Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, has said that his position on the mothballed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is that as long as there are no questions as to its safety and there is public approval, construction could be restarted and the plant made operational.
The statement raises several questions: What is the standard for determining that there are no questions as to the plant’s safety and who should set those standards?
As the safety of the plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) affects the safety of the lives and homes of northern Taiwan residents, who would believe a politician’s empty guarantee that it would be safe to start up the plant, which someone has described as a “do it yourself” project?
Han has also said that there has been a breakthrough in nuclear waste treatment, so that it could be reprocessed and reused.
However, the question is whether Taiwan has this technology, or whether it even exists somewhere else.
New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) has said that the final disposal of nuclear waste has been discussed for decades, and questioned whether the government has the capability to treat nuclear waste as well as where it should be stored.
Hou’s concern puts the finger on the lack of a solution and the helplessness that people feel regarding nuclear waste, especially spent fuel rods.
The spent fuel rods at the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant, the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant and the Ma-anshan Nuclear Power Plant remain inside the plants without any kind of treatment, not to mention final disposal.
The nation’s nuclear power plants are taking a single-use approach to the nuclear fuel cycle by not reprocessing and reusing spent fuel rods, and instead moving on to final disposal. This makes it impossible to take a closed-cycle approach and adopt the mixed oxide fuel technology that France uses.
Where then does the “reprocess and reuse” that Han is talking about come from?
The spent fuel rods produced by uranium-235 and uranium-238 used at the plants can be used to make weapons-grade plutonium-239, using chemical extraction technology, which is problematic from the perspective of nuclear proliferation.
Some say that shipping the spent fuel rods to China for final disposal could result in Beijing turning them into nuclear weapons, which could have intolerable consequences.
It is time that Taiwanese politicians stopped talking about restarting construction and the activation of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.
Chen Yi-nan is convener of Northern Taiwan Society’s Technology and Environmental Protection Group.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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