Taiwan's 4th nuclear plant might be ready for loading fuel rods in Sept.: ministry

Taiwan's problem-plagued fourth nuclear power plant located in the densely populated north of the island may be ready for loading of fuel rods as early as this month, if testing of the fueling platform is completed as planned, the Ministry of Economic Affairs said Tuesday.

Victor Sung, deputy director of the ministry's Lungmen Nuclear Power Plant project office, said testing of the refueling platform was scheduled to be completed by August, but has been pushed back to the end of September.

"Once the testing is over, the fourth nuclear power plant (in Lungmen, New Taipei City) will have the capacity to load fuel rods and replace spent fuel rods," he said.

Aside from technicians and experts from the plant's operator Taiwan Power Co. working on the ground, the economics ministry has formed a 57-person task force, made up of local and international experts, who are responsible for testing the systems.

Another eight-member task force is overseeing the work of the 57-member group, with 120 out of the 126 systems tested as of Sept. 6, according to Sung.

The remaining six are scheduled to be tested by June next year, with Taiwan Power saying its plans to start operations in 2015.

Opposition to the fourth nuclear power plant has been ongoing since construction began in 1998, with some citing technical flaws and mismanagement, while others are opposed to nuclear energy of any kind on the island.

Seeking to put the long-standing controversy to rest, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou has announced plans to hold a public referendum -- which is awaiting legislative approval -- on whether to stop the construction of the project.

However, the KMT lawmaker who proposed the referendum decided Tuesday to withdraw the proposal -- a decision that must be approved by the legislature.

Taiwan has three nuclear power stations -- two located in the north and one in the south of the island. All have operated safely and profitably for many years, providing nearly 20 percent of the island's electricity.

Taiwan Power has reiterated its commitment to ensuring safety of the fourth facility before allowing it to go on-line.