Electrical Power Generation on Taiwan for the Next Fifty Years
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 6, 2013
Summary: Taiwan is hardly alone. Is anyone in the world really "pro-nuclear?" That has long been a huge question mark. In any public referendum on the issue, opponents of nuclear power generation will attempt to seize the environmental and safety high ground. Conversely, those who support the continued use of nuclear power generation, have a different take on nuclear safety. They should not be demonized as "pro-nuclear." The two sides must respect each others' posititions.
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Taiwan is hardly alone. Is anyone in the world really "pro-nuclear?" That has long been a huge question mark. In any public referendum on the issue, opponents of nuclear power generation will attempt to seize the environmental and safety high ground. Conversely, those who support the continued use of nuclear power generation, have a different take on nuclear safety. They should not be demonized as "pro-nuclear." The two sides must respect each others' posititions.
The current referendum asks voters whether they support "a construction halt on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant (4NPP)," not whether they support "the abolition of nuclear power generation." The 4NPP issue involves several paradoxes worth pondering. One. The 4NPP is a new power plant featuring new equipment. In the event it is shut down, three older nuclear power plants will be forced to operate overtime. Shutting down the new plant, while continuing to use the old plants, is contrary to the stated goals of the anti-nuke crowd. If a public referendum suddenly shuts down the 4NPP, will operating the older plants overtime increase the nuclear risk? In recent days, residents adjoining the 1NPP and 2NPP have expressed intense dissatisfaction. They are demanding that these two power plants be included in the referendum. This has undermined the legitimacy of the referendum.
Two. Many people think that Taipower built the 4NPP in haste. They lack confidence in the Atomic Energy Council's oversight. But who has been in charge of 1NPP, 2NPP, and 3NPP for the past 30 years? Who indeed, but Taipower and the Atomic Energy Council? Also, many of these same people have argued that Taiwan must be more industrially self-reliant. The 4NPP, it was decided, would not be a turnkey operation, contracted out to a foreign company. So why are these same people automatically poormouthing the 4NPP as "slapped together?" Shouldn't they be applauding it as reliance on our own local technology? Do people consider the management of the three older nuclear power plants more or less reliable? Doesn't Taipower have 30 years of accumulated experience? Would Taipower really willfully disregard the safety of the 4NPP, which is located a mere 30km from the nation's capital?
Three. Regardless of the outcome, the current referendum will push Taiwan onto a "non-nuclear" path. It is no longer possible to build any new nuclear power plants on Taiwan. Yet for the past decade or so, the ruling and opposition parties have continued to cross swords over the 4NPP. Neither side has ever proposed a serious alternative. This includes planning for alternative energy sources, comparisions with renewable energy sources, transformation of energy-consuming industries, or timetables for the phasing out of nuclear power plants. None of these have been investigated. Once construction on the 4NPP is halted, electricity rates will skyrocket. Even bigger problems will loom. They include restrictions on power usage, power failures, or power rationing by region. The political parties may unseat each other one after the other. But neither the Blue nor Green camps are prepared for what is to come. The anti-nuclear crowd, alas, has no answers whatsoever.
Assume for a moment that the public is willing to tolerate sky high electricity prices, endure the summer heat without air conditioners, and light candles at night. Once power shortages begin, they will encounter far greater inconveniences than these. For example, nearly completed articles on one's PC screen may be lost when the power goes out. Lights in the night markets or public parks may go out. This is not alarmism. If the 1NPP and 2NPP are decommissioned as scheduled, in five years, Taiwan will face a power shortage. Greater Taipei in particular has long relied on "southern electricity delivered to the north." The inevitable consequence will be power rationing by region. This is something the public had better realize in advance.
The abolition of nuclear power generation cannot be implemented overnight. Germany wants to go nonnuclear. It has established a 20 year timetable, to be implemented step by step. Some think that Taiwan can step up the construction of natural gas or coal-fired power plants, or increase reliance on wind power, solar power, and other renewable energy resources. They think that five years from now they will be able to avoid any disaster resulting from power shortages. But plant planning requires time. Taiwan is wracked by internal dissent. The construction of any sort of power plants will invite protests from local residents or environmental groups. Merely acquiring the land and meeting EIA will be hard enough. The construction process will also be dogged by unknowns. So-called stepping up the construction of alternative power plants is not really feasible. It is not something one can realistically anticipate.
The great debate over the 4NPP has yet to begin. The public need not rush to judgment. It should take five to ten years to reach a conclusion. It should examine the measures and countermeasures set forthy by the ruling and opposition parties, and by environmental groups. It should consider how their lives will be affected. Only then should it reach a decision. If this five to ten year transition period cannot be successfully negotiated, then neither can the road beyond.
It is the responsibility of the ruling party to clarify the pros and cons. It must not intimidate the public. It must not use the referendum to excuse its own mess. The DPP conversely, has a responsibility to offer a comprehensive alternative in the event the 4NPP is shut down. It must explain how it will solve the problems that would arise. Only this can prove that its advocacy of a nuclear-free homeland is not empty posturing for political advantage. Environmental groups must not blindly oppose Taipower and nuclear power generation. They must offer concrete energy-saving proposals. They must prove that the abolition of nuclear power generation will not result in a shortage of electricity.
After prolonged agitation, the ruling and opposition parties have agreed to maximize voter turnout for the referendum on the 4NPP, to ensure that the referendum truly represents public opinion. Only then can the result resolve the controversy. To achieve this goal, the ruling and opposition parties mus earnestly advance their own programs. They must allow the public to evaluate them. They may even wish to implement absentee voting. The referendum should not be linked to any election. This is one way to increase voter turnout. This is also an opportunity to test the effectiveness of absentee voting.
A public referendum on 4NPP has touched off a great debate. It has not provided a convenient escape. If the public fails to fully evaluate its choices, it could easily arrive at the wrong decision, and run headlong into a situation it never imagined.
2013.03.06 03:25 am