Tokyo, 6 June 2017 – With today’s restart of the Takahama 3 reactor in Fukui Prefecture, Greenpeace revealed that the nuclear operator Kansai Electric and the French nuclear company AREVA are planning a secret plutonium fuel shipment from France to the Takahama plant. Plutonium fuel (MOX) reduces the safety of the reactor, increasing both the risk of a severe accident and its radiological consequences. The shipment is scheduled to depart Cherbourg France on 7 July.
This also presents serious security issues, both as it is a potential terrorist target and that the plutonium in the MOX fuel is direct use nuclear weapons material. Due to these risks, the U.S. State Department and other agencies are required to approve the security plan for plutonium shipments to Japan under the terms of the US – Japan Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation Agreement of 1988. The Trump administration has approved this shipment, despite the increasingly unstable conditions in the region.
“The last thing Northeast Asia needs at this time, or at any time, is more nuclear weapons-usable material. Last year, the U.S. removed 331 kilograms of plutonium from Japan due to security risks, while ignoring the 10 tons of material that remained. One year later, at least 500 kg more plutonium is being approved for delivery to Japan. Plutonium is not your normal cargo to be traded as a commodity. It can be used as nuclear bomb material. Japan’s bankrupt plutonium program, and its endorsement by the Trump administration, is a further threat to the peace and security of this troubled region,” said Shaun Burnie, nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany in Tokyo.
The shipment comes at a time when Northeast Asia is already destabilized due to threats on the Korean peninsula, the spectre of military conflict, and the increasing risks of nuclear weapons proliferation. Japan’s decades long and multibillion dollar plutonium program has failed to ensure energy security for Japan, but it has led to the nation accumulating over 48 tons of plutonium, 10 of which is stored in Japan, and the rest in the UK and France.
This shipment will consist of at least 16 plutonium fuel (MOX) assemblies, which are planned to be loaded into the Takahama 4 reactor during its next refueling, expected in 2018. The amount of plutonium in the shipment due to leave France next month is estimated to range from between 496-736kg – as little as 5kg is sufficient for one nuclear weapon.
Two lightly armed British vessels, the Pacific Egret and Pacific Heron, are scheduled to leave the French port of Cherbourg on 7th of July, and are expected to arrive in Takahama between mid-August and early September, depending on the route chosen. One of the ships will transport the plutonium fuel, and the other will act as ‘armed escort’.
Both Takahama 3 and 4 already have plutonium MOX fuel in their cores, with 24 and 4 MOX assemblies loaded into each reactor respectively.
“KEPCO’s unjustified restart of the Takahama 3 reactor is made worse by the fact that they are planning a secret plutonium shipment which will increase the amount of dangerous plutonium MOX in their reactors. The Takahama reactors already pose an unacceptable threat to the people of Fukui and Kansai region. This will be compounded by the even greater usage of plutonium MOX fuel,” said Shaun Burnie, Senior Nuclear Specialist with Greenpeace Germany (currently based in Japan).
Due to the severity of the impacts of a nuclear disaster involving MOX fuel, citizens groups, including Greenpeace, have demanded that AREVA release vital safety data on the MOX fuel produced for Japan, including for the Fukushima Daiichi 3 reactor and the Takahama reactors, due to evidence of flawed production and quality control during manufacture.(1) To date, AREVA has failed to release any of the safety data. AREVA also refused to release the same data for MOX fuel loaded into the Fukushima Daiichi reactor 3 in 2000. The AREVA company which has suffered a near meltdown of its business in recent years, is desperate to secure more MOX fuel contracts with Japan, which suffered as a direct consequence of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident leading to the shutdown of the Japanese reactor fleet.
Of the five reactors now operating in Japan, three are operating with varying amounts of plutonium MOX fuel. There is a possibility of additional MOX fuel being in the shipment for other Japanese reactors – Ikata 3 is operating with MOX fuel, and the Genkai 3&4 will operate with MOX fuel if they restart before March 2018.
1 – Letter to AREVA Japan Calling for Disclosure of MOX Fuel Quality Control Data, 2016-01-28, and FUNDAMENTAL DEFICIENCIES IN THE QUALITY CONTROL OF MIXED-OXIDE NUCLEAR FUEL, Fukushima City, Japan, March 27th 2000
Kepco restarts second Takahama reactor as Greenpeace warns of French MOX fuel shipment
Security guards stand near a gate at the Takahama nuclear power plant in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, on Tuesday, prior to the restart of a reactor at the facility.
OSAKA – Kansai Electric Power Co. restarted its Takahama No. 3 reactor Tuesday afternoon, bringing to five the number of nuclear reactors nationwide that have come back online since the March 11, 2011, triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
“Today marks an important step in the process to restart Japan’s nuclear reactors. It does not mark the end of efforts to ensure the safety of nuclear power, and we’ll continue to make safety our top priority,” said Kepco President Shigeki Iwane shortly after the 2 p.m. restart.
The No. 3 restart comes less than a month after Kepco turned its No. 4 reactor back on. It also came on the heels of reports that a shipment of uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel will arrive in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, in a few months from France for use in the No. 4 reactor next year.
Kepco’s push to fire up the 32-year-old Takahama reactors came with promises it would reduce electricity bills. Electricity from the No. 4 reactor, which went back online last month, will go on sale late next week. Electricity from the No. 3 reactor is expected to be sold from early July, during the hottest part of the summer when electricity demand peaks.
Kepco’s return to nuclear power generation, which accounted for nearly half of its electricity prior to March 11, 2011, takes place as renewable energy sources slowly gain ground.
According to one recent expert tally, renewable energy, including large-scale hydropower, accounted for 14.5 percent of total domestic power generation capacity in fiscal 2015 through March 2016.
In “Sustainable Zone 2016,” a joint analysis of Japan’s renewable energy situation by Chiba University professor Hidefumi Kurasaka and the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, it was also noted that during the first half of fiscal 2016, the average ratio of renewable energy produced by the nation’s 10 utilities increased to 15.7 percent of total electricity demand. But the ratio of renewable energy, including large-scale hydropower, at Hokkaido Electric Power Co. and Hokuriku Electric Power Co. reached 32 percent during that same period.
The government’s official energy policy calls for renewables to account for between 22 and 24 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030 and for nuclear power to generate between 20 and 22 percent, on average.
On Tuesday, Greenpeace revealed that plans are moving forward to ship at least 496 kg of plutonium from France in the form of 16 MOX fuel assemblies to Japan for use in the Takahama No. 4 reactor when it is reloaded next year. Greenpeace estimates the shipment will depart Cherbourg, France, early next month and — assuming there are no delays — arrive in Takahama sometime between mid-August and early September.
“Kepco’s unjustified restart of the Takahama 3 reactor is made worse by the fact that they are planning a secret plutonium shipment which will increase the amount of dangerous plutonium MOX in their reactors,” said Shaun Burnie, a Japan-based senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany. “The Takahama reactors already pose an unacceptable threat to the people of Fukui and Kansai region. This will be compounded by the even greater usage of plutonium MOX fuel.”
Japan restarts reactor No 3 at Takahama nuclear plant
Only a handful of reactors have come back online, due to public opposition, since the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Tuesday’s move comes after court clearance.
Japan’s coast guard patrols in front of the No 3 reactor at the nuclear plant in Takahama, Fukui prefecture, some 350 kilometres west of Tokyo on June 6, 2017
In a small victory for the government’s pro-atomic push, a Japanese utility switched on another nuclear reactor on Tuesday, despite strong public opposition after the 2011 Fukushima meltdown.
The restart of the No 3 reactor at the Takahama nuclear plant brings the number of operational atomic reactors in Japan to five, while dozens more remain offline. Located in Fukui prefecture, the plant which is operated by Kansai Electric Power (KEPCO) is some 350 kilometres (215 miles) west of Tokyo.
Tuesday’s move comes after the utility switched on Takahama’s No 4 reactor last month with the court’s go-ahead, in spite of complaints from local residents over safety concerns. The court also gave the green light to switch on the No 3 reactor.
Japan shut down all of its atomic reactors after a powerful earthquake in March 2011 spawned a huge tsunami that led to meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Fukushima became the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
Since then, just a handful of reactors have come back online due to public opposition and as legal cases work their way through the courts.
However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has aggressively promoted nuclear energy, calling it essential to powering the world’s third-largest economy.
Much of the public remains wary of nuclear power after the disaster at Fukushima spewed radiation over a large area and forced tens of thousands to leave their homes, with some unlikely to ever return.
FUKUI, Japan (Kyodo) — The mayor of a Fukui Prefecture town hosting a Kansai Electric Power Co. nuclear power plant where one of its reactors resumed operations just this month has floated the idea of installing dry cask storage within the plant and keeping ever increasing spent fuel there.
Takahama Mayor Yutaka Nose’s idea, though floated only as an option, is a rare one coming from someone in his position given that nuclear fuel is supposed to be moved out of a power station after it reaches the end of its usefulness after generating electricity.
At the same time, Nose has called for the central government’s greater involvement in projects to build temporary storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel outside nuclear power plants.
While Kansai Electric has said the site for its temporary storage facility to be built outside Fukui would be finalized sometime around 2020 and that the facility would begin being used around 2030, “there is no guarantee that (a municipality) outside the prefecture would agree to host the facility,” Nose said in a recent interview with Kyodo News.
But “it’ll be too late if we start thinking about (what to do with spent fuel) after (spent fuel pools) become full. We need to have a backup plan in case (the temporary storage project) goes nowhere,” he said.
Nose has effectively floated the option of building dry cask storage within the Takahama plant and keeping spent fuel there while at the same time continuing to use existing fuel cooling pools at reactors.
Dry cask storage, where spent fuel is kept in metal containers, “will reduce risks” of accidents, Nose said, on the grounds that such a storage method does not need water or electricity to keep spent fuel cooled.
In the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami, reactors temporarily lost cooling functions in their spent fuel pools, putting a massive amount of fuel at risk of overheating and exposure.
“I’m responsible for the lives of town residents. Even if it is impossible to attain 100 percent safety, it is natural that we think about reducing risks. Not that we want to actively seek (spent fuel), but we have to think about the reality that (spent fuel) would remain in Takahama town,” he said.
The No. 4 reactor at the four-reactor Takahama plant resumed operations on May 17 amid persistent public concerns over the safety of nuclear power following the 2011 nuclear crisis. The plant’s No. 3 unit is scheduled to go back online in early June, while the remaining two units are expected to remain offline for the foreseeable future.
Cooling pools at the plant are capable of storing a total of 4,400 fuel assemblies but must be kept at less than capacity to allow for fuel exchange work. The pools collectively have about 2,700 assemblies already. If all four reactors begin operating there, the pools will reach their capacity within six to seven years.