Taipower defends shipping of nuclear plant fuel rods to U.S. supplier

Taipei-State-run Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) defended its move to complete the shipment of unused fuel rods for a mothballed nuclear power plant back to their supplier in the United States, saying it would have done so regardless of the plant's future.

The company shipped the remaining 120 of a total of 1,744 fuel rod bundles, which had been procured for the nearly completed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei, back to the United States early Sunday morning.

Local media interpreted the shipment as a sign that the costly plant would never be activated, even if a referendum to have it start commercial operations to be held in August 2021 were to pass.

In a statement, Taipower said the nuclear power plant, located in New Taipei's Gongliao District, has been in an assets management phase since it was mothballed in 2014 following an anti-nuclear campaign mobilized by the then opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The DPP took power in 2016 and the DPP-controlled Legislative Yuan passed a resolution in January 2018 that required the return of all 1,744 fuel rod bundles to General Electric Co. to get a return on the state's existing assets.

Critics of the resolution suspected at the time that it was simply a way to eliminate the possibility that the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant would ever be commercially operated.

Taipower said in its statement Monday that disposing of the unused fuel rods could save about NT$140 million (US$4.89 million) per year in security costs.

The state-run utility also said the fuel rods had passed their warranty period, without saying how long the warranty period was, and because of that the fuel rods would have had to be shipped back to the supplier whether the plant was reactivated or not.

It said that if the fuel rods were never to be used at the plant, they needed to be shipped back to the supplier to be dismantled so that the uranium could be retrieved or turned into fuel rods for other nuclear plants, fulfilling the goal of reselling national assets.

Were the fuel rods to be used, the bundles would have still had to be sent back for a comprehensive safety check before the warranty was renewed, Taipower said.

If people vote to activate the mothballed nuclear power plant, many tasks have to be completed before the plant goes into operation, including reassessing the geological conditions in the area and the facility's earthquake resistance, Taipower said.

This means the key to activating the nuclear power plant, built at a cost of nearly NT$300 billion, will be the period of time and additional funding needed to get it up and running, the utility said.

The DPP government that took power in 2016 has vowed to phase out nuclear power by 2025, by which time Taiwan's three functioning nuclear power plants are to have been decommissioned.

Nuclear power accounted for just over 11 percent of Taiwan's power generation in 2020, and the DPP hopes to replace that with renewable energy, targeted to generate 20 percent of the country's electricity by 2025.

But fossil fuels will still account for roughly 80 percent of the mix, according to the government's projections. Coal alone was used to generate just over 45 percent of Taiwan's electricity in 2020, about the same level as in 2015.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel