Taipower returns final batch of nuclear fuel rods to U.S.

03/28/2021 08:40 PM
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The last batch of U.S.-bound nuclear fuel rods arrives at Keelung Port.
The last batch of U.S.-bound nuclear fuel rods arrives at Keelung Port.

Taipei, March 28 (CNA) The last 120 unused fuel rod bundles purchased by the state-run Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) for the mothballed nuclear power plant in New Taipei were shipped back to the United States on Sunday, according to sources in the company.

A total of six cargo trucks set out from the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, also called Longmen Nuclear Power Plant, in Gongliao District at midnight Saturday under heavy police escort and arrived at Keelung Port one hour later.

The cargo was the last batch in a total 1,744 bundles of fuel rods that had been purchased for the nuclear power plant, company sources familiar with the matter said, adding that the shipment was carried out as scheduled.

Taipower began shipping the unused fuel rod bundles back to the American supplier after Taiwan's Legislature passed a resolution in January 2018, requiring the return of all 1,744 bundles by the end of 2020.

The shipments, however, were delayed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Taipower, but its president Yang Wei-fu (楊偉甫) had said in February 2021 that the remaining fuel rods would be shipped in the first quarter of the year.

According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, disposing of all the unused fuel rod bundles could save about NT$100 million per year in security costs.

The controversial nuclear power plant, located in a populous area in northern Taiwan, was built at a cost of nearly NT$300 billion (US$10.51 billion). It was mothballed in 2014 by the administration of then President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), amid mounting public fears in the wake of the nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011 in Japan, which was hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

After President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in 2016, her administration pledged to make Taiwan nuclear-free by 2025, a policy that forestalled any plans for the mothballed nuclear power plant to be maintained as a back-up facility for the the nation's energy supply.

In 2018, however, Taiwanese voted in a referendum in favor of a nuclear power policy, which required the government to remove from the Electricity Act any mention of its plan to decommission all nuclear power plants in the country.

Upon learning of the last shipment of fuel rod bundles on Sunday, nuclear power advocate Huang Shih-hsiu (黃士修) said the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party government was "paying no regard" to public opinion that had been made clear in the 2018 referendum he initiated.

In 2019 Huang launched another initiative, which will allow the public to vote in a referendum at the end of August in 2021 on whether the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be put into commercial operation.

He said Sunday that if the public votes in favor of activating the plant, the government will have to retrieve the fuel rods or buy new ones, causing people to pay more for the plant's operations.

(By Wang Chao-yu and Teng Pei-ju)

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