There are no guarantees in this world that anything is completely safe and nuclear power is no exception.
Today we face extreme weather events and frequent seismic activity. Given the attendant risks, not even cutting-edge technology can provide safety guarantees, and this is also true for nuclear power stations.
In the past, anti-earthquake designs were built to withstand peak ground accelerations (PGAs) of 0.3G (the acceleration of the Earth’s gravity, equivilant to g-force) or 0.4G, and stand up to quakes registering magnitude 6, 7 or 8.
Then, Japan suffered the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster caused by a major quake on March 11, 2011, that registered magnitude 9, creating a tsunami more than 40m high and shattering any illusions of assured nuclear safety.
The subsequent chain of events brought about by these disasters, combined with the damage wrought to the nuclear power plant facilities, cost at least 15,854 lives, and the destruction of over a million buildings. This was the most tragic natural disaster, in terms of the human cost, in post-war Japan.
From the way Taiwan Power Co is constantly putting back its timetable for upgrading the earthquake-proof facilities at the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市), Shihmen District (石門), forcing the Atomic Energy Council in November last year to announce an ultimatum using the Nuclear Reactor Facilities Regulation Act (核子反應器設施管制法), it seems that the earthquake-proofing of the nation’s nuclear power facilities is cause for concern.
The Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), is reputed to include safety precautions such as shut down at a PGA of 0.4g, making it able to withstand earthquakes of magnitude 8. Still, it is not known whether it could cope with quakes measuring magnitude 9.
Like Taiwan, California lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire and last year the US Geological Survey said there is a 46 percent probability that the state will experience a major earthquake of magnitude 7.5 or over before 2038. Experts have also said that an earthquake of more than magnitude 9 is due in the Manila Trench, which extends from the west of the Philippines to the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan is also the only country in the world to place a nuclear power plant within 50km of its capital city, and political and economic center.
According to the UK-based global risk and strategic consulting firm Maplecroft, more than one in 10 of the world’s 442 nuclear power plants are located in areas designated as high or extremely high risk. Taiwan is one of these areas, and experts warn that these plants face the same risks as Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, but lack Japan’s ability to address them.
Not so long ago the concept of extreme weather disasters had yet to percolate into the global consciousness. A recent US National Climate Assessment report showed that the mainstream media were ignorant of the risks of earthquakes and tsunamis, and were inadequately informed about the earth sciences.
Taiwan is not a suitable place to build nuclear power plants, given the high incidence of natural disasters in this area.
Irene Chen (陳藹玲), founder of Mom Loves Taiwan, an association for mothers against nuclear power, put it best when she asked: “How much compensation would it take to make gambling the lives of millions of people, and the very future of the country, worthwhile?”