With legislators and civic groups expressing their concern over the safety of nuclear waste treatment, Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Woody Duh (杜紫軍) said at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei yesterday that the ministry is planning to set up an independent nuclear waste treatment center.
At a meeting of the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee, legislators across party lines asked how the ministry, Taiwan Power Co (Tai-power, 台電) and the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) plan to deal with nuclear waste and whether they can ensure safety.
AEC Deputy Minister Chou Yuan-ching (周源卿) said 16,671 spent fuel bundles — high-level radioactive waste — produced by the three operating nuclear power plants are being kept in the plants’ spent fuel pools.
Duh said that because the pools at the first and second nuclear power plants in New Taipei City’s Jinshan (金山) and Wanli (萬里) districts are unable to store all the spent fuel bundles produced in the plants’ lifespan of 40 years, the bundles are to be moved to dry cask storage facilities that are now being built as midterm storage sites.
According to Taipower’s Spent Nuclear Fuel Final Disposal Program Plan, which is now evaluating potential rock formations, the final disposal site is to be decided by 2038 and ready to use by 2055, he said.
As for low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities, Chou said an estimated total number of about 740,000 barrels — including 292,048 barrels produced during their 40-year lifespan and 455,783 barrels produced during the decommissioning process — are to be created by the three nuclear power plants.
Duh said that about 100,000 barrels are stored on Lanyu (蘭嶼, Orchid Island) and others are being kept in storage facilities at the three power plants.
He added that the ministry in 2012 named Taitung County’s Tajen Township (達仁鄉) and Kinmen’s Wuchiu Township (烏坵鄉) as potential sites for building a final depository, but the two local governments have not agreed to hold local referendums to decide the site.
According to Yilan Charlei Chen Foundation president Chen Hsi-nan (陳錫南), who was invited to present to the committee, the design of Taiwan’s dry cask storage does not allow spent fuel bundles to be removed or transported to other sites, because it lacks sufficient vibration-proof and crash-proof material.
The oldest dry cask storage facilities in the US have only been used for 26 years, so Taipower cannot prove that the facilities can keep the spent fuel safe from leakage for 40 years, Chen added.
Meanwhile, He Li-wei (賀立維), a nuclear expert who worked at the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research, said seven hydrogen explosions occurred when the institute tried to remove fuel bundles from pools 26 years ago in Taoyuan County’s Longtan Township (龍潭).
Taipower vice president Chen Pu-tsan (陳布燦) said that although the oldest dry cast storage facilities in the US are just 26 years old, they were designed to be used for more than 40 years, and so are the ones designed for Taiwan.
Duh said three months ago, the ministry decided to establish an independent administrative institution to deal with nuclear waste issues, and public hearings are being held to collect opinions.