JAPAN | Chubu Electric unable to remove damaged nuclear fuel rod for 17 years

Posted on July 28, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | 28 July 2011

The Hamaoka nuclear power plant operated by Chubu Electric Power Co. is pictured in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, from a Mainichi helicopter in this February 2011 photo. (Mainichi)

The Hamaoka nuclear power plant operated by Chubu Electric Power Co. is pictured in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, from a Mainichi helicopter in this February 2011 photo. (Mainichi)

SHIZUOKA (Kyodo) — Chubu Electric Power Co. revealed Thursday it has been unable to remove a spent fuel rod that was damaged in an accident 17 years ago from its Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture.

While spent nuclear fuel is normally sent to the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture or elsewhere, the damaged rod remains inside the fuel pool of the plant’s now decommissioned No. 1 reactor, in a special container, it said.

The company said it had asked domestic research organizations and foreign nuclear fuel firms to take it but to no avail, and is still pondering how to get the rod outside in the absence of clear government rules on how to dispose of damaged fuel that requires more delicate handling.

Chubu Electric denied the same day that it had urged employees and workers at the Hamaoka plant to express support for its so-called pluthermal nuclear power generation project in a government-sponsored promotion event in 2007 when it let them know the event would be held in advance.

After Kyushu Electric Power Co. recently became embroiled in a scandal in which it admitted to an attempt to fake public backing in a similar event, the Economy, Trade and Industry ministry has required electric power companies in Japan to see if they have had similar problems and submit results of internal probes by Friday.

The company serving central Japan asked its employees and workers from its contractors to attend a symposium hosted by the ministry in August 2007 for local people to get a better grasp of the pluthermal project planned for the plant, sources close to the matter said Thursday.

Pluthermal power generation uses plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel in an existing reactor and is an important pillar of Japan’s nuclear program.

The headquarters of Chubu Electric Power Co. in Nagoya on May 7. (Mainichi)

The headquarters of Chubu Electric Power Co. in Nagoya on May 7. (Mainichi)

Of 524 people who attended the event, 357 expressed support for the project, the sources said.

The Nagoya-based utility, which postponed the project after the Fukushima nuclear crisis erupted in March and then shut down the Hamaoka plant later at the government’s request, says it will inform the ministry as soon as it compiles results of an in-house investigation.

Kyushu Electric has admitted a total of 141 people, including 45 of its employees, sent comments to a government-sponsored television program, aired June 26, via e-mail and fax amid a secret campaign to boost support for the company’s plan to reactivate its nuclear reactors.

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Posted in: JAPAN