2017/07/05 Takahama Plutonium Fuel Shipment Exposes Risks and Failure of Japanese Nuclear Policy 

プレスリリース - 2017-07-05
Tokyo, 5 July 2017 – The plutonium MOX fuel shipment that will depart France to the Takahama unit 4 reactor today highlights both the risks and failure of Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle policy, Greenpeace warned today. Plutonium MOX fuel use reduces the safety margins of reactors and increases the severity of a nuclear accident.[1] Currently Japan, has stockpiled over 10 tons of plutonium domestically, with more than 37 tons stored in France and the UK. The shipment to Takahama contains as much as 736kg – as little as 5kg is sufficient for one nuclear weapon.

A total of 16 mixed oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies manufactured by AREVA were loaded onto the Pacific Egret nuclear cargo vessel in the port of Cherbourg, France this morning (France time). Greenpeace conducted protests along the transport route from the AREVA plutonium plant at la Hague plant to Cherbourg, which was guarded by hundreds of armed military personnel and helicopters. Three of the five reactors currently in operation in Japan have plutonium MOX fuel in their cores, including Takahana 3 and 4. Japanese Government policy plans to produce even greater amounts of weapons usable plutonium at its Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture if it eventually starts operation in 2018, while also loading MOX fuel into additional commercial reactors.

“The use of plutonium MOX fuel in the Takahama reactors reduces their safety margins and increases the risk of accident. A severe accident at Takahama fueled with MOX fuel would release even greater amounts of plutonium into the environment leading to higher cancer risks to the population both locally in Fukui and across the Kansai region. There can be no justification for deliberately reducing the safety of the Takahama nuclear plant in a desperate but doomed effort to reduce Japan’s massive stockpile of plutonium,” said Hisayo Takada Energy Project Leader of Greenpeace Japan.

The two lightly armed transport ships that will deliver the MOX to Japan, Pacific Heron and Pacific Egret, have multiple route options, but will not pass through the Panama Canal due to security concerns. The most likely route will be south through the Atlantic, rounding South Africa and across the Southern Ocean, passing through the Tasman Sea in early August and north through the South Pacific before reaching Takahama on the Sea of Japan coast in the first week of September.

Both Takahama 3 and 4 already have plutonium MOX fuel in their cores, with 24 and 4 MOX assemblies loaded into each reactor respectively. Kansai Electric is likely to load the 16 assemblies in the current shipment during Takahama 4 outage in 2018.

Japan’s is permitted to acquire weapons usable plutonium under the 1988 U.S.-Japan Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which runs until 2018. The Japanese government aims to extend the agreement without any reconsideration of its failed plutonium program. Members of the U.S congress in 2016 have raised concerns about the proliferation implications of Japan continuing to build up its plutonium stockpiles. The Trump administration has not formally stated its position.

“Japan’s plutonium program has utterly failed to deliver energy security to the nation. It is in violation of international norms in stockpiling vast quantities of direct use nuclear weapons material. There is no justification for this shipment or the extension of the U.S.-Japan Agreement which currently endorses the buildup of plutonium stocks. In the interests of peace and real security the Japanese government urgently needs to rethink its failed nuclear policy and terminate its expensive, dangerous and plutonium program,” said Shaun Burnie, Senior Nuclear Specialist at Greenpeace Germany.[2]

[1]  The Dangers of Using MOX (Pluthermal) Fuel, Edwin S. Lyman, Senior Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists Washington, DC U.S. July 2015 available at http://greenaction-japan.org/internal/150719-21_mox-safety-talk-en.pdf

[2] Due to the severity of the impacts of a nuclear disaster involving MOX fuel, citizens groups, including Greenpeace, have demanded since 1999 that AREVA release vital safety data on the MOX fuel produced for Japan, including for MOX loaded into the Fukushima Daiichi 3 reactor and the Takahama reactors, due to evidence of flawed production and quality control during manufacture.The release of quality control data demanded by Green Action, Mihama no Kai and Greenpeace in 1999 led to the disclosure of falsified data for Takahama MOX fuel produced in the Uk and the return of the plutonium fuel to Europe. To date, AREVA has failed to release any of the safety data. The AREVA company which has suffered a near meltdown of its business in recent years, is desperate to secure more MOX fuel contracts with Japan, which suffered as a direct consequence of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident leading to the shutdown of the Japanese reactor fleet.
Letter to AREVA Japan Calling for Disclosure of MOX Fuel Quality Control Data, 2016-01-28 and https://www.greenpeace.fr/stop-plutonium/dossiers/MOX_quality_annexe4.pdf.

Shaun Burnie, Senior nuclear specialist, Greenpeace Germany, email: , mob: +44 (0)77-1650-1238
Chisato Jono, Communications Officer, Greenpeace Japan, email:, mob: +81 (0) 80-6558-4446