The first round of inspections and repackaging of the radioactive waste stored on Orchid Island will be completed in October, state-run Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) said earlier this week.
The task, which involved 98,112 barrels of nuclear waste stored at the repository, will have taken about three years to complete, at a cost of NT$300 million (US$10 million). Experts say the nuclear waste can safely be stored there for another 20 years.
Chih Kuo-tai (池國泰), manager of the Orchid Island Repository, said Taipower would unseal the storage site for re-inspection in 2014, regardless of when the nuclear waste is scheduled to be moved to another location.
Built in 1980, the repository was mainly intended for the storage of industrial and medical waste. Nuclear waste was introduced there in 1990. The repository is located 12.5m above sea level and the entrenchment areas are as deep as 3m underground.
The repository can withstand earthquakes up to a magnitude 6.8, Chih told reporters during a visit to the site.
Cranes were used to lift the waste barrels from the entrenchments so that they could be inspected for leaks, while the barrels were inspected in temporary storage buildings.
The waste barrels are categorized into four groups: barrels without damage; rusted barrels needing repair; barrels that are damaged beyond repair whose contents need to be put into new barrels; and damaged barrels containing solidified waste whose contents cannot be transferred directly into a new barrel and must therefore be crushed and grouted into new barrels.
The inspection showed that about 78,000 barrels were rusted.
Chih said the rusted and damaged barrels were a result of the material used to make barrels in the past.
Environmental radiation monitoring for direct radiation was carried out annually among the inhabitants of Orchid Island, Chih said, and natural background radiation was within safety levels.
The final site for a low-level radioactive waste repository will be decided by referendum next month or in June. However, some island residents have said they would not mind if the repository remained at its present location, provided no new barrels were added.
Orchid Island Township Mayor Chiang To-li (江多利) said the presence of the repository had brought social welfare benefits.
Lan En Cultural and Educational Foundation chief executive Ting Shao-ching (丁紹慶) said many people were of the opinion that as land used for the storage of nuclear waste cannot be used anymore, the waste might as well remain at the present site.
Taipower’s office in Taipei said that selecting the site on Orchid Island as the final site would only be possible if referendums on storing nuclear waste at Taitung County’s Daren Township (達仁), as well as the outlying islands of Wuchiu (烏坵) and Kinmen did not pass.
Whether Orchid Island would serve as the final repository site would also have to be decided by referendum, it said.
Chih said that as the final repository site must meet higher safety standards, the present site would have to be rebuilt if it were chosen as the final site.
Even if the final site is decided this year, administrative procedures and construction would require at least eight years, so the repository on Orchid Island will not be removed immediately.
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