Taiwan’s three operational nuclear power plants could withstand earthquakes caused by seismic faults discovered after the facilities were built, the top nuclear regulatory official said yesterday.
“In our position, as there is no immediate danger [to the three nuclear power plants], we won’t ask for a suspension of operating nuclear power plants,” Atomic Energy Council (AEC) Minister Tsai Chuen-horng (蔡春鴻) told a press conference, adding that further study would be necessary to confirm this preliminary conclusion.
Tsai’s remarks were in answer to a question as to whether operations at the three plants should be suspended after the regulatory agency admitted the potential threat from the Shanchiao Fault (山腳斷層) to the first and second nuclear power plants in Shihmen District (石門) and Wanli (萬里), both in New Taipei City (新北市), and that from the Hengchun Fault (恆春斷層) to the third nuclear power plant in Ma-anshan (馬鞍山), Pingtung County, was not taken into account in the design and construction of the plants.
A preliminary study by Taipower Corp, the operator of the three nuclear plants, has determined that the earthquake resistance of the three nuclear plants is 0.3g (a measure of peak ground acceleration), 0.4g and 0.4g respectively, meaning their structure could withstand a quake of magnitude 6 or 7 caused by those faults, Tsai said.
The AEC has requested that Taipower conduct another study on geological characteristics of the undersea faults to ascertain their potential impact on the three nuclear power plants. That study is expected to be completed next year, Tsai said.
The AEC has also demanded that Taipower enhance earthquake resistance capabilities in the wake of the nuclear crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi power facility, Tsai said.
The first nuclear power plant has been in operation for 30 years and is scheduled for shutdown in 2018. Taipower had planned to extend its life by 20 years, but temporarily withdrew the proposal and asked the AEC to conduct a feasibility plan.
The AEC will not agree to the extension if it fails to meet safety standards, Tsai said.
Asked whether Japan’s nuclear crisis would lead the AEC to upgrade safety standards for nuclear power plants, Tsai said the agency was studying the possibility.
Tsai said the AEC was also very concerned about plans by China to build 13 nuclear power plants along its coast, adding that the agency would soon establish a cooperation mechanism with Beijing on information sharing regarding nuclear regulations and safety.
Meanwhile, Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) told legislators there was no need to shut down construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), because it posed no security threat without fuel rods.
“Taiwan is dependent on -imported energy and we must -diversify energy sources,” he said.
Nuclear power accounted for 20 percent of the nation’s energy last year.
“Completion of the fourth plant is necessary and the current construction of machinery and the facilities has nothing to do with safety, as fuel rods haven’t been installed,” because it is not generating energy, he said.
The AEC Web site shows that construction at the plant was 93 percent complete as of the end of January.
Prior to the Japanese earthquake, Taipower had postponed the start of the plant to about the end of next year because of safety concerns and rising construction costs. The NT$280 billion (US$9.5 billion) project was first proposed in 1980.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JASON TAN AND BLOOMBERG
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