Topics: Nuclear Decommissioning Stuck in Limbo

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After the second reactor of the Chinshan nuclear power plant reached the end of its 40-year licensing period last July, the plant became the first of Taiwan’s three nuclear power facilities to enter the stage of decommissioning. The step is in line with the Tsai Ing-wen administration’s goal of transforming Taiwan into a “nuclear-free homeland” by 2025.

Over the next 25 years, the plant – located within New Taipei City along the island’s northern coast – is to be decontaminated, its equipment dismantled and disposed of, and its buildings demolished. The ultimate aim is to restore the site to greenfield conditions, with no trace of radioactivity. The same procedures would apply to the other two nuclear plants – Kuosheng in the north and Maanshan in the south – as their licenses expire.

A dispute between New Taipei City and the state-owned Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) over the storage of spent nuclear fuel is threatening to delay the process, however. The onsite cooling pools at the Chinshan plant, where spent fuel has been stored for decades, have reached maximum capacity. As a result, the spent fuel in the reactors’ cores cannot be unloaded, as there is nowhere to store it.

In the U.S. and many other nations, spent fuel that has sat in cooling pools for at least a year is transferred for temporary storage to “dry casks.” These huge drums – typically six meters tall and 2.5 meters in diameter and weighing 100 tons when filled – can safely store spent fuel for up to 40 years. Although Taipower built a dry cask storage facility on the Chinshan site, the New Taipei City government has withheld the soil and water permits necessary for it to operate, contending that the construction deviated from the official plan without approval from the city’s planning board.

The city government insists that the issue is one of meeting construction and safety regulations, particularly with regard to soil and water conservation, and has no wider policy implications related to nuclear energy.

“Soil and water conservation is the responsibility of the builder, and any major construction should take care of it,” says Fire Commissioner Huang De-ching. “How can we tell the public that they didn’t take care of the soil and water conservation requirements, but we let them go ahead with the project?”

The New Taipei City government says that the issues it has raised are all fixable and that it is waiting for Taipower to take care of them so that the soil and water permits can be granted and the cask-storage system approved. “If construction is done according to the regulations, we will approve it according to the regulations,” says Huang.

Taipower representatives describe the situation quite differently, however. They say that the city is determined not to accept dry-cask storage within its boundaries and is therefore raising technical demands that are impossible to implement.

“If these matters could be easily fixed, why wouldn’t Taipower take care of them?” asks Edward H.C. Chang, director of Taipower’s Department of Nuclear Backend Management. “The technical side is not the major problem. The political side is the major problem. They want to tell the public that New Taipei City is not going to be the place for dry-cask storage.”

New Taipei City Mayor Hou Yu-ih is maintaining the policy initiated under his predecessor, Eric Li-luan Chu, of refusing to allow dry-cask storage within the city limits without a solid plan in place for permanent disposal of the spent fuel. “What the city government wants is assurance that the spent fuel will not be stored permanently in New Taipei City,” Hou told Taiwan Business TOPICS. “They need to tell us clearly where they will permanently store it, but they cannot say.”

Full report by Timothy Ferry:

Nuclear Decommissioning Stuck in Limbo

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