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As Fukushima is ongoing; Areva is in the process of building a high price MOX facility in South Carolina and a new MOX facility is proposed for Sellafield in the UK, this unfortunately remains topical:

originally published March 16 2011 by ANDRÉA FRADIN of OWNI.fr http://owni.fr/2011/03/16/expose-areva-at-the-heart-of-fukushima-s-explosive-reactor/

In May 2001, a report from Greenpeace condemned the use of MOX in Fukushima’s power plant. Was the recent nuclear catastrophe in Japan an event that was already predicted by the experts?

As early as May 2001, Greenpeace advocated that nuclear reactors in Fukushima should abandon using the nuclear fuel MOX. As shown in the letters sent to the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission (see below), the issue pertains to Fukushima’s boiling water reactors. Greenpeace writes:

The safety of conventional thermal nuclear reactors fueled by MOX is seriously compromised by two important considerations: difficulties in the fabrication and quality control of MOX fuel pellets and differences in the behavior of plutonium and uranium in the reactor.

The NGO’s information relied on a study conducted by Dr. Edwin S. Lyman in 1999 (“The Importance of MOX Fuel Quality Control in Boiling-Water Reactors” Dr. Edwin S. Lyman, Scientific Director, Nuclear Control Institute, Washington DC, December 14). The researcher analyzed the impact MOX had on nuclear accidents in Japan, and the organization concurred that:

If significant numbers of fuel failures occur early in the accident, fission products will be released and changes in fuel geometry may interfere with the flow of coolant through the core, ‘Increasing the risk that fuel heat-up will continue until the irreversible core melting and quantitative fission product release occur.’ (p. 37)”

Specifically, MOX is extremely reactive and fuses much faster than enriched uranium. “It’s fusion point is much lower,” explained Lauri Myllyvirta, nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace International. Its role in the recent nuclear accident, however, is difficult to determine. Myllyvirta further elaborates:

The state of the fuel and the extent of the damage within reactor 3 remains unclear. Consequently, whether or not it was a factor in the accident remains an open question. But the use of MOX fuel has significantly reduced the safety of the situation – it makes the disaster more difficult for operators to manage while the level of radioactive fumes increases.

CEA Marcoule Site
Marcoule nuclear center, location of Melox in France. By kmaschke via Wikimedia

In Greenpeace’s crossfire is Areva, the main supplier for the power plant in Fukushima. They are subsidized by Melox, which holds 95% of the market shares for MOX. As shown in the export license issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission…, Areva supplies the center with uranium-235. Yet since September 2010, it also supplies MOX.

Nathalie Bonnefoy, a representative from Melox’s communications department, said “The type of fuel used in the reactor is absolutely not involved in the problems at the Fukushima facility…In normal operations, MOX and enriched uranium have the same performance.” What about the use of MOX in the event of a disaster, such as reactor 3 in Fukushima? “At this stage there is no link.”

For Shaun Burnie, the author of the 2000 Greenpeace report, there is only a relative lack of connection. According to him:

MOX is the most dangerous substance on the planet – even more than uranium. The financial stakes around MOX supersede the knowledge of its effects on public health. Within 30 minutes of the earthquake, everyone who knew Fukushima’s business affairs could imagine what eventually happened – it was predictable.

As a side note to MOX’s nuclear complexity, Greenpeace also accused Belgonucleaire (which produces MOX) of having poor quality standards:

What the evidence shows is Belgonucleaire hasn’t produced sufficient assurance that MOX used in Fukushima was developed under the highest standards of quality, and eventually some sort of incident would bring this to the surface.

Falsification of quality control

Additionally, Since 2002 Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company), the power company that runs the plant in Fukushima, falsified the results of quality checks for some of its reactors. In the report two years earlier, Greenpeace suspected Belgonucleaire’s activities were fraudulent. At the time, there was a similar scandal involving British Nuclear Fuels Limited:

A scandal involving the falsification of quality control data by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) for MOX fuel delivered to Japan for use in another reactor…forced a delay in all MOX plans in Japan.

During the last 12 months, evidence has emerged that the problems that led to the falsification of MOX fuel quality control data at BNFL, may also have been experienced at Belgonucleaire (pg.8).”

In a report from the US Department of Energy, the findings confirm the forgeries, stating “the documents concealed from government regulators (reported) knowledge about cracks in structures holding nuclear fuel in place in reactor cores at several Tepco power plants (p. 8)”.

This revelation resulted in the resignation of several executives at Tepco, along with the power plant in Fukushima being closed for one year. It further explains why the delivery of MOX to Fukushima was suspended between 1999 and 2010. When Greenpeace’s report was released, about 32 machines used for making MOX fuel where pending in delivery at Belgonucleaire. It was just last September that these shipments were sent – and reactor 3 has been using this fuel since October. Contacted by OWNI, a spokesperson for Areva confirmed its business with the power plant in Fukushima, indicating that “Reactor 3 was functioning with 30% MOX fuel.”

Instability at all levels

Reactor instability with the use of MOX, liability from manufacturing procedures and falsification of data – these points were already listed in public documents as early as 2000. Add to these various warnings the report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) following the 2007 earthquake in Japan. This natural disaster affected the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant (also managed by Tepco), located 250 kilometers north of Tokyo. The IAEA made the following recommendation:

For all nuclear power plants: Diligence is required in the design, construction and operational phases of all plants to assure that seismic systems interaction issues are minimized…

For what it’s worth, the president of Areva Anne Lauvergeon stated last night on France 2[FR] that the multiple accidents at the power plant in Fukushima was not considered a “nuclear catastrophe.” “I think we’ll avoid a nuclear catastrophe. We are a bit between the two.”

According to Greenpeace [FR], another shipment of MOX was being prepared for Japan. The “secret crossing” was initially fixed for the week of April 4, yet the order has not been permanently cancelled.”

Investigated with Guillaume Dasquié.
Translation: Stefanie Chernow

Licensed as Creative Commons, Attribution required, Non-Commercial, Share and Share Alike
Original here: http://owni.fr/2011/03/16/expose-areva-at-the-heart-of-fukushima-s-explosive-reactor/ At the link are some original references documents which only work with Flash.

POSTSCRIPT-UPDATE, Sunday, 14 January 2014, UTC, by Mining Awareness:

If Areva is at the heart of Fukushima, then this appears to mean that Mitsubishi is also at the heart of Fukushima, since Areva and Mitsubishi are joint partners in a Nuclear Fuels company with Mitsubishi holding 70% and Areva 30%, since December 2008. The last MOX was delivered to Fukushima, Unit 3 in August 2010. That being said, according to Areva’s web site, the fabrication of the MOX fuel assemblies takes place in Areva’s MELOX plant in France, using plutonium from La Hague. Areva sent MOX to Japan in 1999, 2001, 2009 and 2010. The fifth shipment arrived on the 27th of June 2013.

Third reactor in Japan to use MOX fuel
By Pavel Podvig on August 23, 2010
The Tokyo Electric Power Co. began loading MOX fuel into Unit 3 reactor of its Fukushima-Daiichi power plant. The reactor will be the third unit in Japan to use MOX fuel. The reactor is expected to be back online on September 23, 2010.

The first two units, Genkai-3 and Ikata-3, began operations with MOX fuel in November 2009 and March 2010 respectively. Use of MOX fuel in light-water power reactors is part of Japan’s “pluthermal” program, which plans to have 16-18 reactors using MOX fuel by 2015.” (bold added for emphasis) http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2010/08/third_reactor_in_japan_to.html

In March 2011:
At 12:33 JST on 13 March, the chief spokesman of the Japanese government, Yukio Edano said hydrogen gas was building up inside the outer building of Unit 3 just as had occurred in Unit 1, threatening the same kind of explosion. At 11:15 JST on 14 March, the envisaged explosion of the building surrounding Reactor 3 of Fukushima 1 occurred, owing to the ignition of built up hydrogen gas.” Bold added for emphasis. References and addition information at link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster_(Unit_3_Reactor)

In December 2008:
Areva and Mitsubishi Form New Nuclear Fuel Company
On December 22, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (MHI), Mitsubishi Materials Corp., Mitsubishi Corp. and Areva announced that they would establish a new nuclear fuel company. The company will integrate design, development, fabrication and sales of nuclear fuel. It will succeed Mitsubishi Nuclear Fuel Co. Ltd. (Tokai Village), which is jointly owned by MHI and Mitsubishi Materials. MHI will hold 35% of the shares in the new company, while Mitsubishi Materials Corp., Areva and Mitsubishi Corp. will hold 30%, 30% and 5% respectively. Mitsubishi Nuclear Fuel has hitherto fabricated PWR fuel for use in Japanese reactors. The new company intends to produce uranium fuel and MOX fuel for PWRs and BWRs, as well as fuel for high-temperature gas reactors for Japanese customers and to produce PWR fuel for reactors in countries other than Japan. The partners also announced their intention to invest in a new plant to produce PWR fuel for the US market. The strengthening of links between MHI and Areva could be seen as accelerating the shift away from the situation where Japanese nuclear plant makers were located within the framework of ‘national policy
“. (bold added for emphasis) http://www.cnic.jp/english/newsletter/nit128/nit128articles/nw128.html#mhi

Of related interest:
http://www.wise-uranium.org/epdcs.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sellafield#The_Sellafield_MOX_Plan http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melox http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcoule_Nuclear_Site http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/revealed-2bn-cost-of-failed-sellafield-plant-8650779.html