Taipower, the state-owned utility in Taiwan is soliciting official bids from overseas to reprocess the spent fuel accumulating at its nuclear power plants. There are three operating nuclear power plants in Taiwan, and a fourth plant in construction which may not be completed. At the end of 40 years of operation, the three operating nuclear power facilities in Taiwan will have produced 4,950 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel.
The spent fuel management process in Taiwan is similar to the approach taken internationally. After being removed from the reactor, spent fuel rods are placed in spent fuel pools for short-term storage, they are then bundled into groups of up to 80-90 assemblies and placed into dry cask storage units and transferred into on-site storage area where they can stay for decades, ultimately Taiwan has elected to dispose of its radioactive spent fuel in a long-term underground storage facility which it plans to have constructed by 2055 – although no site has been selected.[iii]
According to Taiwan’s current regulatory framework, the licensee (Taipower) is primarily responsible for the management and storage of spent fuel generated at nuclear power plants. Taipower has known that the estimated storage capacity at its two operating nuclear facilities has been exceeded for some time, but Taiwan has no interim or permanent storage repository that would allow the nuclear waste to be stored in-country. Taipower may see it easier to deal with the waste by reprocessing it in the short term as opposed to trying to get public approval for the construction of intermediate additional on-site or centralized spent fuel storage facility.
In Taiwan, the public perception of the safety of nuclear power has changed considerably after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. Taiwan, like Japan, is prone to earthquake activity. Many citizens in Taiwan have protested the plan to reprocess the spent nuclear fuel and see it as unnecessary considering the fact that Taiwan has determined not to build any more nuclear power plants and has established a national goal of going nuclear free. The protestors feel that the government’s push to reprocess the spent fuel overseas is only intended to extend the operation of plants which could be shut down if no alternatives are discovered.
Low Level Waste (LLW) and the Lanyu nuclear waste storage facility
The Taiwanese government secretly built the Lanyu nuclear waste storage facility off the southeastern coast on Lanyu Island, known to some as Orchid Island, in 1982 to receive various shipments of low level radioactive waste from nuclear power facilities. Local residents were told that the government was building a canned fish factory and only after the fact found out in 1987 that it was in fact a nuclear waste storage facility holding 100,000 barrels of nuclear waste.
In 1996, due to the protest of local residents, the last shipment of 146 drums of waste meant for storage at the Lanyu site was forced to return to the Chinshan nuclear power plant. No radioactive waste has been shipped to the Lanyu facility since then on.[iv] The government has promised citizens that the wastes would be removed from the Lanyu, but there is no readily available site to store them at.
There is also a future storage problem with accumulating drums of low level waste at Taiwanese nuclear power plants. According to the Atomic Energy Council, the total amount of LLW at nuclear sites was 203,189 drums as of December 2012 — the national storage capacity is 340,000 drums of LLW.
Radioactive waste inventory at Lanyu nuclear waste storage facility
|Waste Originator||Drums of waste received|
|Volume Reduction Center||528|
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