Mon, Apr 15, 2013 - Page 8 News List

China key to Taiwan energy crisis

By John Mathews and Hu Mei-chih 胡美智

Taiwan’s nuclear industry is nearly three decades old and based on now-outdated US technology. Four of the reactors used in the country’s three operating nuclear plants are General Electric boiling water reactors and two are Westinghouse pressurized water reactors, the same kind that failed at the Fukushima plant. The reactor designs date from the 1950s. The Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is designed to consist of two 1350MW Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR), sourced once from GE-Hitachi (reactors) and Mitsubishi (turbines).

While ABWR technology is Generation III, apart from the contracting involved in building the reactor, very little contribution from Taiwan or spin-off from the technology are anticipated.

No doubt there has been pressure from US sources to ensure that Taiwan continues to implement US-made nuclear technology. This is where the contrast of sticking with the current policy and adopting a “Taiwan first” renewable energy industrial strategy would be most telling.

The approach that we propose is based on extending the Hsinchu model that has been the backbone of Taiwan’s success in high-technology industries. This strategy is quite different from the one being pursued by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) with its pro-nuclear stance and the Democratic Progressive Party with its anti-nuclear stance. The key is to frame the energy issue in terms of Taiwan’s industrial strategies.

Suppose that the government today announced that the nuclear energy system would be phased out over five years and replaced by a series of CSP plants. Critics say that this policy would see the nation covered in photovoltaic cells, that it would be prohibitively expensive and that it would be unreliable since power could only be generated when the sun shines or the wind blows. However, all of these claims are false.

The reality is that enacting this policy would require just a few mirror farms using molten salt technology as a heat sink that would cover no more than 125km2 of land — which is negligible given the nation’s total land area of 32,260km2, and comparable to the land currently devoted to science and technology parks.

CSP plants operating with molten salt heat storage can easily generate all the power currently produced by the three nuclear plants operating in Taiwan, as well as generating energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a way that is infinitely more reliable and safe than nuclear plants. The key point of this approach is that it would catapult Taiwan into a world leader position in CSP technology and equipment supply, first for national use and then to the rest of the world.

In the long run, adopting CSP technology would drive down energy costs and open up a vast global market, while at the same time reducing global carbon emissions. CSP plants with molten salts are not the only alternative to nuclear energy, a comprehensive policy would also include having rooftop solar panel installations across the country, as well as utilizing wind power and other sources, together with an upgrade of the national power grid to accommodate these fluctuating sources. The CSP example simply shows how easy it would be for Taiwan to get off the nuclear path by utilizing existing technology in a way that incurs low subsidies and causes minimal land disturbance.

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