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TAIPOWER URGES PYONGYANG TO OFFER WORLD-STANDARD NUCLEAR WASTE DUMP

2004-03-10 18:53:01

    Taipei, March 10 (CNA) Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) said Wednesday that North Korea should provide it with an exclusive nuclear waste dump in line with international requirements to facilitate the enforcement of a radioactive waste disposal contract between the company and Pyongyang.

    Taipower was responding to a South Korean news report that Pyongyang has threatened to take the case to an international court if Taipower fails to deliver nuclear waste to North Korea for permanent disposal by the end of June.

    Taiwan's state-owned power firm signed a contract with North Korea through a private broker in January 1997 that allows Taipower to ship up to 60,000 barrels of low-grade radioactive waste from its three nuclear power plants to North Korea for permanent disposal. But the contract has so far not been implemented due to strong opposition from South Korea and protests from international environmental groups.

    According to the South Korean news report, Pyongyang's national nuclear security supervisory commission recently sent a letter to Taipower protesting its delay in implementing the contract and describing Taipower's complaint that the North Korean facility is flawed as an "excuse."

    The commission reportedly said in the letter that the storage facility has been completed for a long time and that North Korea has remodeled two military ships to deliver the waste. If Taipower fails to deliver by the end of June, the commission said, it will file an international lawsuit against Taipower and demand financial compensation for North Korea's losses resulting from Taipower's breach of contract.

    Commenting on the report, a Taipower spokesman said its contract with North Korea does not defined a time-frame for implementing the contract provisions. Moreover, he went on, the contract clearly stipulates that it will not take effect until both governments agree to all the contract terms. "In other words, the contract will be implemented only after our government issues an export permit and the North Korean government issues an import license," the spokesman said.

    While the North Korean government has issued an import permit, Taiwan's Cabinet-level Atomic Energy Council (AEC) has yet to issue an export permit to Taipower. "The AEC has expressed the hope that North Korea will provide Taipower with an exclusive storage facility that meets international safety requirements for nuclear waste disposal," the spokesman said.

    According to international regulations, nuclear waste should not be stored in the same facility with other waste. The Taipower spokesman claimed that the North Korean facility does not meet this standard, but he did not elaborate. He insisted that Taipower cannot deliver its nuclear waste to North Korea until the AEC has issued an export permit.

    Taipower has been seeking a location to store its low-grade nuclear waste as its contract to use scenic Orchid Island -- home to the Tao aboriginal tribe -- as anuclear waste dump expired in 2002, and the Tao people have protested bitterly over the company's failure to remove the radioactive waste.

    Even though Taipower has signed contracts with Russia and North Korea on treating its low-level radioactive waste, but environmental impact issues have dampened Taipower's plans to ship its nuclear waste to either of the two countries.

    Taipower has been evaluating 11 possible sites in various areas of Taiwan, including Taitung's Taimali, Tajen, Chialan and Lichiu townships, as well as Ilan's Nanao township, Pingtung's Shihtsu and Mutan villages, and Hualien's Fuli township.

    The company originally also surveyed several sites on Taiwan's outlying islands, including the Penghu island group and the island of Kueishan, off the coast of Ilan. But these islands were later excluded from the list of possible sites.

    Taipower has yet to announce where its new nuclear waste dump will be located.

(By Sofia Wu)

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