There have been reports in the media lately that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will hold a national energy policy conference. One important issue which might be raised at the conference is whether the conditions in Taiwan allow for the continued use of nuclear power. This subject can be clarified by addressing the following four points:
First, are Taiwan’s geography and population density suitable for the construction of nuclear power plants?
That Taiwan is located in a seismic fault zone is well-known. There is a lot of seismic activity, with frequent tremors and there have been many major earthquakes in the past.
The first and second nuclear power plants in Jinshan (金山) and Wanli (萬里) districts in New Taipei City, as well as the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮), which is about to be completed, are all in northern Taiwan.
The population density is very high in the areas within 50km of these plants and consequently Academia Sinica president Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) has said that construction of the plant should be stopped.
Second, do the public trust the management of Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) and the government’s policy? There are many examples of Taipower’s inferior management of the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and the company has not provided the general public with reliable information.
One example of the lack of transparency can be found in the article Nuclear Power Accident Compensation and Insurance (核電事故賠償與保險) that I published in the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) on May 8 last year, in which I mentioned liability insurance.
My observations imply that most Taiwanese do not trust Taipower and the Ma administration. Taipower falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which in turn answers to the Cabinet. However, Taiwanese society in general questions the reliability of the Cabinet.
Third, can the Atomic Energy Council convince the public of its independence? I am sure that there are very capable people on the council, but it also falls under the jurisdiction of the Cabinet and is therefore incapable of maintaining its independence and regulatory role, not to mention effective oversight of Taipower.
The result is that regardless of how well it performs on technical issues, the general public still questions its credibility.
Fourth, does the public trust the way high-level nuclear waste is handled? Taipower is responsible for handling the nuclear fuel — ie, high-level nuclear waste — currently used in Taiwan. The general public do not trust Taipower’s or the council’s capability to successfully implement a treatment plan for the permanent disposal of such high-level nuclear waste.
The ministry has set up a taskforce to prepare what it calls “a dedicated high-level radioactive waste agency,” but if this agency also answers to the ministry, the problem with independence and public distrust will remain.
It can only be hoped that when the future of nuclear power in Taiwan is discussed at the nuclear energy policy conference, participants will give these questions their full attention.
Jow Hongnian is a visiting professor in the Institute of Nuclear Engineering and Science at National Tsing Hua University. The opinion expressed here is his personal view and does not represent the views of the Institute of Nuclear Engineering and Science of National Tsing Hua University.