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Wed, May 16, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Rod faults plague nuclear plant

DANGEROUS Taipower announced yesterday that cracks have been found in an alarming number of control rods of a reactor at the Second Nuclear Power Plant


Taiwan Power Co (Taipower, 台電) officials revealed yesterday that some cracks were found in 54 out of the No. 2 nuclear reactor's 157 control rods during the Second Nuclear Power Plant's (核二廠) routine maintenance check earlier this month.

Since it is the first case worldwide, and the control rods are considered the most important item necessary in stopping the operation of a nuclear reactor, the Atomic Energy Council (AEC, 原子能委員會) immediately halted the operation of the No. 2 nuclear reactor.

Control rods are used to control the rate of the nuclear reaction and to prevent the fuel rods from being overheated or melting down. According to experts, it might be difficult to insert a damaged control rod into the reactor to control heat production.

According to Taipower officials, the No. 1 nuclear reactor at the plant -- located in Taipei County -- and two other nuclear reactors at the First Nuclear Power Plant (核一廠) -- also located in Taipei County -- are using the same control rods. The other three nuclear reactors, therefore, might have the same problem.

Taipower officials, however, yesterday said that the electricity output would be insufficient if they had to immediately shut down the First and the Second Nuclear Power Plants.

The company is to check all the control rods during the three nuclear reactors' routine maintenance.

According to Taipower officials, the control rods were newly changed and had been shipped to Taiwan from a General Electric plant in the US last year. As such a case has never happened before, Taipower immediately contacted General Electric.

"All nuclear power plants worldwide using GE's D230 control rods might need a safety check," Taipower officials said.

According to officials, nuclear power plants inside and outside Taiwan seldom check their control rods since the rods are considered extremely safe. Workers at the Second Nuclear Power Plant accidentally found the cracks through a monitor during routine maintenance.

Taipower officials said that the company might need two to three weeks to fix the control rods.

Because the electricity output of the Third Nuclear Power Plant (核三廠) -- located in Pingtung County -- is currently insufficient due to a previous fire, the national power supply could be negatively effected.

Recent incidents have also brought to light a history of carelessness at Taiwan's nuclear facilities.

On March 2, workers installing fuel rod assemblies into a reactor at the First Nuclear Power Plant almost installed a damaged fuel rod there. Experts said that if workers had installed the damaged rod and had started the reactor, it might have caused the reactor to malfunction.

Later, on March 18, a fire broke out at the Third Nuclear Power Plant, leaving two electricity generators out of commission and severely cutting the plant's output.

The accident was considered the most serious nuclear incident in Taiwan's history. Luckily, the fire did not cause radiation leaks.

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