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Jonathan Head reports from Tokyo
"There were no smiles on the faces of British officials as they began talks"
 real 28k

Monday, 7 February, 2000, 07:44 GMT
UK defends nuclear record in Japan

Tokyo demonstration The British delegation was greeted by demonstrators


A UK Government delegation has arrived in Tokyo to try to overturn a ban by the Japanese Government on the use of reprocessed nuclear fuel from Britain.

The UK had promised in December to give a full explanation of the scandal which erupted last year, when the government was deeply embarrassed by false safety data for re-processed nuclear sent to Japan.

British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) admitted its employees saved time by by-passing quality control checks on mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (Mox) fuel at the Sellafield plant in the north of England.

Some test data were falsified on the size of fuel pellets in a shipment of Mox sent to Japan's Kansai Electric Power Ltd.

The fuel arrived in Japan last October, a sensitive time following a major nuclear accident at Tokaimura nuclear plant that killed one worker and exposed hundreds to radioactive fallout.

Reputation

Anna Walker, director-general for energy at the UK's Department of Trade and Industry, is on a seven-day trip to Japan to try to restore the reputation of the British nuclear industry

Ms Walker would "explain in full the events that led up to the falsification and the programme of remedial measures that were being put in place by BNFL to ensure that never happens again," said a British embassy spokeswoman in Tokyo.


Japanese nuclear safety exercises Japan relies heavily on its nuclear industry
She has held her first meeting with her Japanese counterpart, Hirofumi Kawano, director-general of the agency of natural resources and energy at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, but no details have so far been released.

The British delegation was greeted by a small, but noisy, group of anti-nuclear protestors.

The UK now has an uphill battle to convince the Japanese Government that the highly radioactive fuel really is safe to use in its nuclear power stations.

Kansai Electric Power insisted last month it would return the fuel to Sellafield as soon as necessary permits were obtained, although it believed the fuel itself was safe.

In light of the controversy, Tokyo Electric Power Co also decided in December to put off its use of a separate batch of Mox, which was recycled in Belgium, to allow time for extra checks.

If Japan continues with its ban on using reprocessed fuel, the brand-new Sellafield reprocessing plant may be forced out of business even before it goes into full operation.

Japan is the largest potential customer for the new plant, which has yet to receive UK Government approval.

Japan relies on 51 commercial nuclear power plants to supply one-third of its electricity.

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