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Safety: Taiwan Incorporates Ukraine Lessons in Nuclear Safety Drills

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The possibility of a threat to Taiwan's nuclear plants from a cross-strait military conflict with China has led to changes in the island nation's annual nuclear safety drills. The latest such exercise this week incorporated lessons-learned from Russia's invasion and takeover of the Zaporozhye nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine.

This was revealed at a news conference ahead of a two-day drill Sep. 6-7 at the Maanshan nuclear power plant on the island's southern tip. The exercise included measures aimed at responding to “specific severe incidents,” including possible damage to the plant in a future military conflict with the People`s Republic of China (PRC), AEC Deputy Minister Liu Wen-chung said at the Sep. 2 news conference. In testing responses to “complex” or “combined” disasters, parts of the program were designed to incorporate lessons from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the ongoing crisis at the six-unit Zaporozhye plant where shelling has damaged the plant and lead to a total loss of external power.

Concern over safety at Taiwan's nuclear plants and other key infrastructure intensified in the wake of live-fire air, sea and even missile drills and cyber assaults conducted by the PRC`s “People`s Liberation Army” in early August and viewed by many analysts as a “rehearsal blockade” after the high-profile visit by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei Aug. 2.

The AEC is closely monitoring the situation at Zaporozhye to see whether changes in Taiwan's safety, security and nuclear disaster response protocols were required, especially given the possibility of “collateral damage” should Beijing attempt to annex Taiwan by force, Liu said.

Noting that there had been no direct attack on the six reactors at Zaporozhye, the AEC judges that a deliberate attack by China on Taiwan's nuclear power plants is “unlikely,” he added, but "we need to consider worst case assumptions."

More realistic are military strikes leading to damage and disruption of critical infrastructure such as off-site power and communications between the plant and government regulators as well as local government and residents. International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi has named these as areas of great concern at Zaporozhye.

While most of the Tuesday afternoon tour at Maanshan by regulators and nuclear safety monitors covered familiar ground, namely how plant personnel would respond to the impact of a simulated 7.0 earthquake and typhoon, the exercise also displayed the results of considerable investment in establishing “defense in depth” in both back-up power and water supplies.

During several demonstration stops, the station's general manager Lin Rong-yi and other Taiwan Power (TaiPower) staff related that the facility has an array of 4 kilovolt and 480 volt mobile generators as well as back-up diesel generators and battery storage for the control room, spent fuel pool and other essential equipment.

TaiPower has sharply enhanced seismic resistance of key “reserve water storage tanks” and diesel fuel storage tanks next to the reactors — critical to emergency cooling — from an assumed 0.4g to 0.72g in 2014 and 1.38g in 2020, Lin said.

Additionally, this year TaiPower enhanced its emergency cooling capability through two mobile “heat sink” units built into heavy vehicles. Lin said the new units were a “last resort” should all other water reserves be exhausted, including those on site and two 50,000-ton fresh water reserves situated over 90 meters high on a hill about one kilometer west of the facility.

Designed and manufactured for NT$60 million ($1.94 million), each of the two units features a reel of six-inch pressurized water hose, an oil pressurizer, a repressurizer and a 600 horsepower diesel generator mounted on a huge flat truck, with one painted in blue for Maanshan-1 and another in orange for Maanshan-2. When hooked up, the units can deliver 3,000 liters of pressurized sea water to each, enough to last 24 hours.

Lin also related that the plant had sufficient surveillance equipment to monitor unregistered drones and would “without hesitation” shoot down any unmanned aircraft over the facility's restricted zone.

The second day of the exercise focused on notification and preventative evacuation of citizens. Liu told Energy Intelligence that if there were concrete signs of an imminent attack on Taiwan, the AEC “will instruct TaiPower to prepare supplies of essential goods to sustain the plant operations and personnel in the event of disruptions.”

'We Cannot Relax'

The threat of an attack triggering a meltdown will diminish with the retirement of the 985 MW Kuosheng-2 next March and the two Maanshan units in June 2024 and May 2025, but that risk is among a multitude of reasons why prospects for continued operation of Maanshan beyond it scheduled closure are “not high," according to senior AEC executives who spoke with Energy Intelligence. The center-left Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration of President Tsai Ing-wen maintains that “even one nuclear disaster will ruin Taiwan," said one. With the retirement of Maanshan, Taiwan will attain a core DPP “energy transition” goal of achieving a “nuclear free homeland.”

DPP government planners see no role for nuclear power in Taiwan's drive to realize “net carbon zero” by 2050, either. Besides high seismic risk and the lack of a solution to nuclear waste, they believe continuing nuclear power would stunt the development of renewables and slow the transformation of current highly centralized power generation, transmission and distribution systems to more “dispersed” and “intelligent” networks that would also be less vulnerable to natural disasters or military assaults.

“We cannot relax while any risk of nuclear disaster exists,” said Liu in defense of continued investment in nuclear safety. Liu said such investments and training would be necessary both during the remaining period of reactor operation and the anticipated 25-year decommissioning process.

Liu told Energy Intelligence that Taiwan's nuclear power plants were probably “among the best prepared” infrastructure facilities. “The worst that can happen is a nuclear disaster which is what we are constantly preparing for.”

Nevertheless, DPP Legislator Lo Chih-cheng, a leading party national security specialist, argued that the assumptions held by the AEC and TaiPower are overly optimistic.

"Although it is unlikely that China would directly attack any of our nuclear power plants, there is no way in a war to exclude the possibility of error and so we need to be very careful and upgrade hardware and software defense for all essential infrastructure,” Lo told Energy Intelligence.

Lo said that the government was “undoubtedly” upgrading military defenses for essential infrastructure and that moves to improve the capabilities and mobilization effectiveness of reserve forces was also worth notice. “The role of such forces may not be on front lines but to protect key infrastructure,” Lo observed.

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