On Tuesday last week, Kuo Way (郭位), president of City University of Hong Kong, made a presentation on nuclear power at the Presidential Office in Taipei, during which President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) asked about global trends. Kuo was an almost permanent fixture in the media during the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear crisis, speaking in his capacity as an expert on nuclear safety about the crisis at the Fukushima plant itself and of the implications for the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong, China, and refuting claims that eating salt could protect humans against radiation.
Kuo, a Tsing Hua University graduate with a background in nuclear engineering, spoke of the need to be careful over the impact of violent unrest on the future of nuclear power stations in Taiwan, and — particularly risible — the danger posed by a lack of understanding about nuclear power plants and nuclear safety, and the many serious misconceptions that these lead to, threatening to cause social unrest. He said that it was therefore extremely important to devise effective and persuasive arguments to address these misconceptions, and asked what might be the best way forward.
Kuo is a great advocate of nuclear power. When Ma asked him about global trends in nuclear power, everybody already knew what his answer would be, even before Ma had lowered the microphone. There are as many opinions and perspectives on whether we should develop nuclear power as there are people giving them, so he has the right to express his own beliefs. Nevertheless, if he were trying to promote nuclear power while feigning neutrality, one wonders whether he is protecting certain energy interests.
According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010 co-authored by Mycle Schneider, who visited Taiwan last year, the percentage of global power provided by nuclear power stations peaked in 1993, when it stood at 17 percent, after which it has steadily declined.
In 2011, it represented only 11 percent. The overall output of nuclear energy globally reached its highest point in 2006, when it stood at 2,660 terawatt hours (Twh, equivalent to 1 billion kilowatts, kWh), falling to 2,518 Twh in 2011. The vast majority of countries producing nuclear power have already passed their peak in terms of the construction of nuclear power plants.
Even before the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster, the global nuclear power industry had already hit a wall, due to all the uncertainty surrounding it, and this saw a corresponding and gradual rise in the development of renewable energy sources.
While soliciting the advice of authorities undoubtedly contributes to the debate, when such expert opinion has long been monopolized by those in power, it is also important to continue to bring in differing expert opinions. The meeting in the Presidential Office added little to the public debate. The message the office wanted to pass on to the public was loud and clear: Nuclear power is the way forward, it is the policy the government needs to take.
When Ma goes from saying, as he did almost exactly a year ago at a press conference, “We felt that no one was against [nuclear power] at the time,” to saying the public is just in a blind panic over the issue and that the government needs to be more persuasive, he is treating the public like children, and insulting its intelligence.
More recently, the government has systematically used the state mechanism in tackling public opinion, in the mistaken belief that merely by rolling out a few pro-nuclear spokespersons it will be able to dispel the massive wave of anti-nuclear sentiment among the public.
Ma has said that the issue of the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), can be resolved through a referendum. While this may appear to be a democratic solution, it is nothing of the sort, as the government holds a monopoly over relevant information.
Also, the government’s policy of gradually phasing out nuclear power is simply a delaying tactic designed to pull the wool over our eyes. One can imagine that next the government will attempt to use the advantage of access to resources to try to brainwash people and make them believe that we need nuclear power. The government is already resolved to promote nuclear power, and is not willing to hear what the public has to say on the matter.
Tsui Shu-hsin is secretary-general of the Green Citizens’ Action Alliance, Taiwan.
Translated by Paul Cooper