Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Night Lites, Radioactive Edition

As Japan teeters on the brink, much comic relief in the craziness elsewhere. In China the locals are buying up salt, probably a garbled version of iodine warnings. Meanwhile Drew over at Taiwan in Cycles observes that the German cycle team, worried about radiation, has pulled out of the Tour de Taiwan [CORRECTED: Nope, not all of them, see comments below]. Ironically, US nationals are being evacuated here. Hope they brought their bikes, I'd be glad to show them around.

America lends a hand (VOA):
The commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific says he is sending his troops into the danger zone near the Japan's crippled nuclear power plants as needed, and if necessary he will send more to help prevent a meltdown of the reactors' fuel and the release of large amounts of harmful radiation.
The US has also agreed to help stabilize the value of the Yen, to help prevent a recession in Japan.

At IPS the awesome Dennis Engbarth, perhaps the most trenchant observer of Taiwan politics I know, has a piece on nuke safety on The Beautiful Isle:
During a media tour of ‘Nuclear One’ Mar. 15, Chinshan Nuclear Power Plant Deputy Chief Wu Tsai-chi and other Taipower officials showed reporters that the facility was protected from possible tsunami waves up to 23 metres thanks to its location in the hills off the coast.

Moreover, Wu explained that the plant’s emergency power supply had greater redundancy than the Fukushima plant thanks to two 40 megawatt oil-fuelled gas turbines and an emergency four megawatt diesel generator that could power water cooling systems for the reactors.

If these systems and the plant’s emergency core cooling system malfunctioned, Wu stated that there was also a 100,000 ton fresh water reservoir above the facility that could flood the reactors through gravity if power systems failed

However, the tour also revealed possible blind spots.

A brochure on the Chinshan facility acknowledged five possible threats to the plant’s safety - fire, internal incidents, seismic shocks, floods and typhoons. Furthermore, the storage pool for cooling spent fuel rods - similar to the one in the troubled Fukushima facility - lies outside the nuclear reactor vessel, and thus outside the protection of the emergency water reservoir.

Under questioning in Taiwan’s national legislature Mar. 17, Taipower Chairman Chen Kui-ming told KMT Legislator Chen Chieh that the state-owned power company would "study the Fukushima experience" and make safety improvements.

According to DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin, the ‘Nuclear Four’ project suffers from a long list of concerns, including over 700 arbitrary design changes without GE’s permission, insufficient earthquake protection to withstand a seven magnitude earthquake, proximity to recently discovered active undersea volcanoes and faults. She also said the plant is suffering from poor management by Taipower, which is directly managing construction, unlike the previous plants which were supervised by GE and Westinghouse.
The media reported today that the government is going to delay the start of the Fourth Nuclear Plant, that budgetary vampyr that has sucked down billions while giving nothing. The plant had already been delayed to 2012 before the current deferment. The reason given for this latest delay is "for stricter inspections." Think the plant will fail those? Haha, me neither. My friend David Reid had a kickass letter in the Taipei Times today about it:

Several hundred billion New Taiwan dollars have been invested in the plant, which has yet to generate a single watt of electricity. What if that same amount of money had been invested in renewable energy projects beginning from 1997?

First, these projects would have begun to generate power in a much shorter time frame. Planning and construction of a wind or solar power plant should take no more than two years, compared with more than a decade for nuclear power. In the time frame of more than a decade Taiwan could have developed renewable energy capacity that would make a significant contribution to the nation’s energy needs.

Second, the development of wind and solar power plants would have stimulated the development of industry in Taiwan that could have manufactured these technologies for export. While these industries have developed in Taiwan in recent years, Taiwan could have become a world leader if it had promoted these industries earlier.

In discussions with students about whether or not to build the plan, one reason invariably given to build it is that it will "advance Taiwan's technology." Actually, as David points out, it arguably has had the opposite effect. Taiwan could have an even bigger bite of a growing wind power pie.

China Times editorial on Taiwan's nuke plants. After talking about the behavior of the Japanese and their drills, the editorial comments:
On Taiwan, by contrast, nuclear power plant disaster exercises are just that -- exercises. No one takes them seriously. No one engages in genuine disaster relief efforts. Frankly, many members of the public merely show up for free lunches. Admittedly the public has never attached much importance to these exercises. But government agencies have also failed to promote them properly, they have failed to make the public aware of the importance of disaster prevention. They have failed to inculcate disaster prevention awareness.

Nuclear safety on Taiwan must take into account the other side of the Taiwan Strait. Mainland China currently has a dozen nuclear power plants in operation. Most are located on the southeast coast. Over ten are currently under construction. The two sides are close. They often share the same weather system. In the event of a radiation leak, it is likely they will affect each other. Domestic experts have long called for the establishment of a nuclear safety reporting system, as soon as possible. Such a system must be established, even if it is never used. Alas, this "technical" problem is something the two sides never discuss.
I talked about the nuke thing in Japan this week in all my classes. My university is pretty high ranking and the students are smart and informed about the issue -- many, many were able to accurately describe the sequence of events and explain how the building exploded. Probably everyone is as mesmerized by these events as I am.

Finally, there's more to life than nukes. China expert Bonnie Glaser was quoted in the Taipei Times the other day....

A conference on “International Organizations and Taiwan” was told on Monday that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) efforts to increase Taipei’s international space had only limited success.

“China has not only withheld support for further expansion of Taiwan’s international space, it has also continued long-standing efforts to squeeze Taiwan’s international space,” said Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ma's foreign policy having only "limited success" was as predictable as the sunrise, since he and his Chinese allies have the same dim view of Taiwan's international status.

The missiles keep coming up in cross-strait conferences and China keeps saying the same thing: "we're not dismantling them." I'd be curious to know if the KMT was begging and pleading for a gesture on the missiles to buy votes in 2012.
Daily Links:
  • SOAS has a Taiwan Studies Fellowship opportunity for MA and above. Info link.
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Stefan said...

Note that the German foreign office has not issued a travel warning for Taiwan:

BTW: while German cyclist Dirk Mueller has pulled out, Sergej Fuchs (also Germany) will attend.

Anonymous said...

Nuclear power in Taiwan is sheer madness. The region is extremely prone to earthquakes and the whole island is small enough to suffer major quantities of radioactive fallout if it really happens here.

Guy said...

So that's where Dennis Engbarth is now! Since the demise of the Taiwan News, I've really missed his writing on Taiwan.

Michael Turton said...

Guy, Dennis is now with IPS.


Anonymous said...

TIC saw that, but has been unable to update the post.
Sorry for the confusion.

Stefan said...

Oops - sorry forgot to provide the source regarding the German cyclists:

Thanks for the correction btw - pretty cool. :-)