The Number Four Nuclear Power Plant Can Be Mothballed, But Electricity Must Continue to Flow
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 27, 2015
Executive Summary: Taiwan cannot completely abandon nuclear power. Therefore it must conduct a thorough review of the safety of its nuclear power plants. It may need to adopt the Japanese model for nuclear power plant safety, shutting them down one by one for testing. It must clear up doubts, complete the necessary safety measures, then resume nuclear power generation. Do people want Taiwan to be a "nuclear-free homeland" by 2025? It they do, then they must accelerate the construction of natural gas storage stations and gas power plants, promote energy-saving programs, and ensure that the people and businesses realize the high price they will have to pay.
Full Text Below:
Six years later, the government has re-convened the National Energy Conference. Last year Lin Yi-hsiung staged a hunger strike and succeeded in getting the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant (4NPP) mothballed. The government now seeks to address the nuclear power plant controversy by convening the National Energy Conference. But the public doubts that the National Energy Conference will be able to resolve the matter. The ruling and opposition parties have wrestled over the nuclear power issue to no avail. A better approach might be to first address the problem of power shortages.
Over the past several years, the 4NPP controversy has overshadowed issues such as power shortages. The two sides remain deadlocked. Alternative energy development has been slow in coming. Take power generation on Taiwan. Two indicators, "operating reserve" and “idle capacity” are used to assess the electricity supply. Last year, both indicators triggered alarms. Between September 15 and 19, operating reserves fell to 6%, below the brownout risk level for five consecutive days, triggering a red alert. This was the most serious nationwide power outage since the 9/21 Earthquake 15 years ago.
Regulations state that the idle capacity must not fall below 15%. But last year it fell to 14.7%. This was the first time it fell below spec during the past decade. Between 1989 and 2003, idle capacities have fallen short of government specifications, year after year. During that period, 55 nationwide brownouts occurred. Between 2004 and 2013 idle capacity exceeded targets. During this period no brownouts occurred. But last year's crisis meant that the good times are over.
Six years ago, the government convened a National Energy Conference. The idle capacity was at a high of 28.1%. Since Taiwan had a surplus, people questioned the need for the 4NPP. But last year, just five years later, the idle capacity has been halved relative to 2009. We now face an electricity shortage. Nuclear power plants have been delayed. New power plants cannot be built. To this must be added old power plant decommissioning. Over the past six years idle capacity has fallen more than it has risen. This shows that generating capacity has lagged electrical demand. In short, when it comes to power generation, we are consuming our seed corn.
The theme of the energy conference is "Where will our power come from?" The hope is that the National Energy Conference will establish a long-term energy development plan. But power generation involves highly specialized technical knowledge. Reaching a consensus is no easy matter. Answers will not be found in “Groupthink” conferences. Even more seriously, signs of unstable power supply have emerged. The government lacks the courage to propose real solutions. The public lacks a sense of crisis. Last year, the government hastily mothballed the 4NPP. It has no idea whether to keep the 1NPP and 2NPP in operation. It has euphemistically “left the decision for future generations." The result may well be a electrical power crisis.
We may or may not want the 4NPP. We may or may not want to continue using existing nuclear power plants. New power plant construction is often a time-consuming, multi-year planning and construction process. If we wait until the power supply comes up short before seeking alternatives, it will be too late. Take Japan, for example. The Fukushima nuclear disaster struck in 2011. Twice, all nuclear power plants were shut down completely and overhauled for security purposes. Japan held a long debate. Those who opposed nuclear power constituted a majority. But the Japanese government reaffirmed nuclear power as its electrical generation mainstay. As a result, the Kagoshima "Sendai Nuclear Power Plant" will resume operation as early as this summer, and end Japan's "non-nuclear” status.
The Japanese government risked the wrath of anti-nuclear public opinion and resumed nuclear power generation. The key was the fact that "zero nuclear power" required the import of expensive natural gas as a replacement. This led to soaring trade deficits. The Abe government was forced to consider both economic development and energy security. Therefore it decided to resume the use of nuclear power.
Now look at Taiwan. With the Fukushima nuclear disaster, anti-nuclear sentiment on Taiwan skyrocketed. It moderated only after the government announced that it would mothball the 4NPP. Unfortunately, the ruling and opposition parties on Taiwan lack Japan's ability to engage in self-examination. They lack the ability to decide on a single energy path. Tsai Ing-wen recently criticized our national energy policy, saying it was monopolized by state-owned enterprises. She advocated an "Electric Industry Act." Power generation, transmission, and distribution would no longer be concentrated in the hands of Taipower. This is the right approach, but it is too late to be of any help. The divestiture of Taipower and changes to the electrical power generation structure are two different matters. Tsai Ing-wen has dodged the issue of the upcoming power shortage. Such energy measures are merely “distant waters unable to put out nearby fires”.
Taiwan cannot completely abandon nuclear power. Therefore it must conduct a thorough review of the safety of its nuclear power plants. It may need to adopt the Japanese model for nuclear power plant safety, shutting them down one by one for testing. It must clear up doubts, complete the necessary safety measures, then resume nuclear power generation. Do people want Taiwan to be a "nuclear-free homeland" by 2025? It they do, then they must accelerate the construction of natural gas storage stations and gas power plants, promote energy-saving programs, and ensure that the people and businesses realize the high price they will have to pay.
Doing nothing will not make the problem go away. If we wait until power must be rationed, and power failure alarms sound before responding, it will be too late.
2015-01-27 02:36:26 聯合報 社論