Mon, May 07, 2018 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Minister lays out path to nuclear-free Taiwan

Atomic Energy Council Minister Hsieh Shou-shing in an interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporters Jennifer Huang and Yang Mien-chieh clarified the cause of an emergency shutdown at a nuclear power plant in March, and said that the government is committed to its goal of achieving a ‘nuclear-free homeland’ by 2025

Atomic Energy Council Minister Hsieh Shou-shing gestures during an interview with the Liberty Times (sister newspaper of the Taipei Times) on April 26.

Photo: Huang Yao-cheng, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): The tripping of the second reactor [at the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Wanli District (萬里)] following its reactivation on March 27 has led to questions about nuclear safety. In your opinion, is the reactor safe to reactivate?

Hsieh Shou-shing (謝曉星): First, the term “reactivation,” commonly used in conjunction with the second reactor, leads to the mistaken assumption that the entire reactor is being reactivated, whereas it is simply being restarted.

The second reactor is on standby, not due to a major malfunction or because it is being phased out. Its standby status over the past 600 days is due to the surge arrester exploding within 35 minutes of the reactor being reconnected to the power grid. At the time, the fissile fuel rod had not been inserted, and the incident should not be considered a nuclear safety incident.

In the latest incident, Taiwan Power [Taipower, 台電] had followed the procedure to restart the reactor, and the council had approved the restart after extensive reviews involving 10 experts and a month-long review process. The application for the restart was approved after ensuring that nuclear safety standards were met.

Among the tests that were run prior to the restarting of the second reactor was the condition that it had to successfully be connected to the power grid twice, as well as the calibration of more than 10 pieces of equipment.

The trip that occurred in the second power grid connection, as Taipower explained it, was due to Taipower having changed the control system from analog to digital — such changes were not legally required to be reported to the council, as it was not vital to nuclear safety systems — to provide better and more reactive protection.

Upon re-engagement to the power grid, the system read the parameters for steam pressure as abnormal due to the lack of optimization of the setup, causing the reactor to engage the safety mechanism and “trip-stop” the entire reactor.

As the steam pressure system is legally not considered a system directly affiliated with nuclear safety, the trip is not considered to be a nuclear safety incident.

This goes to show that, despite the 600-odd days the second reactor spent in standby, its automated security functions are still in prime condition, which, in some sense, is a good thing.

However, the council has decided to err on the side of caution, as there is no telling when electronic systems could act abnormally.

We have asked Taipower to locate the original manufacturer of the steam pressure system to make adjustments, and have tasked more experts to initiate a three-stage review to isolate and identify the cause of the trip, and find ways to upgrade safety functions.

The council has demanded that Taipower conduct reactor transient analysis to further ensure that the reactor is stable.

The council will be implementing a higher standard with the upcoming review that would take up to two months, which would delay the restarting of the reactor to next month at the latest, as Taipower had, on April 10, tendered its application to restart the reactor.

The council’s foremost job is to ensure the safety of nuclear power. Everything in our power will be done to ensure safety and minimize risk. Information on nuclear power plants will be made public as much as possible, and we will attempt to approach our job of ensuring nuclear safety from the perspective of the public.

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