Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Taipower’s ‘dirty’ nuclear plants raise concerns

‘Most nuclear plants are more akin to a surgical center, very neat, regulated and clean. Taipower plants are more like the back room of a lousy auto parts store. If the Fukushima situation happened at the Guosheng plant, I am sure it would have been way worse, much faster’

As the nuclear crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant continues to threaten the health of millions of Japanese, the safety of Taiwan’s three operational nuclear power plants and how well managed those plants are has come under greater scrutiny, especially in light of reports that leaks at the Japanese plant may have partly been the result of years of neglect and corruption.

On June 19 last year, the Taipei Times exposed problems at the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in Wanli (萬里), New Taipei City (新北市), after a US diving company alleged that staff were treating the suppression pool as a “garbage dump.”

Robert Greenspan, president of South Dakota-based Midco Diving and Marine Services, told the Taipei Times that the pool, which would play a critical coolant role during a nuclear emergency (when the energy produced by the reactor core is greater than the energy removed), had contained inordinate amounts of silt and various foreign objects, such as cable spools, oxygen tanks and masks — all highly radioactive. According to foreign material exclusion rules, any object that is taken into a suppression pool must be taken out, as foreign objects can disturb the flow of water in the tank and cause jamming.

Contracted by Ming Tai (閩台), a Taiwanese firm, Midco conducted underwater maintenance in Unit 2 at the plant in November 2008 and Unit 1 in March 2009. However, Greenspan said there was so much foreign material in the Unit 1 pool that divers were unable to complete their work in the 10 days given them. An ensuing contractual dispute prevented Midco from returning to the site.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here with excerpts from a final report on maintenance at the No. 2 plant, shocking allegations by Greenspan, and responses from Taipower.


J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Hi Mike: I keep getting an e-mail telling me you posted a comment on my story, but for some reason it’s not showing up on the site. To answer your question:

1 millisievert (mSv) = 100 millirems (mrem). As ‘Discover Magazine’ writes, “The average American gets a dose of around 360 millirems of radiation per year — roughly the equivalent of 36 X-rays.” This means one X-ray per 10 mrem. As such, 80 mSv = 8,000 mrem. With the same 1/10 ratio, 8,000 mrem = 800 X-rays.

I tend to trust Discover Magazine more than Wiki...

mike said...

Hm, I checked up some other sources and 0.1 mSv seems to be an average value from a fairly wide variation in radiation exposures for the same chest X-ray procedure. I'll let you have that then, but I think the better contextual referent would have been the >1000 mSv per hour rate at which light radiation sickness begins; let's not add to the panic.

My comment didn't appear because of a Blogger glitch - it happens a lot, nothing to worry about.

Taiwan Echo said...

When I was back in Taiwan long time ago, a friend of mine, who graduated from seme nuclear research institute (I believe it was Ching-hua univ). He went to work for Taipower with high salary but quit the job shortly. He told me that he couldn't stand for the lousy management and the lack of safety sense. I remember vividly one examples. He said that nuclear plant is supposed to be high tech and each part has its requirement of some high standard. But when one of the parts was broken, the manager pulled out the design drawing of that part, asked one of the workers to go to local shop to "make one like that" for them. That scared him to no end. He also described that one time USA sent some experts to Taiwan to "observe" (monitor ?) the nuke plant operation, and made a comment like "Are you guys not afraid of dying at all ?"

With stories like that, I have no doubt that Taiwan will be much worse than Japan if any accidents happen on the nuke plants.

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...


“I think the better contextual referent would have been the >1000 mSv per hour rate at which light radiation sickness begins; let’s not add to the panic.”

The main point here isn’t whether the radiation level inside the suppression pool is high enough to cause sickness (after all, no one but divers goes in there), but that the levels were much higher than they should, so much so that this prevented thorough maintenance by diving crew. The 60 or so bags of foreign materials removed weren’t radioactive when they fell into the pool, which means that radiation came from somewhere else (that is, the core reactor) and was attracted to the silt and debris. The more energy (that is, radiation) there is inside the pool, the less effective the stopgap mechanism would be in the case of an emergency.

Taiwan Echo: Your friend’s testimony dovetails with what I’ve been hearing.

Anonymous said...

Taipower is state-owned, so this proves that state-ownership is no panacea.

Anonymous said...

What Taiwan Echo said was pretty scary.

On a slightly different topic, do you worry that if a Super Typhoon hits Japan this year will Taiwan get a spike in radiation?

I think it would be prudent for Taiwan to at least talk about this possibility and make plans in case this event happens. (such as covering up playground equipment, having enough hay in barns to feed dairy cattle, covering up some rice crops with plastic sheeting (i know very difficult to do), having safe water storage available, having radiation monitors at MRT stations, etc. etc. Maybe you can comment on this in a TT editorial.