At the end of April, legislators exposed how the state-owned Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) was misusing its nuclear back-end management fund.
However, because of a string of even more astonishing incidents within President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government at the same time, the media covered the nuclear decommissioning issue for just one day.
The nation’s six nuclear generators are currently scheduled to be phased out in five years and time is tight. Yet Taipower avoids any discussion of the decommissioning.
The decommissioning fund is not being used for what it is meant for and other complex technical problems are not being dealt with, such as the dismantling of the plants and the final disposal of nuclear waste.
The complexity of decommissioning nuclear power stations has always been overlooked: The relevant laws are incomplete and the costs involved are gravely underestimated.
In the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires nuclear power firms to establish special decommissioning funds and provide the commission with a financial report on these funds every two years while in operation.
In the last five years before the reactors are permanently shut down, the companies are required to provide annual reports to ensure that they have adequate funds for decommissioning.
Despite this, a report submitted by the US Government Accountability Office to the US House of Representatives last year stated that for the 12 nuclear reactors presently being prepared for decommissioning, a conservative estimate shows a US$1.2 billion gap between decommissioning funds and actual cost estimates.
In Taiwan, in addition to the lack of insight into how Taipower uses its nuclear management fund, the official response has been contradictory.
According to information on the Atomic Energy Council’s (AEC) Web site, it is estimated that decommissioning the six nuclear generators will cost NT$60 billion (US$2.01 billion). Compared with the experience of Western nations, this is a clear underestimation and it is conceivable that the budget for decommissioning would be increased four or five times.
Even more contradictory is that when the nuclear crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant occurred in 2011, to silence calls for the earlier decommissioning of Taiwan’s nuclear power plants, then-minister of economic affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) said that decommissioning three plants would cost as much as NT$335.3 billion, a figure clearly intended to scare the public into submission.
Now, we have the AEC claiming that the decommissioning cost has been calculated according to the regulations and that there will be no problem with the necessary funding.
Just who should we trust? Where is the decommissioning fund? Are its funds earmarked? Was it reinvested? Have risk evaluations been done? Who is auditing the fund?
Over the past year, everyone has been fixated on the national pensions issue, but the six nuclear generators are a very serious matter that will affect us for a long, long time.
The government must hurry up and prepare funds for nuclear decommissioning. Otherwise, future generations will suffer.
However, if we add to this the money that has been spent on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), and the costs of permanent storage of nuclear waste, just how willing will we be to pay the more than NT$1 trillion that all this will likely cost?
Li Chung-chih is a professor at Illinois State University’s School of Information Technology.
Translated by Drew Cameron