TOKYO — Nuclear fuel reprocessed in France returned to Japan on Thursday for use in a reactor as the country tries to burn more plutonium amid international concerns about its stockpile.

Kansai Electric Power Co. said the shipment arrived for use at the No. 4 reactor at its Takahama plant in western Japan. The reactor is one of only five reactors currently operating in Japan.

A specialized ship, the Pacific Egret, was seen docked just outside one plant as the heavily protected shipment was brought inside under extremely tight security. The utility said it cannot provide details such as the amount of the fuel. The new fuel is expected to be loaded after the reactor’s regular safety check planned next year.

Japan has a stockpile of 47 tons of plutonium — 10 tons at home and the rest in Britain and France, which reprocess and store spent fuel for Japan as the country still lacks its own capacity to do so. Experts say the amount could be enough to make thousands of atomic bombs, although utility operators deny such risk, saying the material is stored safely and monitored constantly.

Japan plans to start up its Rokkasho reprocessing plant next year, but critics say that would only add to the stockpile problem and nuclear security concerns.

Without the prospect of achieving a plutonium-burning fast reactor in near future, Japan has resorted to burning MOX, a mixture of plutonium and uranium fuel, in conventional reactors.

The need to reduce its plutonium stockpile adds to Japan’s push to restart reactors, aside from also needing to generate power. It would require 16 to 18 reactors to burn MOX to keep Japan’s plutonium stockpile from growing when the Rokkasho plant starts up, according to government and utility officials.

Only three reactors, including two at Takahama, use MOX, with a fourth one expected to start up next year. Restarts come slowly amid persistent ant-nuclear sentiment among the public since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident and stricter standards under the post-Fukushima safety requirement.


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MARI YAMAGUCHI
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