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Spent MOX nuclear fuel removal starts, 2nd case in Japan

This May 2019 file photo shows the No. 3 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Takahama nuclear power plant. (Kyodo)

TSURUGA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Operations have started to remove a rare type of spent fuel made of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide from a nuclear reactor in central Japan, its operator Kansai Electric Power Co. said Monday.

The removal of MOX fuel rods from the No. 3 reactor at a plant in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, is the second such case in Japan, following one conducted at the Ikata nuclear plant in the western Japan prefecture of Ehime earlier this month.

Kansai Electric plans to take out by Wednesday eight of 28 MOX fuel rods, which had been used at the reactor since December 2010, it said.

The eight MOX fuel rods will be replaced by uranium fuel.

The Osaka-based company said it plans to remove a further 73 uranium fuel rods at the reactor, which is now under a regular checkup.

Kansai Electric said it will store the spent MOX fuel rods temporarily in a cooling pool at the plant, as Japan has no reprocessing facilities for them despite government and power companies' plans to reuse plutonium extracted by reprocessing the spent fuel.

The MOX fuel, made of plutonium and uranium extracted while reprocessing spent fuel, was first used at a Japanese nuclear plant in 2009.

The government and the power industry have promoted the use of the fuel believing it is a key component of resource-poor Japan's nuclear fuel recycling program and helps the country reduce its stockpile of plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Kansai Electric said that it plans to activate the No. 3 unit of the four-reactor plant in early April and start commercial operations a month later. The three other units at the Takahama plant are also offline due to regular inspections.

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