The world’s climate is changing faster than we thought — that much is clear. An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, published by scientists in South Korea last month, laid bare the urgent need for energy transition.
One of the top priorities is to halt coal-fired power plant projects that are planned or running, and that of course includes Asia. However, some feel it necessary to start another battle on the energy frontlines: a nuclear battle.
Tomorrow, Taiwan is holding its local elections, and alarmingly, the pro-nuclear camp has initiated a referendum to reverse the government’s policy to phase out nuclear energy that was introduced early last year.
Instead of phasing out nuclear energy by 2025, a commitment made by the Democratic Progressive Party administration as part of the Electricity Act (電業法), the referendum proposes extending nuclear reactor operation permissions beyond 40 years and making nuclear power account for 20 percent of the energy mix by 2025.
In the aftermath of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant catastrophe, Taiwanese gave a clear signal that they wanted a fundamental change to the energy system — a change that would not only cut carbon emissions, but also nuclear risks and costs. Nuclear stress tests have highlighted the vulnerability of the nation’s nuclear facilities and plans.
The entrenched interests of the nuclear industries are not going away quietly and in light of the newfound urgency around climate change, the industry and its advocates are attempting to reinstate nuclear power as a viable energy “solution.”
Places such as Taiwan, where there has already been a consensus to move past it for good, find themselves once again voting on a mid-20th century technology instead of riding the surging wave of technological innovation taking place in East Asia.
Putting aside the safety risks and radioactive waste that come with nuclear energy, it is still a false solution.
The IPCC report, which takes a neutral position on all technologies, highlights the challenges in scaling it up. Among the 90 scenario studies it gathered, there were a number that showed nuclear power is unnecessary and can be phased out.
It is not unrealistic to envision a world that runs on clean, safe and renewable energy. Energy systems based on renewables are not only feasible, but already economically viable and decreasing in cost every year.
According to the IPCC report, “the political, economic, social and technical feasibility of solar energy, wind energy and electricity storage technologies has improved dramatically over the past few years, while that of nuclear energy and carbon dioxide capture and storage in the electricity sector have not shown similar improvements.”
In the real world, nuclear is already in sharp decline, with the sole exception of China, and even in China, nuclear expansion has been completely taken over by the development of both wind and solar power capacity. Last year, wind alone produced far more electricity (286 terawatt hours) than nuclear (233 terawatt hours).
Taiwan has already said no once. Nuclear energy is just not viable. It is dangerous, dirty, expensive and slow to develop. No, we have not forgotten Chernobyl and Fukushima. The world, including East Asia, should move beyond it and stay focused on creating a future that sustains the planet and the people who call it home.
Sanjiv Gopal is head of the climate and energy campaign at Greenpeace International. Manuel Pulgar-Vidal is head of climate and energy at WWF.
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