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Revisions of nuclear power regulations make no headway at Legislature

07/10/2024 07:29 PM
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Nuclear Safety Commission Chairperson Chen Tung-yang (left), Vice Economic Affairs Minister Lien Ching-chang (center) and officials are pictured at the Legislative Yuan for a meeting of the Education and Culture Committee in Taipei Wednesday. CNA photo July 10, 2024
Nuclear Safety Commission Chairperson Chen Tung-yang (left), Vice Economic Affairs Minister Lien Ching-chang (center) and officials are pictured at the Legislative Yuan for a meeting of the Education and Culture Committee in Taipei Wednesday. CNA photo July 10, 2024

Taipei, July 10 (CNA) Revisions to Taiwan's regulations on extending the service life of nuclear power plants were discussed Wednesday by a legislative committee, but the proceedings were broken off without sending the measures to the legislative floor.

Education and Culture Committee legislators were considering amendments proposed by opposition Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers to the Nuclear Reactor Facilities Regulation Act that would allow nuclear power plants to continue operating without going through the mandated license renewal process.

At the meeting, Chen Tung-yang (陳東陽), chairperson of the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), Taiwan's main nuclear power regulator, questioned the wisdom of bypassing the license renewal process.

He said no one on the commission would be able to shoulder the responsibility of allowing the extension of a nuclear power plant without a proper and full-scale security check and evaluation.

A thorough process would take years, he said, because state-run utility Taiwan Power Company would first have to present a safety report on the plant, which would include identifying components that needed to be replaced.

The report would then go to the NSC for a review overseen by in-house and independent experts.

The whole process might take up to three to five years, said Vice Economic Affairs Minister Lien Ching-chang (連錦漳).

According to the Nuclear Reactor Facilities Regulation Act, nuclear power plant licenses must be renewed five to 15 years before an operating license expires.

The No. 1 reactor of the Third Nuclear Power Plant in Pingtung County -- Taiwan's only active nuclear power plant -- is scheduled to stop operating after 40 years of service on July 27, and its No. 2 reactor's license expires in May 2025.

Neither of them had an extension permit filed five years ago because of the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) "nuclear-free homeland" policy committing to phasing out nuclear power by 2025.

The No. 1 reactor of the Third Nuclear Power Plant in Pingtung County. CNA file photo
The No. 1 reactor of the Third Nuclear Power Plant in Pingtung County. CNA file photo

The five amendments proposed would either allow the plant to continue operations when "safety is ensured" by nuclear regulators or get around the requirement of applying for an extension permit five to 15 years before the original license's expiration.

Nuclear power has become a hot-button issue in recent years in Taiwan because of concerns over base power shortages in peak summer periods and a lack of clean energy, given that fossil fuels continue to account for more than 80 percent of Taiwan's electricity supply.

Opposition parties and prominent members of the business community, including Pegatron Chairman Tung Tzu-hsien (童子賢), have argued that Taiwan's existing nuclear plants be used or rehabilitated to produce base power and get Taiwan off of fossil fuels.

At the hearing, KMT lawmakers said the amendment would be offering the DPP administration "a way out" of the current dilemma of losing nuclear power as a source of carbon-free energy.

They said Taiwan needed more sources of electricity, especially as more tech companies need carbon-free power in the future.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers argued, however, that continued use of nuclear power should not be considered without first solving the issues concerning nuclear waste.

Chen said the process for initiating the dry cask storage of the used nuclear rods of the First Nuclear Power Plant's reactors, which stopped operating in 2018 and 2019, was only settled in May.

Dry cask storage for the rods of the Second Nuclear Power Plant, whose reactors stopped operating in 2021 and 2023, have not even been built, he said.

"As far as I know, no other country has such a situation [of not having dry cask storage] after 40 years of nuclear power plant operation," Chen said.

Dry cask storage for the spent fuel rods of Nuclear Power Plant No. 1 in New Taipei was completed in 2013 but has not been put into operation because of an ongoing dispute between Taipower and the city government over its design and location.

Dry cask storage is used to store cooled spent fuel rods before they are moved to a place of final disposal for high level radioactive waste, "which no country other than Finland, not even the U.S., has completed," Chen said.

DPP lawmakers asked their KMT colleagues not to rush through the amendments.

The committee was adjourned without a decision to have the bills sent to the legislative floor, announced committee convener and KMT Legislator Ko Chih-en (柯志恩) at around noon, saying more discussion was needed.

(By Alison Hsiao)

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