Taiwan needs green energy policy

By Chien Hsi-chieh  / 

Mon, Apr 08, 2013 - Page 8

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) intends to hold a referendum about halting construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市). The KMT proposed the referendum on the assumption that the high threshold set by the Referendum Act (公投法) would ensure that the proposal would not be passed. It thought that such an outcome would be a big setback for the Democratic Progressive Party, while allowing the KMT to attain its aims of continuing construction of the power plant and adding to the plant’s budget.

However, contrary to the KMT’s expectations, its referendum plan has inspired entertainers, cultural figures and mothers who are concerned about their children’s future to stand up one after another and declare their opposition to nuclear power. This has pushed many members of the public who were originally politically neutral into the ranks of the anti-nuclear forces, while the KMT is coming to be seen as a “pro-nuclear, conservative, regressive party.”

The US, Japan and Russia, which are all highly advanced in the field of nuclear power technology, have all experienced serious nuclear disasters. When people compare those countries to Taiwan, with its patched-together Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and questionable oversight and control, they are not likely to have much faith in the government’s repeated assurances that the plant will be safe. People are also worried about the problem of nuclear waste, which is piling up day after day with no solution in sight.

Public opinion polls indicate that 74 percent of the people in Taiwan are in favor of stopping construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant. The results have prompted the KMT mayors of two major cities to declare their opposition to nuclear power, and their dissenting voices have thrown the ruling party off balance and dealt it a heavy blow.

Although the government has repeatedly stated its support for making Taiwan a nuclear-free homeland, it is trying to muddy the waters by employing “the rhetoric of reaction” and raising fears about power shortages. If the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is completed and starts commercial operation, the goal of a nuclear-free homeland will be set back by 30 years, and may never be achieved.

Given that the two main parties are in agreement on the idea of a nuclear-free homeland, they should cooperate. They could propose some provisional alternative plans, work out how much they would cost, discuss them rationally and overcome difficulties so that Taiwan’s nuclear power plants can be closed down.

Taiwan would do well to learn from Denmark’s development of wind energy. The global oil crisis of 1973 prompted Danish engineers like Henrik Stiesdal to start researching and developing wind energy as an alternative to oil. They designed high-efficiency wind turbines and kept making improvements, thus laying the technical foundations for the wind energy industry.

Denmark’s political parties are in agreement about developing “green” alternative sources of energy. They work together to promote green energy policies, which are formulated in a transparent manner, and the decisionmaking process is open to public participation. Choices about where to locate wind turbines are subject to the scrutiny, approval and long-term supervision of local communities.

Denmark is the wind power kingdom of the world. Its wind power industry is the world’s biggest, and wind turbines are one of Denmark’s major exports, accounting for half the global market. The wind energy industry has propelled Denmark’s economic development and created many job opportunities. Wind power now accounts for 24 percent of Denmark’s total electricity generation. That figure is forecast to reach 50 percent by the year 2020, and by 2050 Denmark may get all its electricity from wind power and abandon oil as a fuel.

Taiwan’s topography, like that of Denmark, is one of land adjoining the sea. In the daytime, the seawater is cooler than the land, and this temperature difference tends to generate sea breezes. At nighttime, the land cools faster than the sea, resulting in land breezes. These are good conditions for developing wind energy. Although Taiwan is a major manufacturing base for solar panels, its governments have shown a preference for nuclear power. Consequently, Taiwanese solar panels are made mainly for export, and sales in Taiwan have been unimpressive.

In Denmark, there is cooperation between parties, and boycotts are rare. These traditions have made Danes confident about the political process, as well as ensuring that it functions effectively. In contrast, Taiwan’s legislature looks more like a theater or a battlefield. The selfish interests of political parties always take pride of place, and endless infighting gives the public a sense of helplessness and despair.

As debate continues about stopping construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant on the one hand, and worries about power shortages on the other, what we need is rational consideration of policies for developing alternative sources of energy. Green power should be the foremost among these alternatives. The government should provide incentives for research and development of high-efficiency wind turbines and solar cells, so that we can develop our green energy industry and tread a smooth path to modernity.

Chien Hsi-chieh is executive director of the Peacetime Foundation of Taiwan.

Translated by Julian Clegg