Opposition to the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), continues unabated. The focus is on its quality standards, which activists say have been compromised by construction delays, stoppages and restarts because of political interference and which will “certainly” put nuclear safety at risk if the plant goes into operation.
These concerns are understandable. After all, this is a project whose construction time has more than doubled, and special attention must be given to any concerns over quality. However, this does not mean that we can jump to conclusions and say that future safety problems are a certainty. Without rational scientific analysis and testing that would be an overreaction.
According to Taiwan Power Co (Taipower), the project is 90 percent complete and the completed facilities, components and systems have been inspected and tested.
Shortcomings found during this process have been widely reported by the media.
Two main problems remain: how to deal with and correct these shortcomings in a way that puts public unease to rest, and determining if there are any other flaws in the plant.
The question is how this should be done.
Safety verification of a major construction project cannot be rushed. The reality is, when inspecting and testing a new nuclear power plant — or any major project — flaws will be found. What is important is that these flaws are corrected.
If a major project passes every stage of the first evaluation test, it is likely to raise public suspicion that the tests have been performed rashly or perfunctorily, rather than eliciting praise for high standards of workmanship.
When the first tests were performed on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and flaws were found, it offered a good opportunity to ascertain the reasons for these flaws and correct them. The best thing would be to conduct a thorough inspection to find all problems and resolve them.
I would rather approve additional budget so that all tests can be thoroughly carried out and elements that did not pass inspection be replaced rather than face a situation in which a plant goes into operation with undiscovered flaws.
The Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is not the only plant in the world to use third-generation reactors. Reactors six and seven at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Japan use them, which means safety tests prior to operations will not take place in a vacuum.
There is nothing to stop Taipower and the Atomic Energy Council from considering borrowing specialist engineers to help with tests and checks.
The safety authentication of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is not a matter of “pseudoscience” as has been suggested (“Public need reassurance on nuclear power plant,” Feb. 27, page 8). It is a matter that requires careful review and approval by nuclear safety officials and thorough work by engineering units.
When it comes to safety, Taiwanese must hold ourselves to higher standards than at any other power plant in the world. People may hold differing views on the safety of nuclear power, but evaluating such a major construction project on a populist foundation is inappropriate.
The inspection and approval process should be left to experts. If the flaws are corrected and the plant passes the inspection and approval process, the project should go ahead. If the flaws cannot be corrected, the project should be stopped.
There is no room for political interference in the engineering safety verification process.
Yeh Tsung-kuang is a professor and chairman of the Department of Engineering and System Science at National Tsing Hua University.
Translated by Perry Svensson