An independent agency should be established to oversee the disposal of the nation’s nuclear waste, New Power Party (NPP) Legislator Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) said yesterday, as controversy continues over plans to store spent nuclear fuel following the decommissioning of the nation’s nuclear power plants.
“The Nuclear Materials and Radioactive Waste Management Act (放射性物料管理法) is outdated and does not reflect the necessity of allowing the public to participate in the review process,” Huang said at a public hearing at the Legislative Yuan.
His New Taipei City district is home to the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in Wanli District (萬里) and the site of the now-sealed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.
“The law lacks any conception of short and medium-term temporary storage, only focusing on final storage of the materials,” Huang said.
“However, we all know that final storage will not happen for the foreseeable future and we have to think about how we are going to handle the problem in the interim,” Huang said, adding that an independent agency should be established to decide the matter according to an open review process based on objective guidelines.
Taiwan Power Co (Taipower), which operates the nuclear power plants, is left to come up with plans internally without clear legal guidelines, he said.
With the nation’s three usable nuclear plants to be decommissioned by 2025, finding a way to dispose of their spent nuclear fuel has become a pressing problem, even as the government has continued to struggle to find a new storage site for materials contaminated with “low level” radiation.
Over the past 20 years, newly contaminated material has been stored onsite at nuclear power plants, while Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼) continues to house older waste, despite government promises to find another site.
National Taiwan Ocean University professor emeritus of applied geosciences Lee Chao-shing (李昭興) said finding a safe medium-term storage site for spent fuel and contaminated materials would be difficult given the nation’s geology.
“In Taiwan, there are approximately 30,000 earthquakes, both big and small, every year on average, while the central mountain range is being raised by between 4cm and 5cm every year,” Lee said.
“In this kind of active geological environment, looking for a medium-term storage site is a little bit like looking for fish in a tree, but that is our task,” he said.
As finding a permanent, safe storage site is likely impossible, nuclear waste should be sent for reprocessing overseas to reduce its volume before being sold to other countries as nuclear fuel, Lee said.
Taipower vice president Tsai Fuh-feng (蔡富豐) said a medium-term storage site would not be identified until 2038 according to company plans, adding that people refusing to agree to referendums on alternative sites was to blame for delays in removing waste from Orchid Island.
According to the Act on Sites for Establishment of Low Level Radioactive Waste Final Disposal Facility (低放射性廢棄物最終處置設施場址設置條例), any disposal site must be approved in a referendum by the municipality or county to house it.
“Even though we have done our best to come up with all sorts of plans and we have several possible sites, the reality is that there are already certain facts on the ground,” Tsai said, adding that legislation to establish an independent platform to come up with a consensus on how to address the issue should be prepared to provide the company with a clear legal basis for disposal plans.
The company has pushed for permission to construct “temporary” storage facilities at nuclear plants after they are decommissioned.
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