Taiwan’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, which is still under construction, could go into commercial operation as a non-nuclear power station.
Between 1960 and 2008, nearly half of the world’s planned nuclear power stations were either not built or, having been built, did not go into commercial operation generating electricity from nuclear power. Some have been converted to generate electricity from renewable resources such as wind power, or by burning natural gas or other fuels, while others have been transformed into energy education centers, amusement parks or museums.
Let us consider the examples of two US nuclear power stations that have been converted to other kinds of commercial operation.
The first example is the Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island in New York, which had been completed, but was in the end converted to generate electricity from natural gas and wind power. Why did it not go into commercial operation as a nuclear power plant? In 1983, the New York State Assembly passed a resolution by 15 votes to one to the effect that Suffolk County on Long Island could not be safely evacuated. Then-New York State governor Mario Cuomo refused to sign the emergency evacuation plan submitted by the plant’s owners.
In addition, the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster strengthened opposition from local residents and environmental groups, bringing up to 15,000 people out onto the streets in demonstrations.
As a result, the Shoreham nuclear power plant was decommissioned in 1989, before commercial operations were ever started. However, the existing equipment was converted and the plant started generating electricity from natural gas in 2002, with an output of 100 megawatts. In 2005, two 50-kilowatt wind power generators were added, again making use of the existing equipment.
The second example is the William H. Zimmer nuclear power plant in Moscow, Ohio, which was converted to fuel combustion when it was 97 percent complete. This plant was prevented from going into commercial operation as a nuclear power station because of its poor construction, faulty planning and soaring cost.
Comparing this case to that of Taiwan’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, one has a sense of deja vu.
In 1982, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRA) found that the William H. Zimmer plant was poorly constructed, including two instances of defective pipe welds, and that industrial safety documents had been forged, and imposed a record-high fine of US$200,000.
Later that year, under pressure from the public, the NRA ordered construction work on the plant to be halted. In 1984, discussions started on converting the plant from nuclear to coal-fired generation. Conversion work started in 1987 and was completed in 1991, making this the first power station in the world to be converted from nuclear to combustion generation. The plant’s power output today is 1,300 megawatts.
The goal of making Taiwan into a nuclear-free homeland is enshrined in law, and the proportion of electricity generated from renewable resources is supposed to be incrementally increased until at least 2025. It would be in line with these aims to convert the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant from atomic to renewable energy or some other kind of commercial operation. Experienced specialists from the US could be invited to provide technical assistance.
The Basic Environment Act (環境基本法) stipulates that the government should work toward the goal of a nuclear-free homeland. This is a serious issue and one that is very important for the lives of this and future generations, and for the sustainability of our environment. It would be most regrettable if the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) declined to carry out the terms of the law and instead chose to manipulate the issue for electoral purposes.
Winston Dang is former Environmental Protection Administration minister and chair professor at the Taipei Medical University College of Public Health, specializing in policy risk management.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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