TOKYO, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- The process to remove spent plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) has begun at nuclear reactor in central Japan, Kansai Electric Power Co. said Monday, with the procedure marking only the second time the country has conducted such an operation.
Kansai Electric said it will remove the MOX fuel rods from the No. 3 reactor at its plant in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture. A similar procedure took place for the first time earlier this month at the Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime Prefecture, western Japan.
By Wednesday, the utility said it plans to remove eight of 28 MOX fuel rods from the reactor, which have been used for around eight years and replace them with uranium fuel.
Seventy three uranium fuel rods will also be removed from the reactor, Kansai Electric said.
The removed MOX fuel rods will be stored in a cooling pool at the plant, the utility said, although with no facility to reprocess the fuel, the utility, along with Shikoku Electric Power Company who has also carried out the procedure, has yet to explain where the final location of the used fuel will be.
The Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), meanwhile, under pressure from the international community, had been looking to a process called plutonium-thermal (pluthermal) power generation as a means of reducing Japan's stockpiles of plutonium.
Japan is the only country without nuclear weapons that is allowed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and has enough plutonium to theoretically make about 6,000 plutonium-cored atomic bombs.
Pluthermal power generation, however, sees MOX fuel burned at fast-breeder or normal nuclear reactors, many of which are still offline for safety inspections in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Japan is purportedly actively trying to reduce its stockpiles, with the government announcing in 2018 a concrete goal of decreasing the total volume of plutonium, which is stockpiled both in Japan and overseas, from the current 47 tons.
The stockpiles, under the government's plan, must be reduced before a reprocessing facility in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, goes online in 2021 to extract plutonium.
The JAEC in 2018 issued new plutonium guidelines to try to reduce the nation's stockpiles, with restrictions placed on the Rokkasho facility so that it can only produce the amount of plutonium required for MOX fuel needed for Japan's nuclear plants.
The JAEC's overall time-frame for lowering Japan's plutonium stockpiles by pluthermal power generation, however, still remains uncertain.
Kansai Electric said Monday that the No. 3 reactor at its Takahama plant will be brought back online in April.