Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) told the legislature yesterday that he was unaware of any offer from Beijing to help with Taiwan Power Co’s (Taipower, 台電) storage of nuclear waste and said there would be political considerations involved in any such offer.
Responding to a question from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元) at a plenary session at the legislature in Taipei, Jiang said he had no information on whether Chinese state-owned China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC, 中國核工業集團公司) had offered to store Taiwanese nuclear waste in its storage site in Gansu Province.
Tsai said CNNC had expressed an interest to Taipower about handling nuclear waste from the first and second nuclear power plants.
Taipower has been trying to find a site for permanent storage of nuclear waste and has not ruled out overseas locations, but any issue related to China would have to go through the Mainland Affairs Council, Jiang said.
“Politically that would not be a feasible option, but the Executive Yuan would not be able to make the final decision unilaterally,” he said.
Meanwhile, academics expressed concerns about the storage of nuclear waste at a press conference in Taipei yesterday on the handling of nuclear waste.
Lee Chao-shing (李昭興), a professor of applied geosciences at National Taiwan Ocean University, said it would be difficult for Taiwan to find a storage site because of its geologic environment, while a bilateral agreement with the US would make it difficult to move nuclear waste overseas.
The processing of nuclear waste has been a hot-button issue because some nuclear waste can be reprocessed and turned into materials for nuclear weapons, said He Li-wei (賀立維), a nuclear expert who worked at the Atomic Energy Council’s Institute of Nuclear Energy Research.
Nuclear experts could not deny the potential harm of radioactive waste, he said, adding that the government should be “very cautious” about disposal of nuclear waste.
Experience has shown that disposal of nuclear waste could be “a question without an answer” in Taiwan because of Taipower’s poor handling of its temporary nuclear waste storage site on Lanyu (蘭嶼) and public suspicion about Taipower’s ability to deal with storage issues, National Taiwan University atmospheric sciences professor Gloria Hsu(徐光蓉) said.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) and specialists also objected to Tsai’s description of spent nuclear fuel as “swords in the water,” and said nuclear waste is a dangerous and unsolvable problem for Taiwan.
Tsai said spent fuel rods in the pools at nuclear power plants are “like swords in the water” in a posting on his Facebook page after visiting the yet-to-be-completed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Gongliao District (貢寮) last week. He also wrote that “97 percent of each is full of important recyclable resources,” “can be reprocessed into MOX [mixed oxide] fuel rods” and are “high-value military strategic resources.”
“I know clearly that you [spent fuel rods] are sheathed swords. Although our generation is not able to unsheathe the sword, we will leave you behind for our children and grandchildren,” Tsai wrote.
Tien said there are about 3,321 tonnes of spent fuel rods at the nation’s three operating nuclear power plants, and if 1 percent of them were uranium, it would total 33.21 tonnes of uranium, far more than the amount used to make the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Reprocessing the spent fuel into MOX fuel would cause even more trouble in terms of disposal, because the plutonium created has a half-life of 24,000 years, she said, adding that if early Homo sapiens 100,000 years ago had used nuclear power, the plutonium in the nuclear waste would still be able to cause radiation damage today.
“If Tsai considers spent nuclear fuel as a treasure, then I suggest that high-level radioactive waste, which we have trouble finding permanent repositories for, be stored at Tsai’s office or the KMT’s central office,” Tien said.
Yilan Charlie Chen Foundation consultant He, who has a background in nuclear engineering, said even if Taiwan was allowed to send spent fuel abroad to be refined into MOX fuel, the leftover waste would still have to be shipped back for final disposal.
It is not worth the trouble to create more toxic substances for tens of thousands of years just for a few more resources at present, He said.