Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Sci/Tech
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Friday, 17 December, 1999, 14:07 GMT
More suspect nuclear fuel found

ships Mox is transported by sea

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

British Nuclear Fuels says it has found that another batch of Mox (mixed oxide) fuel is of suspect quality.

A quantity of Mox fuel has been delivered to Japan for use in the country's Takahama 4 power station.

But the plant's operators, Kansai Electric, say they will not use the fuel. BNFL says the company's refusal is temporary, while Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth describe it as an outright cancellation.

Kansai's announcement is the latest stage in a problem for BNFL that began in September, when a British newspaper, the Independent, revealed that fuel quality control data for another batch of Mox pellets had been falsified.

Mox is a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxides. With plutonium no longer needed for use in the world's abandoned fast breeder reactor programmes and nuclear powers getting rid of their atomic weapons, large stockpiles of the highly toxic plutonium metal are starting to build up.

Mox offers a solution to the problem: by blending the plutonium into a new fuel, the stockpiles can be reduced. The Sellafield Mox plant was set up to meet what was expected to be a big international market for the recycled fuel.


Three workers accused by BNFL of falsifying the data were dismissed, and have recently lost the second round of their appeal against dismissal. The workers themselves say that BNFL has made them scapegoats, and they are considering further legal action.

plant Sellafield needs the Mox business
When the scandal broke, BNFL said none of the Mox fuel already sent to Japan was affected. A statement by the company says: "When the data falsification issue originally came to light in September, BNFL immediately launched a series of internal investigations.

"As a result of these investigations, it became apparent on 15 December that another lot of fuel, other than those previously identified, contained irregularities in the quality assurance data.

"BNFL immediately made its customers and regulators aware of these irregularities. Consequently, we fully support the precautionary action which has now been taken by our customer and the Japanese regulator."

Final approval

Environmental campaign groups say the setback - which they believe will not be the temporary hiccup BNFL thinks it is - will spell the end of Mox production at the company's plant at Sellafield in northwest England.

Greenpeace said the company's Mox business was "dead in the water. The whole rationale behind reprocessing Japanese fuel at Sellafield has now collapsed".

The fuel that Kansai has rejected was made in BNFL's pilot Mox plant. It is awaiting approval to open a full-scale version.

Dr Patrick Green, of Friends of the Earth, said: "If the Japanese don't want Mox, it really is the death knell for BNFL's new Mox manufacturing plant. The government must now refuse BNFL permission to open it".

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

See also:
06 Oct 99 |  The Company File
Nuclear workers sacked for fake checks

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories