Number Four Nuclear Power Plant: Fact vs. Fiction
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 4, 2013
Summary: The Number Four Nuclear Power Plant (4NPP) can neither advance nor
retreat. This dilemma was caused by lingering concerns about the project
erupting, suddenly and simultaneously. The government is belatedly
attempting to address these concerns via a popular referendum. Should
the project be continued or halted? The government is seeking to "share
responsibility" for the eventual choice and consequences. But before the
public can participate in a referendum, the dissemination of
information must first be sufficiently transparent. The problems must
first be identified and understood. Only then can the trade-offs be
weighed. Only then can one seek solutions through a referendum.
Full Text below:
The Number Four Nuclear Power Plant (4NPP) can neither advance nor retreat. This dilemma was caused by lingering concerns about the project erupting, suddenly and simultaneously. The government is belatedly attempting to address these concerns via a popular referendum. Should the project be continued or halted? The government is seeking to "share responsibility" for the eventual choice and consequences. But before the public can participate in a referendum, the dissemination of information must first be sufficiently transparent. The problems must first be identified and understood. Only then can the trade-offs be weighed. Only then can one seek solutions through a referendum.
Plans for the 4NPP were first drawn up in 1980. The conditions for successful completion were quite favorable. The Number One, Two, and Three Nuclear Power Plants were all successes. The general contractor was reputable. Entering the era of the 4NPP ought to have been a simple matter. But the project was repeatedly stopped then restarted. Official construction finally began in 1999, after two decades of time was wasted. Taipower company personnel were already deceased. Reactor design the world over had come to a standstill due to the plant accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
Construction on the 4NPP began 15 years ago, Three aspects of the project, including civil engineering, machinery, and instrumentation and control hardware, are nearing completion. The civil engineering aspect is not a major problem. During the Chen regime, construction was stopped then restarted. Steel reinforcing bars were exposed to the elements for half a year, creating concerns about bonding strength when concrete work was resumed. Eventually remedies were found and the problem overcome. But other aspects of the project, such as the termination of the lease with the general contractor, and the departure of engineering consultants, had a real impact. The large tolerances and rough appearance are cast doubt on the quality control, but were entirely predictable.
The most controversial problems have been with the instrumentation and control systems. Japanese compenies Toshiba and Hitachi were responsible for the reactor and steam turbine. Their experience with nuclear power plant equipment was limited. Nevertheless they met internationally recognized standards. Any problems with them should be minor. But in 2000 the Chen regime stopped construction on the project without any justification. The contractors for the reactor and other components were caught off balance. In an attempt to make sure they got paid, they resorted to all sorts of tactics that may have undermined the quality of the plant's construction.
Today, doubts about the quality of the instrumentation persist. The 4NPP has over 100 component groups. The instrumentation required for eventual power plant operation requires at least 40,000 connection points. The need for complex coordination between subcontractors vastly increases the risk of mistakes. Untangling responsibility for the 4NPP construction mess is now impossible. But the awarding of contracts to subcontractors before the design of the 4NPP was complete, was indeed a major cause of these aftereffects.
Consider the travails of the 4NPP that led to the loss of public trust. The main concerns are listed below. They must be clarified before the referendum is held.
One. Construction began in 2000. Taipower turned the 3NPP over to commercial operators 15 years earlier, in 1985. It completed construction on the 3NPP over 20 years ago. Those who worked on the project scattered long gone. The same is true for the nuclear power generation field the world over. The US company General Electric has not built a nuclear power plant in 20 years. The subcontracts were awarded to "newbie" Japanese companies Toshiba and Hitachi.
Two. To establish an independent nuclear technology, a turnkey operation was instead subcontracted out. As a result, the safety of the plant design became our own responsibility. One mistake was especially egregious. The 4NPP design was similar to Japan's Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. But instead of using its design as a starting point and taking advantage of past experience, the decision was made to "be creative," and re-design every last interface, and subcontract every last component group. This resulted in today's interface issues and security concerns.
Three. The Chen regime resumed construction of the 4NPP in 1996. But it was clueless about manpower or financial resource allocation. The Chen regime responded to the construction of the 4NPP based on its anti-nuclear attitudes. It withheld both manpower and funds from the project. Under such circumstances, even though the certification papers appear to be in order, the project itself might not be.
Four. The subcontractors were made responsible for their own quality control. They were in effect grading their own test papers. This guaranteed that the quality control would be questionable. In particular, the Atomic Energy Council and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the agencies in charge, had limited manpower. They did what they could, but their ability was limited.
Five. The students graded their own test papers. Changing the rules of the game led to all manner of transgressions. The documentation may have been perfect. But the reality was anything but. This was true in particular for the instrumentation. The passage of time meant that once new designs were now old. Construction stops and restarts, along with hurried specifications, added to the problem.
Six. Basic data was lacking. The 4NPP is susceptible to submarine volcanoes and the Manila Subduction Zone. But it has yet to incorporate such updated information. In particular, new evidence reveals that the 4NPP is located near geological faults and submarine volcanoes. The only data referred to in the plans are more than 20 years old. Another problem concerns the seismic design. Is it adequate? Before the plant begins operation, field data must first undergo analysis. Only the latest data can be considered valid. Only then can one be sure that the seismic design data from years ago is correct. This is of great importance, and something that Taipower has neglected in the past.
The credibility of the ill-fated 4NPP is now extremely low. But nuclear safety is a problem for technical experts. It must not be treated as a political football. No matter what, doubts about the project must be sorted out. Only then can it be the subject of a public referendum.
2013.03.04 03:22 am