Sat, May 13, 2000 - Page 9 News List

Alternatives to the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant

There are a wide variety of options Taiwan could pursue to reduce its dependence on nuclear power plants. The question should not be why not another nuclear plant, but why the government is not interested in pursuing alternative sources of energy

By Wang To-far

Illustration: Yu Sha

Minister of Economic Affairs-designate Lin Hsin-yi (林信義) recently stated that the new administration would make a decision about whether or not to halt construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in three to six months' time, after reconsidering the project. Lin also called on the state-run Taiwan Power Corporation (Taipower, 台電) to temporarily stop issuing contracts for the project. The remarks drew strong criticism from Taipower and the Ministry of Economic Affairs (經濟部, MOEA).

The ministry said that it was almost impossible at this point to find an alternative to the nuclear power plant. And even though the ministry's Energy Commission (能源委員會) has commissioned a research agency to undertake a study of the construction of the power plant which is expected to be released sometime mid-May, academic circles know from experience that the report will almost inevitably consist of everything the MOEA wants it to say. There is a consensus that the report will not contain any surprises.

Is it true there are no alternatives to the nuclear power plant as the ministry suggests? Will Taiwan suffer power shortages if the plant is not built? No and no. A report issued by Taipower in April says that Taiwan's excess power capacity in Taiwan will hit 19.4 percent and 22.8 percent in July 2003 and July 2004 respectively, after the plant's two nuclear reactors go online. The same report also states that if the plant is not constructed, then Taiwan's power capacity will drop to 15.5 percent and 15.4 percent for the same time periods.

Japan's excess capacity has been less than 13 percent since 1983 and even dipped below 5 percent in 1990. Yet Japan's power grid has not tripped as many times as Taiwan's has. Even without the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, Taiwan still has a higher ratio of excess capacity than Japan. Where is the shortage that Taipower complains of? If there are shortages, their source lies with Taiwan's system of power distribution, not a lack of power.

Everybody knows that there are numerous ways to generate electricity, including hydropower, thermal power (coal, oil and natural gas power plants), nuclear power, solar power, wind power, etc. Taiwan's present power supply would be more than sufficient if the money spent on building the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant were spent constructing other types of power generating plants or raising Taiwan's electricity efficiency. There are a variety of alternatives that Taiwan could pursue in addition to nuclear power. These include:

1) Co-generation systems: Combined-cycle gas turbine plants in Taiwan accounted for 2,652 megawatts of capacity in 1997. This method of power generation was not considered when the government began planning the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, but could be a feasible alternative to the plant (with a capacity of 2,700 megawatts). According to estimates by the Energy Commission, Taiwan's co-generation power capacity could grow to 6,360 megawatts by 2020.

2) Raise the efficiency of power generation and reduce energy use: OECD countries reduced their oil consumption used in power generation by 15 percent between 1973 and 1985, yet their GDP still increased by 20 percent during the same period. In California, the government subsidizes consumers if they install power-saving equipment (including power-saving lights, etc). If Taiwan could raise energy efficiency by 20 percent, bringing it to OECD levels (but still lower than levels in Japan), then 3,700 megawatts could be shaved off the peak that Taiwan hit in 1997 of 22,237 megawatts. 3,700 megawatts is 1,000 megawatts more than the power generating capacity of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

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