Nuclear Safety Can Be Controlled, Electricity Prices Cannot
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 5, 2013
Summary: Nuclear safety concerns have many worried. But no one disputes the low
price of nuclear power generation. Nuclear safety is relative. One may
have nuclear safety concerns. But many countries continue to champion
the use of nuclear energy, on condition that nuclear power safety
measures are imposed. Electricity prices are inflexible. When the risks
and rewards are weighed, more major nations support nuclear power than
oppose it. In other words, nuclear safety can be controlled. Electricity
Full Text below:
Yesterday's editorial on nuclear safety posed a number of questions. Today' editorial weighs the benefits and deficits of nuclear energy. It compares the pros and cons.
Nuclear safety concerns have many worried. But no one disputes the low price of nuclear power generation. Nuclear safety is relative. One may have nuclear safety concerns. But many countries continue to champion the use of nuclear energy, on condition that nuclear power safety measures are imposed. Electricity prices are inflexible. When the risks and rewards are weighed, more major nations support nuclear power than oppose it. In other words, nuclear safety can be controlled. Electricity prices cannot.
The Jiang Cabinet has asked Taipower to carefully calculate electricity prices in the event the 4NPP is shut down. The numbers provided are objective, and have a scientific basis. But quantifying the psychological, social, and economic impact of rising electricity prices is not so easy.
If possible, one might want to implement a one year "non-nuclear" trial period. Then perhaps one could be certain whether society would really be willing to live with the consequences.
Japan, which has undergone two years of turmoil, is a clear example. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, 54 nuclear power plants were completely shut down. The Japanese government is attempting to reduce the demand for electricity. But industrial use of electricity is up over 20%, and household use of electricity is up 15%. Japan's government has spent one trillion NT purchasing natural gas from all over the world. The result has been the first trade deficit in 30 years. Last year, Japan's nuclear power plants suspended all operations. Summer peak electricity rates rose fourfold. Industry was forced to scale down operations. That was the key reason Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the rebooting of nuclear power generation.
Simply put, there is no readily available alternative source of cheap energy. The impact of shutting down nuclear power plants is not limited to electricity rates. It is comprehensive, and impacts people's livelihood and economic development. Some have estimated that electricity rates on Taiwan in the event it goes non-nuclear, will double. There is also the risk of blackouts. Unfortunately this not alarmism. Maintaining a stable power supply is among the highest priorities for national security.
Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany announced total denuclearization by 2020. Germany can do this because back it decided to adopt a non-nuclear policy way back in 1998, and and gradually began phasing out its nuclear power plants. It adopted a three-pronged approach. It passed laws limiting new nuclear power plants, imposed energy conservation, and developed new renewable energy sources. Germany will have to pay a high price in international competitiveness. Only then will it be able to establish a non-nuclear environment. Another key is that the German power grid is linked to the French power grid. When it lacks electricity, it can purchase electricity generated by nuclear power plants in France. Nevertheless German electricity rates have risen repeatedly. The government has been forced to subsidize electricity costs for the poor.
ROC electricity rates are clearly low relative to other nations. Yet the public backlash in April of last year over rate increases, far exceeded expectations. In this case, the power supply was unaffected. Now imagine a shortfall in the power supply, rate hikes, brownouts, and power outages. The likely impact will be economic, political, and social unrest.
A large percentage of industrial production remains energy-intensive. One must face this fact. Even assuming one wishes to phase out these industries, one must do so gradually. Moreover, workers in these energy-intensive industries are among the most economically disadvantaged. Changing the structure of industry requires discrimination. So-called "changing the structure of industry" is not as easy as most people imagine. . Taiwan's main economic competitors, such as South Korea, Japan and Mainland China, all rely on nuclear power generation.
Taiwan's independent power grid cannot interact with its neighbors' to meet each other's energy needs. Taiwan has virtually no indigenous energy sources. Conditions for electrical power generation are poor. The government has promoted liberalization of the electrical power generation industry since 1995. But so far electrical energy sources remain limited. Global warming considerations require a reduced carbon footprint. The majority of aging, coal-fired power plants are being replaced by gas-fired ones. Taiwan has no indigenous energy sources. It is subject to the limitations of global energy struggles.
The biggest problem with Taiwan's electrical energy generation is base load power shortages. The use of gas-fired plants is increasing. Last year, natural gas purchases increased 25% over the year before. This equals 42.3 billion NT. This is close to the limit amidst the global grab for natural gas. Suppose we suddenly promote non-nuclear power generation? Where will we get the natural gas to make up for the 20% gap previously met by nuclear energy? We suffer from low energy autonomy. We have few cards to play in our attempt to promote a nuclear-free homeland.
Progress in wind power, solar power, biomass, and other renewable energy sources remains limited. The main reason is that the development potential sources is limited. Electricity is used mainly in the cities. Cities lack the conditions necessary for the development of renewable energy. The Taipower grid sends electricty generated in the south to the north, and electricity generated in the west to the east. Power losses are considerable. This increases the difficulty of Taipower electricity restructuring.
The government has established a goal of a non-nuclear Taiwan. But it has not established a timetable. The reason is Taiwan's environmental limitations. Preparation for a non-nuclear Taiwan. requires gradually reducing reliance on nuclear energy, increasing the efficiency of the electrical generation system, maximizing the benefits from each kilowatt of power, and reducing demand for electricity,
Should the 4NPP be shut down? The decision must not be made solely on the basis of whether one is anti or pro-nuclear. Going non-nuclear could be a path from which there is no return. Taiwan's political and economic future could end up on that same path of no return.
Recall what happened on Japan following March 11. Then examine Shinzo Abe's nuclear power policy.
2013.03.05 07:48 am