Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) has started an open-ended hunger strike to call for an end to the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant. The action has once again made the nuclear issue the hottest topic in Taiwan.
The controversy over the plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City, has been raging for more than three decades. When the DPP was in power, it ordered a halt to construction, only for the decision to be overruled by the Council of Grand Justices. When DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) met with Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) to discuss the issue, both men were very familiar with the other’s stance, and neither was able to persuade the other to change his position. The discussion was limited to whether the referendum threshold should be lowered. However, even if a referendum on nuclear power is held, how is the public to decide whether to scrap nuclear power or embrace it?
The intractability of the issue stems from access to information. Whether it be for energy demand projections, nuclear safety statistics or information on the treatment of nuclear waste, officials and sections of the public have their own side of the story and their own data to support their arguments. Each accuses the other of misquoting or misinterpreting the numbers. Neither side can get the other to concede.
Consider the supply and demand of electricity. Last year, the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Bureau of Energy published projections on the growth rate for electricity demand, saying that, based upon an average annual growth in GDP of 3.07 percent, it estimates an increase in electricity usage of 1.41 percent in the period from last year to 2030, a figure lower than the average of 3.07 percent over the previous 18-year period. According to non-governmental organization forecasts, demand is unlikely to exceed supply going forward, not only if plans for the fourth nuclear plant are scrapped, but even if the first and second nuclear power plants are decommissioned, and the reserve capacity will still be able to rise to 20 percent.
The government consistently parries public concerns by raising the same few points. It says that if the fourth plant is not put into commercial operation, the nation will always be in danger of being short of energy; that coal combustion is a dirtier source of energy than nuclear energy, and nuclear energy is the cheapest and most stable option.
When asked about electricity demand by DPP Legislator Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌), Minister of Economic Affairs Chang Chia-juch (張家祝) said: “This goal is going to be very difficult to attain as it depends on a great many extreme contingencies, such as industry having to comply with installing energy-efficient equipment.”
Even if the fourth nuclear plant goes into commercial operation, it will account for only 6 percent of energy production. According to demand projections, the nation will not be in any danger of energy shortages.
On the pros and cons of nuclear power, all that needs to be remembered are the images from Japan following the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster and the scenes of the current desolation there.
The government is handling this issue just as it has approached the controversy over the cross-strait service trade agreement, simply repeating its mantra that “the pros outweigh the cons,” without actually addressing public concerns. Instead, it frames the issue as something purely practical, talking of the country’s industrial policy, energy projections, electricity bills, the cost of developing alternative energy sources, the viability of improving energy-intensive industries and energy conservation, and the possibility of achieving the goal of a “green island.”