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Thu, Oct 14, 1999 - Page 3 News List

How the US stopped Taiwan's bomb

ARMS RACE Details of Taiwan's bid to join the nuclear community have always been shrouded in secrecy. Previously classified US documents shows just how close Taiwan came to developing the technology to produce thermonuclear weapons

By William Ide By William Ide  /  STAFF REPORTER

Intelligence information confirming this suspicion did get to the State Department, in December 1972, but by this time Taiwan's position in the international arena was already beginning to fade due to the emergence of China.

In 1971 Taiwan was pushed out of the United Nations and its continued participation in international organizations like IEAE was threatened.

After Taiwan lost its membership in the IEAE, a bilateral agreement with the United States -- which had backed efforts to build all three of the island's nuclear power plants -- continued to ensure that safety standards were being met.

"We recently learned that the ROC is considering the purchase of the essential parts for nuclear materials and reprocessing plant from commercial sources in the FRG. Such a plant reprocesses spent reactor cores and also produces significant quantities of plutonium, an essential component of nuclear weapons," a Dec. 14, 1972 memorandum said.

Cheng was advised of the US concern and "described the proposed reprocessing plant as a small scale laboratory exercise designed to develop experience in the reprocessing field," the memorandum added.

Small-scale research

Cheng further downplayed the matter, saying the facilities would cost US$250,000 and would be used to reprocess small amounts of spent reactor cores on an "experimental basis."

The US immediately pointed out to Taiwan that, according to the IEAE, strict standards had to be enforced for such a transfer to take place and that, in principle, the IEAE opposed the transfer of reprocessing plants to a "non-nuclear weapons state."

The US then began plying pressure on Germany and other countries that would be involved in the process. The IEAE board of governors in China also said they would not approve of the transfer.

In January 1973, US Embassy officials in Taiwan spoke to the foreign minister and urged him not to go ahead with the purchase.

The foreign minister, Shen Chang-huan (沈昌煥), agreed to the US demand, but in return asked for help so that Taiwan could meet its future fuel needs, particularly when its planned six nuclear reactors were on line.

Shen denied the idea of building a reprocessing plant had been approved by Taiwan's government, and did not tell the US that Taiwan had already signed a contract with a German firm to purchase the reprocessing plant.

The US confronted Shen over the matter, after which he told the US embassy that Taiwan would not be involved in the construction of a reprocessing plant, a February, 1973, memorandum confirms.

The US continued to monitor Taiwan's attempts to go ahead and construct a reprocessing facility on its own, but documents do not detail how Taiwan achieved this feat.

According to research by David Albright and Corey Gay, published in a "Bulletin of Atomic Scientists" article, entitled "Taiwan Nuclear Nightmare Averted," Taiwan continued on its own.

Their findings show that Taiwan began work in 1969 on uranium fuel, a reprocessing facility, and a plutonium chemistry laboratory.

These facilities were built with the help of equipment from France, Germany, the US and other countries, the article said.

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