Safety of nuclear fuel pellets questioned by Japan

JAPANESE GOVERNMENT officials flew to Britain this week seeking fresh assurances about the safety of nuclear fuel pellets sent to Japan from the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria.

Senior representatives of Tokyo's Ministry of Technology and Industry (Miti) finished a two-day meeting yesterday with the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, the government safety watchdog, to discuss the possible falsification of data relating to mixed plutonium oxide (Mox) fuel pellets made by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL). Another delegation from Kansai Electric, the Japanese company receiving the shipment, has met with BNFL about an "unusual" consignment of pellets sent to Japan that Greenpeace suspects has been subject to data falsification.

BNFL has already sacked three Sellafield employees for allegedly falsifying data relating to quality-assurance checks on 22 lots of Mox fuel pellets, following revelations by The Independent last September.

However, the company said none of this fuel has left its Sellafield plant and insisted that all Mox pellets already shipped to Japan are free of falsification.

A spokesman for the nuclear inspectorate said it is co-operating fully with Miti but he could not comment further because it might prejudice possible legal action against BNFL.

BNFL has told the nuclear inspectorate it has reviewed the quality assurance data concerning the Mox pellets sent to Japan and classed one lot of pellets as "unusual". These pellets have been loaded into two of the eight fuel assemblies recently shipped to Japan.

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