Professionalism and Politics:
Two Facets of the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 23, 2013
Summary: In democracies, the people are the bosses. The people have the final say. The controversy over the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant over the past twenty years has involved engineering problems. But the government never underwent the entire policy formulation process, from either a professional or political perspective. This led to our current plight, in which we cannot enjoy a moment's peace. By now, short-term pain is preferable to long-term pain. A storm is brewing over to nuclear power generation. For once, let the pain lead to a final outcome.
Full Text below:
The new cabinet has assumed power. The Legislative Yuan has convened a new session. This is the second anniversary of the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant additional budget, as well as Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster. Public opposition to nuclear power generation is increasing. Protest marches demanding the abolition of nuclear power are about to begin throughout Taiwan. Protestors are even coordinating with supporters overseas. Even more worrisome, the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant issue has become a political football. There is virtually no room for rational debate. How is one to make any sense of the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant mess? One must first arrive at a decision that meets with the approval of the general public, because this issue is everyones' concern.
Planning for the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant resumed in 1992. Tender offers were made in 1995. Ground-breaking began in 1999. During that time, Taiwan has never had a moment's peace. Opponents have been motivated by moral and ideological objections as well as political opportunism. The public has paid an incalculable price. The Jiang Cabinet must now deal with the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant mess, and the anti-nuclear political storm. It must carry out the policy formuation process in full, without any shortcuts. It must put professionalism first and politics last. It must end over 20 years of wrangling over the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant.
Professionalism means doing everything to ascertain whether the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant can be successfully completed, and whether it will be safe after completion. The professional aspects must be addressed first. This is essential to any subsequent political management. The Number Four Nuclear Power Plant must be certified as safe by industry professionals. Only then can it begin commercial operation and provide parallel power generation. Only if the public remains skeptical, should a public referendum be held. Can industry professionals eliminate concerns about the safety of the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant? If they cannot, then the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant should not even exist, in which case there will be no need for a referendum.
The Number Four Nuclear Power Plant was originally supposed to be a turnkey operation. If successful, the quality would be assured, and any risk would be borne by the winning bidder. But the decision was made to use subcontractors. The risk must now be born by Taipower. Taipower officials were overly ambitious in their design goals. They lacked experience. They received no assistance from consultants. These factors greatly increased the difficulty of construction for this specialized nuclear power plant. Many interface conflicts and accuracy and stability problems had to be overcome. These led to the current halt in construction.
Taipower admits that it cannot solve the problems on its own. The Number Four Nuclear Power Plant has already cost 300 billion NTD. It is not far from completion. Naturally Taipower hopes the project than be brought back to life. Can internationally respected experts be found, to serve as project consultants, and cut the Gordian Knot? They may charge a high price. But progress is slow. Would a large, internationally respected company be willing to take charge of the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant and endorse its safety? That remains in question.
Taipower does not have the final say over whether the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant is safe. Nor will debates between academics and street protests yield valid conclusions. Only a rigorous testing program can. The program must test every system. It must then test hundreds of other systems. In particular, it must test the compatibility between instrumentation and controls at 40,000 points. Issues with the design, equipment, and construction must be resolved. Only then can the plant begin commercial operations without concern for safety. The Number Four Nuclear Power Plant cannot proceed with commissioning tests. That is why it is making virtually no progress.
President Ma has declared that "without nuclear safety, there can be no nuclear power." He wants to reassure the public. He has suggested inviting impartial international bodies to assess the situation. But finding impartial international bodies is easier said than done. One has come to the fore -- the nuclear power industry World Association of Nuclear Operators. But WANO is unsuitable. Years ago, before the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident, WANO gave it its seal of approval. Taipower is also a WANO member. Alas, WANO lacks credibility.
Can a miracle worker be found to cure the ills of the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant? Can he help to pass rigorous commissioning tests? Can he guarantee that commercial operation would be safe? The public still has doubts about nuclear power generation. If it is unprepared to accept the possibility of an irreversible catastrophe, then the final stage of public policy formulation -- a public referendum -- will be essential.
The key to a public referendum is a critical discussion of all the factors. The public must be fully informed. The first thing the public must be informed about is the cost. Once nuclear power generation has been ruled out, electricity price hikes are guaranteed. But so far polls have only tracked fluctuations in support for non-nuclear power generation. They have totally ignored the matter of electricity rates. This gap must be addressed before an referendum can be held. This task cannot be performed by the official energy generation entity. It must be something that anyone can verify by accessing a national database. Only this will have the necessary credibility, and avoid the trap of intimidation via high electricity rates.
Next is the issue of power supply security. Taiwan has a single, independent power grid. This is the biggest worry in a non-nuclear power generation scenario. Summer electricity peaks, destruction of transmission loops by hurricanes, and maintenance for aging units will lead to power shortages. If people vote for non-nuclear power generation in a referendum, they must be psychologically prepared for a less secure power supply. Cross-Strait relations are warming. The government must be prepared to buy electricity from the Mainland. It must prepare for a difficult breakthrough in public thinking regarding Taiwan's independent power grid. Northern Fujian's Fuding Industry Plant is about to begin commercial operations. Fuqing has four units in two nuclear power plants. Their capacity is equal to two of Taiwan's Number Three Nuclear Power Plants. If they could provide Taiwan power through a submarine cable, it would at least ease our power shortage worries.
In democracies, the people are the bosses. The people have the final say. The controversy over the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant over the past twenty years has involved engineering problems. But the government never underwent the entire policy formulation process, from either a professional or political perspective. This led to our current plight, in which we cannot enjoy a moment's peace. By now, short-term pain is preferable to long-term pain. A storm is brewing over to nuclear power generation. For once, let the pain lead to a final outcome.
2013.02.23 01:58 am