Thu, Jun 28, 2012 - Page 8 News List

AEC’s arrogance endangers us all

By Jay Fang 方儉

The US sports media came up with a new word, “Linsanity,” to describe the unexpected — and inexplicable — string of astonishing performances by NBA player Jeremy Lin (林書豪).

On June 18, Atomic Energy Council (AEC) Minister Tsai Chuen-horng (蔡春鴻) and the council’s Department of Nuclear Regulation director Chen Yi-pin (陳宜彬) decided that Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) should restart reactor No. 1 of the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Wanli District (萬里). If one were to choose a word that best described this decision, one could not go far wrong with “insanity” here, either. What they are doing is essentially setting up the conditions for a compounded natural disaster and human catastrophe.

Taiwan was recently hit by torrential rain, with Tropical Storm Talin threatening to hit about 48 hours after the rain abated. It takes roughly 48 hours for a nuclear power plant to set up a parallel connection and to start producing power after initialization. According to safe operating procedure at nuclear power plants, the generators have to be slowed down or even stopped altogether in the event of a tropical storm or typhoon, which presents no problems in itself as offices and schools are shut and so the demand for power is significantly reduced on typhoon days. However, nuclear power generators are huge and if anything goes wrong it is difficult to deal with the problem, with catastrophic results for both the electricity grid and the power plant itself.

According to a number of very experienced Taipower employees, this is the first time in more than 30 years that the council has dictated to Taipower when to activate a nuclear reactor. In the past it has merely given the go-ahead, leaving the decision as to when to switch back on to Taipower. Interestingly, on the evening of June 18 the council put out a press release announcing the reactivation of the reactor, listing the contact person as Chen himself, together with his contact details. This has been interpreted by environmental groups as a blatant provocation to those opposed to nuclear power, or at least by way of discouraging them to call in or text message.

Even though summer is upon us, a time when more demands are made of the power grid, plants were only producing 60 percent of their total capacity during peak hours because the public is seeking to save energy in the face of the recent electricity price hikes. Coupled with that, there was a tropical storm threatening to hit. According to Taipower employees, the decision to reactivate the generator was a bad one, one that Taipower would not have made itself, demonstrating that council officials were taking a risk simply because they wanted to have the extra nuclear power merely for the sake of producing it.

In mid-March there were reports that broken anchor bolts were found at the reactor in question. No one had more cause for concern than workers in the plant. A broken bolt was found in reactor No. 2 last year, too, in what was termed at the time “an isolated case,” and the reactor was turned on without replacing the bolt.

Now we hear that seven more broken bolts have been discovered in the first reactor and officials in Taipower and the council are sure to want to call this an isolated case as well. Tsai even said there would be no safety concerns even if every single anchor bolt developed 2.5mm cracks, and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators believed him.

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