Sat, Aug 24, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: A nuclear red herring

Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential nominee, on Wednesday tossed a nuclear energy bombshell into the presidential race when he said that, if elected, he would see the mothballed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant made operational.

On Thursday, he reiterated that goal, while his campaign advisory team said that a Han administration would aim to have at least half of the nation’s energy generated from renewable sources by 2035 — which would be seven years after his presidency ends, assuming he wins two terms.

Han reiterated complaints that the KMT has been making for months: that the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is ignoring the will of the millions who voted in favor of last year’s Referendum No. 16: “Do you agree that subparagraph 1, Article 95 of the Electricity Act (電業法), which reads: ‘Nuclear-energy-based power-generating facilities shall wholly stop running by 2025,’ should be abolished?”

However, he and his team have two caveats: The unfinished plant would be activated if its safety could be ensured and if the public agrees.

Those are big ifs.

On Thursday, Tsai criticized Han’s proposals, saying that Han should do more homework before commenting on energy policy.

Yet it is not just Han and his advisers who need to do more homework. The public needs to be better educated as well.

A survey by the Risk Society and Policy Research Center Taiwan in December last year highlighted the confusion of many Taiwanese about the role nuclear energy plays in Taiwan’s power supply, a confusion that only exacerbated the obfuscatory wording of the pro-nuclear referendums on the ballot the previous month.

The survey found that 43.6 percent of respondents thought that nuclear power is the main source of electricity; that only 41 percent of respondents were aware of the government’s plan to increase the share of renewable energy to the supply mix from 6 percent to 20 percent by 2025; and 57 percent did not understand the goals of the government’s energy transition plan.

While the nuclear power percentage of electricity supply was once as high as 20 percent, when all six reactors at the three operational nuclear plants were working, it has dropped to about 13 percent — and even as low as 8 percent — according to some sources.

In recent years, some of those reactors were taken offline for safety or maintenance reasons.

Focusing on making the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant operational is something of a red herring, as it ignores the fact that the other three plants are past their use-by dates or nearing them.

The Atomic Energy Council last month issued a permit to Taiwan Power Co to decommission the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant, the nation’s first, over a 25-year period, as 40-year operation permits for its reactors had expired — its No. 1 reactor (which has not been in use since 2014) in December last year, and the No. 2 reactor (which has not been in operation since June 2017) last month.

The 40-year operating licenses of the other four reactors are to expire in December 2021, March 2023, July 2024 and May 2025.

Promising to start up the fourth plant — which would take several years anyway — would not do much to ensure that nuclear power would remain a component of Taiwan’s energy mix or “provide the stability needed to improve the nation’s economy,” as Han said this week.

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