Solar panels can produce 300 times more toxic waste per unit of electricity generated than nuclear reactors, Michael Shellenberger, president of the US-based group Environmental Progress, told a forum in Taipei yesterday, while presenting an open letter to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
The forum was held by Climate Vanguards and the Chung Hwa Nuclear Society at National Taiwan University.
There used to be a tug-of-war between pro and anti-nuclear groups, but the anti-nuclear camp has gained favor ever since the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster in Japan, former Environmental Protection Administration minister Wei Kuo-yen (魏國彥) said in the first panel discussion with Shellenberger.
Debates about energy policy have become ideological rather than scientific, Wei said, adding that nuclear power is the best option for the nation’s transformation from a “brown” economy bolstered by fossil fuels to a “green” economy.
Shellenberger questioned the legitimacy of the claim of causation between the disaster and the nation’s decision to phase out nuclear power.
Even though thousands of people died in the earthquake, no deaths were directly caused by radiation leaks, Shellenberger said.
Presenting an open letter to Tsai, Shellenberger said that the nation’s phase-out of nuclear power is based on misinformation.
Replacing nuclear with fossil fuels can threaten public health, given that Taiwanese are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution, he said.
Natural gas is also not a good substitute for nuclear sources, considering the heavy casualties of the gas explosions in Kaohsiung in 2014, he said.
As for development of renewables, the nation would need to build 617 solar farms as large as its biggest proposed farm at a cost of US$71 billion just to replace its nuclear reactors, he said, adding that few people consider disposal of solar panels.
He advised Tsai’s administration to hold a national referendum on the future of nuclear energy, just as South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a “citizens’ jury,” which last week voted to resume construction of two nuclear plants.
Following a similar vein, physicist and pro-nuclear activist Huang Shih-hsiu (黃士修) said that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party should tell people the real cost of phasing out nuclear power by revealing the facts.
While the nation hopes to generate 50 percent of electricity from natural gas, 20 percent from renewable sources and 30 percent from coal by 2025, gas-fired power and renewable production are costly and risky, he said.
Nuclear power and renewables should coexist and supplement each other, or the nation will face more power outages and higher electricity prices, he said.
Taiwanese should have fully understood the merits and defects of different energy sources before deciding to phase out nuclear energy, Huang added.
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