The Kuosheng nuclear power plant in Wanli (萬里), Taipei County, is an “absolute disaster,” according to the head of a diving company charged with conducting underwater maintenance at the plant.
Making assertions that raise concerns about the safety of the plant, Robert Greenspan, president of the Rapid City, South Dakota-based Midco Diving and Marine Services, said during a telephone interview with the Taipei Times on Tuesday last week that Taiwan Power Corp (TPC), the operator of the nuclear power plant, was treating the suppression pool — a critical component in case of an emergency — as a “garbage dump.”
The cleaning contract for the suppression pool was awarded to Taiwanese firm Ming Tai and subcontracted to A&P Solar Enterprises, a California-based company. A&P in turn subcontracted the diving portion of the work to Midco.
Greenspan’s company conducted underwater maintenance at Unit 2 in November 2008 and Unit 1 in March last year.
Soon after starting work at the suppression pool — a 6m deep pool surrounding the nuclear reactor that can release large quantities of water to cool the reactor to prevent a meltdown — Greenspan’s team came upon a scene they were not prepared for.
“I’ve worked in half a dozen nuclear plants in the US,” Greenspan said. “I’d never seen anything like this … You could find everything short of a bicycle in there.”
Among the foreign objects found were cable spools, oxygen tanks and masks. As they were doing work, more debris kept falling in, Greenspan said.
According to foreign material exclusion (FME) rules, any object that is taken into a suppression pool must be taken out. With sediment naturally accumulating at the bottom of a pool, underwater maintenance must be carried out regularly, Greenspan said, which is usually every one or two years.
However, as the operators of the Kuosheng power plant were treating the pool as a “garbage dump” and maintenance had not been done in years, the need was much greater, as foreign objects could clog the pool, he said.
Usually, about 30cm of sediment is found at the bottom of a pool, but in Kuosheng’s case, Greenspan’s team found “feet of sediments” and “massive corrosion” of the tank, he said.
Asked if management at the power plant was aware of the situation, Greenspan said: “They know … They told me not to say anything to anybody.”
Greenspan said because of the “garbage” he realized that his team would not be able to do the job in the time specified in the contract.
“It was supposed to be a 10-day project and we were going on 13 days, mainly because of the amount of garbage at the bottom of the suppression pool,” he said, adding that he tried to work out a deal so the necessary extra work could be done.
Instead, the team was forced out.
“We were dismissed and locked out of the plant, unable to access our equipment,” Greenspan said, adding that the equipment left behind was worth about US$80,000. Greenspan also said that while TPC paid Ming Tai, Midco was never paid the US$163,000 it was owed for its work.
The Taipei Times has since learned that someone at Ming Tai going by the name of “Tom” allegedly has a “family friend” at the Kuosheng power station known as M.L. Fan. Fan’s brother, Richard Fan, is the chairman of California-based A&P.
Asked for comment, Roger Chang (臧鶴年), mechanical section chief at the Kuosheng nuclear power plant, said on Thursday last week that Greenspan’s description of conditions at the power plant was “not quite correct.”
“Some foreign material or debris will inevitably fall in the pool, [such as] sludge generated during normal operations,” he said. “We need to clean the pool periodically, as US stations do. This is why we awarded the contract to clean the pool.”
The open-type pool measures 1,754m2 and has a grating platform on top, Chang says.
“We have spent a lot of effort maintaining cleanliness of the pool, including performing FMEs and putting a removal protection cover in some areas to prevent debris from falling into the pool,” Chang said.
Midco has brought litigation in the US against A&P, but the case is currently on hold.
Chang said TPC was not aware of the details of the dispute between A&P and Midco.
Prior to Midco, Essex, Connecticut-based Underwater Construction Corp (UCC) had conducted underwater maintenance at Kuosheng Unit 1, but “TPC became upset with them and didn’t want UCC anymore,” Greenspan said.
Atomic Energy Council data shows that Unit 2 of the Kuosheng plant opened on Dec. 28, 1981, and Unit 2 on March 15, 1983.
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