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First nuclear plant faces waste crisis
Dispute pits New Taipei City against Taipower
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-02-21 05:58 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The nation’s first nuclear plant could face suspension of operations if New Taipei City fails to approve its waste storage facility by the end of the year, reports said Friday.

The report comes in the run-up to a major anti-nuclear protest on March 8 to mark the third anniversary of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. After almost a year, the government of President Ma Ying-jeou has also failed to make progress on its case for a nationwide referendum about the fourth nuclear plant.

Each of the two reactors at the first plant has a storage capacity for 3,083 spent nuclear fuel rods, but at present they already store 2,982 and 2,856 respectively, the United Evening News wrote Friday. An annual review before the end of the year is expected to lead to an extra 120 rods from the first reactor, but there was no space for them, the report said.

While officials said the number of 3,083 was only an advisory figure, reports said the capacity was even less because of the considerable size of the rods and of the equipment needed to deposit them inside the storage rooms.

An added problem is that the facilities, which were completed last July 1, still have not received a license to operate from the New Taipei City Government. After a first inspection, the city demanded the Taiwan Power Corporation change the design of the project in order to comply with groundwater protection regulations. A second round of inspections took place on February 13 but the following day, the company received the notice that the changes would not be approved, the United Evening News said.

Taipower officials said that if there was no space left for the waste, the plant would be forced to cease operations, leading to an extra bill of NT$14.4 billion (US$475 million) for the cost of generating electricity. The plant’s current operating license runs until 2018, but if the storage problem is not solved, it might have to close one or two years early, the company said.

Officials said that a suggestion to move the rods to the second or to the yet-to-be-completed fourth nuclear plant, both also in New Taipei City, was unrealistic. They predicted that the convoy would be stopped by protesters before it had reached the halfway mark on its journey.

The United Evening News wrote that the issue could turn into a hot potato for New Taipei City Mayor Eric Liluan Chu, who is sometimes labeled as the frontrunner for the ruling Kuomintang in the 2016 presidential election.

The city said Friday it respected the expertise of the inspectors who had visited the nuclear plant and would not apply political pressure to influence their decisions. The group of four was not satisfied with the measures taken against possible landslides hitting the storage containers, while some elements also differed from the original plans presented by Taipower, reports said.

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