Wed, Nov 07, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Perils of nuclear power ignored

By Tsui Shu-hsin 崔愫欣

Our leaders’ pledges that the plant will only be allowed to go into operation if its safety can be guaranteed are really an empty promise that cannot be kept.

The Longmen plant has been under construction for well over a decade, costing more than NT$200 billion (US$6.84 billion) in public funds so far, and we still do not know when it will finally be completed. There is no knowing how much bigger the budget will grow, and the public cannot be sure about the safety and quality of the building work.

Taipower says that the Longmen power station will commence operations only after it is approved by an international atomic energy organization and with the agreement of the government departments in charge.

Considering that the government departments in charge have been overseeing the construction of the plant for all these years and the project is still such a shambles, the officials responsible should consider themselves lucky if they do not end up in jail. What is for sure is that they have long since lost all credibility.

As to the “international atomic energy organization” that Taipower refers to, it is the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which is an inspection agency set up by corporations in the same line of business as Taipower. Many doubts have been raised around the world about the role of WANO and its objectivity.

Examination and approval by overseas companies in the atomic energy businesses are no guarantee of safety. The clearest illustration of this is the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which passed an inspection as recently as 2009. Following the meltdown at Fukushima, all kinds of faults in the power station came to light, whereupon everybody realized that the inspections the plant had undergone had simply been a formality.

The situation we have reached today is that the government is employing delay tactics to over the Longmen plant. Glibly dismissing the faults and mistakes of the past, the government seeks to evade its responsibility by handing the task of verifying the plant’s operational safety over to so-called international experts. If only things were so simple!

The fact is that nobody can guarantee that the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant will be safe.

It would be a good thing if the government could honestly confront the issues at hand. In order to shed the historic burden of the Longmen plant, the first things that need to be done are to delve into the mistakes and malpractices that have plagued the construction project, and to stop adding more items and more money to it.

The next thing that needs to be done is to make a serious plan for implementing the proposals outlined by environmental groups at the National Climate Change Conference in June for zero growth in Taiwan’s electricity generation and consumption. Industry needs to be restructured in a way that gives priority to saving energy, so as to make possible a long-term energy outlook that does not include nuclear power.

Once that has been done, the next task will be to look into what is to be done with the Longmen site. Should it be returned to its original state, or used to build a different kind of power plant instead? Or should it be made into a center for research into submarine geology? It could even be converted into an amusement park or museum, serving both touristic and educational functions, as has been done in Germany.

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