Tue, Jun 05, 2012 - Page 2 News List

Leading geologist warns of volcano

APOCALYPSE MAYBE:A former government scientist has called on the Atomic Energy Council to evaluate the potential impact of volcanos on nuclear plants

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Former National Science Council deputy-minister Chen Cheng-hong (陳正宏) yesterday said the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) should evaluate the impact that a volcanic eruption would have on nuclear power plants in northern Taiwan.

Chen, a geologist, was invited to give a speech on volcanic activity in northern Taiwan at the AEC’s 57th anniversary event.

The potential scenarios of a nuclear power plant being affected by an earthquake or tsunami disaster have been discussed recently, given the meltdown of the reactors at Japan’s disaster-hit Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in March last year.

However, while tsunamis are clearly an important threat, volcanic activity and earthquakes are also closely related and thus should also be addressed, Chen said.

Considering the lava composition of the Datun Mountain range and referencing the 1991 eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines, if the volcano at Datun erupts, up to three meters of ashes could be generated, Chen said. Clark Air Base in the Philippines was paralyzed by the ashes from Mt Pinatubo, Chen added.

Considering the impact volcanic activity could have on the greater Taipei area, the Datun Mountains volcano group in northern Taiwan are of critical importance, Chen said.

Taiwan’s geographic location on the border of the Pacific and the Philippine Sea Plate renders it susceptible to seismic movement which causes frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity in the region, Chen said.

Historical accounts show that the last volcanic eruptions were between 100 and 200 years ago in the sea and on islands off Taiwan’s northeastern coast, he added.

Chen said that breakthroughs in geological dating methods have provided more precise information on the history of their activities.

It was previously believed that the latest eruption at this seismic hot-spot was about 17,000 years ago, but improved methods have now revealed that the latest eruption may have happened as recently as about 6,000 years ago, Chen said.

He added that it is therefore possible that even more modern dating methods could show that volcanic activity actually occurred more recently than that.

“So my opinion is that the AEC should evaluate whether the nuclear power plants can endure the possibility of being covered by two or three meters of volcano ashes,” he said.

“I only present my analysis based on scientific evidence, but evaluation of the effects on nuclear power plants remain for the AEC specialists to determine,” he said.

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