Taiwan Communiqué No. 94, December 2000

The meltdown of Nuclear Four

A thorough reassessment

The 27 October 2000 decision to cancel the Nuclear Four project came after a four month reassessment process initiated by the newly-elected government right after its inauguration in May 2000. During this process, a fifteen-member committee of experts — set up specifically for this re-evaluation — advised against continuation of the project by a vote of nine to six. The Ministry of Economic Affairs, led by Mr. Lin Hsin-yi (himself a member of the KMT), adopted the conclusions of the committee of experts, and recommended cancellation to Prime Minister Tang Fei.

However, Mr. Tang Fei -- under strong pressure from his old KMT colleagues -- did not want to make the political decision to cancel the project, and eventually stepped down in the beginning of October 2000. His successor, former DPP legislator Mr. Chang Chun-hsiung, mulled over the issue a couple of weeks, and initially indicated the decision would be taken "by the end of the year."

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Former Prime Minister Tang Fei, steering Taiwan's anti-nuclear policy boat in reverse

In the meantime, the KMT-controlled Legislative Yuan was increasing its pressure on the DPP-government by blocking any further discussion of the national budget for the coming year until a decision (to continue) had been announced. After negotiations between the DPP and the opposition parties in the Legislative Yuan, it was decided that a decision would be forthcoming by November 15th.

However, by the last week of October, Prime Minister Chang apparently felt that any further postponement of the decision was not useful, and decided to go ahead and cancel the project. The Cabinet gave the following arguments for cancellation:

  1. Canceling the project will not result in a shortage of electricity. Taiwan will have at least seven years to prepare of any shortfall.
  2. The government is drawing up concrete and practical alternatives to the plant.
  3. The problems of disposing nuclear waste are too difficult to overcome.
  4. Any nuclear accident would be a huge crisis for Taiwan because of the island's size.
  5. The cost of abandoning the project is lower than the cost of completing it.
  6. Canceling the plant would be a step toward achieving the goals of sustainable development and making Taiwan a nuclear-free island.

A history of controversy

The controversial Nuclear Four power plant project has a checkered history: the idea of a fourth plant on the northeast shore, some 24 miles from Taipei, was first conceived in the early 1980s. Taiwan has three older plants, two in the south of the island, and one in the north. However, in 1988 (right after the lifting of martial law on the island) strong protests by environmentalists forced the Kuomintang authorities to shelve the Nuclear Four project.

The prime concern at that time was the safety of nuclear power: the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union, two years earlier, had prompted a worldwide debate about such plants. Taiwanese environmentalists pointed out that locating a nuclear plant in an earthquake-prone zone only 24 miles from a major metropolis was irresponsible, and proposed alternative sources of energy.

However, the Kuomintang authorities and Taipower decided in February 1989 to restart the project, citing shortage of power as the prime reason. In the meantime, they did little to enhance energy efficiency and energy conservation. From 1990 through 1996 the project was the subject of numerous seesaw movements and demonstrations, in particular by the inhabitants of Kungliao, the coastal town where the plant was to be located (see list of Taiwan Communiqué articles below). In July 1994, a referendum by local authorities in Taipei County showed 96% of the respondents to be against the plant.

In September 1994, former DPP chairman Lin Yi-hsiung organized a round-the-island march against the fourth nuclear power plant, while in May 1996, the Legislative Yuan actually voted down the budget for the plant. But in October 1996, the Kuomintang invoked a shadowy "national security" provision, by which they could pass the Plant's budget by only a one-third majority vote of the Legislative Yuan.

On the next page, we present an overview of articles on this matter in previous issues of Taiwan Communiqué:

Issue no. Date of event Title of article
40 23 April 1989 Thousands protest against nuclear power plan.
48 November 1990 A nuclear power plant near Taipei?
50 5 May 1991 10,000 protest against nuclear power plant in Taipei.
54 February 1992 Authorities push ahead with nuclear power plant.
55 26 April 1992 Protest against 4th nuclear power plant.
5 May 1992 Legislative Yuan discusses nuclear plant budget.
59 June 1993 Nuclear power plant issue flares up again.
60 April 1994 Alternatives to Fourth power plant proposed.
61 July 1994 Referendum on 4th nuclear plant: 96% against.
63 July 1994 Fourth nuclear plant budget rammed through the LY.
September 1994 Lin Yi-hsiung on round-island march and hunger strike.
November 1994 Does Taiwan need a fourth nuclear power plant ?
71 April 1996 Lanyu aborigines protest nuclear waste.
May 1996 Legislative Yuan votes down fourth nuclear plant.
73 October 1996 KMT rams nuclear plant budget through LY, again.

As indicated earlier, the Kuomintang authorities paid little attention to energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy. Due to the policies of the past five decades, the island has one of the world's worst records on energy efficiency.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (Brinkmanship, Taiwan style, by Prof. Shelly Rigger, 6 November 2000) its industries are extraordinarily wasteful energy users, while the state-run Taipower monopoly has emphasized large-scale, centralized power generation, at the expense of efficiency and reliability in the electricity supply.

In the article on the following page, which was published in the Taipei Times of 26 September 2000, we present the arguments in support of the shift initiated by the Chen Shui-bian Administration.

Towards renewable energy sources

By Mei-chin Chen, editor of Taiwan Communiqué

During the coming weeks, the already heated debate on the future of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant project will in all likelihood become white hot. Let us hope this will lead to a meltdown of that ill-conceived project.

It is regrettable that during the past decade or more, the KMT has led Taiwan down the nuclear power path, while most other advanced nations around the world have reduced their dependence on nuclear power or even started to close down aging power plants.

One example is the Netherlands, which is about the same size as Taiwan, and also has a booming economy. It will close its last nuclear power plant between 2004 and 2007, and has dramatically shifted towards sustainable energy. In addition, it has emphasized energy efficiency and energy conservation, resulting in a reduction of total energy needs by about 20 percent, while maintaining strong growth in its economy. Taiwan can also do that: the new DPP government is in an excellent position to lead Taiwan into a new era of reduced dependence on nuclear power, and increased reliance on clean energy resources. Here are just some ideas:

We need to institute an aggressive energy conservation program. Presently, much energy is wasted through inefficiencies and the lack of energy-conservation awareness among the population. A simple thing like turning off the lights in a room when no one is in it is important. We need to teach ourselves and our children that energy conservation starts with one's own individual behavior.

We need to initiate a program to utilize alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, and energy-efficient technologies such as fuel cells.

In the US, President Clinton has started a so-called Million Solar Roof program, which aims to install solar panels on the roofs of a million homes throughout the US. With the abundance of sunshine in Taiwan, this could be a major source of energy. It is particularly attractive because it generates electricity in the day, a time when energy consumption in Taiwan peaks, due to use of air conditioning systems.

Along the coast, Taiwan has strong winds, which would be able to sustain many modern windmills of the type one sees in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands — world leaders in the generation of wind energy. Those countries would surely be more than happy to share this technology, and to assist in the installation of windmills along Taiwan's coast.

Fuel cells are another new technology, which can radically reduce energy use. Instead of generating electricity through burning gas or oil — which is done in conventional power plants — fuel cell plants generate it through a chemical process with nearly twice the efficiency of the conventional combustion process. The same amount of gas or oil thus generates twice the electricity.

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Crowd and banners at 12 November 2000 rally against nuclear power in Taipei

An added advantage of these new technologies is that electricity can be generated in several separate locations, not in one central location. This makes electricity generation less vulnerable to breakdown due to failure of one central plant, which might, for instance, be targeted by Chinese missiles. Distributed power will thus increase the reliability of the electricity system as a whole.

It should be emphasized that alternative energy sources are part of the picture. We need to continue to employ conventional power generating technology, but even there we can gradually shift to advanced technologies, such as clean coal and advanced turbines. Many of these technologies are already available and applied in the US and Western Europe.

Taiwan certainly can turn this vision of clean and renewable energy into a new reality. Let's make it work.

This article first appeared in the Taipei Times of 26 September 2000. Reprinted with permission.

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