Editorial: A move to clean, safe energy a must

Mon, Mar 11, 2013 - Page 8

It is encouraging that people from all walks of life on Saturday participated in the biggest anti-nuclear rally in the nation’s history, in the latest attempt to push the government to abolish nuclear power after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan two years ago.

Protesters called on the government to suspend the last phase of construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), and to phase out the nation’s three operational nuclear plants as soon as possible.

It is clear that the public wants a clean and sustainable source of energy, so nuclear power is not an option. The government should cater to the public’s wants, rather than continue to make empty promises.

Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said yesterday that Taiwan Power Co will prioritize safety when building and operating nuclear power plants. Jiang added that the government will not approve the NT$11.7 billion (US$394 million) in extra funds needed to continue the plant’s construction if it does not pass a safety inspection and that a national referendum later this year would determine if the project should be suspended.

These measures are insufficient and it is irresponsible of the government to carry on billing nuclear power as the nation’s sole source of energy because it is relatively low-cost and produces almost zero carbon dioxide emissions, while excluding alternative sources of energy. The government should devise a clear and comprehensive energy policy to provide a stable supply of power, encourage the use and development of alternative energy sources, and boost efficiency at coal and natural gas power plants. Responsible energy use is also essential to reduce reliance on nuclear power.

“Green” energy is not out of reach for Taiwan — LED and solar technology offer viable, important solutions. Based on market researcher TrendForce Corp’s calculations, the nation could reduce energy consumption by 2.56 percent if the LED usage rate rose to 20 percent. If the usage reached 100 percent, the power saved would be equal to the rated capacity of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

This calculation is based on lighting devices comprising about 18 percent of the nation’s overall power consumption.

Taiwan may not be able to install an extensive system of solar panels like Germany and Spain, because of the typhoons that hit the country. However, solar panels or solar farms could be set up in Greater Kaohsiung and Pingtung and Taitung counties, because those areas have extended periods of peak sunlight. Solar energy could significantly supplement the nation’s power supply.

The government is failing to promote solar cell installation. Up to now, solar panels generating a total of only 10 megawatts have been installed, meaning less than 1 percent of the power generated in Taiwan comes from the sun.

The government should also boost efficiency at gas-fueled power plants, or try new methods of energy production. It should shift to the US to obtain its natural gas, because it is less expensive than buying it from Indonesia, which is currently Taiwan’s primary natural gas supplier.

There are many ways in which the nation could save energy and generate power at lower cost and in a safer way than nuclear power.

The government is responsible for exploring all the options for generating electricity and reducing the nation’s reliance on nuclear power, and the first is to devise an energy policy that reflects the public’s concerns. However, there is no sign that the government intends to change its existing policy of seeing nuclear power as the solution to the nation’s energy needs.

The planned referendum is placing the public on the front line of the fight for clean and safe energy. Holding this referendum is a way for the government to shake off its responsibility to provide stable power to the nation under the guise of democratic participation.