MOX fuel contract for Hokkaido reactor

30 March 2010

France's Areva has signed a contract to supply mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for use in unit 3 of Hokkaido Electric Power Co's Tomari nuclear power reactor in Japan.


MOX pellet
A MOX fuel pellet
Under the terms of the contract, signed with Mitsubishi Nuclear Fuel (MNF), Areva will fabricate the MOX fuel at its Melox plant using plutonium recovered from used fuel at its La Hague reprocessing plant. MNF designed the MOX fuel to be used by Hokkaido.


Between 2006 and 2009, Areva signed MOX supply contracts with other Japanese utilities, including Chubu, Kyushu, Shikoku, Kansai, Electric Power Development Corp (EPDC) and Chugoku.


Construction of the 866 MWe Tomari 3 pressurized water reactor began in 2003. The reactor reached criticality on 3 March 2009 and test operations followed on 20 March. It was connected to the grid in December.


An application was made in March 2009 to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (Meti) for Tomari 3 to use up to 40 MOX fuel assemblies. Permission from the ministry is pending. In addition to gaining permission to use the fuel, Hokkaido must also apply for permission to import the MOX assemblies.


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%, while 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 volume of the most dangerous waste is reduced by over 60%.


This kind of recycling is to be the basis of Japan's future nuclear fuel cycle, so that the resource-poor but energy-hungry country can get the best value from imported uranium. Later steps are planned to include fast neutron reactors to use more plutonium and generate more fissionable fuel with nuclear power providing over 40% of electricity.


Up until 1998, Japan sent the bulk of its used fuel to plants in France and the UK for reprocessing and MOX fabrication. However, since 1999 it has been storing used fuel in anticipation of full-scale operation of its own reprocessing and MOX fabrication facilities.


Japan's Federation of Electric Power Companies (Fepco) has a goal of having 16-18 reactors using MOX fuel by 2015.


By end of January 2010 the Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) on behalf of Meti had approved the use of MOX fuel in ten reactors, including: Takahama 3 and 4, Fukishima I-3, Kashiwazaki Kariwa 3, Genkai 3, Hamaoka 4, Onagawa 3 and Shimane-2.


Unit 3 of Kyushu Electric Power Co's Genkai nuclear power plant was the first Japanese reactor to use MOX fuel. It restarted in early November 2009, having been partly loaded MOX fuel assemblies.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News