PARIS (Reuters) - A shipment of highly radioactive nuclear fuel to Japan left the port of Cherbourg in northern France on Wednesday for the first time since the Fukushima disaster, French energy group Areva said on Thursday.
The shipment of mixed oxide fuel (MOX) is likely to be controversial in Japan, where public opposition to nuclear power and reactor restarts remains strong a month after the second anniversary of the March 11, 2011 catastrophe.
France's state-owned nuclear group, whose activities range from uranium mining and enrichment to reactors and waste recycling, said the shipment will go round the Cape of Good Hope and then through the south-west of the Pacific Ocean.
The group added in a statement it expected the Pacific Heron and Pacific Egret cargoes of British nuclear shipping company PNTL to reach Japanese waters in the second half of June.
The long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has returned to power and has said it will reassess the previous government's decision to abandon atomic power after Fukushima, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
The MOX shipment is destined for Kansai Electric Power Co's Takahama nuclear plant west of Tokyo.
Because MOX fuel contains around 7 percent plutonium, it is perceived as a national security threat, and special precautions are taken during transportation.
The Fukushima crisis prompted the gradual shutdown of all Japan's 50 nuclear reactors until there were none left operating in May 2012, leaving the country without atomic power for the first time since 1970.
Now two reactors at Kansai Electric's Ohi plant near Takahama are the only ones operating in Japan so far, and the country has had to resort to imports of fossil fuel to run power stations, pushing it into a record trade deficit.
Reporting by Michel Rose; editing by James Jukwey