Thu, Aug 09, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Race on to replace nuclear generation

HIGH-RISK GAMBLE:The government’s drive to shut down all of Taiwan’s nuclear power plants by 2025 poses significant problems in the short and medium terms

By Dan Murtaugh, Miaojung Lin and Samson Ellis  /  Bloomberg

The sun sets behind an offshore wind turbine operated by Swancor Holding in the Taiwan Strait off the coast of Miaoli County on July 26.

Photo: Billy H.C. Kwok, Bloomberg

A map at the guardhouse of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) shows what might have been: classrooms, dormitories, a grocery store, a police station.

It was supposed to be a self-contained city on Taiwan’s northeast coast designed to meet growing demand for electricity in Asia’s seventh-largest economy.

Instead, the complex stands empty — unfinished and never used — a US$10 billion casualty of growing public opposition to nuclear power.

Since a disastrous 2011 nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, more than 2,250km away, Taiwan has rewritten its energy plans.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has ordered all of the nation’s nuclear reactors to be shut down by 2025.

That has set off a high-risk gamble to find alternatives to nuclear power, which supplies 12 percent of the nation’s electricity, while limiting an increase in carbon emissions.

Taiwan’s sprint reflects a drive across the region toward cleaner energy sources such as solar, wind and natural gas.

Nations from Australia to South Korea and China to India are seeking to meet rising demand without belching more emissions blamed for climate change and smog.

Taiwan’s solution: Wind turbines are planned in the blustery Taiwan Strait, solar panels are popping up on coastal salt flats and terminals are being planned to import more liquefied natural gas.

However, new sources could take years to develop, making power rationing and blackouts a possibility as the gap narrows between demand and generating capacity.

“There are going to be concerns over the next few years about reserve margins and power supply reliability,” IHS Markit analyst Diao Zhouwei said in Beijing.

The government’s plan has several parts. First, all nuclear and most oil-fueled generators will be shut down. Together, they supplied 16 percent of Taiwan’s electricity in 2016.

The nation would still have about the same amount of coal capacity by 2025 as now, but its share of total power generation is to drop to 30 percent from about half as alternative energy sources expand.

Natural gas is to see the biggest usage gain, accounting for half of supply by 2025, while renewables like wind and solar are to more than triple to 20 percent.

As electricity demand grows over the next seven years, the government has said it would boost generating capacity while limiting carbon emissions and ridding itself of a political headache.

Taiwan’s state-run nuclear power industry was already unpopular after it built a controversial nuclear waste storage site on Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼), home to one of the nation’s Aboriginal communities.

However, sentiment turned even more negative after the disaster in Japan, which occurred after a giant earthquake and tsunami. The disaster prompted countries, including Germany and South Korea, to ditch their nuclear programs.

Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) operates three nuclear plants and was building the fourth when the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown occurred.

In 2014, the government halted construction that was nearly complete, with uranium fuel rods in place.

In 2016, the Democratic Progressive Party won elections on an anti-nuclear power platform.

Last month, workers removed the unused fuel rods and sold them to a buyer in the US.

Betting that the nation can replace all that nuclear power in less than a decade — and expand output to meet rising demand — is “very ambitious,” Wood Mackenzie energy analyst Robert Liew said in Singapore.

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