Thursday, March 17, 2011

Experts question Wu’s nuclear facts

AEC and Taipower said Wu Den-yih’s assurances about the safety of Taiwan’s nuclear power plants were mistaken. However, few officials dared to go on the record contradicting him

Officials yesterday were at a loss to explain a mix-up by Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), who told the legislature on Tuesday that the nation’s three operational nuclear plants were “much safer” than those in Japan because they were “fourth generation” — something both Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) and the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) have said is wrong.

“The Fukushima Dai-ichi [-nuclear power] plant was equipped with a third-generation [reactor], while Taiwan’s nuclear power plants operate fourth-generation ones,” Wu told the legislature, claiming that this alone made Taiwan’s plants safer.

However, as the Taipei Times reported yesterday, fourth-generation reactors are not expected to be commercially viable for another two decades and an investigation has shown that the types of -reactors used at the Japanese plant are very similar to those in Taiwan.

Asked for comment on the discrepancy, a senior Government Information Office official who was not authorized to speak to the media said: “Wu could have made a mistake,” referring further inquiries to the AEC.

For its part, the council said Wu was either misinformed or that information was “lost in translation.”

“Perhaps it is just a misunderstanding. Perhaps the premier was referring to the boiling water reactor types and mistook them for the generation variants,” said Chang Shin (張欣), an official at the council’s Department of Nuclear Regulation.

My article with Vincent Y. Chao, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here, with lots more information on why the premier was wrong.

Interestingly, though I made sure the details of where Wu was wrong were passed on to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators, they have yet to corner Wu and force him to explain why he provided the misleading information to the legislature, and ultimately to the public. As the main opposition party, the DPP should be relentless when government officials mislead the public on issues of fundamental importance.

Based on the AEC’s “official” explanation, Wu could have mistaken BWR-3 (at Fukushima) and BWR-4 (at Taiwan’s No. 1 plant) as meaning “third” and “fourth” generation, but this makes no sense, as the reactor at the No. 2 (Kuosheng) plant is a BWR-6, which by that logic would have led Wu to claim that Taiwan had “sixth-generation” reactors. Furthermore, what would he have made of the PWR and ABWR reactors at the No. 3 and No. 4 plants, which have no number after the acronym. Again, by that logic, the latter two plants would be “no-generation,” which makes no sense at all.

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