Mon, Jun 20, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Renewable energy is Taiwan’s best option

By Chen Mei-chin 陳美津

It seems such an irony. Last Monday, the Legislative Yuan approved a NT$14 billion (US$485.5 million) budget to continue construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), despite strong protests from environmental groups. On the same day, the Italians — following in the footsteps of the Germans and the Swiss — decided in a referendum to phase out nuclear energy.

While the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan was a wake-up call to advanced industrial nations, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration is digging in its heels on nuclear energy.

For Taiwan’s environmental groups and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Fukushima is an important lesson that has prompted them to call on the Ma administration to begin exploring green energy. They say that Taiwan, like Japan, is prone to earthquakes and the nation’s four nuclear power plants are situated on or near fault lines. If a nuclear disaster occurred in Taiwan, millions of people living within a 30km radius would need to be evacuated and the radius could include Taipei.

As a small island nation, Taiwan simply cannot afford a nuclear disaster and the devastating effects on humans and the environment would last for decades, affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. In Japan, the contamination of farmland forced farmers to destroy their crops and slaughter their cows.

The Ma administration seems to be indifferent to these urgent calls to consider phasing out nuclear energy and making plans for a significant investment in renewable energy to work toward a responsible mix of energy sources. The rationale for continuing reliance on nuclear energy is the cost of electricity: Phasing out nuclear energy will cause a shortage of electricity and raise the cost of energy that in turn will hamper economic growth — or so the argument goes. However, the example of Germany shows just the opposite: Investments in renewable sources of energy actually create hundreds of thousands of jobs and promote economic growth.

Germany, as the economic powerhouse of Europe, has set an ambitious goal of becoming “nuclear free” by 2022. In the aftermath of Fukushima, it shut down seven of its 17 operating nuclear power plants. In preparation for phasing out the nuclear industry, the German government has over the past decades been steadily investing in renewable sources of energy, which now produce 17 percent of its energy needs, the highest percentage in the world. In Taiwan, renewable energy contributes only 2 percent of the nation’s total energy needs.

DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen, who initiated a proposal for a “nuclear-free homeland by 2025,” recently visited Germany to learn about its energy policy. There, she visited the two most famous green buildings in the world — the Central Train Station and the parliament building in Berlin. The energy supply for both buildings comes from solar energy.

Taiwan certainly has the technical capabilities and resources to invest in renewable energy. It is the second-largest producer of solar panels in the world. Ironically, 99 percent of them are sent abroad and Germany is the biggest importer of solar panels from Taiwan.

Instead of going down the risky road of over--reliance on nuclear energy, Taiwan should follow the lead of many advanced nations toward a green energy future. It should rely on clean renewable energy sources such as wind and sun, while at the same time developing advanced energy conservation methods.

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