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Japan Pushes Forward on Plutonium Imports

Mixed-oxide fuel arrives amid protest

3 min read

21 May 2009—Japan’s power-generation companies are moving full-speed ahead—again—to start plutonium-thermal power generation this fall, in the face of fierce opposition from antinuclear groups. Japan needs to deal with its growing stockpiles of plutonium, a by-product of the fuel used in its reactors. This fissile material must be disposed of by burying it deep underground. Alternatively, it can be recycled and used again in Japan’s light-water reactors after it is combined with uranium to produce mixed-oxide fuel, or MOX.

The industry’s renewed efforts to use MOX is partly in response to the ongoing troubles of Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s experimental Monju fast-breeder plant in Fukui Prefecture, 400 kilometers west of Tokyo, which is designed to use the plutonium. But Monju has been closed since 1995, following a series of safety scares. The latest start-up postponement occurred this February, because of delays in final safety checks.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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