Japan summons British ambassador to eat humble pie over nuclear fuel safety

Click to follow
THE BRITISH Government was involved in an embarrassing damage- limitation exercise yesterday amid growing dismay in Japan over the safety of nuclear fuel sent from the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbia.

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 BNFL's employees had 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 at Sellafield had not affected the shipment that arrived in Japan last October.

The Japanese Ministry of Technology and Industry said that it will not allow further shipments of Mox fuel from Britain until BNFL has re-established its trustworthiness, a move that threatens the future of the multi-million reprocessing pound nuclear trade with Japan, one of Britain's most valuable export services to the country.

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". After his meeting with Mr Gomersall, the two men emphasised that they were working to resolve the situation. But the scandal comes at a time of growing public anxiety in Japan about nuclear power and British officials acknowledge that it will be some time before the fate of BNFL's business becomes clear.

In September, Japan suffered its worst nuclear power accident when workers accidentally unleashed a nuclear reaction at the Tokaimura reprocessing plant.