Quakes should shake KMT awake

By Lu I-ming 呂一銘  / 

Tue, Apr 30, 2013 - Page 8

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) still have not woken up from their nuclear-powered dreams about the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao (貢寮) District, New Taipei City (新北市). They think the reason there is so much concern surrounding the plant’s construction is that they have not done enough to promote it, as evidenced by the Cabinet printing pro-nuclear leaflets and the Ministry of Economic Affairs issuing a question-and-answer booklet.

The KMT cannot wait to push its referendum proposal on the plant through the legislature, although it violates the party’s own slogan of “no plant safety, no nuclear power” and ignores the warnings given by the series of earthquakes and other extreme weather events that have recently occurred around the world.

The US’ Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently said that current earthquake data are highlighting the need to re-evaluate the safety of nuclear power plants to ensure they are protected against geological disasters. Commission chairman Allison Macfarlane said earthquakes are a reminder to pay attention to changing geological factors to ascertain the safety of nuclear power plants.

The commission has requested that all operators of nuclear power plant in the US reassess the potential threats posed by earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters. It said that nuclear power plants in the central and eastern US would likely complete their assessments before the end of the year, while risk assessments for two plants sited in a fault-line area in California should be completed in 2015.

Simply put, there is no such thing as total nuclear safety and the economic value of nuclear power has no place in discussing nuclear energy — it is a matter of life and death.

A single earthquake can claim lives, destroy property and buildings, and could cause life-threatening radiation leaks from nuclear power plants.

In addition, the global warming that is causing the north and south poles to melt has been exacerbated by the greenhouse effect, which in turn is creating unpredictable and extreme weather patterns. Atmospheric experts have testified to the severity of these meteorological changes and there is a possibility that a natural event could wipe out everything in the location that it strikes — this is the reality of “nuclear safety.”

If not even the most fundamental of Taiwan’s geological data and systems science research is completely reliable, with the nation at risk of being hit by an earthquakes, how can there be any talk about nuclear safety?

Applying so-called “risk management” to nuclear power plants to assess the probabilities of a nuclear disaster is not useful because it is very difficult to estimate what the consequences of such a disaster would be, although one example can be found in the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

In other words, science and technology are incapable of correctly forecasting the time, place and magnitude of an earthquake, and there are no clear, definite early-warning signs that a seismological event is about to occur.

The amount of time from when an earthquake begins to when it is finished is very brief, often only a matter of seconds or minutes, leaving almost no time for response measures.

This month has seen a series of strong earthquakes around the world, including a magnitude 6.6 earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province, a development which is very frightening.

Between April 6 and April 8, nine earthquakes struck eastern Taiwan, with magnitudes varying from 3.2 to 4.5 on the Richter Scale, and on April 9, a magnitude 6 earthquake struck in the waters off Hualien.

On April 17, a magnitude 5 earthquake struck China’s Yunnan Province, while on the same day, a magnitude 6.2 quake occurred off the coast of Tokyo.

Two days later, a magnitude 7 earthquake hit the waters off Hokkaido in northern Japan, followed by a magnitude 6.2 earthquake south of Hokkaido in the waters off Honshu on April 21 and a magnitude 5 earthquake in the Yellow Sea.

In other regions, an earthquake measuring 7 on the Richter Scale occurred in western Mexico on April 12, shaking the capital, Mexico City, and on April 22, a magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck the southwest of the country.

On the same day, a magnitude 7.8 quake struck in the border area between southeastern Iran and Pakistan.

Data from the US Geological Survey show that in the period between 1970 and 1999, there were no earthquakes measuring 8.5 or higher on the Richter Scale, but there have been six quakes of this strength since 2004. Since 1900, there have been 17 earthquakes of magnitude 8.5 or higher, six of them in the eight years since 2004, offering clear evidence of the rising frequency and strength of earthquakes.

Data also show that between 1990 and 1999, more than 110,000 people died in earthquakes, compared with the nine-year span between 2000 and 2009, when the figure rose to 470,000. Adding the 340,000 lives claimed by quakes from 2010 to 2011, more than 800,000 people have died in earthquakes in the 21st century.

All these warnings must not be ignored.

It is time to discontinue the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

Lu I-ming is a former publisher and president of the Taiwan Shin Sheng Daily News.

Translated by Perry Svensson