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Another MOX scandal?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
(January 26, 2001) In 1999, quality data on MOX fuel made by BNFL in Britain for the Japanese Takahama 4 reactor proved to be falsified. Belgonucleaire (BN) in Belgium, which made MOX fuel for the Japanese nuclear utility Tepco, is now also accused of falsification of its quality control data. Japanese citizens started an injunction lawsuit against Tepco. A referendum effort is also aimed at blocking the use of Belgian MOX fuel in Japan.

(542.5236) WISE Amsterdam - The official Japanese policy is to reuse all plutonium recovered in reprocessing plants as MOX fuel in existing Light Water Reactors. By 2010 some 18 reactors are to use MOX fuel. The use of MOX fuel in Japan should have started in four reactors five years ago, back in 1996 but it was delayed many times, and no MOX has yet been loaded into a Japanese reactor.

So far, there have been two shipments of BN MOX fuel for Japan. 32 MOX fuel assemblies for Fukushima I-3, made by BN, arrived in Japan back in September 1999. They remained unused as a result of the BNFL MOX fuel falsification. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) intends to load this MOX fuel into Fukushima I-3 in April 2001. The 28 MOX fuel assemblies for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 3, also made by BN, left the French port of Cherbourg for Japan on 19 January 2001. They are loaded into four casks on two ships: the Pacific Pintail and the Pacific Teal. The ships are owned by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd., a joint venture of BNFL and Cogema.

In August 2000 over 1100 Japanese citizens and non-governmental organizations, including Greenpeace Japan and Citizens Nuclear Information Centre in Tokyo, started a court action in the Fukushima District Court seeking an injunction against Tepco, to prevent the loading of MOX fuel made by Belgonucleaire. Three judges of the court have been hearing evidence of the MOX production standards at Belgonucleaire's MOX plant at Dessel, Belgium. The Fukushima District Court has held five hearings since the injunction was started. It will hold one further hearing on 30 January 2001, when additional evidence will be submitted. The District Court judges are expected to rule before mid-March on this civil complaint.

Two statistical studies of MOX fuel made by BN revealed there is suspicion that the Quality Control [QC] data of measurements of the diameters of MOX fuel pellets have been manipulated.

The shipment of Belgonucléaire MOX from Cherbourg to Japan met with protests, both at the gates of the Cogéma reprocessing plant and at the port of Cherbourg where the MOX was shipped on board British freighters. On 19 January, French maritime authorities arrested six Greenpeace activists in the port of Cherbourg. Swimmers carrying radiation symbol flags jumped from inflatables and approached the ship.
(Greenpeace press releases 17, 18 and 19 January 2001)

One study in connection with the court case was done in Japan, by Dr. Hideyuki Koyama, lecturer of mathematical sciences at Osaka Prefecture University. Dr. Koyama is also director of the citizens organisation Mihama-no-Kai. In a letter published on 18 January 2001, the court asked Tepco to give them the quality control data of BN and to give precise answers to questions from Dr. Koyama.

Dr. Koyama analysed MOX fuel made by Belgonucleaire to be used in Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 3 and Fukushima I-3, two BWR's owned by Tepco. Dr. Koyama stated he found irregularities in four of 14 MOX fuel assemblies for Fukushima I-3 and in four of 18 MOX fuel assemblies for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 3. His analysis of Fukushima MOX fuel was submitted to the Fukushima District Court in November 2000. On 12 January 2001 he explained his findings on QC data for MOX for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa to the Niigata Prefecture.

The amount of data revealed by Belgonucleaire is extremely limited, compared to the data made public by BNFL. BNFL gave both the total pellet diameter measurement data and the random sampling quality data of its MOX fuel made for PWR Takahama 4. BN gave no total pellet diameter measurements. Another difference between the BNFL data and the BN data is the measurement unit intervals for the random sampling measurements. BNFL used 1 micron as the measurement unit. However, while Belgonucleaire actually used the 1-micron intervals too, it did not supply those data, neither to Tepco, nor to opponents. BN only supplied data with 4-micron intervals. Tepco therefore told judges it does not have all the Quality Control [QC] data for the MOX fuel from BN.

Koyama says the 4-micron interval for the data from BN is likely to conceal irregularities. Due to these limitations of the available data, Koyama's quality control analysis cannot reveal all irregularities. So Dr. Koyama took the limited data and by mathematical analysis regenerated the graphics of the BN quality control data. He claims his analysis leads to the conclusion that the QC data for BN MOX fuel is flawed.

Koyama's analysis in 1999 of BNFL MOX fuel proved the QC data was falsified, in spite of BNFL denying it at first. BNFL later acknowledged that safety data for MOX fuel it made for Japan were falsified. Japanese citizen groups are demanding the release of all data of Belgonucleaire MOX fuel.

A second study was published in December 2000 by the Oxford Research Group in the UK, together with Greenpeace International. The statistical analysis was done by Dr. Edward Lyman, scientific director for the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) in Washington DC, US. As in the Japanese analysis, there were indications of possible data manipulation. The report claims that the MOX fuel made by Belgonucleaire for Tepco is tainted. It says the MOX fuel is made in an old facility with poor production and quality control standards, which are even below the standards of BNFL's old MOX plant at Sellafield.

The BN MOX fuel plant started operation in 1985. The report said there is a lack of international standards for MOX fuel. If Tepco loads MOX fuel in their reactors, it will significantly increase the risks of a nuclear accident, with catastrophic effects involving the release of large amounts of deadly plutonium particles into the atmosphere, said Frank Barnaby of the Oxford Research Group, co-author of the study.

Citizens and legislators in the Kariwa village announced a referendum drive to begin on 4 February. The referendum will seek a Yes/No vote on the use of MOX in the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 3 unit. They want the production and use of MOX fuel to be terminated.


  • ENS, 29 December 2000
  • Nuke Info Tokyo, January/February 2001
  • Green Action press release, 16 January 2001
  • Le Monde, 20 january 2001
  • NuclearFuel, 22 January 2001

Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, 3F Kotobuki Bldg., 1-58-15, Higashi-nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo 164-0003, Japan
Tel: +81 3 5330 9529; Fax: +81 3 5330 9530