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Company Admits MOX Plan Could Be Scrapped

Plutonium Shipments To Japan Should Be Abandoned After Importing Company Admits MOX Plan Could Be Scrapped

AMSTERDAM, Jan 24, 2001 - The shipment of plutonium MOX fuel, enroute to Japan from France, should be abandoned, Greenpeace said today, following an announcement by the Japanese power company importing the fuel, that it would scrap the programme if a majority of residents living near the nuclear plant are against it.

The plutonium MOX fuel is due to be loaded in July into the Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) reactor, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa-unit 3, in the Niigata region of western Japan. It will be the first reactor in Japan to use this type of nuclear fuel about which there are a number of safety concerns. Last night the TEPCO President, Naoya Minami, told Kariwa local residents at a public meeting that the company would not load the fuel if a majority of the town's population were against the plan.

Local Kariwa politicians and anti-nuclear groups have begun the process to initiate a referendum on whether the MOX fuel should be loaded into the nuclear power plant. First a majority of the town's population has to agree to hold a referendum, canvassing for which will begin on February 4th . If the mayor agrees to a referendum then it would be held in May of this year. TEPCO last week deployed one hundred representatives of the company to visit each household in the Kariwa town to persuade people not to support a referendum.

The plutonium and uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel left France on January 19th onboard the British flagged armed freighter, Pintail, together with its armed escort the Pacific Teal. Greenpeace estimates that the two vessels are now passing the Canary Islands in the north Atlantic Ocean, 1,500 nautical miles from their departure port Cherbourg in northern France. The entire voyage to Japan, via South Africa, the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific, is over 18,000 miles.

“The Tokyo Electric statement shows the callous disregard the company has for the enroute nations in Africa and the Asia Pacific," said Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner Shaun Burnie. "It appears the company is prepared to listen to local residents in Japan while still ignoring the opposition of enroute nations regions which have been forced to accept the dangers of these nuclear shipments passing their shores. With less than 10 per cent of the voyage complete these unwanted nuclear freighters should be instructed to return to France immediately."

In the last 18 months the use of MOX fuel in Japan has become particularly controversial following revelations that quality control data for MOX fuel produced by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) was falsified. Tokyo Electric is now at the center of a court battle over the quality control standards of MOX fuel delivered in 1999 and produced by the Belgium MOX fuel manufacturer, Belgonucleaire. A court is due to make decision within the next few months on claims that quality control data had been deliberately manipulated and that the use of the MOX would increase the risk of nuclear accident. Belgonucleaire and French MOX fuel manufacturer, Cogema, which produced the MOX fuel delivered in 1999 and the fuel currently being shipped to Japan, have refused to release significant quality control data to the court.

“The commitment to listen to public opinion is welcome, however they should stop trying to intimidate the genuinely worried people of the town, and instead scrap their program," said Burnie. "No plutonium shipped to Japan in the last 15 years has been used. MOX fuel makes no economic sense, is inherently dangerous, has quality control problems, and threatens the environment of all en-route countries between Europe and Japan."

Cogema and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) are currently desperate for Japan’s much delayed MOX program to begin, hoping that they will secure large-scale commercial contracts. Cogema has a limited contract for MOX fuel production for both Tokyo Electric and Kansai Electric. BNFL has no contracts with Japan for MOX fuel and is unable to open a new US$500 million dollar MOX production plant, SMP.

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