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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(October 10, 2003) In spite of the decline in public trust for nuclear energy caused by the series of scandals and accidents including the JCO criticality accident in September 1999, the Japanese government still clings to MOX utilization at commercial light water reactors. According to Green Action in Kyoto, and Mihama-no-Kai (A citizens' group to stop NPPs including Mihama, Ohi, and Takahama NPPs) in Osaka, Japan, KEPCO (Kansai Electric Power Company) seeks for a new contract with MELOX which is owned by French Cogema.

(594.5549) WISE Japan / WISE Amsterdam - President Akiyama of KEPCO says that it will soon start negotiation, in hope to conclude a contract until the end of this year, and start MOX utilization at the Takahama NPP in Fukui Prefecture.(1) He said that it would be difficult to consider BNFL as the vendor given previous falsifications in MOX fuel by that company.(2)

KEPCO seems to be well aware that public trust in the nuclear industries has been lost, and that resulted that the MOX fuel program has been delayed and their circumstances are tough. KEPCO stress that they will "take every opportunity to promote activities to do just this - gain back public trust in nuclear power." Regarding their plans for MOX, KEPCO says, "In 2003, Kansai Electric hopes again to conclude a processing agreement for MOX fuel."(3)

In August this year, US made a contract for test MOX fuel production with the Cogema AtPU plant in Cadarache, France. The Cadarache plant had to close in July because of seismic concerns. Nevertheless, it will possibly resume operations to produce the 4 test assemblies for the U.S. Duke Energy NPPs.(4)

Mihama-no-Kai says that this case reminds the one that took place in 1999. At that time KEPCO had concluded a contract with Cogema to order MOX Fuel at MELOX. Though the production had already started, it was cancelled on the way with compensation of 6 billion yen (US$ 56 million) by KEPCO. The reason of the cancellation has still been unknown but is likely connected to the controversial status of the MOX program when a falsification scandal on U.K. made MOX fuel took place.

In September 1999, The Independent revealed that safety checks on MOX fuel from BNFL had been falsified. Quality control checks had by-passed by using data sheets from previous samples in order to "save time". At that moment, BNFL was producing MOX fuel for the four Takahama reactors of KEPCO.(5)

KEPCO withdrew its application for a license to use BNFL MOX fuel and other utilities delayed their MOX use program as well.(6) KEPCO returned a shipment of BNFL MOX to the UK last year.(7)

KEPCO now appears to have re-launched its plans for MOX use and turned to French Cogema as supplier. If KEPCO could reach an agreement with Cogema it would take at least 24 months before MOX use could start.(8)

In April, Japanese citizens launched an appeal to all the states parties to the Non Proliferation Treaty to urge Japan not to go forward with separation of massive quantities of plutonium at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, now under construction and later capable of producing 7 tons of plutonium per year. In the appeal citizens declare that there will be no future needs for plutonium as fuel. Contract with Cogema will pose more risk and danger on the company, as well as on the citizens. Besides, exploring a system for huge plutonium utilization will be a significant threat to nuclear nonproliferation.(9)

(1), only Japanese
(2) Financial Times, 5 September 2003
(4) WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 593.5543: "U.S. MOX to be fabricated at unsafe French Cadarache plant", 26 September 2003
(5) WISE News Communique 518.5083: "BNFL fiddling MOX quality control data", 24 September 1999
(6) WISE News Communique 523.5125: "Japanese demoxification", 21 January 2000
(7) Financial Times, 5 September 2003
(8) Financial Times, 5 September 2003

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Japan has experienced three big earthquakes in Miyagi Prefecture in May and July, and in the southeastern Hokkaido on 26 September. They caused serious damage on buildings, railroads, highways, etc, and many were injured. Fortunately there was little damage on nuclear reactors except that Onagawa-3 automatically shut down, and there was a small amount of leakage of radioactive coolant water caused by the earthquake in May.

The 26 September earthquake in Hokkaido was a big one with magnitude 8.0 followed a smaller one with magnitude 7.1 on the Richter scale. More than 500 people were injured, and the one of the most frightening was the fire at petroleum refinery in Tomakomai City, south of Hokkaido. A prominent leading geologist, Dr. Sunao Ogose warns the risk and danger of the nuclear facilities throughout Japan, where there are numbers of unknown active faults that may cause big earthquakes. He stressed that we cannot rely on the current earthquake proof standard for nuclear facilities. The planned Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant is not far from a long and huge active fault. From the seismic viewpoint, nuclear energy policy should be reconsidered and stopped, including MOX utilization.
WISE Japan