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Thu, Oct 14, 1999 - Page 3 News List

The man who put an end to Taiwan's dream of becoming a nuclear power

FINAL DAYS The deputy director of Taiwan's nuclear research institute defected to the US with his family in 1988. The information he handed over to US authorities prompted them to send over a decommissioning team to take Taiwan's nuclear reprocessing facility off-l


The recent declassification of US State Department documents has shed new light on the progression of events that led to the exposure of Taiwan's program to develop nuclear technology. It's a story in which the figure of ROC Colonel Chang Hsien-yi (張憲義) played a central part.

Chang was born in Taichung in 1943. After graduating from the military-run Chungcheng Institute of Technology in 1967, Chang began his career at the Institute for Nuclear Energy Research, a division of the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (???s科學研究院) -- also run by the military.

He was serving as deputy director of the nuclear research facility when he fled Taiwan on Jan. 9, 1988, just three days before the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).

According to a military investigation after the incident, CIA personnel at the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) arranged for his escape, under the silent consent of Taiwan's security agencies.

Chang allegedly kept his wife Hung Mei-feng (洪美鳳) and children in the dark about his defection. Two days after his escape, a CIA agent -- carrying a letter from Chang -- met his wife and children in Tokyo and escorted them to the US.

Immediately after his arrival in the US, Chang went to a secret Congress debriefing, where he confirmed the breakthroughs Taiwan had made in developing nuclear weapons -- and Taiwan's attempt to hide its nuclear program from US surveillance.

Chang's revelations prompted the US government to take tough action -- to pressure the Taiwan government to destroy its nuclear weapons facilities.

Chiang Ching-kuo's death did not change US pressure, and the Taiwan military finally gave in.

On Jan. 15, the US demanded access to the Institute for Nuclear Energy. Three days later, a team of US experts arrived at the Ching-chuankang air force base in Tai-chung. After a short discussion with Yeh Chang-tung (?昌桐), then Vice Chief of the General Staff, the team went straight to the nuclear research site in Lungtan, Taoyuan County, accompanied by Yeh.

After taking some soil samples and making an analysis of the hardware installed there, the US team started dismantling a heavy water reactor.

Within a few hours, the NT$1.85 billion facility and 17 years of research were decommissioned. If the costs for personnel training and software are taken into account, the military lost about NT$3 billion.

Later, Yeh traveled to the US and reportedly reached a consensus with US officials over Chang's defection.

After his escape, the Ministry of National Defense issued an arrest warrant for Chang, but later the Chungshan Institute completed paperwork to "discharge" him from service.

Chou Jen-chang (周??1), the director of the nuclear department at the time, was only given a demerit. No high-ranking official resigned as a result of the incident.

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