Taipower reveals new safety features after nuclear power plant emergency shutdown leaves operators red-faced

A group of legislators visited the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Wanli District yesterday, to learn how merely moving a chair caused a shutdown last month, and to review measures taken to ensure it won’t happen again.

In an embarrassing comedy of errors that citizens on social media compared to something out of The Simpsons, Taiwan’s number two nuclear power plant went into emergency shutdown at 6:33 am, July 27, after an employee pushed a wheeled office chair out of the way to give a cleaner access.

According to state power company Taipower, the chair was pushed a little too hard, causing the back of the chair to hit an acrylic cover placed over a switch controlling the reactor’s main steam isolation valve.

While the cover may have been meant to prevent accidental knocking of the switch, its design was fundamentally flawed.

The transparent acrylic box was unattached to the panel, and without an anchor, when the back of the chair hit the box, the box hit the switch, the main steam valve closed, and the emergency shutdown was triggered.

chair and switch involved in nuclear shutdown incident.
Picture: Kuomingtang League, via China Times

While there was no risk of a radiation leak, according to Taipower, the 985 megawatt generator was thrown offline. The nuclear reactor had to be restarted: a process that takes around three days.

Fifteen legislators visited the plant yesterday morning, August 9 to have Taipower staff illustrate what had happened on the fateful morning of July 27, and to demonstrate new safety features that will prevent such an embarrassing event from happening again.

An infrared intrusion detector has been installed, a safety bar has been added to the front of the panel to prevent accidental intrusion by objects such as chair backs, the acrylic switch cover is now fitted with magnets so it sticks to the panel, and the wheeled chair has been replaced with a wheel-less one to restrict errant movement.

new and improved chairs at nuclear power plant.
Wheel-less chair for improved nuclear safety.

Taipower Chairman Yang Weifu said that nuclear power management is of the highest standard. But while they have standard operating procedures for everything, the incident that occurred was of the lowest level of mistakes. Taipower will take heed of the lessons learned and conduct a comprehensive review.

Taiwan has three nuclear power plants which supply around 11% of the nation’s electricity demand. The incumbent Democratic Progressive Party is committed to phasing out nuclear power by 2025. The Guosheng plant is scheduled to operate until its permit expires in 2023.

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