Sat, Jan 20, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Taipower hopes to avert nuclear contract bailout

TIME IS MONEY As Taipower scrambles to hold the nuclear construction team together, the clock ticks down for the government to either proceed with the controversial project or face huge financial losses

By Richard Dobson  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Taiwan Power Company (Taipower, 台電) yesterday pleaded with the domestic contractors building the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant (核四) not to bail on their contracts, in a last-ditch attempt to stave off a potential meltdown of the project.

Taipower cannot afford to let even a few of the contractors -- irked over the extended suspension of work -- to cut their losses and walk. If this happens, finding replacements could take up to a year, seriously hobbling efforts to revive construction and compounding the NT$500 million Taipower has already lost since the project was halted.

Hoping to avoid this outcome, Taipower yesterday met with 12 major local contractors at the Kungliao (貢寮) site to "request they temporarily hold off from annulling their contracts," said Lin Ju-wan (林居萬), director of Taipower's Lungmen Construction Office at the plant's site in Kungliao.

Under the terms of the agreement with Taipower, domestic contractors have the right to annul their contracts and seek compensation if the project is delayed for more than three months.

Jan. 27 will mark three months to the day that Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) ordered the plant be cancelled and local builders will be eligible to exercise their right to compensation.

Lin said there was no sign from any of the contractors on what their intentions would be after next week.

Foremost in the minds of contractors will be the losses endured during the delay and the chances of a speedy resolution to the stand-off over the matter between the Cabinet, which axed the plant, and the largely pro-nuclear opposition parties which dominate the legislature.

But according to Chuang Shih-ming (莊世明), director of policy and international affairs at the Energy Commission (能源會) the ruling DPP's strong anti-nuclear platform meant a total backdown by them would be unlikely.

Although the legislature has slated a provisional session on Feb. 2 in an effort to resolve the matter and consider a compromise offer extended by the administration yesterday, Chuang said that "After Lunar New Year, it's war."

This would certainly trouble Chu Tai-sheng (朱台森), president of lead contractor New Asia Construction and Development Corp (新亞建設), which is constructing the structures that will house the nuclear reactors and turbines under a contract worth NT$10.5 billion.

"My subcontractors have said if the government can't settle it in the short-term, then they may have to cancel," said Chu, who emphasized the cooperative nature of work carried out by contractors at the site.

"If, for example, my concrete supplier pulled out, how could we continue to build?" said Chu.

A pull-out of any of the other main contractors at Kungliao would hamper the ability of other companies to complete their work during the time it would take to replace them, said Chu.

"Construction of the utility is about teamwork," said Chu. "If other contractors can't work, we can't either -- even if we wanted to -- because we have to collaborate with each other," he added.

According to Hsu Yung-hua (徐永華), project engineer at Taipower's Department of Nuclear and Fossil Power Projects, finding companies to replace those that pull out would take a "very long time."

"The original bidding process was conducted in two stages because of the size of the project and took two years to complete," Hsu said. "It would take at least six months and perhaps as long as one year to complete the process again now," he added.

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