Tue, Jan 29, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Atomic energy needs discussion

By Yang Yung-nane 楊永年

Taiwanese should strive to ensure that they have an understanding of nuclear power technology and its workings. Indisputably, having nuclear power can motivate the acquisition of knowledge about the science and technology involved.

The second level is how nuclear power, science and technology are put to work. Taiwan has many nuclear technology experts. These experts have a variety of opinions about the technical and safety aspects of atomic energy, and that is as it should be.

The problem is that nuclear energy often involves other scientific and technological issues, including civil engineering, building, machinery, electronics, materials and other things related to the construction of a nuclear power station. Scientific issues to do with earthquakes, tsunamis and geology are also significant.

These factors make nuclear energy a multifaceted and highly complex field. Those who specialize in these scientific fields must explain them in layman’s terms to the public.

The third level is the issue of science and technology governance, and at its heart lies the human factor. Science and technology are used by people and are supposed to serve the public, so it is important to ensure that people in general have faith and confidence in any kind of science and technology.

However, the nuclear accidents that occured at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima Dai-ichi have made the public, especially those who are not specialists in the subject, very doubtful about nuclear power. If such doubts cannot be dispelled, then emotional and political factors will become the dominant factors in deciding atomic energy policy. This is a question of governance and the government and Taipower must confront it.

Nuclear power should not be a question of yes or no, but a multiple-choice question. Whether a country chooses to use nuclear energy or to do without it, there will be a variety of problems linked to that choice. A variety of complementary measures will be called for and a variety of social and economic prices will have to be paid.

In other words, for atomic energy to operate, the following three preconditions must be met: First, the government and Taipower must be able to guarantee nuclear safety.

Second, people living in the vicinity of nuclear power stations must accept and believe that atomic energy is completely safe.

Third, the public as a whole has to accept that atomic energy is safe.

If the nation decides that it wants to do without nuclear power, then it will have to think about what alternative sources of energy could be used. The public must ask whether electricity would become more expensive and whether so much of it could be used, whether alternatives would cause greater carbon dioxide emissions and whether there would be economic repercussions.

The current problem is that there has not been enough discussion or preparation concerning the complementary measures mentioned above.

This lack of discussion is the biggest problem associated with the question of nuclear power in the nation today.

Yang Yung-nane is a professor in the Graduate Institute of Political Economy and the Research Center of Science and Technology Governance at National Cheng Kung University.

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