US to retrieve nuclear waste from Taiwan: report

TAIPEI, Feb 14 (AFP) - The United States plans to retrieve highly radioactive nuclear waste generated by Taiwan in its nuclear research programs, despite opposition from US environmental groups, a report said Sunday.

Taiwan's cabinet-level Atomic Energy Council has forged an agreement with US authorities to ship back more than 100 fuel bundles stored at the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research and the National Tsinghua University, the China Times said.

It said the cabinet was expected to give go-ahead to the accord after the Lunar New Year festival next week and the shipment would leave before the end of June.

The paper said the institute and the university had each budgeted some 70 million Taiwan dollars (2.2 million US) in shipping costs.

The council's deputy chairman Su Ching-sen said the program was part of US efforts to dispose of nuclear waste containing plutonium that could be extracted and used to produce nuclear bombs.

The United States, which supplies nuclear fuel to research laboratories in several Asian countries including South Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia, resumed the retrieval program after a hard-fought legal victory against conservationist groups in 1997.

The nationalist island's nuclear research projects surfaced in January 1988 after Chang Hsien-yi, former deputy head of a military-affiliated research unit responsible for nuclear bomb development project, fled to the United States three days before President Chiang Ching-kuo died.

The unveiling of the secret project to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) led to the scrapping of the nuclear reactor nine days later.