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May 30, 2017

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New Taipei mayor ensures yet more delays for Nuke 4

Eric Chu, mayor of New Taipei City, is making sure that the Lungmen Nuclear Power Plant at Gongliao, better known as the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant or simply Nuke 4, won't start commercial operations without his approval and that of his people. That means the operation of Nuke 4, which has already been postponed many a time, has to be further delayed.

Construction started in 1977 at Gongliao, which is now under the jurisdiction of Chu's New Taipei City. It was delayed by a political controversy just after President Chen Shui-bian, who is doing time for corruption and graft, was inaugurated in 2000. Chen wanted to scrap Nuke 4, which was a pet project of the previous Kuomintang administration. Chen had the construction suspended in October, touching off a political crisis which ended eight months later with the resumption of work. This suspension of work delayed Nuke 4's scheduled operation — which had originally been set for 2007 — by three years with a loss of NT$400 billion (US$12 billion) in penalties, cost overruns and extra outlays.

In 2009, however, the Taiwan Power Company, a state-owned enterprise that is building Nuke 4 and will operate it, had to delay commercial operations until 2011 and asked for NT$40 billion (US$1.2 billion) more to get the first of its two generating units started, the reason being that its control and information system could not be installed as scheduled. As a result, operations of the other unit were delayed by one year until 2012.

After Japan's nuclear disaster, caused by the great earthquake of 2011 and the subsequent tsunami, Nuke 4's operation is being delayed again, although construction is almost complete. Taipower is ready to conduct a test run of Nuke 4's Unit One before the end of 2013, if the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) agrees. The plant's commercial operations could start in 2014. Unit Two will delay its operation accordingly.

But the AEC has just found serious flaws in the installation of the control systems in radiation control areas. The installation was contracted out, and the contractors have installed a low-control system in a highly risky area and a high-control system in an area with low risk. As a consequence, if and when an earthquake and a subsequent tsunami hits Gongliao, the magnitude of which may be on par with the events that caused the meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, many people may not be protected from nuclear dust. And that prompted Mayor Chu to proclaim that Nuke 4 can't be operated unless he and the citizens of New Taipei City agree.

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