JAPAN DISASTER: Underwater volcanoes pose risk to plant, activists say

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  Staff Reporter

Tue, Mar 15, 2011 - Page 2

The earthquake that hit Japan on Friday last week has provided additional ammunition to environmental activists who are worried that one of Taiwan’s nuclear power plants lies within an area known for its underwater volcanoes.

Lee Chao-shing (李昭興), a professor of applied geosciences at National Taiwan Ocean University, said last year that as many as 70 underwater volcanoes are located within an 80km radius of the soon-to-be-operational Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市).

Up to 11 of those volcanoes are active, Lee said.

Although atomic regulatory officials dismissed the risks, activists said the authorities should take another look in light of the nuclear incidents in Japan.

The volcanoes, which have the highest concentration near a nuclear plant in the world, could lead to “a serious disaster” in the event of an earthquake or tsunami on the scale of that that struck Japan last week, Lee said.

The extent of their activity can be seen by the nearby presence of crabs, he said, pointing to video that showed hundreds of the crustaceans crawling at the base of what Lee said was an underwater volcano.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators demanded that the government stop work on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant — also known as the Longmen plant — which is expected to come online this year or next year.

DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said the government should adopt a more cautious approach given the research findings, suggesting it was time it “stopped, looked and listened carefully.”

“The findings support ... the view that a natural disaster off Taiwan would have even more serious consequences than [what is happening] at Fukushima,” she said, referring to fears of two nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

Kao Cheng-yan (高成炎) of National Taiwan University, who is actively involved in the environmental movement, said the Longmen plant should not become operational.

“The reactors in the nuclear plant would be more unstable in the event of an earthquake. There are active volcanoes all around it,” he said.

Responding to the concerns, nuclear regulatory officials said the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is safe, pointing to its location on stable bedrock and multiple backup systems, which officials say exceed those Japan had in place.

“We believe that [construction of] the fourth nuclear plant can continue as planned,” Taiwan Power Co chairman Edward Chen (陳貴明) said.