Taiwan's top scientist critical of 4th nuclear plant.
Taiwan's top academician Lee Yuan-tseh voiced strong misgivings Wednesday about the island's energy policy, saying it was irresponsible to use nuclear power as long as there is no solution for the final storage of radioactive waste.
''Disposing of nuclear waste is a very serious problem that we must not overlook,'' Lee said in an interview with Kyodo News, as domestic debate rages as to whether construction of a fourth nuclear plant should be completed.
Lee, head of Taiwan's top research institute Academia Sinica and the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1986, said it had been irresponsible of past Nationalist Party (KMT) governments to ship nuclear waste to Orchid Island southeast of Taiwan proper for temporary storage.
Taiwan's state utility Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower), which operates the island's three existing nuclear power plants, is considering exporting nuclear waste and has been approaching China, North Korea and Russia about the matter.
A commercial contract signed with North Korea in January 1997 for the permanent storage of up to 200,000 barrels of nuclear waste from Taiwan in an abandoned mine remains unimplemented due to protests from such countries as South Korea and Japan.
Lee said Taiwan should not dump its nuclear waste on others or on its weather-beaten offshore isles, but find a location on less-exposed Taiwan proper.
''The disposal of nuclear waste should be dealt with by the country that decides to use nuclear power and the country that sells the nuclear power plant to it. Waste should not be shipped to third countries,'' Lee said.
Lee questioned Taipower's contention that Taiwan would suffer an acute electricity shortage if the fourth nuclear plant, to supply the densely populated Taipei area, is not completed.
''I don't think there would be a major delay if the nuclear plant is changed into a natural gas power plant,'' Lee said, while acknowledging that the use of natural gas would most likely result in higher electricity prices.
Overall, Taiwan should devote more resources to researching solar power and other renewable energy sources and make electricity supply more efficient by building smaller power plants close to end-users, he said.
Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, who pledged during his election campaign to stop the fourth nuclear power plant, has frozen construction on the plant which is 32% completed.
A special commission grouping government officials and representatives of Taipower and antinuclear groups is currently reassessing the controversial project.
Chen has already ordered a stop to another controversial infrastructure project decided by the past KMT government, the Meinung Dam in southern Taiwan.
Economics Minister Lin Hsin-i will hear the commission's conclusions in a televised debate Friday. Lin, a former business executive who has said he will base his own decision on economic factors and not political considerations, is slated to report his recommendation to Taiwan Premier Tang Fei on Sept. 25.
It is not clear yet when Tang, who has earlier threatened to resign if the plant is not built, will announce his final decision and whether Chen will respect the premier's opinion.
The main contractor for the nuclear power plant is U.S. utility giant General Electric Co. (GE). However, based on GE technology the reactors are actually produced by Japan's Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. and would be the first-ever export of Japanese-made nuclear reactors.
Lee said that from a scientific viewpoint Taiwan should have opted for a French nuclear power plant, given that country's long-standing record as an exporter of nuclear plant technology as well as in the reprocessing of nuclear fuel.
''I don't think it is a good thing for Taiwan to buy a nuclear power plant from GE, given that the United States has not build a single nuclear power plant in the past 20 years,'' he said, arguing that political considerations had influenced the decision.
Lee said Taiwan could try to contain the diplomatic implications of scrapping the fourth nuclear power plant by giving orders for an alternative natural gas power plant to suppliers in the U.S. and Japan.