Tsai takes on nuclear plant in policy initiative

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  Staff Reporter

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 - Page 1

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential contender Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) released her first major policy initiative yesterday, saying she intended to phase out operations of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

Tsai’s policy would reverse the government’s long-term plan of relying more on nuclear energy to meet its target reductions in greenhouse emissions. It reflects heightened concerns about the industry among DPP politicians amid the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan.

The NT$273.5 billion (US$9.2 billion) project on the outskirts of New Taipei City has already been beset by delays and cost overruns, some of them arising from the one-year moratorium on construction imposed by former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2000.

Tsai said the nuclear power plant posed unacceptable risks in light of the near nuclear meltdown in Japan, which has released harmful radioactive material into the air.

A similar situation in Taiwan would have “disastrous consequences,” she said.

“The [nuclear] disaster in Japan revealed the very serious safety problems associated with nuclear energy. In light of this, the government should re-examine, reassess and reconsider” the nuclear industry, she said.

Under the plan, Taiwan would aim to phase out nuclear energy by 2025, if not sooner, pending the development of other energy sources. On top of stopping operations of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, existing nuclear plants one, two and three would be decommissioned on schedule, between 2019 and 2025.

Statistics from the Bureau of Energy show that Taiwan’s three operational nuclear power plants last year generated about 19.3 percent of the nation’s energy.

Tsai said this number could be offset by generating more renewable energy, increasing efficiency of current coal-fired plants and building new natural gas plants. Together, those measures could increase power capacity by about 10 percent, she said.

With Taiwan’s reserve power margins standing at 23.4 percent last year, well above the 15 percent she said was necessary to avoid blackouts, the developments could “steer Taiwan to a nuclear-free society without making compromises,” Tsai said.

Choosing to tackle nuclear energy as part of her first policy announcement is a risky move for Tsai, who has spoken out against the industry in the past. An election promise by Chen to nix the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant backfired when later polls showed a majority were opposed to the plan.

Chen was forced to restart construction in 2001 because of public pressure.

Tsai stopped short of promising to immediately call a halt to the operations of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, with its two reactors expected to come online between next year and 2013, but said that “this is what I am aiming toward.” She also said she believed a nationwide referendum on the issue was not necessary.

DPP caucus leaders, who hold 33 of 113 legislative seats, have already expressed support for a similar proposal.

Earlier yesterday, DPP lawmakers suggested that phasing out the NT$273.5 billion project was necessary in the interests of long-term public safety. The lawmakers said they would back plans to increase subsidies to develop renewable energy, calling northern European countries examples Taiwan should follow.

“We would rather have our [government] spend some more money instead of one day suffering the same disaster Japan did,” DPP Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) said.