Thu, Mar 17, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Experts question Wu’s nuclear facts

‘LOST IN TRANSLATION’:AEC and Taipower sources said Wu Den-yih’s assurances about the safety of Taiwan’s nuclear power plants were mistaken or misinformed

By Vincent Y. Chao and J. Michael Cole  /  Staff Reporters

Officials yesterday were at a loss to explain a mix-up by Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), who told the legislature on Tuesday that the nation’s three operational nuclear plants were “much safer” than those in Japan because they were “fourth generation” — something both Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) and the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) have said is wrong.

“The Fukushima Dai-ichi [-nuclear power] plant was equipped with a third-generation [reactor], while Taiwan’s nuclear power plants operate fourth--generation ones,” Wu told the legislature, claiming that this alone made Taiwan’s plants safer.

SIMILAR PLANTS

However, as the Taipei Times reported yesterday, fourth--generation reactors are not expected to be commercially viable for another two decades and an investigation has shown that the types of -reactors used at the Japanese plant are very similar to those in Taiwan.

Asked for comment on the discrepancy, a senior Government Information Office official who was not authorized to speak to the media said: “Wu could have made a mistake,” referring further inquiries to the AEC.

For its part, the council said Wu was either misinformed or that information was “lost in translation.”

“Perhaps it is just a misunderstanding. Perhaps the premier was referring to the boiling water reactor types and mistook them for the generation variants,” said Chang Shin (張欣), an official at the council’s Department of Nuclear Regulation.

However, another council official speaking on condition of anonymity was more forthcoming.

The units at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, which started running in 1971, use three types of boiling water reactors (BWR). All six reactors are second--generation variants, the officials told the Taipei Times, information that was corroborated by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.

Similarly, the first two plants in Taiwan — both in New Taipei City (新北市) — use BWR-4 and BWR-6 reactors and are the same second-generation variant as those used at Fukushima, the official said. Taipower also confirmed that no operational nuclear plant in Taiwan uses anything newer than second--generation reactors.

THIRD PLANT

For its part, the third plant, in Pingtung County, uses another second-generation device known as a pressurized water reactor (PWR), considered safer than BWR variants.

The most modern nuclear reactor in Taiwan is found at the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, still under construction in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮), which uses two advanced boiling water reactors. Those are third-generation reactors.

The three operational nuclear plants in Taiwan are therefore no more advanced than the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, the council official said.

In fact, all but one of the reactors at the Fukushima plant are either of similar design or more advanced — in the case of reactor six, which is a BWR-5 — than those at Taiwan’s first nuclear plant, the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant.

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