MOX referendum result stalls plutonium plans

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The negative result of a referendum about the usage of uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in a Japanese nuclear power station has stalled the government's plan to use plutonium in the country's power plants. The government wants to continue the plutonium program, however, and talks about "educating" the population in order to win support in the future. The decision has at least momentarily stopped the government's plan to use plutonium in as many as 18 of the country's 51 nuclear reactors. Governor Ikuo Hirayama of Niigata Prefecture has asked Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) to postpone the usage of MOX fuel at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant. The postponement comes after the inhabitants of Kariwa village in Niigata Prefecture rejected a plan to use MOX in a referendum. The referendum is not legally binding, but the mayor and the governor have decided to act according to the outcome of the vote. Japan is the only country sticking to a plan to use MOX. Unlike conventional uranium fuel it can be extracted from spent nuclear fuel, making it a "renewable" energy source. MOX and plutonium are much more dangerous than conventional uranium fuel, however. Japan's nuclear accident in 1999 brought mounting calls for greater use of alternative energy sources (Windpower Monthly, January 2000).

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