MOX fuel processed in France arrives at Takahama nuclear plant

A freighter carrying nuclear fuel processed in France arrived amid protests by antinuclear activists at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Takahama nuclear power plant in central Japan on Thursday, the first such shipment to Japan since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The shipment of uranium-plutonium mixed-oxide, or MOX, for the No. 3 reactor had been suspended due to the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi power plant following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The Osaka-based utility hopes to use the fuel from around the fall of 2014, and is poised to apply for government approval to restart reactors Nos. 3 and 4 at the plant in Fukui Prefecture on the Sea of Japan once new nuclear plant safety requirements come into force in July.

More than 100 members of various antinuclear citizens groups rallied at a square near the plant and in front of the plant's gate, opposing the use of the fuel at the plant and urging the freighter to return to France.

At the rally, Toshihiro Inoue, 55, read a statement of protest against the installation of the fuel and handed it to a Kansai Electric official, while Hitomi Nishimoto, 46, told reporters that Kansai Electric should never use the delivered fuel at the plant.

The work to unload the MOX fuel rods from the freighter and store them at the plant is expected to finish by Thursday evening after local government officials have checked the levels of radiation.

Kansai Electric asked French nuclear firm Areva SA in 2008 to process 20 MOX fuel rods from spent nuclear fuel. The reprocessing work was completed in 2010 and the rods were initially meant to be shipped to Japan in 2011.

The freighter left France on April 17 for Japan by way of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Kansai Electric has yet to disclose how many fuel rods were delivered.

Under the government's nuclear cycle policy, Kansai Electric used MOX fuel at the Takahama No. 3 reactor in so-called pluthermal, or plutonium-thermal, power generation from December 2010 through February 2012, when it was shut down for regular checks.

Kansai Electric, which supplies electric power to the Kansai region in western Japan and parts of central Japan, took delivery of four MOX fuel rods for use at the No. 4 reactor before the 2011 disaster.

Of the 50 commercial reactors in Japan, only two at Kansai Electric's Oi plant, also in Fukui, are now online.

The utility has officially said it will use MOX fuel sometime between 2013 and 2015, but included a plan to use it at the two Takahama reactors from around the fall of 2014 in its earlier application for government permission to raise household electricity rates.