TOKYO, May 16 – A vessel carrying a major shipment of recycled nuclear fuel is expected to arrive in Japan as soon as Monday after its 70-day trip from France, local media reported.
The convoy, which left Cherbourg in March to deliver the MOX fuel — a blend of plutonium and reprocessed uranium — is expected to arrive in the central port of Omaezaki to unload part of the shipment, Kyodo News reported.
The business daily Nikkei in a similar report said that the convoy was due to arrive at the port "as soon as Monday."
The Pacific Heron, a specially adapted ship with a British police team on board to head off possible hijackers, is then expected to unload fuel at two other ports adjacent to nuclear plants in southwestern Japan, the reports said.
Officials have kept mum on the ship\’s route or where the shipment — which environmentalists call "the biggest cargo of fissile material ever transported" — will be unloaded, citing fears of terrorist attacks.
A local anti-nuclear activist in Omaezaki told AFP that "a number of patrol ships have been seen deployed in waters near the port."
Three Japanese power companies– Kyushu Electric, Shikoku Electric and Chubu Electric — have said they will receive the MOX fuel reprocessed by French nuclear giant Areva.
Japan, which has almost no energy resources, looks to start using MOX as nuclear fuel for the first time to support the world\’s second largest economy.
But the programme has met constant opposition from environmentalists and local residents concerned about safety.
Public fears rose two years ago when an earthquake caused a small radiation leak at the world\’s biggest nuclear plant of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa northwest of Tokyo.
Industry players say the risk of the civilian-grade plutonium contained in MOX being extracted to make atomic weapons is negligible.