Japan calls ambassador to explain nuclear error

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT undertook an embarrassing damage-limitation exercise yesterday amid growing dismay in Japan over the safety of nuclear fuel sent from the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria.

Stephen Gomersall, the British ambassador to Tokyo, spent 40 minutes with the Japanese trade and industry minister, Takashi Fukaya, "eating humble pie", according to an official. The ambassador had to appear in person to explain why British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), which operates Sellafield, had misinformed its Japanese customers and nuclear regulators about quality-control checks on mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (Mox) fuel.

Kansai Electric, BNFL's customer, decided on Thursday to withdraw its application to load the fuel into its Takahama 4 nuclear power plant on the grounds that new evidence had emerged suggesting that staff at Sellafield falsified data on the Mox quality checks. BNFL had repeatedly assured the Japanese that problems it had uncovered of falsification of data relating to Mox fuel had not affected the shipment that arrived last October.

The Japanese Ministry of Technology and Industry said that it will not allow further shipments of Mox fuel from Britain until BNFL had re-established its trustworthiness, a move that threatens the future of the multi-million pound nuclear reprocessing trade with Japan.

On Thursday, in unusually strong language for a Japanese minister, Mr Fukaya described the affair as "deplorable" and said that "confidence in BNFL has been destroyed".

The scandal comes at a time of growing public anxiety in Japan about nuclear power and British officials acknowledge it will be some time before the fate of BNFL's business becomes clear.