Taiwan not fully prepared for catastrophe: officials

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff Reporter

Thu, Mar 17, 2011 - Page 1

Government officials yesterday admitted Taiwan was not fully prepared to deal with a natural catastrophe of the magnitude that hit Japan last Friday, killing thousands and sparking a series of malfunctions at a nuclear power station.

Amid concerns over the ability of authorities to respond to a similar situation, lawmakers across party lines asked the Ministry of the Interior and representatives from the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) and Taiwan Power Co to share their views on their preparedness at the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee.

However, the presentation by Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) raised more questions than it answered.

“Based on Japan’s evacuation plan, if nuclear emergencies occurred at the No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants, we would have to evacuate residents in the Greater Taipei metropolitan area,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said, referring to the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant in Shihmen District (石門), New Taipei City (新北市), and the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in Wanli (萬里), also in New Taipei City.

“Do we have any concrete evacuation plan in the event of an emergency?” Yeh asked. Those concerns were echoed by DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chi Kuo-tung (紀國棟).

Jiang said no such plan exists.

“In the event of such a nuclear emergency, we would make a step-by-step evacuation,” Jiang said. “However, for the moment, we don’t have an evacuation plan for the Greater Taipei metropolitan area, which includes Taipei, New Taipei City and Keelung.”

Chi asked how the government would deal with a worst case scenario, such as a massive earthquake triggering a nuclear crisis and damaging the 37 bridges connecting Taipei to New Taipei City, thus blocking major traffic gateways out of Taipei.

Again, the answer was that the government did not presently have a strategy for dealing with such a situation.

Yeh asked whether the ministry had standardized procedures for dealing with an earthquake-triggered nuclear crisis.

Under the law, the ministry would be in charge of dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake, while the AEC would be responsible for handling a nuclear crisis.

Jiang said both agencies had yet to discuss how such coordination would work, but he promised to discuss the matter with the council as soon as possible.

“The law stipulates that the AEC should set up an emergency operations center if an emergency occurs at a nuclear power plant, while a central emergency operation center would deal with earthquakes, typhoons or tsunamis,” Jiang said. “However, as to what would happen if a nuclear crisis were triggered by an earthquake or tsunami … the law is not very clear.”