Taiwan seeks Japan’s assistance over troubled ‘money pit’ nuclear plant project


Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd. may provide technical assistance to Taiwan, whose efforts to build a fourth nuclear power plant have been plagued by difficulties.

Chen Yi-bin, director of the department of nuclear regulation under the Atomic Energy Council, said state-run Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) is seeking help from General Electric Co., according to sources.

Chen said that if GE agrees to assist with the troubled project, the U.S. giant would likely ask Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd., a joint venture it formed with Hitachi Ltd., to provide Japanese engineers, the sources said.

“Hitachi and Toshiba are two of Japan’s most experienced firms in building power stations,” Chen was quoted as saying. “Taipower is likely to get the assistance it needs from Hitachi.”

The power plant project on the earthquake-prone island’s northeastern coast is important for both Taiwan and Japan, Chen said.

The plant’s reactors will be the first to contain key new components exported by Japanese companies, Hitachi and Toshiba Ltd., while the turbine generators were manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

If the project is successfully completed, Chen said, it could help Japanese manufacturers launch full-scale exports of their technologies to countries including Lithuania, which is seeking Japan’s support for its envisioned first nuclear power plants.

Taiwan started the project in 1998, but a series of problems have delayed its completion and repeatedly driven up costs.

Over 14 years, the original cost estimate of 169.7 billion New Taiwan dollars (about ¥470 trillion) has ballooned to nearly NT$300 billion (¥835 trillion), earning the plant its “money pit” nickname.

In addition to technical assistance from Japan, Taipower is considering asking U.S.-based United Research Services Corp. to act as the project’s chief consultant, Chen said.

Taipower hopes to sign the deal by the end of the year, to give it a clearer idea about a completion date and the project’s total cost.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has expressed hope the new facility’s first reactor will start operations by 2014, allowing Taipei to start decommissioning the island’s first nuclear power station earlier than planned.

Taiwan has three nuclear power stations, two in the north and one in the south. The island generates nearly 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, about the same rate as the United States.