State-own Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) faces a fine of NT$15 million (US$498,000) from the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) for altering the construction design of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), without authorization.
The council said this was not the first time Taipower had been fined for making design changes without permission from the original designer, General Electric Co (GE), thus the council decided to increase the penalty for repeated violations.
In 2008, Taipower was fined NT$4 million, but this time the fine was the highest possible amount stipulated in the Nuclear Reactor Facilities Control Act (核子反應器設施管制法).
According to the act, alterations to the design must receive approval from the original designer before proceeding.
According to the council’s Department of Nuclear Regulation Director Chen Yi-pin (陳宜彬), there was disagreement between Taipower and GE because of the periodic suspensions and resumptions of construction work on the plant, so the council had allowed Taipower to amend the design first, but required the state-owned utility to promise to get permission from GE afterwards.
“Since Taipower and GE solved the problem in early 2009 and GE has started its work again, we feel the alternative measures should no longer have been carried out and Taipower should have returned to the normal procedure of getting GE’s permission before continuing with construction,” Chen said.
Chen said the council received a document from the Control Yuan’s National Audit Office late last year that said Taipower had continued to make changes without obtaining GE’s permission in advance and so it decided to slap Taipower with a heavy fine.
The council finished its investigation, submitted its report to higher-level authorities, communicated with Taipower and also gave it one last chance to explain the violations late last month. Saying Taipower had failed to offer a convincing explanation, the council’s screening committee, during a meeting on Oct. 30, meted out a fine of NT$15 million for the design changes it deemed a second-level violation of the law and other regulations.
At the Legislative Yuan yesterday, Taipower vice president Hsu Hwai-chiung (徐懷瓊) said: “We acknowledge there have been some imperfections in procedure on our part ... as for the penalty, we think it’s a little too heavy.”
According to Taipower spokesman Roger Lee (李鴻洲), the utility explained the design alterations to the council during a meeting last month and provided data to prove it had obtained the necessary approval from GE.
Saying the utility asked the council for an extension of the measure, but had received no response, Lee said Taipower’s decision to proceed with the changes without an answer was certainly an “administrative flaw,” but not one that constitutes a major violation.
Additional reporting by CNA