JAPAN DISASTER:Rethink nuclear power, DPP urges

PLAYING WITH FIRE::Contractors have made 180 unauthorized modifications to the design of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant since June last year, the DPP says

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  Staff Reporter

Tue, Mar 15, 2011 - Page 1

Taiwan should rethink its commitment to nuclear power and the opening of a fourth nuclear power plant following the ongoing crisis in Japan, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said yesterday.

The possibilities of meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, the party said in a statement, have made apparent the inherent risks associated with the nuclear industry in Taiwan, given its unique geographical conditions.

“Taiwan is a small country that is densely populated and located on the Pacific Ring of Fire. [Two of the] nuclear power plants are located near a metropolitan area of 7 million [people],” the DPP said in a statement. “It’s time the government reviews whether nuclear power in Taiwan is safe.”

A second explosion yesterday rocked the Fukushima plant at its third reactor, in a blast that sent plumes of smoke into the air and heightened concerns about radiation being released into the atmosphere.

While nuclear regulatory agencies have said the radiation would not reach Taiwan, the political fallout looks almost certain to -reopen the nuclear debate.

Taiwan has two operating nuclear power plants and another planned within a 30km radius of Taipei City. Another nuclear plant is in Pingtung County at the country’s southern tip.

Nuclear power has been a touchy subject for both parties. It is an essential part of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce reliance on energy imports, labeling nuclear power clean energy.

Staunch supporters of nuclear power launched a recall campaign against then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) when he attempted to halt construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), following an election pledge.

Despite the controversy, DPP lawmakers have called for a moratorium on the fourth nuclear plant and a gradual phase out of the first three, when their current operating licenses expire.

The DPP called for the ratio of renewable energy, including wind and solar, to be increased against nuclear and more traditional sources, such as coal.

“If a radiation leak ever took place in Taiwan, everyone from Hsinchu to Keelung and Yilan would be affected — it’s about the safety of 10.29 million people,” DPP -Legislator Wong Chin-chu (翁金珠) said.

Construction should be stopped at the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, also known as the Longmen plant, even if it means that “it has to turn into a large museum,” she added.

Wong and other DPP lawmakers have cited multiple irregularities with the plant’s construction, saying that there have been 180 unauthorized modifications to the design by contractors since June last year.

The changes were a main reason behind the continued delays affecting the nuclear plant, which was originally supposed to see its first reactor come online last year, they said.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers yesterday also raised questions about the changes, which the Control Yuan has promised to look into.

However, nuclear energy in Taiwan still has supporters. Regulators have maintained that Taiwan’s existing nuclear plants are safe and are largely protected from the disruptions on the scale seen in Japan.

All four of the nation’s nuclear power plants are built on stable bedrock and can withstand a direct tremor of up to magnitude 7 and a tsunami of up to 12m, both the Atomic Energy Council and Taipower said.

The three operating nuclear power plants have also helped the country reduce carbon emissions by 30.8 million tonnes last year, Taipower said.