Thu, Mar 28, 2002 - Page 4 News List

Nuclear safety OK: AEC

CALMING FEARS The nation's nuclear materials supervisory body said that precautions on the use and storage of radioactive materials were adequate

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Atomic Energy Council (AEC) Vice Chairman Chiou Syh-tsong (邱錫聰) yesterday denied lax supervision of radioactive materials. Taking the discovery of two radioactive rods at steel plants in Taichung and Kaohsiung respectively as examples, Chiou said that current monitoring systems function well.

Chiou said Taiwan's 19 steel works that operates melting furnaces have been obligated to establish alarm systems since 1995. By the end of 2001, 114 reports of the discovery of radioactive materials have prevented potential radioactive contamination of steel products.

The radioactive rod discovered on Monday in Kaohsiung contains krypton-85, a radioactive isotope of the noble gas krypton, according to the AEC's Institute of Nuclear Energy Research yesterday.

Officials said that no series number was imprinted on the rod, to help identify its source. Researchers will further carry out further non-destructive examination to ascertain where the rod might have come from.

Krypton-85 is produced naturally, as well as by human activities, mainly the nuclear industry. Officials said, it is an ideal tracer due to its chemical stability as an inert gas. In Taiwan, a number of companies use it to monitor the thickness of products, including paper and polyethylene.

The AEC's Department of Radiation Protection yesterday checked all listed krypton-85 items but found all could be accounted for and were kept safely.

"We suspect that the rod might be used by the industry three decades ago," Chiou said, adding that the agency did not form its radiation protection department to monitor and safeguard radioactive materials in Taiwan until 1979.

Chiou said, after 1979, the agency has urged illegal holders of radioactive sources to report and the deadline would be this year.

When the revised Ionizing Radiations Regulations takes effect next year, unauthorized holders of regulated radioactive sources will be prosecuted and/or fined severely.

Also yesterday, Chiou denied that Taiwan has ever imported any plutonium from overseas and said all spent fuel from nuclear plants which contains plutonium has been stored safely and under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Chiou spoke in order to deny a March 27 Washington Post report, which claimed Taiwan was on a list of 33 countries which have been provided by the US with plutonium under the 1954 Atoms for Peace program.

The report said that the US Energy Department cannot fully account for small amounts of potentially dangerous plutonium sent to other countries, including Iran, Pakistan and India.

"Never has Taiwan imported plutonium from overseas because the material has been highly regulated by the IAEA," Chiou told the Taipei Times, adding that he had never heard of plutonium capsules.

Taiwan, however, has plutonium spent fuel because the element is created in nuclear reactors as a by-product of using uranium-238 at nuclear power plants.

"Plutonium spent fuel is stored at interim repositories at plants. The Taiwan Power Company will find or build final repositories for spent fuel by 2032," Chiou said.

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