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Higher radiation readings of Taiwan waste to be sent to N. Korea

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(May 30, 1997)  Greenpeace announced on May 15 the discovery of major misrepresentations in the classification of radioactive waste to be exported by the Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) to North Korea.

(473.4686) WISE Amsterdam -Greenpeace spokesperson Ho Wai Chi said the discovery raises serious concerns for the safe transport and storage of the waste. "The waste is significantly more radioactive than Taipower claims," said Ho. "Taipower has misled the people of Taiwan, the international community and the governments of neighboring countries about the dangers associated with shipping and disposing of their radioactive waste in North Korea."

Taipower, Taiwan's government-run power utility, signed a contract in January to ship up to 200,000 barrels of low-level waste for final storage in North Korea. (see WISE NC 468.4660). The shipments are expected to begin in a few months. Strong local opposition by the indigenous Yami people to the dumping of nuclear waste in shallow trenches on Lanyu Island, 65 kilometers off Taiwan's southeast coast, and by five candidate communities for a new waste disposal facility on Taiwan, forced the company to search abroad, where they failed in attempts to finalize plans to dump the waste in the Marshall Islands and Russia. If the shipments proceed, they set a dangerous precedent: it would be the first time, anywhere, that radioactive waste is exported for final storage.

The Greenpeace team was accom-panied by John Large of Large & Associates, a British nuclear engineering firm retained by Green-peace to do an independent evaluation of Taiwan's nuclear waste sector. The group conducted a 10-day study of the nuclear waste sector, and inspected waste facilities at the Kuo Sheng nuclear power plant and on Lanyu Island.

They discovered that the so-called low-level radioactive waste, which Taipower plans to export to North Korea, contains ion exchange resins and filter masses, some of the most dangerous wastes produced by nuclear reactors. Ion exchange resins are used to strip liquid streams in the reactor primary circuit and irradiated (spent) storage fuel ponds. The resin beads or pellets concentrate a wide range of (radio) activated and fission products. In terms of (radio) activity and persistence (half-life) ion exchange resins are very active (20.1012 Bq/m3 to 200.1012 Bq/m3) and very long-lived (tens of thousands of years). The current Taiwan nuclear program will generate approximately 100-120 m3/year raw ion exchange waste, or about 200-290 m3 packaged per year.
"The waste that Taipower chooses to call low level, and claims will not demand special handling, is actually a soup of highly radioactive poisons that requires complex technology, highly trained personnel, and a fully developed infrastructure in order to fulfill the most rudimentary safety requirements," said Large.
Ho added: "By exporting their waste, Taipower is creating the potential for serious environmental consequences for North Korea. Taipower must deal with its own waste, including removing it from Lanyu Island, and it must immediately cancel this dangerous and irresponsible agreement with North Korea".

Although no international agreement at present bans waste exports, the scheme is clearly in violation of the principle of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that radioactive waste must be cared for in the country of origin unless safety of treatment is enhanced by export. The IAEA General Conference Resolution of September 20, 1996, states: "...Radioactive waste should, as far as compatible with the safe management of such material, be disposed of in the State in which it was generated, whilst recognising that, in certain circumstances, safe management of radioactive waste might be fostered through voluntary agreements among Member States to use facilities in one of them for the benefit of the other States..." The principle is repeated in Point IX of the Preamble to the Draft Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. The convention will be opened up for signature in September or October 1997. All countries will be able to become parties to the Convention, not only IAEA member states.
Meanwhile, Hans Blix the Director General of the IAEA said on May 27, during a visit in South Korea, that the planned waste Taiwan-North Korea exports will not be supervised by the IAEA: "No international organisation has supervisory rights".
Blix also said that China is looking to the option to take the waste to resolve a row between Taiwan and South Korea.


  • Pressrelease Greenpeace
  • UPI and Reuter, 27 May 1997

Contact: Greenpeace China (Clement Lam, Ho Wai Chi, Anne Dingwall). Mandarin Building, Room 303-305, 3543 Bonham Strand, East, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. People's Republic of China.
Tel: +852 2854 8300 or +852 9027 2081;
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