The nation plans to double the amount of electricity it can generate from coal as it phases out nuclear power because of public opposition that may prevent a US$7 billion project involving two reactors from ever operating.
"Taiwan will eventually become nuclear-free," Minister of Economic Affairs Ho Mei-yueh (
At the same time as the US and some European countries indicate they may build more reactors, Taiwan is ruling out nuclear power as a solution to increasing emissions of harmful gases. The decision frees Taiwan Power Co (台電) to embark on a US$13 billion expansion of its coal-fired plants and may boost the nation's coal imports from miners such as Anglo American Plc and BHP Billiton Plc.
"The government is abandoning nuclear power," Jeffrey Bor (柏雲昌), a research fellow at the Chung-hua Institution for Economic Research (中經院) in Taipei, said in a June 23 phone interview. "We will have to use more coal."
Taiwan imported all of the 57.1 million tonnes of coal it used last year, with 75 percent of the fuel burnt to generate electricity, government figures show.
Public concern that nuclear power stations are unsafe is heightened by the 200 earthquakes that strike the nation in an average year. Taiwan sits along faults between the Philippine Sea and Eurasian Continental tectonic plates where quakes occur as the plates push together. On Sept. 21, 1999, a temblor with a magnitude of 7.6 and centered 150km south-southwest of Taipei killed 2,500 people.
"Taiwan can't afford to have nuclear plants," said Chen Jiauhua (陳淑華), chairwoman of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union (台灣環境保護聯盟總會) and a delegate at the energy policy planning conference held in Taipei last week. Earthquakes are common in Taiwan and the island "could one day have a nuclear catastrophe," she said in a June 24 telephone interview.
The government may not allow state-run Taiwan Power, known as Taipower, to start operating the country's fourth nuclear power plant should concerns about the project's safety persist, Ho said during the conference. The policy meeting, Taiwan's first on energy in seven years, involved about 300 government officials, academics, environmentalists and executives.
Nuclear reactors may account for as little as 5 percent of Taiwan's installed power capacity by 2025 from 15 percent now, according to a Ministry of Economic Affairs statement issued at the end of the conference. Nuclear capacity may fall to zero if the government blocks the fourth power plant, scheduled to start operating next year.
The ministry said June 21 it wants power plants fueled by coal to account for as much as 50 percent of Taiwan's installed capacity by 2025, compared with 32 percent last year.
Those proposals allow Taipower to start a program to spend NT$199 billion (US$6.4 billion) building a coal-fired power station in western Taiwan and renovating two others, said Yu Shang-hsiung, a planning director at Taipower. The utility also intends to build a plant in northern Taiwan at a cost of NT$200 billion by 2015, he said.
Taiwan's first three nuclear power plants will probably all be decommissioned by 2025, given that nuclear generators are usually operated for 40 years, according to Lee Chuan-lai (