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Atomic energy minister doubts Taipower's claims about nuclear plant

2012/03/14 22:40:19

Taipei, March 14 (CNA) The head of the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) said Wednesday he did not believe Taiwan's yet-to-be-completed fourth nuclear plant could operate smoothly as stated by its constructor recently.

Atomic Energy Minister Tsai Chuen-horng made his remark when asked by Kuomintang Legislator Chiang Nai-hsin whether he believed the fourth nuclear power plant project "had no major vulnerabilities and would operate smoothly during test runs," as claimed by Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) in its latest report on the project.

"Can you believe that? How many safety inspections have been completed on the plant so far? How many should be done and how many have been? Nothing has been completed yet," the lawmaker asked at an interpellation of the Legislative Yuan's Education and Culture Committee.

Tsai said that Taipower was not in a position to determine the plant's safety.

The AEC will form a panel of experts to review Taipower's report and should be able to come up with a conclusion within a month, according to Tsai.

"The AEC needs to review it. Following our usual approach, we will invite independent experts in the first stage of our review," he said.

The procedure is likely to take as long as one month and "the conclusion, I believe, should represent the AEC's stance," said Tsai, adding that the AEC alone can decide whether to halt construction of the plant.

He noted, however, that the project, which began in 1999, has not met AEC's conditions for a halt despite having some problems.

The biggest problems in the project so far have been the company's failure to consistently meet the requirements for quality control and insufficient capabilities for construction and engineering management, Tsai added.

Taiwan's No. 4 nuclear power plant in New Taipei's Lungmen, in the northeast of the country, has been the subject of much controversy, with environmentalists advocating suspension of the project before it gets to the stage where fuel rods have to be installed.

Over 93 percent of the project has been completed as of Jan. 31, according to the power company.

The council is in charge of the project's safety while the Ministry of Economic Affairs is responsible for its management, said Tsai, adding that the controversial issue cannot be solved by the council alone.

Meanwhile, Chiu Hsi-tsung, head of AEC's Fuel Cycle and Materials Administration, denied reports that some nuclear waste had contaminated Orchid Island off the coast of southeastern Taiwan.

Recent tests on the environment showed that the radiation levels on the island, where Taiwan's radioactive nuclear waste is stored, was normal despite the small amount of nuclear "dust" entering the sea due to the rain, Chiu said.

In related news, Deputy AEC Minister Chou Yuan-ching said the council will invite environmental groups to monitor the radiation levels there.

Chou led a group of experts to investigate the Orchid Island storage facility a day earlier, and results showed that the amount measured there was around one thousandth of 0.00129 millisieverts -- the amount an individual receives on average a year.

The AEC also tested the soil, and leaf and root vegetables on the island in February, Chou said, explaining that the results were all below the lowest detectable level by the equipment. All similar test results since 1983 have been within a safe range, he added.

(By Huang Chiao-wen, Tyson Lu and Kendra Lin)