With the search to find a permanent storage site for nuclear waste stalled due to strong opposition, Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) officials yesterday said that waste produced by the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), could be stored at the plant for up to 60 years, but said the company has no idea what to do with the radioactive waste after that time.
“It was taken into consideration in the design for the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant that it may be unclear where a permanent nuclear waste disposal site would be constructed for some time, so the plant is capable of storing all its nuclear waste during its 40 years of operation,” Taipower acting vice president Hsu Yung-hua (徐永華) told reporters who visited the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant. “If necessary, the storage within the plant could be extended for another 20 years with no problem.”
As for where to store the nuclear waste after 60 years, Hsu said: “We have found several locations, which I would prefer not to disclose at the moment, that are geologically suitable to securely store nuclear waste, but making the decision on a permanent storage site isn’t really something that we [Taipower] can do on our own … during the 60 years, we would await new technology to solve the problem or the selection of a permanent disposal site.”
Taipower officials said they were highly confident about safety at the plant.
“A nuclear disaster on the scale of what happened at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan could not occur at the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant,” said Ko Chih-ming (柯志明), a manager at the power plant. “Because we have protective measures that the Fukushima power plant didn’t have.”
He said that if a major natural disaster, whether a massive earthquake or tsunami, hits or is expected to hit the power plant, the reactor would be immediately shut down “even if that means we may lose the reactor.”
After shutting down the reactor, Ko said Taipower would do its best to make sure there was sufficient water to cool the reactor.
Ko said that the pumps for water cooling at Fukushima were not covered, so when the tsunami hit the plant, the pumps broke down, leading to overheating at the reactor, with meltdown triggering hydrogen-air explosions.
“The pumps [at the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant] are protected by a concrete building, so they would not be damaged by a tsunami,” Ko said. “We also have emergency backup electricity generators that could take over power supply in case transmission towers collapse during a massive earthquake.”
Ko said that if all these measures failed, there are two water tanks that hold up to 48,000 tonnes of water on the hill behind the power plant, and “the water could be released through underground pipes, or above-ground water channels we are currently working on, into reactors.”
Plant general manager Wang Po-hui (王伯輝) was emotional when speaking about criticism and doubt from the public.
“I work here, I live here, of course I would make sure that the plant is safe,” he said.
Although Taipower employees are confident about the power plant, some members of the press remained unconvinced.
“It’s really worrisome to me that the employees are overconfident about the power plant and describing it as too perfect a place,” a reporter surnamed Chen (陳) said. “I would rather that they were more cautious and were more honest about telling us which areas they still need to work on.”
“For example, the general manager said the plant is the first fully digitalized nuclear power plant in the world, making it safer than most of its peers — but I’m a bit concerned what would happen if some problem occurs, since no one in the world has ever worked with this new system,” he added.