The explosion of reactors and failure of cooling systems at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant after the biggest earthquake in the country's recorded history, has alerted the world how risky nuclear power is.
In Germany, tens of thousand environmentalists took to the street on March 12, 2011, the day after the quake struck in Japan, demanding the government to shift from atomic energy to clean energy. Yet, the threat Germany faces falls far behind Japan and Taiwan; the country is not located in the active earthquake zone, whereas its Asian counterparts are in the Pacific tectonic ‘ring of fire.’
Beach near Kenting nuclear plant, Taiwan. Image by Flickr user impaulsive photography (CC BY 2.0).
Currently Japan has 17 nuclear power plants in its 378,000 square-kilometer territory and three more will be in operation by 2018. Taiwan covers an area of just 36,000 square kilometers, yet has three nuclear power plants and is building a fourth. The density of nuclear power plants is therefore much higher in Taiwan than in Japan, so you can image how Taiwanese feel when they see the disaster unfolding at Fukushima.
Indeed, the risk of nuclear power plants hit by an earthquake in Taiwan is very high, as 朱淑娟 (Shu-Chuan Chu) points out:
The first and second nuclear power plants are five to seven kilometers [km] away from the Shanjiao Fault
in the Kinshan coastal area. The fourth nuclear power plant is less than five km away from six inactive faults. In addition, within a radius of 80 km of the fourth nuclear power plant, there are more than 70 undersea volcanoes, 11 of them are active.
[In Taiwan] The anti-earthquake design is 0.3g [g = measure of peak ground acceleration
] for the first nuclear power plant and 0.4g for the second, third, and fourth plants. They are far weaker than the anti-earthquake design in Japan, which is [typically] 0.6g. Due to its strong earthquakes, Japan plans to have 1.0g anti-earthquake design for new nuclear power plants. Nevertheless, not many people in Taiwan care about the earthquake threat.
Because of the geographical similarities, 菊地洋一 (Yoichi Kikuchi), a Japanese expert in nuclear power plants, warns that nuclear power plants in Taiwan may have similar structure-related problems as those observed in Japan:
台灣的核一、核二廠所用的反應爐與日本都是屬於同一型，而且兩國都是多地震國家，所以在日本發生的問題，台灣不可能會沒有問題。最近的 BWR 型屬使用最高品質的 SUS316L 製造 (材料的質地較軟，因此較不容易產生裂痕的現象) ；各電力公司一再強調，這種材料絕對不會發生裂痕問題。可是實際上它還是發生了，這次日本東京電力公司隱瞞事件(註: 2002年)中也發現，其它的部分同樣也有裂痕。
The nuclear reactors in the first and second nuclear power plants in Taiwan are similar to many nuclear reactors in Japan. Since there are frequent earthquakes in Taiwan and Japan, what has happened in Japan will also happen in Taiwan. The recent design of the Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) has adopted high-quality SUS317L stainless steel
as the construction material, which is softer and has fewer cracking problems, and all the nuclear power companies have kept stressing that this material will never develop cracks. In the current accident [Fukushima], we have seen the cracks. In fact, far back in 2002, cracks were found in the BWR in the investigation of the Tokyo electric power company scandal
To summarize, the nuclear power plants in Taiwan are not immune to the natural forces that destroyed the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
The Fourth Taiwan Nuclear Power Plant. Image by Flickr user Hao-Zhong Wang
Nuclear plant opens in 2011
In spite of all the worries and questions raised by concerned citizens and experts, the Taiwanese government planned to have the fourth nuclear power plant in operation by 2011, as a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Republic of China. The running of this nuclear power plant was claimed to be delayed after amid calls for a temporary suspension after the Fukushima incident. Nevertheless, a new schedule with safety measures was not revealed, and the construction of this nuclear power plant was not suspended.
In an exchange gathering between Japanese and Taiwanese green activists back in August 2010, some participants alerted [zh] that rushed nuclear construction might lead to future disaster:
In Taiwan, because of the order of the Executive Yuan
[House of Administration], the construction of the fourth nuclear power plant is forced to be completed in 2011. This situation is similar to what happened in the Chernobyl disaster.
In 1983, there were three nuclear reactors working in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but the construction of the fourth reactor was delayed. The head of the plant did not dare to reveal the truth. At the same time, the Russian government hoped the construction of the fourth reactor could be completed before December 22 for the nuclear industry's annual memorial day. Therefore, the plant changed the original designs and materials. They managed to complete the construction on time. Later, they skipped a number of essential safety tests because they were hurrying to let the reactor start running for commercial purposes before March 27, 1984. The head of the plant and most managers there were honored and rewarded for meeting the deadline…In April 6, 1986, the newly built fourth reactor in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded in a operational test.
In 2008, there was a scandal in the construction of the fourth nuclear power plant in Taiwan because the constructor changed the original design without authorization. Later, the control room was submerged in a typhoon. Recently, the plant has failed in a number of safety tests. Yet the constructors are hurrying to complete construction because of orders from the top. Is this a risk we want to take?
Media reports from the past few days suggest that the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant will not open in 2011 amid further delays.
From a CNA report yesterday: “Amid calls for a temporary suspension of the fourth nuclear plant for an overall review, [Premier] Wu said that the plant has been rescheduled to begin operations in 2013, one year later than originally planned, to alleviate safety concerns.”
The Taipei Times today also mentions a delay, but doesn’t give a specific date: “[Premier] Wu said that the government would make a thorough safety inspection of the plant before it goes into operation, which will now not be the end of this year as planned.”
Thanks for the information. I will update the information.
I saw the related news. However, before the government changes its mindset and really gives us a new schedule with safety measures, I suppose they can ‘reactivate’ their original plan anytime after this ‘suspension’ caused by the Fukushima incident.
The construction of the fourth nuclear power plant had been suspended once, and then it was resurrected and became worse: changed the original designs and materials.
I agree that plans for the fourth nuclear power plant ought to be revised, and I even agree that the existing plants may need to either replaced or relocated, but any use of what is happening in Fukushima now to build public support for the prohibition of any future nuclear energy development in Taiwan would be… irresponsible.
Thanks for your opinions.
I think and hope that this nuclear power plant incident does help Taiwanese understand the risk of nuclear power plant built on the Pacific ring of fire. This voice has been under-represented in Taiwan for a long time.
The anti-nuke people in Taiwan do not say nuclear power plants should be abandoned. In the United States, there are plenty of space for nuclear waste storage and free of earthquakes, so there might be no reason to prohibit nuclear power plants in the States. However, in Taiwan, we need thorough and honest examination of our nuclear policy.
Please do not worry if it is responsible or irresponsible. I do not think the citizens in Taiwan have the same power as the citizens in Europe, while the later can prohibit the usage of nuclear power in the future. Asking to revise the current nuclear policy is as far as we can do.
But look: the risk of nuclear power in Taiwan is not so simple as ‘nuclear=dangerous+scary’; different reactor designs and even different fuels (e.g. thorium, as in the Gujurat plant in India) can significantly alter the risk profile of a power station, whatever the geology. So a \thorough and honest examination of our nuclear policy\ is exactly what is needed, but it isn’t going to come from a certain quarter of environmentalists who say things like \nuclear is a dead end\. And we must also remember that the Fukushima reactors, although 40 years old and based on even older designs, have just withstood the largest quake Japan has ever experienced with fairly minimal radiation leakage of mostly short-chain isotopes. Nobody is going to die from radiation poisoning in Fukushima, let alone Tokyo.
First, as far as I know, the first nuclear power plant in Taiwan is also old and with old design. As a result, if Taiwanese have concerns because of the Fukushima incident, I think it is from normal reflection.
Second, most environmentalists in Taiwan have opinions toward the nuclear power policy as reasonable as what you have. I think if you are worried about the argument you mentioned, you are as extreme as the people who have this kind of argument.
Third, do you think ‘danger’ is equal to ‘death?’ It is funny you look at risk this way. People close to the Fukushima nuclear power may not die because of this incident, but their expected life span and quality of life are probably influenced by this incident. I hope you have some sympathy for the residents living there and respect their sacrifice.
“…if Taiwanese have concerns because of the Fukushima incident, I think it is from normal reflection.”
“…most environmentalists in Taiwan have opinions toward the nuclear power policy as reasonable as what you have.”
David Reid doesn’t.
“I think if you are worried about the argument you mentioned, you are as extreme as the people who have this kind of argument.”
So you think I’m both “reasonable” and “extreme”. Intriguing combination.
“…do you think ‘danger’ is equal to ‘death?’…”
“It is funny you look at risk this way.”
Just because I focused on death as one example of what the term “danger” might refer to, doesn’t mean I think it is the only one. If you talked about the “danger” or “risk” of cutting your finger while picking up broken glass, would you expect people to say “It is funny you look at risk this way.”? Of course not.
“I hope you have some sympathy for the residents living there and respect their sacrifice.”
How dare you.