Japan court denies injunction against MOX nuclear fuel use

TOKYO (Reuters) - A local district court in southwestern Japan on Friday denied granting an injunction against Kyushu Electric Power Co's use of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel at its Genkai No.3 reactor, the nuclear operator said.

The Saga district court on the island of Kyushu found that the No.3 reactor at the Genkai plant meets Japan's nuclear regulator's stringent safety rules and that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the fuel posed a specific danger.

The ruling is some relief for Japan's nuclear operators at a time when the fight over restarting the country's reactors is moving to the courts, where power companies face the risk of further delays in firing up idled atomic generators if judges side with local residents worried about safety.

MOX fuel - enriched by recovered plutonium and uranium - is controversial because critics fear it could be used to build nuclear weapons. The critics also say the fuel is highly toxic.

The Genkai No.3 unit started using MOX fuel in 2009, part of Japan's attempt to move toward a closed cycle system in which spent nuclear fuels are recycled.

The regulator Nuclear Regulation Authority has been checking the safety of the No.3 and No.4 reactors at the Genkai plant since 2013, but there's no timetable for their restart.

Kyushu Electric's President Michiaki Uryu told reporters on Friday that he believes that the ruling is a reflection of the reactor's safety.

Uryu also said that Kyushu Electric is considering eventually scrapping 1,000 megawatts (MW) or more of its aging oil-fired units, as the new 941-MW coal-fired Matsuura No.2 unit is set to start operations sometime in the fiscal year beginning April 2020.

(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Tom Hogue)