No ‘cents’ in nuclear power
Nuclear power is again in the spotlight following a serious nuclear incident in Japan triggered by last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami. This has forced people in Taiwan and around the world to reconsider the risks of nuclear power plants.
Advocates of nuclear power frequently downplay these risks, while those who oppose nuclear power seek to emphasize them.
Instead of focusing on risk, I would like to present an argument against nuclear power based on financial considerations.
Construction of Taiwan’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant began in 1997 and it was expected to begin operations in 2009. However, it has been delayed a number of times and is now expected to begin operating in 2013.
Several hundred billion New Taiwan dollars have been invested in the plant, which has yet to generate a single watt of electricity. What if that same amount of money had been invested in renewable energy projects beginning from 1997?
First, these projects would have begun to generate power in a much shorter time frame. Planning and construction of a wind or solar power plant should take no more than two years, compared with more than a decade for nuclear power. In the time frame of more than a decade Taiwan could have developed renewable energy capacity that would make a significant contribution to the nation’s energy needs.
Second, the development of wind and solar power plants would have stimulated the development of industry in Taiwan that could have manufactured these technologies for export. While these industries have developed in Taiwan in recent years, Taiwan could have become a world leader if it had promoted these industries earlier.
The key point is that nuclear power is a bad investment. Everyone would be better off if the money was invested elsewhere. This would avoid the risks associated with a nuclear accident. It would also spur the development alternatives that are inherently safer.
Reality trumps ‘belief’
Responding to the recent letter by Yang Liu Hsiu-hwa (Letters, March 16, page 8), perhaps the response of “I believe” when it comes to matters of the Republic of China and the Taiwan Strait is neither here nor there. What we (whether Shigeru Oda, Yang Liu Hsiu-hwa, myself or anyone else) believe is not much to the point when set against the vital international context of China, the US and the global strategies arising in the face of fast Chinese economic growth. Perhaps the most “important mission” for any future president is indeed to vitalize Taiwanese national identity, defend its culture and its polity, and protect its people from harm. However, the project of establishing a “new and independent state” cannot now be an explicit agenda item, for it waits upon developments beyond the power of Taiwan to influence.
The last decade or so — especially the years since the crisis of March 1996 — has seen something of a build-up of US interest through arms sales, defense relationships, missile defense and so on, and this may encourage us to think that the US is more than capable of deterring any adversary in East Asia. However, any overt declaration of Taiwanese independence (or of sovereign nationhood) would nullify all of that.
More positively, in the absence of such declarations on the part of Taiwan, most international strategic analysts would surely argue that China knows full well that the US still possesses both resolve and capability enough to effectively deter China.
Of course, the other feature beyond Taiwanese control is the Janus-face of China’s rapid economic development. On one side this has delivered more power to China, as well as massive economic influence in the US specifically. On its other side, more and more political elements within China are becoming convinced of the limitations an out-moded political regime and ideology pose to further growth.
We might argue that the final dying out of the old Maoist generation of leaders, recent agreements such as the ECFA and the logical contradiction between declared ideologies and increased market forces, will combine nicely to work in Taiwan’s favor.
Yet there can be no such certainty within such a complex context, and premature or untimely political volatility in Taiwan might smash any window of opportunity that is only now beginning to open.
From whichever party a potential president might come, candidates who deliberately neglect or dismiss such considerations as these are failing their party, their people and their duty.
Raising emotions and then chasing them to the presidential winning post is no longer the best way to behave in Taiwan, if it ever was. Emotions do not make for sound policies, nor does a myopic or blinkered vision. We must deal with a complex world.
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