Tue, Jun 01, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Potassium iodide pills part of nuclear safety campaign

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Nuclear safety will be increased in the near future by providing potassium iodide (KI) pills to residents living near nuclear power plants and adopting recently-improved plasma technology to resolve problems with the treatment of low-level radioactive waste, Atomic Energy Council Chairman Ouyang Min-shen (歐陽敏盛) said yesterday.

Since Taiwan's first nuclear power plant opened in 1978, there have concerns over nuclear safety, including emergency measures and treatment of radioactive waste.

Because a major nuclear accident could expose tens of thousands of people to high levels of radiation, environmentalists and health professionals have advocated stockpiling KI tablets or distributing them to people residing near the plants.

Ouyang said that the council decided to provide KI pills to residents living within 5km of the three operational nuclear power plants.

"I think our society is mature enough to deal with the issue. The government will not hesitate to talk about nuclear safety with the public," Ouyang said.

According to council deputy chairman Chiou Syh-tsong (邱賜聰), the Department of Health would soon discuss how to handle dispensing the pills. By law, such pills can only be obtained by prescription.

"We believe that the Department of Health will handle the issue smoothly because precedents can be seen in France and parts of the US," Chiou said.

Meanwhile, Ouyang said the council will tackle problems with the treatment of low-level radioactive waste soon. He said the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research had significantly improved a process involving thermal plasma vitrification treatment of such waste.

Ouyang said long-standing problems with the waste could be resolved if state-run Taiwan Power Co used the technology.

The technology can reduce the volume of untreated waste to one-third the original amount and the vitrified remains can be safely stored in a final repository.

"Therefore we shouldn't have the kind of local opposition and geological challenges when choosing potential sites for final repositories of low-level waste," Ouyang said.

He said vitrified radioactive materials would be bound up in glass or other depositories and would not be easily released.

"Even if water comes in contact with the waste after it is placed in a disposal facility, there will not be problems with fallout," Ouyang said.

Under ideal conditions, he said that the treatment of 98,000 barrels of low-level radioactive waste stored on Orchid Island and some similar waste in operational nuclear power plants would be launched within four years.

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