INER admits storing nuclear waste in Taoyuan, hydrogen explosions
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-04-23 03:02 PM
Environmentalists have revealed that Taiwan’s Institute for Nuclear Energy Research (INER) has stored nuclear waste in at least one area of the island beside the already-acknowledged dump on the offshore island of Lanyu as well as at Taipower’s three existing nuclear power plants. Dr. He Li-wei, who once worked as an associate researcher at INER, noted recently that the institute at one point shipped nuclear waste to an isolated spot in densely-populated Taoyuan County, where there were several incidents of hydrogen explosions and wastewater was allowed to flow directly into the nearby Dahan River.

In response, INER invited reporters to tour its garden-like facility near Longtan Tuesday afternoon. INER Director Ma Yin-pang admitted that hydrogen explosions had occurred a total of six times, then stressed repeatedly that after ten years of close monitoring, radiation at the site has returned to natural background levels. The director explained that he wanted to break the news himself to the media so that local residents would not panic over the reports.

Environmental activists have castigated INER and the government for covering up the storage of waste and the hydrogen explosions, which He claimed had occurred as many as 7 times, with two of the incidents resulting in injury to INER personnel. He said the nuclear waste has contaminated areas near farmland along the Tahan River and claimed that up to 85% of people living in the vicinity are unaware of these events.

Director Ma responded to reports that high rates of cancer have been observed among aboriginal tribes in the vicinity of the Longtan facility by explaining that the existing dry storage field has been enclosed with stamped metal sheets to contain any leakage while the dry storage of fuel rods has long been shifted to waste storage sites in the US. In addition, said Ma, the land in question is all state-owned property and is regularly monitored for radiation. He said radiation levels are now comparable to natural environmental radiation levels and meet all relevant regulations. INER has also set up an environmental testing area 1.2 km away on the Dahan River to ensure that river water is not being contaminated.

Ma noted that INER records show that from 1988 to 1991 fuel rods kept in the dry storage field were shipped to the US. Some of the sheathing of the rods had been exposed for long periods, and water seepage led to a reaction between the uranium fuel rods and water to produce hydrogen gas. He said that six gas explosions had been recorded but there was no significant release of radioactive substances. He added that in 1992 radiation levels were found to be three times that of natural radiation, so the National Property Bureau set aside an additional 2.3 hectares of land surrounded by fences. Two meters of topsoil were excavated from the site and the affected area was covered with new soil from outside sources. The contaminated soil was transported to other areas. Ten years later, said Ma, radiation at the sites has returned to natural background levels with a few minor fluctuations.

Ma disclosed that INER does maintain some nuclear waste that is not a product of the island’s nuclear power plants, emphasizing that all such materials are kept in accordance with the law and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards. They are subject to both regular and unscheduled checks several times a year to ensure that they comply with safety standards,

As for how many people are aware that nuclear waste has been stored in the area, Ma would say only that he has appeared before the Taoyuan County Council for briefings several times, and the institute’s operations are all open and transparent, with no hidden violations. As for his own sense of safety and security, he claimed, "I work here myself, and my family and I live here in Longtan."

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