Monday, April 1, 2013

The Number Four Nuclear Power Plant: Daily Life, the Economy, and National Security

The Number Four Nuclear Power Plant:
Daily Life, the Economy, and National Security
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
April 2, 2013

Summary: Taiwan's political and economic situation is special. Would a "nuclear-free homeland" neglect some concerns for others? That is debatable. But as matters stand, there is no longer any room for debate. If experts cannot certify that the 4NPP is safe, that is one thing. Otherwise, should we not weigh the immediate abolition of nuclear power against the gradual abolition of nuclear power?

Full text below:

Building a "Number Five Nuclear Power Plant" on Taiwan will be impossible. Controversy is currently raging over the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant (4NPP). Many people mistrust nuclear power per se, not just the 4NPP. If these people mistrusted only the 4NPP, rather than nuclear power per se, then in theory one could halt construction on 4NPP but still build a 5NPP. But as matters stand, a "nuclear-free homeland" has become established policy. Therefore whether construction on the 4NPP is halted or continued, there will be no "5NPP."

As a result, the referendum on whether to halt or continue construction on the 4NPP has become, in effect, a referendum on the immediate abolition of nuclear power vs. the gradual abolition of nuclear power. It has become a referendum on how to use the 4NPP as the first step towards a "nuclear-free homeland." As we have reiterated, if experts cannot certify that the 4NPP is safe, then a referendum is superfluous and need not be held. But if experts certify that the 4NPP is safe, the commissioning of the 4NPP will merely be the first step in the "gradual abolition of nuclear power" or the "immediate abolition of nuclear power." Either way, the public on Taiwan will have taken the first step toward the abolition of nuclear power. Either way, there will be no "5NPP."

The "immediate abolition of nuclear power" and the "gradual abolition of nuclear power" differ in their procedure. If the 4NPP is commissioned, then the 1NPP, 2NPP, and 3NPP can be decommissioned gradually. The 4NPP will act as a buffer in the gradual abolition of nuclear power generation. It will enable the power generation transition to proceed relatively smoothly. If however the 4NPP is immediately killed, and the 1NPP decommissioned in 2018, then the public on Taiwan will experience a more severe energy shortage.

Energy transformation is extremely difficult. It is a major political and economic undertaking. Consider only the hardware transformation. The construction of new, non-nuclear power plants, such as wind and solar, would take at least a decade, even assuming no procedural obstacles. Forget the widespread construction of small power plants, wind turbines, or solar panels. The time consumed due to public resistance will be inestimable. What about waiting until bioenergy or "new energy" becomes a viable form of "alternative energy?" That is like waiting for Lady Luck to smile upon us. That is hardly something one can take for granted. Even if everything imaginable is done, the energy transformation process will take at least two decades. We have not even mentioned other costs. Consider the aforementioned new power plants. Public resistance will exact a high price. Carbon emissions will increase. Electricity prices will rise. Corporations will be forced to restructure in response to environmental and economic costs. Therefore whether the energy transformation process is gradual or rapid will affect the social cost. The termination or continuation of the 4NPP has become a choice between the immediate abolition of nuclear power and the gradual abolition of nuclear power.

Energy transformation involves three levels. 1. Daily Life 2. The Economy 3. National Security

1. Daily Life. This is the most superficial level. If the energy transformation process is too abrupt, energy shortages and the rising cost of electricity will impact the daily life of the individual. If energy transformation affected only this level, it would be bad enough. We could use a little less air conditioning and pay a little more on our electricity bills. If the impact was confined to our daily lives, if Taiwan became a larger version of Palau, then why not?

Two. The Economy. Irene Chen will not mind paying more for her electricity bills. But the impact on small factories and snack bars will be very different. Last year the electricity rate hike was essentially a test run. Now the impact has expanded from daily life to the economy. It will impact all industries. We can of course trumpet industrial transformation. We can oppose energy consuming industries. But merely wishing does not make it so. Moreover, we face an immediate need. We must break through the barriers of TPP or RCEP within a few years. Energy insecurity and rising electricity prices could affect the competitiveness of our economy and liberalization process. The consequences must be addressed.

Three. National Security. If energy insecurity impacts the economy, it will also impact national security. For example, if Taiwan's economic status is weakened as a result of the energy transformation process, it will inevitably become more dependent upon favors from the Mainland. It will naturally increase the risk in cross-Strait relations. Such national security concerns cannot be ignored.

Taiwan is not Palau. Palau has no cross-Strait relations. Some on Taiwan may yearn to return to the same natural lifestyle as Palau. But Taiwan's economic development cannot be turned back. Taiwan's survival depends on it. Taiwan must be competitive enough to withstand the magnetic attraction of the Mainland. National security is the third level of the energy transition problem.

In today's populist atmosphere, anyone making the above arguments will be accused of being alarmist. That is not surprising. The leaders of the various political parties know the truth. But they use the 4NPP issue as a political tool to divide the public. We predict that if the DPP is able to halt construction on the 4NPP, and wins the 2016 presidential election, its first major energy policy will be to "postpone the decommissioning of the 1NPP." That will prove that its current anti-nuke rhetoric is a sham. Yet the DPP categorically refuses to adopt a gradual abolition of nuclear energy policy in the event experts certify that the 4NPP is safe.

The DPP has done two things that are fatal to Taiwan. The first is to advocate Taiwan independence. The other is to interrupt construction on the 4NPP during the Chen administration. Now, whether the 4NPP can be certified as safe or not, the DPP is obdurately opposed to its construction. Taiwan independence is no longer possible. But even if the 4NPP is certified as safe, it has been ruined by the DPP. In this sense, the DPP has indeed done everything it can.

Energy policy and energy transformation are major issues affecting a nation's survival. As we have reiterated the United States experienced the Three Mile Island incident. Russia experienced the Chernobyl disaster. Japan experience the Fukushima disaster. Yet they remain nuclear energy nations. This shows that a nuclear free homeland is not something one can have merely because one wants it. Which of these three has political and economic conditions inferior to Taiwan's? Never mind that the United States and Russia are major producers of energy.

Taiwan's political and economic situation is special. Would a "nuclear-free homeland" neglect some concerns for others? That is debatable. But as matters stand, there is no longer any room for debate. If experts cannot certify that the 4NPP is safe, that is one thing. Otherwise, should we not weigh the immediate abolition of nuclear power against the gradual abolition of nuclear power?

2013.04.02 03:21 am















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