Tokyo Electric Power Co. has struck a deal with German electric power firms to exchange 0.4 ton of plutonium stored for TEPCO in France by fuel maker Areva SA, for the same amount in Britain owned by Germany.
The transaction was made on paper and did not involve an actual transfer of plutonium.
The plutonium stored in France was meant to be used to produce uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel mainly for the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant’s No. 3 reactor. However, the plant’s reactors will be decommissioned due to the nuclear crisis at the plant after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, so the fuel does not have a destination.
Japanese electric power companies have been promoting a so-called pluthermal project to extract plutonium and uranium from spent nuclear fuel and mix them to create MOX fuel for use in conventional nuclear reactors. However, there is little prospect of TEPCO’s reactors being reactivated.
By swapping the plutonium with the German firms, TEPCO avoids having to receive the MOX fuel from Areva, which had been pressuring the utility to do so.
An exchange of plutonium between countries is extremely rare, as it requires strict storage standards in accordance with nuclear nonproliferation.
Areva holds 2.5 tons of plutonium for fuel that it extracted from spent nuclear fuel provided by TEPCO. Of this, 0.4 ton of plutonium is already in the form of MOX fuel. Areva told TEPCO that it cannot indefinitely extend the storage period for the fuel, as there is no prospect of it being used.
TEPCO agreed to the swap as the German utilities want to use the MOX kept in France as soon as possible, amid a suspension of MOX fuel production in Britain.
In Britain, TEPCO had 4.9 tons of plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel provided by the utility. The deal increases this amount by 0.4 ton.
A total of 7.4 tons of plutonium owned by TEPCO stored in Britain and France remain unchanged.
The pluthermal project is planned at 16 to 18 reactors in Japan by fiscal 2015. The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture, Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture, and Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, have introduced it.
Last week, MOX fuel was transported to the Takahama nuclear power plant by ship from France for the first time since the March 2011 disaster.
Filed under: 8.Eathquake & Nuclear accident