Power Line
The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan Vol.5
July 1999

MOX Fuel Shipments Safe and Sound

Mox Fuel Flow

IN 1999, JAPAN IS PLANNING to start the MOX utilization program, which involves utilizing MOX fuel —a mixture of uranium and plutonium oxides— in existing light-water reactors. MOX fuel is fabricated using plutonium that has been recovered through the chemical reprocessing of spent fuel. Due to a lack of facilities in Japan, most of the reprocessing of spent fuel and fabrication into MOX fuel has been done in Europe, necessitating its transport back to Japan.

In accordance with the U.S.Japan Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (U.S. Japan Agreement) , on January 28, 1999, the Japanese government commenced formal consultations with the U.S. government on a plan for the transportation of MOX fuel. Under the terms of the Agreement, Japan needs to consult with U.S. authorities for any shipment containing plutonium extracted from nuclear fuel originally supplied by the United States for use in Japan's power reactors. The transportation plan was established with the cooperation and assistance of the U.S. government. The MOX fuel in the planned shipment will be used by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kansai).

The shipment will be carried out by vessels belonging to Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd. (PNTL) , Over the past 20 years, PNTL has maintained an impeccable safety record, having transported over 8,000 tons of nuclear material over 4.5 million miles without a single incident involving the release of radioactivity.

International experts rate PNTL vessels to be among the world's safest, far above conventional cargo vessels. They feature double hulls to withstand collision damage, enhanced buoyancy to maintain the ship afloat even in extreme circumstances, dual navigation and tracking systems, twin engines and propellers, and additional firefighting equipment, including a hold-flooding system. Moreover, all ships are certified to the highest safety category "INF3" code by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) .

The specialized casks are built to standards set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The casks are massive, made from thick forged steel, and weigh around 100 tons, with five tons' of solid MOX fuel inside. Their security and reliability are carefully tested, including being dropped 9 meters onto an unyielding target, immersed in 15 meters of water for at least 8 hours, and fire tested, where the cask is fully engulfed in 800-degree-Celsius temperatures for 30 minutes. The casks are able to survive the pressure of several thousand meters of water.

TN 12/2 Transport Cask

In addition, the MOX fuel itself is inherently safe and resistant to the effect of outside elements. The pellets are a hard ceramic, stonelike material that is so durable that it would take thousands and thousands of years to dissolve. The fuel rods are corrosion resistant and are able to withstand the depths of several thousand meters of water.

A recent study by the Central Research Institute of Electric Utilities in Japan shows that even by discount-ing the sealing capacity of a cask on the seabed, the impact on those living near the incident would amount to one-millionth of natural background radiation. If such an accident hap-pened in deep waters, the impact would be equivalent to ten-millionths of background radiation.

The physical protection measures for the MOX fuel shipments meet the recommendations of the IAEA and the requirements of the U.S.-Japan Agreement. There will be two PNTL vessels, armed for self-defense, that will sail in a convoy, each escorting and protecting the other. Armed officers of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary (UKAEAC) , who have been specially trained to protect nuclear facilities and materials, will be responsible for protection aboard the ship. The U.K. government will be responsible for ensuring the physical protection of the vessel and its cargo during the voyage.

On May 11, 1999, the U.S. government officially notified the Japanese government that the transportation plan fully satisfies provisions of the U.S.Japan Agreement. It means the U.S. government endorsed the physical protection measures of the MOX fuel transport as fully adequate.

One six-gram MOX pellet generates the energy equivalent of a ton of coal. The energy contained in just three pellets of MOX fuel is enough to provide all of a family's electricity needs for an entire year. MOX fuel will pro-vide Japan, a country with scarce energy resources, with a semi-domestic energy source. Japan plans to have 16 to 18 reactors using MOX fuel by 2010; 70 will be operational around the world by that time.

PNTL Vessel