Shikoku Electric Power Company said it removed one of the 16 MOX fuel rods from the Ikata-3 in Ehime Prefecture at 11:57 local timeon Monday as part of maintenance work.
MOX fuel is made of plutonium and uranium extracted while reprocessing spent fuel and is a key component of Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling programme. Using such fuel is also important for the country to reduce its stockpile of plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons.
MOX is widely used in Europe and in Japan. About bout 40 reactors in Europe are licensed to use MOX and over 30 are doing so. In Japan about 10 reactors are licensed to use it.
Ikata-3, an 846 MW pressurised water reactor unit that began commercial operation in 1994, is the only unit in commercial operation at the Ikata station. Two others have been permanently shut down.
It resumed commercial operation in 2018 under stricter safety regulations introduced after the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear crisis led to a nationwide shutdown of nuclear power plants. The reactor is among several restarted units using MOX fuel.
Shikoku Electric plans to complete the removal of the 16 fuel rods within a few days and will load five new MOX fuel rods as part of the reactor's periodic maintenance work that started on 26 December.
The spent MOX fuel rods will temporarily be stored in a cooling pool at the station, since there are no reprocessing facilities in Japan.
The removal work had been delayed after the power company found one of the 48 control rods in the Unit 3 was mistakenly pulled out during preparation work on Sunday.