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Activists push for shutdown of new nuclear plant over safety issues

2010/08/20 20:07:25

Taipei, Aug. 20 (CNA) Environmental activists rallied outside theControl Yuan Friday, asking the government watchdog to censure twoagencies over alleged safety problems at a nuclear power plant beingbuilt in northern Taiwan.

The activists blamed the state-run Taiwan Power Company(Taipower) and the top nuclear power regulatory body, the AtomicEnergy Council (AEC), for the frequent occurrence of accidents duringthe construction of the fourth nuclear power plant in Taipei County'sGongliao Township.

Taiwan Environmental Protection Union Chairman Wang Chun-shouurged that work on the plant be suspended until its design andinstallment flaws are corrected, expressing particularly strongopposition to a trial run with nuclear fuel rods at the end of thisyear.

The government hopes the plant can begin operating commerciallyby Oct. 10, 2011 to coincide with the Republic of China's 100thanniversary, but environmental groups fear the target date couldjeopardize safety.

Wang denounced the year-end trial as a "political show, " devisedafter Premier Wu Den-yih expressed the hope that the plant would openon the country's anniversary rather than at the end of the year asoriginally planned.

He said environmental protection organizations have exposed manyconstruction flaws in the plant -- the fourth built in Taiwan --including "deliberately changing the original designs and loweringthe safety standards of the plant's parts.

"In the face of these public concerns, however, Taipower appearsto have ignored them and continues to hastily build the facility, "Wang charged.

He also accused the AEC of being negligent in its duty to monitorthe construction of the nuclear power plant, allowing Taipower toconduct tests despite reports of accidents caused by mechanicalfailure in recent months.

Local media reported that a major blackout occurred at the planton July 9 with some 300,000 people gathered at a beach 200 metersaway for the 2010 Hohaiyan Rock Festival.

Taipower later admitted at a meeting to review the accident thatthe company would not have been able to conduct an emergencyevacuation of the massive crowds if it had been necessary, thereports said.

In response to the protest, Taipower executives admitted that"problems" have happened during tests on the new facility butinsisted they could not be described as "accidents."

Taipower explained that the goal of the tests is to discoverproblems, and that the so-called "accidents" reported by the mediawere all "problems" unearthed by the company itself in its pursuit ofabsolute nuclear safety and quality.

Construction of the power plant was temporarily suspended in 2000during the previous DPP administration in line with then-PresidentChen Shui-bian's campaign promise to create a nuclear-free Taiwan.

The suspension, however, was lifted in early 2001 after theadministration came under pressure from the legislature and segmentsof society. A consensus was reached that the fourth nuclear plantwould be the last one built in Taiwan.

(By Sophia Yeh, Lin Huei-chun and Elizabeth Hsu)