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Nuclear power plant to be taken offline in days to remove fuel rods

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(Xinhua) – A nuclear power plant is offline in western Japan ahead of the removal of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel rods, the plant’s operator Shikoku Electric Power Co said.

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According to the utility, 37 spent fuel rods will be removed from the Ikata plant’s No 3 unit in January.

The removal of the spent fuel rods at the plant located in western Japan’s Ehime prefecture will also involve the removal of 16 plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) spent fuel rods, which will be a first in Japan.

Shikoku Electric said as well as replacing the control unit of the No 3 unit’s reactor, it will also add five new MOX fuel rods ahead of the planned restart of the reactor and commercial operation which are set to begin again towards the end of April next year.

The removed MOX fuel rods will be stored in a cooling pool at the plant, the utility said, although with no facility to reprocess the fuel, the utility has yet to explain where the final location of the used fuel will be.

The Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), meanwhile, under pressure from the international community, had been looking to a process called plutonium-thermal (pluthermal) power generation as a means of reducing Japan’s stockpiles of plutonium.

Japan is the only country without nuclear weapons that is allowed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and has enough plutonium to theoretically make about 6,000 plutonium-cored atomic bombs.

Pluthermal power generation, however, sees MOX fuel burned at fast-breeder or normal nuclear reactors.

However, following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the worst such crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, the majority of Japan’s nuclear reactors were taken offline for safety inspections amid widespread public opposition over the safety of the aged plants.

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