Fri, May 10, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Nuclear assurances ring hollow

By Lo Cheng-chung 羅承宗

On April 17, the legislature’s Economics Committee invited Chen Wen-shan (陳文山), a professor at the Geosciences Department at National Taiwan University, Lee Chao-shing (李昭興), a professor at the Institute of Applied Geosciences at National Taiwan Ocean University, Lee Chyi-tyi (李錫堤), a professor at the Institute of Applied Geology at National Central University, and Lin Ching-weei (林慶偉), a professor at the Earth Sciences Department at National Cheng Kung University, to comment on Taiwan Power Co’s (Taipower) report on the geological conditions around the sites of the nation’s three operational nuclear power plants and on the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市).

The four geologists concurred that the report was seriously flawed, was missing an overall evaluation and lacked clarity in its wording, adding that they had no confidence in it.

This highlights the difficulty of maintaining the safety of nuclear power in Taiwan in the face of the nation’s geological makeup.

As early as in July 1978, Japanese constitutional expert Naoki Kobayashi published an article saying that the biggest concern for Japan’s nuclear power policy was accidents caused by earthquakes. He wrote that Japan experiences the highest frequency of earthquakes in the world, so it would be almost impossible to build nuclear power plants in areas that were unaffected by such activities.

Kobayashi added that despite a nuclear plant’s quake-resistant design, by building one on an inappropriate site a catastrophe could occur if an earthquake that is stronger than planned for occurred. It is therefore necessary to make comprehensive plans for a secondary disaster in case a reactor breaks or a cooling unit fails.

Kobayashi concluded that the danger inherent in Japan’s nuclear power policy had increased significantly due to geological factors, saying that this deserved close attention.

His statement about the risk of broken or failing power and cooling units was echoed in the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March 2011. On reading his article, one cannot help but admire Kobayashi’s foresight.

Taiwan’s geological conditions are similar to Japan’s. There are frequent earthquakes and the speed of its orogeny — mountain formation — is the world’s fastest. In March, Atomic Energy Council (AEC) Deputy Minister Huang Tsing-tung (黃慶東) claimed that Taiwan’s nuclear power plants are as safe as Buddhas sitting on their stable lotus platforms. This remarkable comment clearly shows Taiwanese nuclear officials’ arrogance and neglect of geological risks.

According to Article 4 of the AEC’s safety design criteria for nuclear reactor facilities, the design of the structures, systems and parts of related facilities should allow them to operate safely during natural disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons and floods.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) have repeatedly pledged that there will be no nuclear power without nuclear safety. In that case, I would like to know whether Taiwan’s three operational nuclear power plants, as well as the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, meet the safety design criteria 100 percent? Can nuclear safety be ensured if a natural disaster strikes the nation?

If the government is unable to answer these questions, then promises of so-called nuclear safety are nothing but a myth.

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