors. However, additional approvals may be needed for utilities to use MOX fuel.
MOX fuel contains plutonium recovered from used fuel by reprocessing. Used fuel from Japan, and other countries, has been routinely reprocessed in Europe, with MOX fuel and high-level waste being returned. Japan is working towards opening its own MOX fabrication facility, and has not sent used fuel to Europe for reprocessing since 1998.
In February 1997, the Japanese government stated that, in line with the country's long-term commitment to nuclear energy, it was necessary for Japan to start using MOX fuel in its commercial nuclear reactors. Following this announcement, the Japanese electric power companies unveiled their plans to use MOX fuel in 16 to 18 reactors. Since then, several MOX fabrication contracts have started this process.
Commissioning of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in Japan, which is based on the Areva's La Hague technology, has been making slow progress since 2006. Earlier this month, Areva signed a new strategic agreement with Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JFNL) to bring the Rokkasho-mura recycling plant into commercial operation, including active testing, the start-up itself, capacity ramp-up and plant optimisation.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News