Wed, Aug 10, 2011 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTERS ]

Read between the lines

I hope James Wang (王景弘) will read the Shanghai Communique more carefully (“To be or not to be Taiwanese or Chinese,” Aug. 5, page 8). Then-US president Richard Nixon did not agree that Taiwan was a part of “one China.” He merely acknowledged that Chinese said so and he decided not to quarrel about it.

The communique refers to a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question. If Nixon had agreed with the Chinese position, no Taiwan question would remain to be settled.

Robert Pennington

Las Cruces, New Mexico

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Your paper makes some valid points on nuclear waste (Editorial, Aug. 6, page 8). At the same time, it also reinforces the ignorance and fear that surrounds the whole nuclear power debate. It is a complex issue that cannot be summed up with a bumper sticker slogan saying “No Nukes.” Unfortunately, politicians prefer slogans. If uninformed fear of nuclear power causes Taiwan to shut down its nuclear power plants, they will almost certainly be replaced not with wind or solar power, but rather, with old-fashioned coal-burning. That would be disastrous for the Earth’s climate.

Yes, Taiwan (and most nations) has done a poor job of managing nuclear waste. Yet, the solution to this problem has been at hand since the 1980s in the form of Generation IV nuclear power plants. Just last month, China connected its first Gen IV plant to the power grid, with many more planned to follow.

Russia and India are actively developing Gen IV plants, but Western countries (which ironically invented the Gen IV technology) mostly abandoned it after the Chernobyl disaster. That’s especially frustrating, since Chernobyl was a dangerous Gen I plant built partially to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons — no sane country would build such a reactor today.

Taiwan’s three existing reactors are Gen II, while the reactor at the yet-to-be-opened Fourth Nuclear Power Plant will be Gen III. There are politicians calling for the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant to be shut down before it starts. That would actually be the worst choice, even if Taiwan wishes to become nuclear-free.

Gen III reactors are roughly 50 percent more efficient than Gen II, thus producing 50 percent less nuclear waste for the same quantity of electricity. If anything, Taiwan should shut down the Gen II reactors first and use the modern Gen III reactor until the hoped-for goal of “clean alternative energy sources” can be achieved.

I am not optimistic that Taiwan can supply its energy needs from wind or solar power, but I’m not opposed if such technology can be made to work. It will not be easy — Taiwan is not very windy and what little wind it gets is mainly in the winter, the time of year when demand for electricity is lowest. Solar power might be more feasible, but a crowded Taiwan lacks space for large-scale solar farms.

By the way, I have bought solar panels for my own house, but I live in a rural area and my electricity consumption is very low (I don’t have air conditioning). However, I can’t imagine crowded Taipei supplying its voracious electricity needs this way. I remain skeptical of the possibility of running the MRT or high-speed rail systems on rooftop solar panels, especially at night when the sun doesn’t shine.

I cannot possibly explain all the technical advantages of Gen IV nuclear technology in this short letter. Do a Google search and you’ll find more than you can read. The Gen IV reactor that China has just built is 60 times more efficient than a Gen II reactor. Furthermore, plutonium waste from a Gen II reactor can be recycled and burned at a Gen IV plant, eliminating the need to store it.

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