Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nuclear Round Up

On Facebook the other day I remarked that one thing this disaster in Japan is going to lead to is a flood of pro-nuke propaganda as the industry attempts to stifle criticism. On that note, Far Eastern Sweet Potato observes that something is fishy in Premier Wu's soothing remarks....
"“However, the Fukushima plant was equipped with a third-generation [reactor] while Taiwan’s nuclear power plants operate fourth-generation [sic] ones,” Wu said. Chinese-language media have already made references to “fourth-generation” reactors in Taiwan, and that’s what made be stand up. According to the literature on nuclear energy, fourth-generation nuclear reactors are still in the research phase and will not be commercially operational for another two decades or so (2030, by some estimates). Only the Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR), also known as the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP), will be launched prior to 2030, and still, it is not expected to be completed before 2021. There are reactors known as Gen-III+ and Gen-III++, but those are not used in Taiwan either.

I then asked my reporter to contact Taipower Corp, which operates nuclear plants in Taiwan. Their chief of public relations confirmed that the premier was wrong and that there was no fourth-generation nuclear reactor in Taiwan.

In fact, the Atomic Energy Council Web site tells us that the No. 1 power plant uses a BWR-4 (boiling water, second-generation) reactor; the No. 2 plant a BWR-6 (third-generation) reactor; the No. 3 a PWR (pressurized water, third-generation) reactor; and the No. 4 (Lungmen) will use an ABWR (advanced boiling water, also third-generation) reactor.
Lots of propaganda still to come....

Meanwhile the anti-nuclear movement in Taiwan may once again become a force in the island's politics. In the 1990s it was a rallying cause for the opposition to the KMT, but it became a major issue for Chen Shui-bian's first administration when Chen reversed his pre-election stance and gave the go-ahead to the (incredibly stupid) Fourth Nuclear Plant near Fulong in what used to be Taipei County.

Rueters reported the other day that Taipower was set to study alternatives to nukes in the wake of the Japan disaster.
Taiwan's state-run Taipower is studying plans to cut nuclear power output and raise output in alternative energy amid Japan's nuclear crisis, an executive said on Monday, though no changes will be made for current operations.
Essentially it gives the appearance of doing something while actually doing nothing.

The Taipei Times concluded an editorial on the nuke disaster in Japan with the kind of comment everyone is making:
....The tsunami and explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plant have both given Taiwan cause for alarm. Our government immediately convened an interdepartmental disaster response conference to discuss how the Japanese quake might possibly affect Taiwan and what to do if the wind dumps radioactive dust on our territory. At the level of passive response, the government has acted quite quickly, but a plan for a disaster alarm and information system is still on the Cabinet’s drawing board.

With no single department dedicated to disaster prevention and response, our rescue and relief resources cannot be effectively integrated. Next time Taiwan is hit directly by a natural disaster, it may be more than we can handle.

Today in the legislature the heads of the NSC and Atomic Energy Commission and the Ministry of the Interior all denied that there were any evacuation plans for Taipei in the event that nuke plants 1 & 2 suffer a catastrophe. *sigh*

Global Voices collected comments from local bloggers and adding commentary:
Currently Japan has 17 nuclear power plants in its 378,000 square-kilometer territory and three more will be in operation by 2018. Taiwan covers an area of just 36,000 square kilometers, yet has three nuclear power plants and is building a fourth. The density of nuclear power plants is therefore much higher in Taiwan than in Japan, so you can image how Taiwanese feel when they see the disaster unfolding at Fukushima.


The first and second nuclear power plants are five to seven kilometers [km] away from the Shanjiao Fault in the Kinshan coastal area. The fourth nuclear power plant is less than five km away from six inactive faults. In addition, within a radius of 80 km of the fourth nuclear power plant, there are more than 70 undersea volcanoes, 11 of them are active.


The nuclear reactors in the first and second nuclear power plants in Taiwan are similar to many nuclear reactors in Japan. Since there are frequent earthquakes in Taiwan and Japan, what has happened in Japan will also happen in Taiwan. The recent design of the Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) has adopted high-quality SUS317L stainless steel as the construction material, which is softer and has fewer cracking problems, and all the nuclear power companies have kept stressing that this material will never develop cracks. In the current accident [Fukushima], we have seen the cracks. In fact, far back in 2002, cracks were found in the BWR in the investigation of the Tokyo electric power company scandal.


In 2008, there was a scandal in the construction of the fourth nuclear power plant in Taiwan because the constructor changed the original design without authorization. Later, the control room was submerged in a typhoon. Recently, the plant has failed in a number of safety tests. Yet the constructors are hurrying to complete construction because of orders from the top. Is this a risk we want to take?
Remember this report from June of 2010? "Nuclear power plant a disaster":
Making assertions that raise concerns about the safety of the plant, Robert Greenspan, president of the Rapid City, South Dakota-based Midco Diving and Marine Services, said during a telephone interview with the Taipei Times on Tuesday last week that Taiwan Power Corp (TPC), the operator of the nuclear power plant, was treating the suppression pool — a critical component in case of an emergency — as a “garbage dump.”
There are no problems. Everything is under control. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

The figure above (source) shows earthquake epicenters in eastern Taiwan. Taiwan averages more than 18,000 quakes annually, most of which we don't feel, all gods be thanked. That end of Taiwan, which contains three of the island's four nuclear plants, is in a state of slow collapse after mountain building and is subsiding to form new portions of the Okinawa Trough, whose western end forms the I-lan plain on land.

Lest you think Kenting is not under threat, southwestern Taiwan is considered be to a place with a high probability of a Big One, according to another paper I read. Yet another paper on tsunami dangers noted that the region between northern Luzon and Taiwan is due for a large quake since no quake greater than 7.5 has been reported there for over a century.

Taiwan is also ringed by underwater volcanoes, with five eruptions since 1853, shown here as red bullseyes, none of which were very memorable, thankfully. In addition to the 70 or so off of I-lan (the Quaternary Ryukyu Volcanic Front) there's another crowd of 40 or so mud volcanoes off Kaohsiung city and extending in four groups along southwestern Taiwan, and again to the north of the island in an area known as the Northern Taiwan Volcanic Zone, which extends onto the island to form the volcanoes of Tatun Group (Yangmingshan). Some authorities argue that the Quaternary Ryukyu Volcanic Front and the Northern Taiwan Volcanic Zone derive their magma from the same sources. (A Refined Historical Record of Volcanic Eruptions around Taiwan: Tectonic Implications in the Arc-continent Collision Area. Chang-Hwa Chen and Jason Jiun-San Shen, TAO, Vol. 16, No. 2, 331-343, June 2005).

Many of you know that Yangmingshan is volcanic in origin (and dormant, not dead), but can you name another volcano that forms land in Taiwan? Go to the head of the class if you mentioned Gueishan Island (Turtle Mountain Island), easily visible from I-lan on a clear day. Here's an image:

In fact, there are two distinct volcanoes on Gueishan Island -- the "head" of the turtle and its body. They have collapsed over time. This volcano is not dead either. In addition to the dangers of eruption, the dotted white lines in the image limn a probable landslide scarp. Falling blocks of land can generate large waves. And just across from Turtle Mountain Island is -- you guessed it -- the Fourth Nuclear Plant near Fulong. As the paper I drew this information from notes (Chiu et al, Volcanic Characteristics of Kueishantao in Northeast Taiwan and Their Implications, Terr. Atmos. Ocean. Sci., Vol. 21, No. 3, 575-585, June 2010):
This implies that the collapse of the KST volcano may have the potential to induce catastrophic tsunamis into the I-lan plain in the future. The layers of lava flows form dip slopes in the northern and northwestern flanks of the KST. The hydrothermal alterations are still active and weaken the volcanic rocks about the steep coastal cliff around the island that create landslide conditions triggered by an earthquake. We, therefore, propose that KST is capable of inducing volcanic hazards, especially for ash falls and tsunamis in the vicinity of northern Taiwan which requires further survey and long-term monitoring.
Volcanoes. Quakes. Landslides. Tsunamis. Typhoons. War. All in a day's work on The Beautiful Island.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


OzSoapbox said...

All a bit scary that isn't it. Not really sure what I'd do if there was a nuclear disaster in Taiwan...

Wouldn't want to go home but I can imagine if the authorities are bullshitting away to the public in Japan, then what the Taiwanese government would get up to here in the aftermath.


Government: Eeeeverything's okaaaay. Get back to work we've got it under con-


Government: Nothing to see here, business as usual in Taiwan folks...

Arnaud said...

I am not very interested in the nuclear part of your post, but it is a very nice source of information about seismic risks.


D said...


Would you then say a) nuclear power in general is a bad idea, or b) nuclear power in Taiwan is a bad idea because of Taiwan's combustible geology, or c) nuclear power in Taiwan is a bad idea because of mismanagement, but could be managed correctly?

Michael Turton said...

(b) mostly, with a touch of (c). I don't think humans can run any sort of LWR system without error, especially since it is run by the most corrupt and venal combination of all, private interests protected by government power. But there are other reactor designs that can't meltdown, and other fuels, such as thorium, that are much safer.

But building our current set of nukes in Taiwan is really a dumb idea.