Taipei, Feb. 17 (CNA) The state-owned Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower 台電公司) opened Tuesday to foreign bidding on a reprocessing project for spent nuclear fuel from its first and second nuclear power plants.
Taipower is planning to set aside a budget of NT$11.257 billion (US$356.57 million) to send 1,200 clusters of spent fuel rods overseas for processing.
If the plan comes to fruition, it will be the first time Taiwan has sent spent fuel rods overseas, but several civic groups, including Mom Loves Taiwan and Green Citizens' Action Alliance, lodged strong protests, saying that it is "absurd" to send fuel rods overseas for reprocessing because Taiwan will no longer build nuclear power plants.
Storage space for spent nuclear fuel at the first and second nuclear power plants is running out and and will be fully used up from early 2016, meaning that the two plants will have to shut down or be decommissioned earlier than scheduled.
The decommissioning of the two nculear power plants is expected to begin in 2018 and to be completed in 2023.
Taipower has estimated that if the storage space for its spent fuel rods runs out, then the first unit of the No. 1 nuclear power plant will be able to run until March or April 2016 at the latest.
Taipower spokesman on nuclear energy Lin Te-fu (林德福) said that the current reprocessing technology for spent fuel is mature and that countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland already send their spent fuel overseas for reprocessing.
Lin said that according to the Government Procurement Act, after official bidding was invited Tuesday, Taipower will wait for 28 days and if the number of bidders is less than three, it will be counted as a failed bidding process.
Another new round of bidding will then take place, but the waiting period will be shortened and one bidder will be enough for successful implementation.
He noted that Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and France are currently capable of processing spent nuclear fuel rods.
If the bidding process goes smoothly, Lin estimated that Taipower will send an initial batch of 300 fuel rod clusters at the end of this year.
Four batches will be sent over a four-year period, for a total of 1,200 clusters of spent fuel rods.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs said the processing of the spent fuel will turn 97 percent of the fuel rods into reusable plutonimum and uranium while the remaining 3 percent will be radioactive waste.
The plutonium and uranium will not be shipped back to Taiwan. It will be resold by the redisposal plant.
The remaining radioactive waste will be solidified to cut its radioactivity and after radioacative decay, its volume will shrink to one-fourth or one-fifth of its original size and then be sent back to Taiwan after being stored in the disposal plant for about 20 years.
The anti-nuclear group, Mom Loves Taiwan, said that sending spent fuel rods overseas is an attempt by Taipower to extend the service of the first and second nuclear power plants and is typical of its "under-the-table" approach in dealing with spent nuclear fuel rods.
However, Economics Minister John Deng (鄧振中) defended Taipower's decision to accept bids, saying that the public has to address the spent fuel rod issue squarely.
"If modern technology can deal with them more safely, what's the harm in it?" Deng asked.
(By Huang Chiao-wen, Zoe Wei and Lilian Wu)ENDITEM/J