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To regulate or not to regulate: the conundrum of Taiwan's nuclear power.

AFTER THE FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR DISASTER IN 2011, THE WESTERN European Nuclear Regulators Association (WENRA) and the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) jointly developed a Common Comprehensive and Transparent Risk and Safety Assessment, also known as the Stress Test, in May 2011. Taiwan's nuclear regulating agency, the Atomic Energy Council (AEC), requested to participate in the ENSREG peer-reviewed Stress Test in November 2011, which was formally agreed to in January 2013. Following the requirements of the EU Stress Test program, the AEC prepared the Taiwan Stress Test National Report for Nuclear Power Plants in May 2013 (AEC 2013). As part of the transparency requirements, members of nongovernmental organizations were also invited to evaluate the National Report.

The general impression of the National Report was that it looked more like a licensee's report than a report from a regulator. The more critical issue was the geological information provided in the National Report. First, the fault lengths near nuclear power plants were much shorter than those the AEC already knew about, as its chair reported to Taiwan's Legislative Yuan on April 17, 2013 (Hsu 2013; Tsai 2013). Distances between nearby faults and the nuclear reactors were either overlooked or excluded from the report. Nevertheless, the AEC maintained that everything in the Taiwan Stress Test National Report was properly prepared according to the Stress Test procedures.

It is quite intriguing that Taiwan invited overseas experts to conduct the assessment, but did not provide them with the most up-to-date information at the same time. Meaningful assessments cannot be achieved using incomplete and inaccurate information. One would like to believe that the AEC did understand the importance of nuclear safety and was capable of acting accordingly. It may be that those in charge of the AEC have been trying to manage conflicting roles simultaneously, and apparently achieving nuclear safety was not often high on its list of priorities. For those trained as nuclear engineers, promoting and expanding nuclear power still prevails over safety and waste management issues. Moreover, the culture of secrecy, deceit, and denial established from day one within the secret nuclear program still prevails to this day.

I present several examples in this article to illustrate current disquieting conditions in Taiwan. I start by describing the early secret nuclear weapons program in order to help understand the power distribution and the psychology behind the scenes. Next, I describe the devolution to peaceful applications, the fourth nuclear power plant controversy, and its current status and challenges. Thereafter, I outline nuclear waste problems, the discovery of numerous radioactive apartments, the low-level waste storage facilities on Orchid Island, and recent spent fuel reprocessing issues. In the final section of the article I discuss why unfortunate incidents occurred and how Taiwan policymakers can prevent history from repeating itself.

Taiwan's Early Nuclear Weapons Program

The Israeli Connection and US Opposition

The nuclear weapons program originated in the arms race between the ruling Kuomintang (KMT, Nationalist Party) and China. In March 1962, President Chiang Kai-shek learned from US intelligence images of a nuclear weapons program being undertaken in northwest China. Generalissimo Chiang, not wishing to fall behind the communists, decided to pursue a nuclear weapons program of his own. Taiwan sought help from Israel. Dr. Ernst Bergmann, chair of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, in response to an invitation by General Tang Chun-po, paid a secret visit to Taiwan in 1963 and spent three days at Sun Moon Lake Resort with President Chiang and General Tang (Wang 2010).

Soon thereafter, a new research institute for nuclear energy, rocket propulsion, and electronics was proposed. In spring 1964, preparations for creating a military-controlled Chung Shan Science Institute (CSSI) were formally announced, with General Tang serving as chair of its preparatory bureau and Dr. Bergmann as its foreign adviser. To facilitate the nuclear weapons program, the defense ministry that same spring started sending talented military personnel overseas for advanced science and technology degrees.

In October 1964, China successfully detonated its first atomic bomb. Taiwan's nuclear weapons program was accelerated, and the Hsin Chu Project, which attempted to duplicate Israel's Dimona reactor complex, was initiated with Bergmann's assistance. The program, commencing in 1968, included a heavy water reactor, a heavy water plant, and a reprocessing plant. The CSSI began its work in July 1969; it had three research departments, including the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research (INER). President Chiang nominated the renowned physicist Wu Da-you as chair of the National Science Council in 1967, with the hope of having his assistance on the nuclear weapons program. Instead, Dr. Wu submitted a 10,000-word statement forcefully repudiating the idea. Wu and Tang are said to have had fierce arguments with each other during a national security meeting, in the presence of President Chiang. Meantime, Western intelligence started to suspect that something fishy was afoot. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz first reported visits of atomic scientists from Taiwan in December 1965. (1) It was learned later that Dr. Bergmann was their contact person.

In early 1966, the Taiwan government approached West Germany for a 50 megawatt (MW) heavy water reactor from Siemens. The German government favored such a deal at the time, as it was the first major German nuclear equipment export, on the condition that sensitive parts would be secured under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The sale was made pending an IAEA-Taiwan safeguards agreement. Taiwan officials stated that the reactor would serve in research for an economic feasibility study and would be operated by the Union Industrial Research Institute of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) instead of the state-owned Taiwan Power Company (Taipower). (2) Taiwan's representatives repeatedly claimed that there was no relationship between the reactor purchase and nuclear weapons research. The United States remained unconvinced and strongly opposed the sale of the German reactor to Taiwan.

At about the same time in 1966, four experts from the IAEA traveled to Taiwan to help with site selection for two 450 MW nuclear power plants, one in the north and one in the south of the island. The first plant was expected to operate in 1972 or 1973, the other three to four years later. During the site selection process, a Taipower representative requested an additional site for a 200 MW reactor, as a pilot plant, to be completed by 1968 or 1969, in either Hsin Chu or near Shimen Dam. The Taipower representative said that this 200 MW reactor had no relationship with Taipower's activity and would be sponsored by a "consortium" of universities and other government institutes. The US Embassy immediately suspected military involvement. (3) Accounts by historian Hsu Choyun to the US Embassy in Taipei confirmed Taiwan's intention of proceeding with nuclear weapons development. (4)

The Hsin Chu Project was aborted in 1969, probably due to a combination of both domestic and international pressure (Albright and Gay 1998). Dr. Wu Da-you strongly opposed the weapons program for being too costly and too close to a population center. The Taiwan authorities also worried that the international community could deny Taiwan access to all nuclear resources and that a direct confrontation with the United States was possible.

A Deceptive Shift of Focus

After terminating the Hsin Chu Project, Bergmann persuaded President Chiang to modify the nuclear strategy by considering civilian applications of nuclear power. To dilute its ability to function militarily, the INER was redirected from the militarily controlled CSSI to an affiliate with the Atomic Energy Council, as proposed by Dr. Wu Da-you. The president of National Taiwan University was named head of CSSI. Soon after, genuine civilian programs were initiated. The Executive Yuan approved the first nuclear power plant project in August 1969, followed by the purchase of two GE light water reactors in 1970. Two more boiling water reactors were considered for purchase in 1974. These civilian nuclear activities did persuade some US intelligence officers that Taiwan had shifted its focus: "This type of reactor is not by any means an optimum choice with regard to producing plutonium for weapons use," a US Embassy official noted. (5)

Meanwhile, Taiwan launched another secret nuclear program code-named Tao Yuan. But Taiwan's attempt to purchase a reprocessing facility from the United States was vetoed by the Richard Nixon administration in 1969. Instead, INER acquired a 40 MW heavy water reactor from Canada, which went critical in April 1973. Combining equipment acquired from the United States, France, Germany, and other countries, the Taiwanese developed a small reprocessing facility, a plutonium chemistry laboratory, and a plant to produce natural uranium fuel (Albright and Gay 1998). The purchase of a reprocessing plant from France failed due to an exorbitantly high price and/or pressure from Beijing. (6) Washington learned that the Taiwanese government turned to a West German firm for parts for a reprocessing plant in 1972, but at a time when the Sino-US relationship was normalizing, the United States did not want to agitate either Taiwan or China.

Washington therefore steadily increased pressure on Taiwan to forgo its nuclear military program. The United States offered to support Taiwan's reprocessing of spent fuel in the United States or other countries so that the Taiwanese could save resources. (7) Despite US opposition, however, Taiwan signed a deal with the West German firm UHDE for a spent fuel reprocessing facility in January 1973. In heated exchanges with the US ambassador to Germany, Martin J. Hillenbrand, Taiwan's foreign minister Shen Chang-huan maintained that Taiwan had not made a decision on the reprocessing issue and denied the existence of a nuclear weapons program. Under pressure from the West German foreign office and the United States, UHDE backed out of the reprocessing deal in February. The next day, the minister informed the US ambassador that Taiwan had decided not to purchase the reprocessing plant.

In March 1973, the AEC secretariat's Victor Cheng told the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, Richard Sneider, that Taipei did not keep "any nuclear secrets from its friend." Cheng presented a progress report on building a laboratory-scale reprocessing facility at INER with a potential capacity to produce approximately 300 grams of separated plutonium a year. (8) The US estimates came out differently, showing that the Canadian research reactor could generate enough plutonium in one year for a nuclear weapons test if the reactor were running at optimal capacity. A visit by IAEA inspectors in 1976 led to suspicion that INER may have been secretly diverting spent fuel for reprocessing. In September 1976, the United States made a demarche through Ambassador Leonard S. Unger that the ROC should formally renounce nuclear weapon development. On September 17, 1976, Premier Chiang Ching-kuo and his cabinet issued a public statement solemnly declaring that the ROC had no "intention to use its human and natural resources for the development of nuclear weapons" or to obtain technology to reprocess spent fuel (United Daily News 1976; emphasis added).

In April 1977, the United States learned that INER had been in touch with a Dutch firm regarding reprocessing technology. The chief US concerns were about heavy water production and the "hot laboratory" at INER. An IAEA inspector discovered an unsafeguarded exit port at the fuel pond in March 1977, but no spent fuel diversion was found. The United States demanded that Taiwan terminate all fuel cycle activities, reorient facilities to peaceful applications, and transfer all plutonium to the United States. A team of US experts arrived, and they tore down all of the suspected facilities and destroyed the Tao Yuan Program. At the same time, the AEC secretariat's Cheng visited Washington to discuss the licensing of the first nuclear power reactor. Despite repeated intervention from the United States, suspicion continued. In September 1978 US secretary of state Cyrus Vance sent a letter to President Chiang concerning suspected activities in the Chung Shan Institute. President Chiang was obviously annoyed that "Taiwan's vulnerability and its unique relationship with the US [should] allow the latter to treat [the] ROC in a fashion which few other countries would tolerate" (United Daily News 1976).

On January 12, 1988, the deputy director of INER, Chang Hsien-yi, defected to the United States carrying many sensitive materials. Chang appeared in a closed-door hearing in Washington, arranged by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a few days later. The Taiwan authorities only learned of Chang's disappearance afterward. On January 15, 1988, an expert team from the United States visited INER. They extracted all of the heavy water and thoroughly demolished all nuclear weapon-related facilities. Chang may have been recruited by the CIA and worked in secret for the United States for twenty years before the incident. His defection led to the closure of Taiwan's nuclear weapons program and was highly praised as one of the few covert operations that the CIA did right (Weiner 2007). But many Taiwanese view Chang as a traitor.

The Civilian Applications

New Nuclear Power Plants

The organizational framework of Taiwan's nuclear development was established in 1955. Human resources were harnessed and honed at the Institute of Nuclear Science (INS) of National Tsing Hua University (NTHU). INS was the only institute in the NTHU, newly relocated from the Chinese mainland. Taiwan signed the Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of China Concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy on July 18, 1955, to ensure the transfer of nuclear technologies and materials. The AEC, the national regulator, was established the same year, as was the Atomic Energy Research Committee of the future operator, Taiwan Power Company. Very limited progress occurred in the first ten years. The AEC was established on a provisional organizational status, with the majority of its personnel seconded from other ministries. National Tsing Hua University established a department of nuclear engineering in 1964 and started recruiting undergraduates. The timing coincided with the start of the Hsin Chu Project and the establishment of the CSSI.

Site selection for the two 450 MW nuclear power plants mentioned earlier began in 1964. With help from IAEA experts in 1969, Chin San and Yen Liao were found to be suitable candidates, but the former was preferred (CEPD 1979). Bechtel Corporation was contracted to provide support for site selection, machinery, and instrument preparation, in addition to technical and economic feasibility studies. Two General Electric-made light water reactors, 636 MW each, were recommended for Chin Shan. The project received formal approval from the Executive Yuan in August 1969. It was one of Taiwan's Ten Major Infrastructure Projects, an achievement of Premier Chiang Ching-kuo, who later succeeded his father as president.

The second (Kuosheng) and third (Maanshan) nuclear power plants went forward without dispute. Total installed nuclear capacity reached 5,144 MW when the Maanshan plant was in full operation in 1985. The fourth nuclear power plant project (Lungmen, LMNP) was approved in September 1980, with the intention of connecting it to the grid by 1994.

Since nuclear power plants were meant to be a distraction from weapons development, the Taiwanese authorities paid little attention to the actual trend of electricity consumption. The reserve margin for electricity--the percentage of installed capacity that is not needed even during periods of annual peak demand--suddenly jumped to 55 percent in 1985 when Maanshan began feeding electricity to the grid (Control Yuan 2001). It was estimated that over 70 percent of electricity-generating capacity was left idle for most of the year. The addition of two more huge nuclear reactors would spell disaster. Fifty-five KMT legislators came to the rescue by appealing for an emergency motion to halt the LMNP program (Legislative Yuan 1985). Their concerns, including operational risk, nuclear waste management, and energy security, were presciently similar to current antinuclear rhetoric. The premier dutifully complied and indicated that there was "no need to start until all suspicions are cleared," so the LMNP program was retracted (Legislative Yuan 1985).

A Partisan Political Issue

After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, people began to realize the risks associated with nuclear power. When the LMNP program was revived in 1990, it met with much public suspicion, as more people spoke out about nuclear safety issues. The first real opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), formed in September 1986, had guidelines for an antinuclear policy platform of "opposing any program installing a new nuclear reactor, encouraging the development of alternative energy resources, and setting [up] a timetable to close all nuclear power plants." (9) When, in June 1992, the KMT majority in the Legislative Yuan hammered through an eight-year budget for the nuclear project, the LMNP became a partisan issue, with the DPP strongly opposed. A DPP member, Chen Shui-bian, won the presidential election in May 2000 and, keeping his campaign promise with residents near the planned LMNP site, terminated the program on October 27, 2000.

The termination announcement was made right after Chen met with Lien Chan, chair of the KMT opposition. Lien was not informed of Chen's decision beforehand and felt that he had been publicly humiliated. The KMT not only launched an all-out campaign against Chen's decision; it began an effort in the KMT-dominated Legislative Yuan to impeach him. President Chen bowed to sustained pressure and the LMNP program resumed in February 2001. (10) It was seen as a major setback for the ruling DPP and therefore few key politicians would subsequently get involved in issues related to the LMNP.

The Problematic History of LMNP

Construction Flaws

Construction of the fourth nuclear power plant at Lungmen reveals the strained relationship between the regulator, the AEC, and the operator, Taipower. The existing three nuclear power plants were completed under the supervision of two US consulting firms, Ebasco and Bechtel. LMNP construction was undertaken by Taipower, which had little experience and oversaw the whole process using GE blueprints. The equally inexperienced AEC set up a regulatory committee in January 1997 to monitor the LMNP's quality and progress. The AEC began publishing short monthly monitoring reports in 2002, when the real work started. Many of the flaws identified during the early stages of construction were soon corrected. The first major discovery was triggered by anonymous tips, indicating that lower-than-required-strength welding was applied in the reactor base frame (AEC 2002). Follow-up by the AEC in April 2002 confirmed the problem, so the base frame was rebuilt.

The AEC identified an increasing number of flaws as construction progressed. Major problems listed in the AEC's reports included reinforced tendons for the containment anchor being accidentally cut (AEC 2007) and careless contractors repeatedly setting working platforms directly on top of previously installed pipes and tubing, causing rust, obvious dents, and even punctures (AEC 2008a, 2008b, 2010). Workers' logs were filled with apparent indications of work overload that would be impossible to finish in a single day (AEC 2009). Moreover, many joints inside the LMNP reactor building were inadequately sealed with Teflon tape (AEC 2011).

However, more serious allegations raised by an insider were categorized by the AEC as "not safety related" (AEC 2008c). These included headline-grabbing design alterations and the systematic cutting of comers on materials (Wang and Wei 2008). It was found that Taipower had made 395 alterations to the LMNP design, including support for an emergency cooling system, without consulting the AEC or GE. In addition, Taipower knowingly accepted the use of Neoprene gaskets to replace carbon fiber ones in pull box and conduit fittings, despite the fact that the LMNP specification clearly precludes using such gaskets. The former can easily be ignited at 130[degrees]C, such as with a cigarette lighter, whereas the latter can endure temperatures of up to 1,000[degrees]C. It was also found that the hot dip-galvanized zinc steel, whose coating is twenty-five times thicker than zinc-electroplated steel and can last more than fifty years in coastal areas, nevertheless was replaced by the electroplated variety. In his reply to questions from journalists concerning these replacements, Taipower's LMNP site manager said that a nuclear power plant is not a humid environment, zinc electroplated steel is adequate, and Neoprene releases toxic fumes when it catches fire. Since no one can survive such high temperatures, who would care about toxins then (Wang and Wei 2008)?

The AEC imposed a fine of NT500,000 (about $16,700) on Taipower in April 2008 and insisted that Taipower reevaluate the safety of altered items and make no more alterations without the AEC's consent. (11) A couple months later, the AEC discovered that Taipower had made about 700 additional alterations without the AEC's knowledge. A total fine of NT3.5 million (about $117,000) was imposed. (12) Yet again, more alterations without authorization were discovered in mid-2011 (Lee 2011). This time, the AEC not only imposed a higher fine of NT15 million ($500,000), it also announced that it would take culpable Taipower executives to criminal court. (13) Apparently, Taipower holds little respect for the AEC.

Shared Irresponsibility

Taipower Company is the state-owned utility monopoly, yet few government administrations had a real grasp of Taipower management. Magazine interviews of several Taipower executives in June 2008 revealed the rationales behind all the nuclear power plant alterations (Lee 2008). They blamed "GE's over-conservative design of LMNP" for all the problems. (14) The excessive GE design, the executives said, required "tens to thousands of times more [materials] than LMNP really needed," making "construction difficult" and "inflat[ing] the costs." (15) Taipower executives did not trust the GE design since the United States had not constructed a new nuclear power plant "in 30 years," during which "GE lost [a] major part of its nuclear capability." They claimed that Taipower had found "numerous contradictions" during construction, and therefore "had no choice but to make improvised changes in order not to delay the whole project" (Lee 2008).

The AEC had itself to blame for overlooking some important issues. In the short inspection reports in May and August 2007, the AEC lightly mentioned the poor cement jobs in both reactor containments. Reports described threaded steel, cigarette butts, and plastic bottles found in the wall of the reinforced concrete containment vessel, with no photos attached. Some places had steel bars partially exposed. Also found in the number one reactor building were workers chipping away at the newly built containment, with over forty tendon steel bars cut, to make room for the spent fuel pool. It was not until a picture showing plastic bottles in the containment wall leaked to the press in April 2013 that people began to realize how potentially catastrophic and dire the situation was.

According to the AEC, a fine of NT400,000 (about $13,000) was imposed, plastic bottles were removed, and the holes were filled with equal-strength concrete. The AEC assured the public that the strength of both containments was better than required even after modifications (AEC 2014). Less than two weeks later, however, reports were published of a failed integrated leak rate test (ILRT) and structure integral test (SIT) for reactor number one between February 26 and March 5, 2014 (Tang and Chien 2014). Leaks were substantial but difficult to locate. Suspected causes range from more unseen plastic bottles in containments, secondhand valves, and the cutting of corners on the penetration seal within the nuclear island. In addition, records showed that as many as 197 items had been moved from unit number two to reactor number one to replace broken parts, probably as a result of inadequate handling.

As LMNP construction began, scandals came to light from time to time, but public reaction was rather mild. Grid connection time was postponed repeatedly, from July 1999 to 2004, 2006, 2010, and finally 2014 (CNA 2014). Work nevertheless continued with the full intention of bringing the LMNP online.

LMNP's Demise

The Fukushima disaster changed the situation. Suddenly, people realized how much Taiwan and Japan had in common, especially regarding seismic vulnerability. Many were bewildered as to how a prudent society with much advanced technology could become so helpless, and what would become of Taiwan in a similar situation. Immediate responses from the AEC deputy chair were anything but reassuring. Without any evaluation and just two days after the Fukushima disaster, he boasted that "all nuclear power plants in Taiwan are just as sturdy as Buddha sitting on his platform." Neighboring countries, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and China, all had detected radioactive materials from Fukushima, but the AEC insisted that no materials were detected until March 31, 2011. (16) The sensitivity of the AEC's instruments was questioned by nongovernmental organizations and the public (Yen et al. 2011).

In February 2013, the KMT's premier proposed holding a referendum to settle the future of the LMNP. The current Referendum Act requires a more than 50 percent voter turnout, plus an absolute favorable majority vote, in order for the referendum to be legally binding. Since the law passed in 2006, six national referenda had been held and all were rejected because turnouts were between 26 and 45 percent. Under the current law, how the referendum question is framed determines the outcome. The KMT's proposal was as follows: "Do you agree that the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant [LMNP] should be halted and that it not become operational?" Having the intended ballot date set at the end of 2013, the administration calculated that few would come to vote solely for the referendum, thus legitimizing the LMNP project.

Meanwhile, the AEC requested the European Union to perform a Taiwan Stress Test, to be completed one month before the planned voting date. A well-received international assessment certainly would win more public support. Some concluded that the Taiwan Stress Test was a propaganda exercise and not really for nuclear safety. Nongovernmental representatives discovered that geological information in a Taiwan National Report was out of date. In the end, the AEC received a polite and lukewarm assessment report (ENSREG 2013). But waves of demonstrations popped up nationwide, including one antinuclear protest on March 9, 2013, that drew more than 200,000 people.

Pressure from the electorate forced KMT legislators to withdraw the referendum proposal (Shih 2013). But a controversial service trade agreement with China that KMT legislators passed in thirty seconds flat renewed widespread demonstrations in March 2014. On April 22, Lin Yi-hsiung, former DPP chair and a longtime antinuclear activist, went on a hunger strike calling for termination of the LMNP. Under all this pressure, President Ma Ying-jeou reluctantly made compromises on the LMNP, including ceasing construction of unit number one and sealing it pending a later decision, and completely stopping construction of unit number two (Huang 2014). The decision for the latter was made probably because the administration was clearly aware that the possibility of unit number two's becoming operational was very slim. Lin ended his hunger strike on April 30, 2014.

Radioactively Contaminated Buildings

Checking whether property for sale is radioactively contaminated or not may not be ordinary elsewhere, but in Taiwan it is a regular service provided by real estate agents. Since 1992, more than 100 buildings in Taiwan, including 1,600 apartments, have been identified as being contaminated with elevated levels of radiation. The widespread radioactivity in housing resulted from repeated negligence and a cover-up by Atomic Energy Council personnel for over a decade. The AEC first learned of the existence of radioactive steel in January 1983. Steel bars bought by Chin San Nuclear Plant (CSNP) were found to be highly radioactive, delivering a radiation dose of 70 microsieverts per hour ([micro]Sv/h, approximately 700 times background levels of around 0.1 [micro]Sv/h). (17) The supplier, Chin San Steel, bought steel ingots from a steel factory in Taoyuan. When the AEC contacted Chin San Steel, it had sold two tons of steel bars to CSNP and 29.9 tons to JienKang Construction Company for the dormitory of the International Commercial Bank of China (ICBC, Taiwan). Readings measured by the AEC of the 12.7 tons of unused steel bars on the construction site were about 50 [micro]Sv/h, and those of the half-built dormitory ranged from 1 to 5 [micro]Sv/h in March 1983.

The AEC swiftly demanded that the JienKang Construction Company remove all installed radioactive steel bars. On March 26, 1983, the AEC made JienKang Construction and Chin San Steel promise to safeguard both the unused 12.7 tons and the used 17.2 tons of radioactive steel bars in the Chin San Steel warehouse, with no transfer able to be made without the AEC's permission. However, when the AEC sent an inspector to the Chin San warehouse on May 24, 1984, all of the unused radioactive steel bars were missing, allegedly sold without prior consent from the AEC. In his reply to the AEC's inquiry, Chin San Steel's owner claimed that the entire supply of steel was far too rusty to be useful and therefore it was buried on site. For some unknown reason, the AEC was persuaded and no follow-up took place on this issue.

On August 15, 1992, the public first learned about a "radioactive" villa from the Liberty Times (Chang, Chan, and Wang 1997). A tip-off from a grudging AEC employee led a reporter to a building called the Ming Shan Villa. The radiation level was found to be as high as 600 [micro]Sv/h, emanating from the building frame, about 300 times higher than the limit for workers in nuclear facilities. (18) People soon found out that the AEC had known about the incident since March 1985 when a retired AEC staff was sent as a contractor to evaluate the X-ray machine installation in a new dental clinic (Wang 1996). With the X-ray machine off, the radiation level reading was 280 [micro]Sv/h. The inspector quickly realized the readings came from the building beams. Saying nothing to the dentist, he reported to the AEC with his sketched radiation distribution. Fearing that the identified radioactive steel was from the same materials that had disappeared in the commercial bank case one year earlier, the AEC pretended nothing had happened. It issued the dentist a regular license and decided to proceed with no more sampling on that building. The AEC also made every person involved, including the contractor and the X-ray dealer, promise not to reveal those measurements to the public. The dental clinic received AEC license renewals several times subsequently.

After seeing the Liberty Times's report, the AEC tried to downplay the seriousness of the situation by referring to the level found in Ming Shan Villa as "slightly above background level" (CNA 1992a). Only after more details leaked to major media outlets one after another did the AEC reluctantly admit that the radiation level was 1,000 times higher than background from radioactive Co-60 with a half-life of 5.2 years (CNA 1992b). A frantic nationwide radiation monitoring effort began. Identified radioactively contaminated buildings included business offices, kindergartens, schools, and residential homes. Around 300 buildings and more than 1,600 apartments have been identified so far and 13,300 residents have been exposed to radiation. (19) Meager support and multiple criteria set by the AEC for rebuilding have resulted to date in less than 7 percent of buildings being rebuilt, and 15 percent adding lead shields or having radioactive steel bars replaced. (20) About 80 percent of the buildings that were suspected of being contaminated were left intact, including Ming Shan Villa. Twenty years after the news broke, 3,600 dwellers still reside in radioactively contaminated apartments. It seems that the AEC wishes to let nature solve this messy travesty.

Sources of Radioactive Materials

Where did those radioactive materials come from? Most radioactive steel bars were produced by the Hsin Jung Steel Company in Taoyuan County between 1982 and 1983 and derived from scrap metal. Hsin Jung Steel claimed that no imported scrap metal was used during that period. An investigative report by the AEC pointed fingers at the Army Chemical Infantry School not far from Hsin Jung Steel (Lee 1984). The school reported that one of the Co-60 sources of 23.8 Curie was missing in September 1982, and the radioactive steel bars were first found on the market soon thereafter, in October 1982. The AEC also conveniently suspected that the school might have lost more than one. The AEC specifically ruled out the possibility that contaminating materials came from its Institute of Nuclear Energy Sciences, which is closer to Hsin Jung Steel. An army spokesman denied the accusation (Lin 1984).

The nongovernmental Radiation Safety Improvement Organization (RSIO) challenged the official report. (21) According to its calculation, a couple of radiation sources can generate no more than a few hundred tons of steel, far less than the 7,000 tons that the AEC had already discovered. Among leaked AEC confidential files were the inventory books of Hsin Jung Steel dating from 1982 to 1983, which the AEC seized in a 1985 internal investigation of the Ming Shan Villa incident. Records showed that Hsin Jung Steel had purchased 604 tons of scrap metal from Taipower on October 29, 1982. Then, on November 1982, Hsin Jung sold the steel to various construction companies; all were identified as radioactively contaminated later. Approximately 6,000 tons of scrap steel were collected after annual maintenance at the three operating nuclear power plants. Taipower denied that the scrap sold was radioactive plumbing but offered no explanation as to where the scrap went.

Residents of Ming Shan Villa filed a petition with the government's Control Yuan against the AEC. In June 1994, the Control Yuan passed a resolution condemning the AEC bureaucrats (Control Yuan 1994). The accused were sent to the Public Functionary Disciplinary Sanction Committee, and the Supreme Prosecutor's Office was asked to investigate possible administrative and/or criminal responsibilities. However, judges found the AEC bureaucrats innocent on the grounds that "steel bars are not under AEC jurisdiction, nor is the radioactive contaminated steel" (Control Yuan 1994).

Low-Level Nuclear Waste on Orchid Island

Orchid Island (Lan Yu), where the aboriginal Tao tribe resides, is situated in southeastern Taiwan. A low-level nuclear waste (22) (LLW) temporary storage facility was constructed in 1978, disguised as a fish cannery. It began operating on May 19, 1982. The initial plan was to dump the LLW into deep ocean trenches adjacent to Orchid Island. But the 1993 Amendment to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by the Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter added low-level nuclear waste onto the blacklist, and the dumping of LLW plan was abandoned (LanYu Bi-Weekly 1996). (23)

However, the LLW kept being sent to the island. It was alleged that workers were permitted to release liquid radioactive waste into the surrounding environment. Since the original plan was to dump the LLW into the ocean, drums were made of ordinary steel. In a hot, humid, and salty environment, about one-third of the waste barrels showed clear signs of rusting by early 1995. Locals complained about increasing numbers of cancer-related deaths and cases of children with learning disabilities. Taiwan's National Health Statistics indicated that Orchid Island has the highest cancer death rate in Taiwan (Chiu, Wang, and Liu 2013). Feeling deceived and abandoned by the government, the Taos began protests in 1988; these soon gathered increasing momentum. On April 27, 1996, the Taos successfully prevented Taipower's low-level waste shipments from docking. No more low-level waste shipments to Orchid Island have occurred since then. The total number of nuclear waste barrels stored was 97,672 by that time.

Taipower first promised that a permanent LLW disposal site would be identified in 1996 and all LLW would be removed from Orchid Island by 2002. (24) This target also was one of the conditions that allowed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of LMNP to be approved. (25) However, in an EIA revision submitted in July 2001, Taipower argued that the permanent LLW storage is relevant neither to the operations of LMNP nor to its environmental impact. Taipower successfully had the conditions removed. The revision happened right after the KMT lost the presidential election after five decades in power. In the ensuing political chaos, Taipower's revision received little attention.

Taiwan authorities made a number of attempts to locate a permanent LLW site. A search panel for Taipower first identified Hsiao Chiu in Kingmen County as the most suitable site in 1998. After the DPP won the general election in 2000, the new AEC chair objected to the location as being too close to China, potentially causing unwanted tensions (Liu 2002). Several legislators even suggested paying the aboriginals to leave Orchid Island and using it as a permanent nuclear waste site. Officials quickly denied having such a plan (Lo 2002). Exporting LLW was also seriously considered. In 1997, Taipower signed an agreement with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) for the latter to store 60,000 barrels of low-level waste from Taiwan. Nothing came of this proposal, since the North Korean facility was not ready in time and South Korea issued strong protests.

There was speculation that China offered help on LLW storage, and that LLW might be sent to the Solomon Islands or the Marshall Islands. Nevertheless, no substantive solution materialized. Commencing in 2000, Taipower began paying NT220 million ($7.3 million) every three years to rent a low-level waste storage site. (26) An Orchid Island Storage Facility Relocation Committee was established under the Executive Yuan in May 2002. Meanwhile, the condition of the drums on Orchid Island continued to deteriorate.

A repackaging program started in 2008. Most canisters were found rusted, broken, and some even shattered. Although all the LLW had been in Orchid Island for more than ten years, the readings on sampled barrels were 2 to 4 mSv/h. A couple of hours of exposure would exceed the maximum annual dosage allowed for nuclear workers. However, the majority of the repackaging work was done by unskilled temporary laborers. They were only provided with a simple dust-free suit, not radiation protective gear. Instead of using a negative pressure chamber, everything was done in the open air. Workers wore regular clothing when applying new paint to the repacked canisters. Taipower's reasoning is that there was no "dust" in the vicinity. Poor working conditions were made public during a Legislative Yuan hearing. The AEC chair first mocked legislators for using outdated information (CTI 2012). After enough evidence was presented, the AEC chair admitted that he was wrong (AEC 2012).

It was not clear whether the AEC was too lax to be aware of the poor working conditions through incompetence or knowingly tried to cover them up. Either way, serious negligence occurred. There are 100,277 barrels after repackaging. Thirteen years have passed as promised completion dates have consistently failed to be met. The Taos are stuck with the LLW. Their experience provides a vivid example of problems encountered from allowing nuclear waste storage in communities.

High-Level Nuclear Waste: Conflict of Interest

Taipower Company submitted the Environmental Impact Assessment for interim dry storage of spent fuel from the first nuclear power plant to the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration (Taiwan EPA) in March 1995, receiving approval in June 1995. According to Taipower, the dry cask contract has been open for international tenders four times since 1995, but has failed to find qualified tenders at a "reasonable" price. Therefore, the contract was given to the INER of the Atomic Energy Council, a deal the AEC argued complied with the law. The INER is Taiwan's only nuclear energy research institute and does not work on nuclear regulation. All of the INER staff involved in the dry cask project will be excluded from making an assessment, leading the AEC to argue that no conflict of interest exists, something many were worried about (INER 2015).

In October 2005, Taipower sent an Environmental Change and Countermeasure report to Taiwan's EPA, preparing the ground for an interim dry storage project (Taipower 2005). In September 2008, Taiwan EPA issued a permit for the proposal. The type of dry cask Taipower chose consists of one stainless steel container, 1.59 centimeters thick with 304L steel, plus two outer layers of reinforced concrete. Taipower claimed that the dry casks provided by INER would not degrade in forty years despite being located next to the ocean. Taipower was so confident that it only plans to install two temperature sensors on each cask and one radiation detector for the whole dry storage area of thirty units. All processes were evaluated using computer simulations. Requests for a few experimental validations were rejected as unnecessary. Also deemed unnecessary was preparing backup plans and related facilities, since Taipower saw little chance that anything unexpected would happen over forty years. Many worried that the interim storage site may eventually become a permanent high-level waste-dumping site. The Land and Water Conservation License for the dry cask storage program has been held by the local government for nearly two years. Meanwhile, the spent fuel pools in CSNP are almost entirely filled up.

Unexpectedly, the United States offered Taipower another option, making use of the 1955 nuclear cooperation agreement. That agreement, based on Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act, included nine nonproliferation criteria, prohibiting Taiwan from operating sensitive nuclear facilities and from any activities involving sensitive nuclear technologies. (27) The agreement was renewed on January 6, 2014, (28) and entered into force on June 22, 2014. For the first time, the agreement allows irradiated source material or special fissionable material to be transferred from Taiwan to France or other countries or destinations for storage and reprocessing. A similar provision was recently included in Section 123, and in an agreement between the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

With the backing of the new US-Taiwan 123 Agreement, as it is called, Taipower announced a tender invitation for reprocessing on the last working day before the Lunar New Year holiday (February 17, 2015), fully aware that no budget funds were allocated for this project. Taipower's behavior met outright objections from bipartisan legislators. A legislative resolution forbids tender soliciting unless a reprocessing budget passes review. However, a tender request for reprocessing project bids remained on the public procurement site with a due date of April 9, 2015. Only after a mounting public uproar did Taipower and the Ministry of Economic Affairs retract the announcement on April 1, 2015.

Generally speaking, a legally binding gold standard in the nuclear cooperation agreement will help establish the global precedent that enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for a civil nuclear program. However, a substantial amount of high-level waste will remain even after reprocessing, so it must be dealt with carefully. Reprocessing does not solve the current high-level waste dilemma; in global perspective, reprocessing only adds to the existing stockpile of fissile materials, increasing the risk of their becoming prey to terrorists and intensifying global vulnerability. The only advantage of reprocessing is to postpone high-level waste problems by two to three decades and offload the odious problems to future generations.


The aforementioned absurdities and travesties of decisionmaking--the apparent abandonment of assigned responsibility by the regulator and the overconfidence of the operator--are reminiscent of failed weapons programs. In the early 1960s, nuclear engineering was a glorified and prestigious discipline in which only the brightest students were allowed to participate. There were ample job opportunities waiting for them in research institutes, governments, and utility companies. Moving away from military applications cut out many career opportunities. Nuclear accidents in Chernobyl and Three Mile Island turned many prospective students away from studying nuclear engineering. The Department of Nuclear Sciences of National Tsing Hua University had difficulty attracting bright undergraduate students. In order to boost recruits, the department had its name changed twice, in 1995 and 1997, finally becoming the Department of Engineering and System Sciences, its current name.

Most people working in the AEC and Taipower were top students, full of enthusiasm for nuclear energy several decades ago. However, the domestic and international circumstances creating boundaries to their career development changed their prospects dramatically. Some felt that they had been victimized and became cynical. Some were angry with those "arrogant" Americans who had destroyed years of hard work, despite the weapons program being secret. Some were overconfident and eager to prove that they could exceed the capabilities of their US counterparts, such as those who altered GE designs for the LMNP. In all, these workers seemed to be obsessed with a subtle "Boxer mentality." (29) On the other hand, with the increased difficulty of recruiting fresh talent, jobs were left to fewer and less qualified personnel to handle all of the increasingly complicated operations and regulations. Unskilled workers were routinely assigned to power plant maintenance and waste management, as in the Orchid Island low-level waste repackaging program. Once projects were contracted out, Taipower showed little interest in understanding the workers' qualifications, workplace safety, and working conditions. All nuclear-related checkups were left to a handful of AEC inspectors.

Taiwan's regulator, the AEC, was established in 1955 basically as the liaison office for international communications. For the first few years, most AEC staff members were on loan from other ministries. The current organizational structure was formed in October 1970 and was modified in November 1992. It has five departments: nuclear planning, nuclear regulating, radiation protection, technology, and secretariat. The AEC is literally in charge of everything related to nuclear energy except operations, from promoting nuclear research and development to reactors and nuclear fuel assessment and radiation monitoring and licensing. In the early 1960s, weapons competition with China was the main impetus to pursue nuclear energy. The military ran Chung Shan Research Institute, taking orders directly from the president's office, which determined the overall nuclear research and development effort. The AEC was in a supporting role.

From the outset, the system preferred promoting nuclear research and development to safety regulation and implementation. Moving the INER from the Chung Shan Research Institute in 1980 to being under civilian control did not change the AEC's priorities. Secrecy was extremely important in the early days to keep the nuclear weapons program moving and free from foreign meddling. No matter the activity, nothing should be revealed to outsiders. To conceal the nuclear program's true intentions or even to mislead foreign counterparts, a misinformation campaign was initiated. Habitual denial became a reflex. Public health, safety, credibility, and other societal issues became a distant second priority. Some level of sacrifice was deemed necessary. The AEC did whatever policy required of it.

Although the nuclear weapons program was axed nearly three decades ago, the culture of secrecy, denial, and deceit still prevails. Based on the examples I have provided, most AEC executives still maintain the old habits--willing to be supporters of prevailing behavior rather than independently asserting regulatory powers. The AEC thus provided outdated information in the Taiwan Stress Test National Report, chose to be ignorant of Orchid Island repackaging conditions, understated conditions of the LMNP containments, and concealed the Ming Shan Villa records. The welfare of ordinary citizens did not and does not enjoy high priority when maintaining the status quo comes first. But as a result, distrust in government grows, creating further barriers to policy implementation.

In practice, this type of insular organizational culture encourages negligence in work places, weakens safety regulations, invites accidents, and puts the entire society at risk. The many details of dangerous events came to light only owing to hundreds of insiders and volunteers who provided key evidence of misconduct to prevent things from getting worse, perhaps just in time. But dependence only on whistleblowers and volunteers to correct wrongs is not healthy for Taiwan politically or socially. Moreover, it is potentially unreliable as a check against misinformation and negligence, being far too risky as a guarantor of public safety.

Now is a peculiar time for the global nuclear industry. On one hand, some industrialized countries decided to go nuclear-free after the Fukushima disaster. On the other hand, many less technically advanced and less transparent countries plan to introduce or expand civil nuclear energy programs. Managing nuclear power is much more complicated than other types of energy utilities. It requires constant care and vigilance in every respect and can only be sustained by a large number of well-qualified human resources. Many established nuclear countries are already facing a rapidly shrinking supply of well-trained personnel to maintain routine operations, as well as to handle nuclear waste and decommissioning. For the new entrants to nuclear power, there are increasing worries that they may not have sufficient technical capabilities to oversee the construction and safe management of nuclear power. Most important is whether or not a system of checks and balances is well-established in their national framework. Some of the newcomers have a political system similar to Taiwan's a few decades ago. If the regulators are not given enough authority and the operators merely want to get by, Taiwan's past experiences will likely be repeated, or worse.

In order to keep all parties that participate in nuclear power energy projects vigilant and responsible, a frequent suggestion is that all governments, including Taiwan's, should build transparency into their decisionmaking mechanisms, open up documents to all, and invite outsiders to scrutinize their work. An international framework for transparency in nuclear power will not only encourage collaboration and cross-national information exchange; it also can help contain potential nuclear weapons ambitions.


Gloria Kuang-Jung Hsu is professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, National Taiwan University. Her interests range from ozone chemistry and air pollution to environment and energy policies. She has published articles in Science of the Total Environment, Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry, Tellus, Atmospheric Environment, and Carbon Economy Monthly (in Chinese). She can be reached at

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(2.) US Embassy Taipei, "GRC Plan to Purchase 50MW Heavy Water Nuclear Power Plant," Airgram A-566, April 30, 1966 (Burr 1999).

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(4.) US Embassy Taipei, "Indications GRC Continues to Pursue Atomic Weaponry," Airgram 1037, June 20, 1966 (Burr 1999).

(5.) US Embassy Taipei, "ROC Nuclear Intentions," cable to State Department No. 2354, April 20, 1973 (Burr 1999).

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(9.) Democratic Progressive Party Principles and Guidelines, www.dpp

(10.) Premier Chang Chun-hsiung and Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jinpyng signed an agreement to resume construction, and the decision was announced the day after.

(11.) The AEC website lists the penalties and fines of confirmed violations and irregularities related to nuclear plant operation and construction.

(12.) Violations nos. 0970020065 and 0970020065, issued November 19, 2008 (Legislative Yuan 2015).

(13.) Violation no. 1010001075, issued January 16, 2012 (Legislative Yuan 2015).

(14.) Interview of Shih Hung-gee, who served as general manager of MSNP, chief engineer of the LMNP, and deputy chair of Taipower. After retirement in 2009, Shih stayed on as an adviser for the LMNP (Lee 2008).

(15.) In the same article (Lee 2008), explained by Lin Jun-long, head of the LMNP Progress Oversight Unit at Taipower.

(16.) Responding to a legislator's question about whether radioactive material would come to Taiwan, Deputy Chair Huang Ching-tong of the AEC said, "No radioactive substances will reach Taiwan, since the Japanese have not had enough for themselves" (Tung Sen News 2011).

(17.) The permissible limit in Taiwan for workers in nuclear power plants is 100 mSv in five years. 600 [micro]Sv/h is equivalent to 5.26 Sv/year (5260 mSv/year).

(18.) Many dispute this because the reading in Ming Shan was much higher than those in the ICBC case.

(19.) Apartments with annual dosage above 25 mSv are bought by government; those living where annual dosage is 5-25 mSv receive compensation of NT200,000 (about $6,667). No compensation is provided where the annual dosage is below 5 mSv. Only buildings with more than 20 percent of apartments above 5 mSv per year are eligible for better floor-area ratio if rebuilt.

(20.) With a half-life of 5.2 years, radiation levels reduced to 6.7 percent of the original level twenty years ago. Therefore, the original radiation level is 2.54 times higher than seven years ago, when the AEC first learned about the problem.

(21.) Wang Yu-lin is chair of the nongovernmental Radiation Safety Improvement Organization and author of Radioactive Formosa: Unearthing the Radioactive Waste Scandals (in Chinese).

(22.) According to Taiwan's Atomic Energy Council definition, all radioactive materials except spent fuel are categorized as low-level waste, including equipment and materials that had direct contact with fuel.

(23.) This international convention was established in 1972 and entered into force on August 30, 1975. The United States and Japan agreed to ban marine dumping of low-level nuclear waste after learning that the Soviet Union dumped about 900 tons of low-level nuclear waste into the Sea of Japan prior to 1993. A global ban on all dumping of radioactive waste at sea came into force in 1994.

(24.) LanYu Township Tourist Information, /tour1-4.html.

(25.) The law requires that projects that pass EIA but do not start within three years must send an Environmental Change and Countermeasure report for reassessment.

(26.) This was a dry cask program submitted by Taipower in July 2013 (Liberty Times 2015).

(27.) Under the 1955 agreement, sensitive nuclear technology is defined as any information or facility "designed or used primarily for uranium enrichment, reprocessing of nuclear fuel, heavy water production, or fabrication of nuclear fuel containing plutonium." These processes have the potential to be used not only for civil power generation but also for building a nuclear weapon.

(28.) The agreement is between the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which represents US interests in the absence of an embassy, and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO). Under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the United States concludes executive agreements such as Section 123 with TECRO.

(29.) A widely used phrase in Chinese-speaking society, derived from the Boxer Rebellion in China between 1898 and 1901 that opposed Western imperialism and Christianity. The Boxers were barely armed but claimed to possess supernatural protection from firearms. They were manipulated by the Qing dynasty empress to declare war on foreign powers. "Boxer mentality" is used to describe underequipped people or a group of people who resort to irrational and rudimentary behavior against long-term exploitation, humiliation, or suppression.


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Date:Oct 1, 2015
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