MOX shipment starts

05 March 2009

MOX shipment is loaded

Image: Getty/AFP

This was the scene this morning as workers at Cherbourg, France began loading containers of mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel for sea transport to Japan.


The consignment will be carried on the Pacific Heron and Pacific Pintail, specialist vessels belonging to Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd, to Areva's reprocessing customers, Chubu, Kyushu and Shikoku. The voyage via the Cape of Good Hope and the south west Pacific Ocean will be complete in the second half of May 2009. It will be the third such delivery from European reprocessors based at Sellafield in the UK and La Hague in France.


Japan lacks energy resources and has prioritised nuclear power because of the high energy density of uranium-based nuclear fuel. Nuclear power provides great security of supply because so much energy can be obtained from a small amount of fuel and reactors can operate at full power for 12-18 months between refuellings. Even so, Japan must still import all its uranium and so reprocessing and recycling reusable materials is a national policy. Nuclear power from 53 reactors provides 30% of Japanese electricity and there is a target to increase this to at least 40% by 2017.


About 5% of the content of MOX fuel is plutonium recovered from nuclear fuel already used in power-generating reactors. Recycling the material in this way increases the energy it produces by 12%. If unfissioned uranium is also recovered and reused the figure increases to 22%. The process also allows the separation of the most highly radioactive fission products, meaning the volumes of the most dangerous wastes is reduced by over 60%.