Thu, Jul 05, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: A vision for a sustainable future

The first batch of fuel rods at the mothballed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant were reportedly yesterday morning removed from the plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) and are being transported back to their US supplier. The move confirms the government’s commitment to repurpose the plant for non-nuclear power generation and to make Taiwan a nuclear-free homeland by 2025.

Taiwan Power Co, citing security concerns, provided scant information on the transport schedule, or the locations and routes involved, but the plan is to move the rods out in batches, with the final batch to leave by 2020.

Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has criticized President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) decision to return the rods, as it surely means that the contentious plant has now officially been consigned to the history books.

When Ma in 2014 ordered the plant sealed, he was responding to considerable public concern over the safety of nuclear power generation. However, he did not decommission the plant altogether, arguing the importance of maintaining an energy mix in a nation that relies on imports for a considerable percentage of its energy needs. His objection remains: It is — at least ostensibly — the basis of his criticism of Tsai’s decision.

Ma’s point is simple: Sealing the plant, but leaving the option open for starting it should Taiwan’s energy needs increase, maintains flexibility. Reducing such flexibility increases the potential for power outages, which are expensive and entail safety issues, while over-reliance on imported energy threatens national security and makes Taiwan overly vulnerable to price fluctuations on the international energy market.

His decision also demonstrated that he had no intention of responding to the concerns of nuclear energy opponents in any meaningful way. He was simply applying a political Band-Aid to an existential threat.

The argument here is not one of energy security or vulnerability to the international energy market; nor is it one of maintaining choice, or of whether nuclear power is less or more inherently clean, inexpensive or efficient than other energy sources. The point is that it is foolish to build nuclear power plants in a densely populated country prone to frequent earthquakes of destructive magnitude.

Ma’s approach was built on a lack of vision, as well as political expediency, short-termism and a dismissal of the justified concerns of an angry electorate.

The government has ambitious plans for energy; some would say overly so. By 2025, it plans to phase out nuclear power — which, according to 2016 figures, provides about 12 percent of the nation’s energy — and oil, which provides 4 percent, and increase the share of renewables from 6 to 20 percent. Meanwhile, it wants to reduce the share of coal in energy generation from 46 to 30 percent, and increase the share of natural gas from 32 to 50 percent.

The plans speak of a vision for a safer future for the nation.

In addition to removing the risk of catastrophic nuclear disaster, this vision will allow Taiwan to transform itself into a more environmentally sound and sustainable economy.

As with the thorny issue of pension reform, Ma and his administration were well aware of the problem, but ultimately decided to do nothing about it while they were in power.

With the transformation of energy provision in Taiwan, perhaps Ma and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) could start functioning as an opposition with the long-term interests of the nation’s future in mind.

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