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Taiwan: fallacies and truths behind official nuclear phase-out plan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Green Citizen Action Alliance

On November 3, Taiwan government declared a new energy policy which confirms that current reactors will be phased out, but the nuclear power plant under construction will be brought into commercial operation. This “pseudo” nuclear phase-out plan implies that Taiwan can become nuclear free as early as 2055. Furthermore, this new energy policy is formulated based on fallacies which will only place Taiwan under the darkest shadow of nuclear threat. 

On November 3, President Ma Ying-Jeou held a press conference by himself, declared a new energy policy which confirms that the current three nuclear power plants (with six reactors) will be phased out during 2018 to 2025, but the fourth nuclear power plant (at Lungmen, consisting of  two 1350 MW reactors) under construction will be brought to into commercial operation over the next five years.

With the concerns on energy security, reasonable electricity price and greenhouse gas emissions reduction, he insisted that Taiwan only can take a gradual path toward a nuclear free homeland, which is stated clearly by Environmental Basic Law.

In the “new” energy policy, the government provided a scheme to ensure the nuclear safety of all nuclear power plants and several counter-measures on energy efficiency enhancement and renewable energy promotion. Comparing to the situation before Fukushima catastrophe, the government deed takes a U-turn on nuclear power policies which seek the life extension and add more reactors at existing plants during past three years. It seems that government had finally responded to the public demand shown by the demonstrations in March and April. However, there are three key fallacies hiding behind this pseudo nuclear phase-out plan, and those fallacies will only place Taiwan under dark shadow of nuclear threat. 

Fallacy 1: de-growth of electricity demand is not possible
Implementation of this policy implies that Taiwan will still be trapped by energy-intensive development pathway in next two to three decades. Taiwan government emphasizes that the efforts on energy efficiency enhancement will be maximized, but at the same time intimidates citizens that if the fourth nuclear power plant is not able to fully operational in 2016, we will suffer electricity shortage that will lead to huge economic consequence and downward quality of life. But the covered truth is that this policy is actually built on the assumption that electricity demand will grow 3.2% annually, which then will lead to a 24% increase of electricity consumption at 2016 compared to 2010. The manufactured gap of electricity supply is created based on the assumption that the improvement rate of energy efficiency is only able to increase slightly, and the material output of electronics, petrochemical and steel industries will be expanded 30% in next five years. The upsurge growth of electricity demand contradicts the crucial measures in the nuclear phase-out scenarios being proposed in Germany and Switzerland: electricity demand should be restrained. But it is also against the vision of a true energy revolution that Taiwanese long for.

Fallacy 2: international peer-review process can ensure the safety
Owing to the enormous design and engineering errors of the fourth nuclear power plant revealed during the past three years the official 'Oversight Commission on the safety of the fourth nuclear power plant' (which includes representatives from environmental NGO, local community and engineering experts) even made a resolution this August, stating that the construction process should be stopped, unless Taipower reforms their engineering procedure before the end of this year.  Ignoring those warnings, the government still attempted to persuade the public that the safety of the fourth nuclear power plant can be ensured through a peer-review process by international experts. However, from the government's perspective, the only want to invite experts from World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from the United States. The credibility of these two organizations hasn’t been questioned in Taiwan, even after the Fukushima catastrophe.

As we witness all kinds of flaws exposed by the Fukushima catastrophe, we also need to point out that the existing peer-review process is not equal to safety, since Fukushima Daiichi power plant just went through WANO peer-review process in 2009.

Like Indian government used the result of WANO peer-review process to suppress the public opposition on the construction of Koodankulam nuclear power plant in recent months, this scene will repeat in Taiwan and many other countries. Hence, to expose the fallacy of the existing peer-review process should be viewed as an important issue for global anti-nuclear movement.

Fallacy 3: existing stress test is well-organized and useful
President Ma pointed out that all current reactors are examined through the stress test that follows EU criteria. However, according to the first stage near-term safety assessment of nuclear power plants released this October by the regulatory body, Atomic Energy Council (AEC), only few key safety issues are answered. Even AEC already recognizes that the seismic design of the Chin-Shan nuclear power plant is not sufficient; however Taipower Company is still reluctant to take practical actions. Under this loose stress test, not only extreme climate events or terror attacks are absent, the most fundamental issue such as loss of electric power, AEC only asked Taipower to provide measure to response to a 24 hours blackout, not 72 hours blackout as occurred at Fukushima Daiichi. The most unacceptable issue is the lack of public participation during the whole stress test process, neither hearings or public consultations were held, only selected scholars were invited to comment on the report.

From Grassroots to Politician's Drama    
The above three fallacies exhibit that the promise of a nuclear free future made by President Ma, is merely hot-air.In the meantime, the President Candidate from the Democratic Progressive Party, Miss Tsai Ing-Wen declared that she will seek a true nuclear free homeland which includes retirement of existing reactors and abolishment of fourth NPP commercialization. However, she didn’t seem to be aware that de-growth of electricity consumption is the necessity to a nuclear free Taiwan, thus her commitment is not more reliable. This circumstance implies NGOs should keep generating political pressure to fight for the true alternative. After the two major demonstrations, NGOs chose diverse approaches to increase political pressure and raise public awareness, which included petition for a referendum on the fourth nuclear power plant, public education on nuclear disasters in primary school, or minor demonstrations in different forms. In memory of Fukushima catastrophe, all main NGOs involved in the anti-nuclear movement have a joint action at every 11th day of the month.

After ten years of absence on the main political agenda, the Fukushima catastrophe opens a new window of opportunity for the anti-nuclear movement in Taiwan. However, the anti-nuclear NGOs are all aware that the realization of nuclear free homeland should not solely relay on the overturn of the ruling party. Therefore, we need global support to help us to expose the above fallacies, to earn the public trust that a nuclear free Taiwan is necessary. Moreover, the global energy revolution cannot be achieved without a model for newly industrialized countries; Taiwan could be such a model to present a different development pathway and proof it is possible.

Source and contact: Chia-Wei Chao, Member of Executive Board, Green Citizen Action Alliance.