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Spent MOX fuel to be removed from Japan nuke plant in Jan.

This April 2, 2018 file photo shows the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture, western Japan. (Kyodo)

MATSUYAMA, Japan (Kyodo) -- A reactor at a nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture, western Japan, was shut down Thursday in preparation for the removal of spent mixed oxide fuel, a first in the country.

Shikoku Electric Power Co. plans to take out 37 spent fuel rods, 16 of which are MOX, from the Ikata plant's No. 3 unit in January.

The utility will load five new MOX fuel rods, as well as replace the reactor's control unit, before restarting it in late March and resuming commercial operation in late April.

MOX is made using recycled plutonium and uranium and tends to run hotter than the low-enriched uranium more widely used in thermal reactors such as the No. 3 unit.

Shikoku Electric has said it will temporarily store the spent MOX in a cooling pool within the Ikata plant, but as Japan currently does not have the necessary reprocessing facilities, it is unclear where the fuel will end up.

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