A Japanese engineer who oversaw the construction of two nuclear power plants spoke in Taipei yesterday about the danger of such plants and urged Taiwan not to let the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant go into operation.
During the seven years he worked at General Electric Co (GE), Yoichi Kikuchi was involved in the construction of the No. 2 reactor at the Tokai nuclear power plant and the No. 6 reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
He left the company in 1980.
In 2002, he became concerned about the possible dangers of a major earthquake in the area near the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, about 180km southwest of Tokyo, and participated in anti-nuclear protests urging the plant’s closure.
The plant was shut in 2011 after the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster.
Kikuchi visited the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant construction site in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), in 2006 and gave it a score of three points out of a possible 100, only for “the generosity of Taiwan Power Co [Taipower] for letting me visit the plant.”
“I was shocked to see that conditions at the plant’s construction site were more ill-managed than the construction of ordinary buildings I often see in Japan ... for example, I saw a worker welding by himself, with no supervisor at his side,” he said of the 2006 visit.
He said in his experience as a directing supervisor at the Japanese plants, all welding work needed overseers and had to pass many checks, but Taipower answered his questions about unsupervised welding by saying that it “trusted the downstream unit,” which he found unbelievable.
The unpredictability of earthquakes is what concerns him most about nuclear safety issues, he said, even if plants are not located on fault lines.
Taiwan and Japan both face the threat of major earthquakes , many of which have occured at previously unknown blind thrust faults, with unforeseen severity, he said.
“The designs of nuclear power plants are already flawed and more flaws appear during construction, as many parts of the work are contracted out and the contractors mostly tend to conceal the mistakes they make for fear of not getting contracts for future projects,” he said.
Construction work at plants in Japan is often far from perfect and the working culture is filled with lies, he said, adding that he did not think this was a problem just in Japan.
A man in the audience surnamed Kuo (郭), who said he worked at Taiwan’s nuclear plants for almost 30 years, including the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant site, said construction at the new plant was conducted according to precise procedures and he could “guarantee that it could at least get 70 to 80 points [out of a possible 100],” which should be “OK” in terms of safety.
Kikuchi cited several examples in Japan of broken components which were discovered after reactors began operating, exposing workers doing repairs to high levels of radiation and causing the loss of large amounts of money in stopping the reactors to be repaired. Even today, the skills and technology for building nuclear power plants are immature and limited, and examinations or checks cannot guarantee safety, he said.
Nuclear power plants are so complicated that most technicians are “only specialists at a specific part of the plant,” he said.
It is unbelievable that any “expert” can guarantee the safety of a nuclear power plant, Kikuchi said.