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Experts to begin No. 4 nuke safety tests in April: minister

2013/03/18 16:17:12

Taipei, March 18 (CNA) The Ministry of Economic Affairs has invited non-government experts to assist with safety checks and tests of the almost-completed fourth nuclear power plant, Economic Minister Chang Chia-juch said Monday.

The safety review and tests will begin April 2, Chang said while answering reporters' questions before attending a hearing of the Legislative Yuan's Economics Committee.

Asked when the tests and checks will be completed, he cited Lin Tsung-yao, a former member of the Fourth Nuclear Power Safety Monitoring Committee of the Atomic Energy Council (AEC), as saying: "In about six months."

Lin, who formerly worked as an engineer at the U.S.-based General Electric Co., quit the AEC committee in September 2011, two months after he published a 5,000-word report detailing problems at the fourth nuclear power plant in New Taipei, northern Taiwan.

The problems, Lin said in his report, center on issues with the initial design, procurement problems, hasty construction, tests run by inexperienced personnel and ineffective monitoring mechanisms.

Lin will be one of the "external experts" invited to do the safety checks and tests.

During the hearing, Chang spelled out his support for a proposal by lawmakers to set up a special legislative committee to address issues concerning nuclear energy safety.

Legislator Ting Shou-chung of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) brought up the proposal, which he said has won the endorsement of 92 of the 113 lawmakers.

Chang, however, underlined his hope that the proposed special committee will be made up of "genuine experts," instead of people representing organizations that might have vested interests.

According to Ting, such a special legislative committee could conduct a probe into the fourth nuclear power plant and deliver the result to the plenary session of the Legislature for a vote that would eventually decide whether or not the controversial nuclear power plant project should be scrapped.

In this way, there would be no need to hold an "energy and money-consuming" referendum on the issue, Ting said.

Meanwhile, internal KMT sources revealed earlier in the day a plan for executive members of the party and members of a KMT policy presentation conference to visit the site of the No. 4 plant in Gongliao March 22 to bring to light all the information about the disputed facility.

Citing Vice KMT Chairman Tseng Yung-chuan, the sources said the transparency of information related to the nuclear power plant is "very important." Therefore, the party is organizing the tour aimed at uncovering every aspect of the long-running nuclear power project, Tseng said.

Construction of the plant has followed a bumpy road since it began in early 1999. It was called to a halt Oct. 17, 2000 by the administration of then-President Chen Shui-bian in a gesture to honor his campaign promise of a nuclear-free Taiwan.

Since construction resumed Feb. 14 the following year, the plant has been troubled by corruption charges against officials and sub-contractors, budget inflation and endless challenges by environmentalists about its safety.

(By Huang Chiao-wen, Lee Shu-hua and Elizabeth Hsu)