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TAIWAN: Opposition Urges Nuclear Phase-out By 2025

TAIPEI, Mar 27 2011 (IPS) - Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairwoman and former Vice Premier Tsai Ing-wen have announced a proposal for a “2025 Non-Nuclear Home Plan” that would allow Taiwan to eliminate reliance on nuclear power by the end of 2025.

Over 2,000 protestors participated in a "We Love Taiwan, We Don't Want Nuclear Disaster" march in Taipei City. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

Over 2,000 protestors participated in a "We Love Taiwan, We Don

Debate in Taiwan over nuclear power and the controversial 9.3 billion dollar fourth nuclear power plant here has been rekindled in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that stuck northeastern Japan – killing over 10,000 persons and triggering major explosions and release of radiation.

In response to Tsai’s announcement, state-owned Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) Executive Vice President Huang Hsien-chang stated Mar. 25 that to shift reliance to natural gas and renewable energies by 2025 is “almost impossible” and declared that “2025 is infeasible” to phase out nuclear power.

DPP Taipei City Councilwoman Hsu Chia-ching told IPS that “no one is advocating an immediate cessation of generation, but a gradual and balanced phase-out”.

In response to questions as to whether refusing to allow the new facility to operate would be a waste of money, Tsai said that “allowing Nuclear Four to operate and generate more radioactive spent fuel and waste would create a greater tragedy.”

Reserve Energy Capacity

Former Environmental Minister Chang Kuo-lung opposes extension of the operating licenses for the existing three nuclear power plants or addition of any new reactor units at the existing sites. Chang is also calling for an immediate comprehensive safety review of all three facilities, and an immediate halt to construction at the fourth nuclear power plant - which activists say is "rife with scandals and weaknesses" and would be unable to withstand a severe earthquake or tsunami.

Energy and environmental professionals, including former government ministers, have offered several methods to achieve a 15 percent reserve energy capacity. These include:

- Increasing the share of alternative energies from the 6.5 percent currently planned by the government by 2025;

- Improving the efficiency of thermal power plants by investing in more advanced systems and thus adding 5.8 percent to overall power capacity while also reducing carbon emissions; and,

- Adding new thermal power plants, preferably fuelled with natural gas, to add over 10 percentage points to overall power capacity, without adding excessively to carbon emissions.

"Since LNG plants can come on line in as short as three years, we believe these three measures are feasible ways to provide the needed 10 percent," said the Tsai. "I am inclined not to allow Nuclear Four to enter commercial operation, but the government needs to make a comprehensive and complete analysis before a final decision is made," she continued, adding that the Ma government "cannot avoid this responsibility."

“The damage to Japan’s society and economy, including tourism, agriculture, fishing and industry, is simply too huge, not to mention the costs of rebuilding,” National Taiwan University Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Hsu Kuang-jung told IPS, stressing that “the Fukushima incident is not yet over”.

“Nuclear power is the most expensive and risky method of power generation and if we don’t absolutely need it, why should we create so much danger and cause our people to live in fear?” asked Hsu. “The Taiwan people have never had a chance to directly express their will on whether to accept the risk of nuclear power.”

Over 2,000 residents near the fourth plant, environmentalists and opposition politicians participated in a rally last week with the theme “We Love Taiwan, We Don’t Want Nuclear Disasters”.

President Ma Ying-jeou has reaffirmed the safety of the three existing plants and aims to complete construction of the fourth 2,750-megawatt facility, but government officials say the plant’s opening will be delayed and a full inspection of existing plants will be conducted.

Tsai, who is standing for her party’s nomination to run for president against Ma in Taiwan’s next presidential race early next year, said her proposal aimed to spark dialogue on “how we can find new alternative energy sources so that Taiwan will no longer need to rely on nuclear energy by 2025”.

“The Fukushima disaster has shown that the danger of nuclear power plant disasters is greater than some people believed, and that the possibility for a similar event to happen in Taiwan is quite high,” Tsai stated.

The DPP chairwoman pointed out that six of the 564 existing or formerly operating nuclear power reactors around the globe had experienced serious accidents and cautioned that “both Japan and Taiwan are earthquake zones and what happened in Japan can definitely happen in Taiwan”.

“There is no way to implement a response plan for such an event, which would cause immeasurable harm to our people’s health and our economy and trade,” said Tsai, stressing that, “the cost is simply too high.”

Tsai says that, “if Taiwan does not need to rely on nuclear power by 2025, the first three nuclear power plants can be retired based on the current schedule and the fourth nuclear power plant will not need to commercially operate.”

Taiwan’s first two nuclear power plants, located at the northern tip of the island, each have two General Electric boiling water reactors (BWR). They are licensed for use by Taipower only until late 2018 and late 2019 and late 2021 and late 2023 respectively.

The two Westinghouse pressurised water reactors (PWR) in the third nuclear plant, which is located at the southern tip of Taiwan, are currently licensed for operation until late 2024 and late 2025.

Taipower has applied to the Atomic Energy Council for new 20-year licenses which would extend the operating lives of all three facilities.

At present, the controversial fourth nuclear power plant, which is being built in Yenliao township in New Taipei City on the coast of northeast Taiwan, will have two advanced boiling water reactors (ABWR) which are scheduled to begin commercial operation in December 2012 and December 2013, respectively.

Tsai says the 2025 deadline would provide sufficient time for a process of “comprehensive and complete review” and “building social consensus”.

She points out that, according to Taipower’s data there was a reserve energy capacity margin of more than 23.4 percent last year, while the three existing nuclear power plants provided only 18 percent of total capacity.

“Even if all three nuclear power plants ceased generation, there would still be 5.4 percent in reserve margin capacity,” Tsai said, “which is better than what it was from 1992 through 1995.”

“What we need to do is find ways to boost this 5.4 percent to 15 percent, which is considered a safe margin in most advanced economies such as Taiwan,” she stressed.

Tsai also called for liberalisation of the power industry. “Allowing competition between private-sector power companies and Taipower would both enhance power generation efficiency and remove a barrier to the development of renewable energy industries,” said Tsai.

“I hope that we can avoid this question from becoming an election issue as we are willing to engage in dialogue with the ruling party as this issue concerns the safety of everyone living in Taiwan,” Tsai added.

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