Public need reasurrance on nuclear power plant

By Chen I-chung 陳宜中  / 

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 - Page 8

In response to the issues surrounding the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) recently said it is a great pity that the public does not trust Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) and that this could be blocking the possibility for rational discussion on the issue. Clearly Jiang has reason to be concerned that the issue will deteriorate into populist discussion.

The nation needs reasonable energy policies that place equal emphasis on environmental protection and economic development.

However, the public’s distrust of Taipower regarding the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is warranted. Asking people to trust the government’s expertise and to be confident about its capability are not enough to end the standoff over the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

Unfortunately, the government is continuing to ignore doubts and questions about the issue that have been raised by members of the public opposed to the plant.

Two years after the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that all of Germany’s nuclear power plants would be phased out by 2022. Germany is not a country plagued by earthquakes, yet it still decided to abolish nuclear power. Why?

In essence, scientific discourse about safety coefficients cannot guarantee that a disaster similar to the one at Fukushima will not happen in Taiwan. There is room for debate about how much political weight this reason carries, but it is definitely something very different from populism, which is both anti-scientific and irrational in nature.

Nuclear power plants are built and run by people, therefore human error is inevitable in their operation. The Three Mile Island accident in the US, the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine and the Fukushima meltdown have all broken the myth that nuclear power is completely safe. Which nuclear expert can guarantee that something similar will not happen to the power plant in Gongliao?

After Fukushima, Japanese nuclear experts said they had conducted detailed risk assessments of the plant and that the huge earthquake and tsunami were just an unlikely freak event. They said the probability of such a disaster striking the plant was very low and this is why it had fallen outside the scope of their assessment, claiming that they could not be blamed for failing to identify the risk.

If what these experts said is true, they were not wrong then and they are not wrong now, so they cannot be held responsible for failing to be prepared for such natural catastrophes.

So can these experts be held unaccountable for everything that happened at the Fukushima plant? Clearly not.

Some experts backing nuclear power policy swear that such energy is absolutely safe and there are no security concerns regarding its use. Is this not a form of pseudoscience?

When it comes to the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, if the authorities want to use pseudoscience to push the process through the legal system, then they may as well also give up on policies regulating the import of US beef and pork.

Ever since the importation of US beef containing additive residues became a major issue, the government has used a discourse that can be defined as pseudoscientific to guarantee the safety of the US beef it allows into the country. This discourse cannot, however, be used to explain why the Fukushima disaster occurred and is unable to guarantee that a similar disaster will not happen in Taiwan.

Chen I-chung is an associate research fellow at the Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at Academia Sinica.

Translated by Drew Cameron