Government delays completion date of No. 4 nuclear plant

The China Post news staff

The government will reschedule the projected completion date for the No. 4 nuclear power plant in Taiwan so that further improvements to ensure public safety can be made to the facilities, according to officials at the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA).

MOEA officials said the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant caused by a magnitude-9 earthquake has provided further information and new perspectives on nuclear safety. Taiwan’s fourth nuclear power plant is currently still under construction in Gongliao, New Taipei City, on the northern coast of the island.

The state-run Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) has started partial testing of the facilities at the new power plant. The feeding in of nuclear fuels is set for the end of the year, with commercial operation of the first reactor tentatively set to begin at the end of 2012. But MOEA officials said yesterday that a thorough review and inspection of the construction work and facilities would be carried out to make necessary changes and enhance safety. It’s better to slow down the process for the sake of safety, they said.

Taipower, which is under the direct supervision of the MOEA, has also taken measures to augment the safety of the three existing nuclear power plants on the island. The steps adopted by Taipower include strengthening preventive maintenance, stepping up disaster-prevention exercises, and setting up a special unit to deal with possible hits from tsunamis. Other steps include reviewing the sturdiness of the fuel storage pool and its cooling effectiveness, studying improved operation procedures, revising the standard procedures dealing with incidents, and including lessons learned from the nuclear crisis in Japan, said the officials. Whether the nation should maintain nuclear power resources is a choice between energy conservation or high electricity bills, the officials emphasized. For the electricity costs, the generation of thermal power for each kilowatt-hour carries a production cost of about under NT$2, compared with NT$3.70 by using natural petroleum gas, while nuclear power generation costs only NT$0.66, they explained. Nuclear power presently produces 20 percent of Taiwan’s total energy, while thermal power created by coal accounts for 52 percent.

In terms of power installation capacity, thermal power constitutes 40 percent, compared with 13 percent for nuclear power, said the officials.