The recovering abalone industry could be decimated if the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao Dictrict (貢寮) starts operations, marine biologists and local aquaculture farmers along the northern coastline of Taiwan warned
In January, the New Taipei City Agricultural Department organized an “Abalone Festival” to tout the resurgence of its north coast aquaculture industry.
Officials announced at the time that abalone production would increase from 16 tonnes last year to 180 tonnes by the end of this year.
The nation’s abalone aquafarming industry started in the 1960s, and reached a peak in 2001, with an annual production of about 2,500 tonnes, worth about NT$2 billion (US$60.6 million according to the exchange rate in 2001).
At the time, Taiwan was one of the top abalone producers in the world, according to Kuo Chin-chuan (郭金泉), a marine biologist specializing in abalone, who is a professor at National Taiwan Ocean University in Keelung.
“However, soon after that, Taiwan’s abalone was hit by severe viral infections and the industry was almost wiped out,” Kuo said. “After a decade of diligent efforts to develop new breeds and improved cultivation methods by aquafarmers, were we able to much improve the abalone’s survival rate.”
However, the rejuvenated abalone industry faces a serious threat if the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant starts operating, Kuo said.
“One-third of the heat derived from nuclear power processing goes to generate electricity. Two-thirds of the heat is dispersed in water, which is discharged into the sea,” he said.
Kuo said researchers have discovered coral whitening at the nuclear plant in Pingtung County’s Maanshan (馬鞍山), and deformed fishes were caught near the nuclear power plant in New Taipei City’s Wanli District (萬里).
“Research has shown that these phenomena were tied to the ‘thermal pollution’ from the nuclear power plants’ discharge of warm wastewater into the sea,” he said.
“Monitoring at Taiwan’s first, second and third nuclear power plants has indicated that the rate of discharge was about 126 tonnes of water per second. This raises the seawater temperature near the discharge pipes from 7.8°C to 12.1°C,” Kuo said.
“Abalone cannot survive in water temperatures of 30°C or higher. In summertime, the water temperatures around nuclear power plants can get up to 40°C or higher. This is ‘boiling hot’ for abalones,” he said.
Lin Li-mei (林麗美), secretary-general for Gongliao District Fishery Association, said once the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant starts operating, the seawater temperature around the Gongliao’s coastal areas would definitely rise, which “would devastate our district’s abalone farming industry.”
She said Gongliao has 73 households engaged in abalone aquacultural farming, and there are also several hundred households making their livelihood in related fishery aquaculture, along with algae and seaweed production.
Wang Chao-hua (汪昭華), chief of fisheries and the fishing port management section at New Taipei City’s Department of Agriculture, said abalone production had increased 10-fold from 2012 to last year, indicating that the industry is on the road to recovery.
“The main production areas are on the coast from Longdong (龍洞) to Magang (馬岡). This area is some distance away from the nuclear power plant in Yenliao (鹽寮). We believe the abalone production will not be affected,” he said in response to concerns about the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.