Nuclear Safety, Economic Prosperity, and Plentiful Energy
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 5, 2011
The day before the April 30 anti-nuclear rally, protestors coordinated their activities all across Taiwan, from north to south, and from east to west. A million people took to the streets. The march ended peacefully. Protestors demanded that the Ma administration heed the calls of the anti-nuclear movement. They chanted "No to Nuclear Plant Number Four. Tear Down Nuclear Plants Number One, Two, and Three. Zero Fears of Nuclear Disaster." Their chants were of course a response to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, the earthquake, the tsunami, and the radiation leaks. The scene was stirring. In many peoples' minds, the biggest question has become, "Does Taiwan still want nuclear power?" Many took to the streets to express their concern over the safety of nuclear power generation.
According to newspaper reports, President Ma Ying-jeou was concerned about the demonstrations staged by the environmental groups, and by their demands. A spokesman for Ma said, "You have spoken, and the government has heard you." Government agencies have solicited reactions from a variety of organizations. These agencies must conduct a thorough investigation, They must propose a concrete and practical nuclear energy policy that will allow people to feel safe. The Executive Yuan Atomic Energy Commission said that last year the annex to Nuclear Power Plant Number One was put on hold. Fuel rods will not be installed in Nuclear Power Plant Number Four before the end of the year. Final disposal sites for low-radiation nuclear waste will be subject to local referenda. Licenses will be issued only after a second round of environmental impact assessments.
Based on the government's response to the demands of the anti-nuclear protestors, the two sides are still talking past each other, They really haven't communicated. Opponents and proponents of nuclear power generation are still on different pages.
A number of anti-nuclear protests were held on Ketagalan Boulevard. Thousands of citizens held a sit-in protest. They simulated casualties in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster. Anti-nuclear groups demanded that the government scrap its policy of nuclear power generation, They stressed that as long as the nuclear threat remained, anti-nuclear protests would continue. They said that Taiwan cannot withstand a nuclear disaster similar to the one at Fukushima. But the government's response was merely a vague "We will conduct a thorough review."
The anti-nuclear protest march was a public response to catastrophic events at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. The Fukushima nuclear power plant incident provoked public fears and second thoughts about nuclear power generation. Could a similar incident occur with nuclear power plants on Taiwan? This is a question that can be answered only by science, not protest marches.
Could a nuclear power plant accident happen? That is a hypothetical question. What if we gather experts from all fields and consulted them? What if we conduct thorough nuclear safety inspections? What if we demand the highest standards in risk management? The likelihood of an accident will be minimized. In the event of a natural disaster, we will be able to limit the scope of the damage as much as possible. But if we remain mired in populist political struggles, we will only lose sight of our real concerns.
Anti-nuclear groups have stressed the horrors of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. They have claimed that Taiwan could not withstand such a nuclear accident. The alarming scenes of the Fukushima nuclear plant radiation leak instilled doubt in the minds of middle class citizens. It inspired them to raise the banner of a nuclear-free homeland. It inspired them to take to the streets. But by adopting such an approach, anti-nuclear activists exaggerated people's fear of the unknown. They claimed that an accident would make Taiwan utterly uninhabitable. But is that true? Consider Nagasaki and Hiroshima, worst case scenarios. During World War II, atomic bombs were dropped on these cities. But today, Nagasaki and Hiroshima are hardly "utterly unihabitable."
Consider also the question of whether construction should be halted on the Nuclear Plant Number Four, and whether it should be put into commercial operation. This too has become a political football. Nuclear Plant Number Four has entered the final stages of completion. In 2000, when the Democratic Progressive Party was in power, it halted construction in the name of a nuclear-free homeland. Eventually however, public pressure forced it to resume construction. Public opinion has been consulted, and the all necesary legal procedures have been followed. There truly is no reason at this late date to call a halt to construction.
In order to develop our economy, we must have electricity. If we continue to resort to fossil fuel power generation, we will increase carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. Current renewable energy technology is not sufficiently mature. The cost of power generation is too high. These are harsh realities the public must face.
Elections are around the corner. Every time elections roll around, it becomes impossible to engage in objective discussion of public issues. For the sake of votes, the ruling authorities apparently hope to muddle through and worry about the problems later. Should we develop nuclear power? How can we ensure nuclear power plant safety? How can we achieve a "nuclear-free homeland?" These questions have remained open to discussion, They are questions that must be discussed. They should be part of our overall energy policy debate, But we must not go around and around in circles. The government must make available accurate information. It must offer a national energy policy consistent with public expectations and the needs of economic development. It should then allow the people decide. It should let the people to bear the consequences of their decision. Only then can society break the current deadlock over nuclear power generation.