Sat, Sep 08, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Nuclear safety is a contradiction

By Jay Fang 方儉

From Tuesday to Thursday this week, the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) and the Taiwan Power (Taipower) held their 18th nuclear safety drill at the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Jinshan District (金山). It is an important drill held annually during Ghost Month. Who knows whether it is for the benefit of the ghosts?

First, the name is a bit misleading. If nuclear energy were safe, why spend so much time, money and effort on these drills? The drills comply with the Nuclear Emergency Response Act (核子事故緊急應變法) so they should be called Nuclear Accident Drills.

Second, the AEC’s assumptions are flawed. Taipower says a tsunami could be 12m high, but this is for a marine trench tsunami, not a landslide tsunami, which could actually reach heights up 30m. The current sea defenses, which are just over 10m tall, are therefore insufficient.

In March last year, following the devastating tsunami that hit Japan, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) inspected tsunami defenses at the plant. During his tour, the sluice gates failed, which means that a tsunami would have been able to power through.

Taipower spent tens of millions of dollars on these gates, installing a steel mechanism to raise and lower them. The problem is, the original concrete foundations are now 40 years old and there is a possibility that the gates could be warped or damaged during an earthquake that would precede a tsunami. Taipower itself cannot say, because the original drawings have been lost.

This year’s drill includes new “drastic measures.” In the event of a reactor meltdown, sea water is to be drawn in, cooling the reactor core to stop the nuclear reaction. If this is done, the sea water will corrode the reactor and it will no longer be of any use.

The AEC and Taipower often criticize Tokyo Electric Power Co for not wanting to risk its nuclear reactors during the initial stages of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and therefore hesitated before applying such “drastic measures,” and this is why things spiraled out of control.

The AEC and Taipower are wrong. Taiwan’s three currently operational nuclear power plants have been on the go for 30 years, and they are getting dangerously old.

Fractures have been discovered in anchorage bolts in both units of the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Wanli District (萬里) and it is possible that other, more fragile components — such as pipes, pumps, controls and circuits — would warp during an earthquake.

If they do, and should the earthquake cause a reactor core meltdown, it might be impossible to get either water or electricity to the reactor core.

Furthermore, if the reactor core were to get out of control it could reach a temperature of 1,000°C, and the pressure in the reactor pressure vessel would become exceedingly high. Introducing water at this point would only increase that pressure. What kind of pump do they think would get seawater or fresh water in there?

The nozzle through which the water is to be introduced is also expected to be the point from which pressure and steam from inside the reactor is released. The effect would be the same as the steam which is released through a pressure cooker: The evaporated water would be released from pressure within the reactor in a sudden spurt and this would only worsen the situation. This is something every housewife knows, but it seems the AEC and Taipower are unaware of it.

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