Nuclear power not worth the risks

By Tsai Ya-ying 蔡雅瀅  / 

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 - Page 8

When Taiwan’s first and second nuclear power plants were constructed in the 1970s, the Shanjiao Fault (山腳斷層) of the Taipei Basin (台北盆地) was mistakenly believed to be dormant. However, it was recently confirmed that the fault has been active within the last 11,000 years and so it was reclassified as a Class II active fault. Also, it extends over a greater distance than was previously thought.

As a result, the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) demanded earlier this month that Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) introduce changes to the first and second plants to reinforce their resistance to earthquakes, adding that it did not rule out ordering a halting of operations at both plants if Taipower fails to comply. This led Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) to say that should the plants stop operating, power would have to be rationed for northern Taiwan.

It is well known that Taiwan has too many electricity plants and that the amount of electricity produced is greater than required.

According to Taipower’s official Web site, the total electrical capacity last year was 41,401 megawatts, of which only 33,787 megawatts were used at peak times and the reserve capacity was as much as 7,614 megawatts. The reserve capacity was even higher than the three currently operational nuclear power plants’ total capacity of 5,144 megawatts.

Thus, even if all the nuclear power plants are decommissioned, there are still alternative sources of energy and little need to build new power plants. Not to mention that the Jinshan plant has two electricity units each with a capacity of 636 megawatts, the Guosheng plant has two electricity units each with a capacity of 985 megawatts, and the Ma-anshan plant also has two electricity units each with a capacity of 951 megawatts.

The No. 1 nuclear reactor of the Guosheng plant ceased operations for maintenance for 97 days between March 16 and June 20 this year. However, there was no power shortage even though the total nuclear power capacity declined by 19 percent during these three months.

The No. 1 nuclear reactor at the Ma-anshan plant also stopped operations for maintenance for 42 days between April 23 and June 3 this year and there was no power shortage despite total capacity declining 38 percent when summer arrived.

The claim that abolishing nuclear power would lead to a power shortage is simply not true and the threat that it would lead to power rationing is disingenuous.

One can see from Taipower’s figures that Taiwan has pursued an aggressive policy of constructing new power plants.

Between 1992 and last year the total capacity for thermal power grew from 11,520 to 30,420 megawatts, while the total nuclear power capacity remained at 5,144 megawatts. The growth in thermal power was in fact 3.7 times higher than the total capacity of nuclear power over the past 20 years.

Meanwhile, Taipower’s purchasing of electricity from private power plants grew from 1,450 to 8,890 megawatts between 1999 and last year, with growth 1.7 times higher than the total capacity of nuclear power. This shows that nuclear power is far from irreplaceable and the public should no longer accept the risk of a nuclear disaster.

When the massive earthquake hit Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant on March 11 last year, the plant — which has a high quake resistance of 0.6G — failed to resist the quake and following tsunami.

In Taiwan, the first plant has a resistance of 0.3G while the second is 0.4G. Their quake resistance is far below the Japanese plant.

At the International Conference of Nuclear Regulation, held by the AEC in Taipei City on Sept. 22, Japanese academic Shigeru Takahashi mentioned the necessity of strict safety checks for nuclear power plants that have operated for more than 30 years, which would apply to both the first and second plants. Taiwan should learn from Japan’s post-nuclear disaster review and implement strict safety checks for the two plants.

In addition, the operation licenses for the four nuclear reactors at the first and second plants will expire in December 2018, July 2019, December 2021 and March 2023 respectively, so they will not continue to operate for too long. Rather than spending a lot of money improving their quake-resistance, why not decommission them earlier than planned?

The German authorities once demanded that a nuclear power plant in Wurgassen replace the core shield after cracks appeared. However, rather than pay for the expensive replacement materials, the owner of the plant decided to decommission it after operating for 23 years. Taiwan should follow this example.

If there are safety concerns about nuclear plants, it is necessary to invest huge amounts of money on improvements.

Instead, the government should seriously consider decommissioning the plants early, especially since some cracks have appeared in the core shields of all four nuclear reactors at Taiwan’s first and second nuclear plants. These have yet to be replaced due to the cost constraints and the situation in Taiwan is even more pressing than in Germany.

Tsai Ya-ying is a lawyer.

Translated by Eddy Chang