During an extra session of the legislature in late July, the government and opposition parties agreed to put forward a draft law on the promotion of a nuclear-free homeland for the next legislative session. The controversy over the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant has raged for many years now, but perhaps its fate will finally be decided with this proposed legislation.
The pendulum of the argument has swung back and forth, from the pro-nuclear argument, to anti-nuclear. The March 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster not only won the anti-nuclear argument for most of the people in Japan, it also provoked a heightened awareness of the issue in this country. Many people who had not previously counted themselves among the anti-nuclear lobby were spurred into supporting it by what was happening at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. The “I’m Human, Anti-Nuke” movement, while toning down its more extreme demands, has now attracted housewives, students and showbiz personalities, making the movement more reflective of the overall national mood than before.
Actually, the name of the proposed law says a lot about its goals. If lawmakers pass it, the three nuclear power plants now in operation may well be shut down immediately, or perhaps allowed to retire gracefully once their service lives have expired. In either case, alternative sources of energy will have to be found to make up for the deficit.
But what to do with the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant? When the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power in 2000 it announced that construction of the plant would cease. This was overthrown by judges of the Constitutional Court in their Interpretation 520, and the DPP lacked a legislative majority to get its proposal through parliament. There were other problems, including the prohibitive cost of compensation for contract violations, the diplomatic fallout and the damage to the reputation of the companies involved. Ultimately, the DPP had to allow construction to resume and shift its anti-nuclear position to the softer approach of seeking a nuclear-free homeland.
Construction on the Fourth Nuclear Plant began in 1980, and was originally expected to be completed last year. Work has been halted twice, and the Fukushima disaster led to additional measures to make it more earthquake and tsunami-proof.
The construction process has been far from straightforward, aside from the delays. Taiwan Power Co has made more than 1,500 changes to the original design and has been fined by the Atomic Energy Council and upbraided by the Control Yuan. The World Nuclear Association now ranks the plant as one of the 14 most dangerous nuclear power plants in the world.
It is not as if Taiwan suffers from an energy deficit. At peak hours our energy reserve rate is 32 percent; at off-peak times it is as high as 50 percent. Even if the first, second and third plants were shut down, we would still have a surplus of energy.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster proved that the government’s assurances that nuclear power is 100 percent safe are unreliable. The consequences of a nuclear disaster are simply unacceptable, nuclear waste disposal could cause real problems in the future and nuclear energy is no longer the clean, cheap energy source some have claimed it to be.
Germany said it would abandon nuclear energy, and Japan looks set to follow suit. Maybe it is time for Taiwan to rethink its nuclear power policy, too.