Experts remain divided over the costs associated with generating electricity from nuclear sources and the economic impact of potentially halting construction of the controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市).
Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Francis Liang (梁國新) said it costs less to generate electricity using nuclear energy compared with other forms of power generation.
Liang made the remarks on whether to halt construction of the power plant, as has been demanded by anti-nuclear activists and other concerned citizens, at a hearing on Thursday.
Explaining the potential impact that halting construction could have on electricity prices, Liang put the respective costs per kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity generation from nuclear energy at NT$0.72kWh, coal at NT$1.64kWh, natural gas at NT$3.81kWh and wind energy at NT$2.64kWh, citing figures from last year.
Electricity generated using solar energy wholesales at between NT$6.7kWh and NT$9.4 kWh, Liang said at the hearing at the legislature which was attended by government officials, lawmakers and energy specialists.
However, Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Hsu Chung-hsin (許忠信) expressed skepticism about the figures provided by the government.
Hsu said the authorities have been excluding the costs of nuclear waste disposal and a possible atomic accident when calculating the cost of power generation using nuclear energy.
He called on officials to take those two factors into account.
Hsu’s views were echoed by energy expert Chen Mo-shing (陳謨星), who said the government should take into consideration the costs of nuclear waste disposal instead of focusing only on fuel costs and fixed expenses in their calculations.
Chen also questioned the perceived negative impact halting the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant would have on the economy, saying that electricity generated using alternative energy sources would be cheaper than using nuclear energy.
“How will doing away with nuclear energy adversely impact the economy given that it is actually more expensive to generate power in this way?” Chen said.
James Kuo (郭國榮), former principal engineer at American Electric Power (AEP), a major electricity utility in the US, proposed converting the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant into a natural-gas fired facility.
Kuo said that such a conversion was feasible, citing precedents including the coal-fired Zimmer Plant in Ohio and the gas-fired Midland Cogeneration Facility in Michigan.
According to Kuo, who was involved in the conversion of the Zimmer Plant, AEP and private investors decided on the project in 1984 in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident — a partial nuclear meltdown at a nuclear reactor on the island in Pennsylvania in 1979.
It cost more than US$1 billion to convert the 95 percent completed nuclear plant into a coal-fired one, Kuo said.
Work on the conversion began in 1986 and concluded in 1991, Kuo said in a report, adding that it was the world’s first nuclear-turned-coal fired plant.
Kuo said converting the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant into a natural-gas fired plant would be cheaper than continuing its construction.
Kuo estimated it would cost NT$65 billion (US$2.2 billion) to convert the plant — where the first and second reactors are more than 95 percent and 92 percent complete respectively — while it would cost NT$450 billion to finish its construction.
Construction of the plant has cost taxpayers an estimated NT$300 billion so far.
At the hearing, supporters of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant argued for its construction to continue, citing environmental concerns over a shift to fossil fuels and possible rises in electricity rates.
Chen Li-cheng (陳立誠), president of Gibson Engineers, a Taipei-based Taiwan-US engineering company, drew attention to the possible costs of not being able to meet power demands, expected to peak in 2016, as a result of halting construction of the power plant.
Chen said the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, scheduled to become operational in July 2016, is being built to offset a possible shortfall in electricity supply that year.