Thu, Oct 25, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Nuclear future referendum needed

By Chang Kuo-tsai 張國財

Earlier this month, one of the reactors at the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant — in Shihmen District (石門), New Taipei City (新北市), the oldest of Taiwan’s three functioning atomic power stations, experienced a “scram,” or automatic emergency shutdown. At about the same time, news emerged that anchor bolts at Taiwan’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City — also known as the Longmen Nuclear Power Plant — which is still being built, had been broken through faulty workmanship.These negative reports have once again focused people’s attention on the issue of nuclear safety and the question of whether the Longmen plant should go on being built or should instead be scrapped.

A year and seven months have passed since the Tohoku Earthquake and resulting tsunami struck northeast Japan on March 11 last year, causing a serious accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The disaster response efforts that followed the Fukushima accident can be summed up in two words — helplessness and prayer.

The US, the former Soviet Union and Japan are universally recognized as being among the world’s leaders in science and technology, yet these countries have experienced the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents. The promise made by nuclear experts that nuclear power is absolutely safe has been shown to be nothing but a myth.

Taiwan is a crowded island that is frequently shaken by earthquakes, and nuclear reactors depend on fallible human beings for their operation. Taiwan’s nuclear power stations have been the most expensive in the world to build.

That the US-based General Electric Co charged US$2.92 million for replacing six broken or cracked anchor bolts at the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant — in Wanli District (萬里), New Taipei City (新北市), earlier this year shows just how serious a problem this is.

The reality is that personnel management in Taiwan’s nuclear energy industry cannot compare with Japan.

Just how sloppy the Taiwan Power Co’s personnel management is can be seen from an incident that took place during major repair and maintenance work on the Jinshan plant at the end of last year, when O-ring gaskets were damaged by being reinstalled in the wrong position. That is what caused the shutdown on Oct. 7 this year.

Taiwan Power Co, better known as Taipower, also continues to assure the public that there is no need to worry about the safety of nuclear waste disposal, but at the same time it has avoided disposing of the waste in its own backyard and chooses to dump it on the neighbors instead. It ships its waste hundreds of kilometers away to Orchid Island (蘭嶼), where it has set up a nuclear waste storage facility while deceitfully telling island residents that it would be a fish cannery.

All these incidents make it clear that the question of whether to keep or scrap nuclear energy is an issue that Taiwanese cannot avoid addressing.

This is especially true of the Longmen plant. Construction of the plant has been delayed for various reasons and has dragged on for 17 years so far, with the parts used in its construction sourced from a variety of manufacturers. Nobody knows when the plant’s hardware and software, pieced together from various sources, will finally be ready for commercial operation.

Furthermore, the costs involved in building the plant are like a bottomless pit, with the budget being increased again and again. Nobody seems to know where it will end. The original budget of NT$169.7 billion (US$5.8 billion) has already gone up to nearly NT$330 billion. By the time it is eventually finished, or even if construction is permanently halted, the final cost will be astronomical.

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