Taiwan currently operates three nuclear power plants, and its government is pressing to build a fourth.
Two years on from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, effectively destroying Tokyo Electric Power co.’s six reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, the issue has become a political football. Two months ago, nearly a quarter of a million Taiwanese marched in the streets of the capital Taipei, demanding the government abandon its nuclear power agenda.
Public fears are heightened by two elements of Mother Nature – Taiwan lies directly in the path of typhoons that strike East Asia, and the island is not immune to seismic activity. Echoing Fukushima, Taiwanese anti-nuclear activists note that currently the three Taiwanese NPPs store their spent fuel onsite.
Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau reports, “383 typhoons hit Taiwan in the past hundred some years, with an annual average hit frequency of 3 to 4 times. The maximum number of occurrences was in 1914 with 8 hits, and no hits occurred in 1941 and 1964.”
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On 3 June central Taiwan was struck by a 6.3-magnitude Richter scale earthquake, centered in Nantou's Renai Township at a depth of six miles. Two people were killed and 21 injured. Ironically, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, in the company of Premier Jiang Yi-huah and Deputy Premier Mao Chi-kuo, was on his way to the country’s Third Nuclear Power Plant when the quake struck, and was informed of the earthquake about 7 minutes after it struck. Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by earthquakes. A 6.0 magnitude tremor jolted the island in March, killing one person and injuring 86.
Accordingly, the state Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) faces an uphill battle to persuade the public that its NPPs are safe, much less the need to construct a fourth, Gongliao. Two opinion polls in March showed a majority of Taiwanese oppose the new NPP and the country’s main opposition party has threatened to push for a referendum on terminating construction of the fourth NPP, which Taipower countered had already cost more than $9.4 billion and is more than 90 percent complete. Speaking to put a positive PR spin on events, Taipower vice president Chen Pu-tsan told reporters, "We have learned many lessons from the Fukushima incident. We have improved the safety measures to ensure that a similar incident will not happen in Taiwan."
A Cabinet-proposed referendum on whether to finish building the fourth Gongliao NPP failed to clear the legislature on 30 May before it went into recess.
Should the referendum eventually be held, expect it to be a bellweather for the future of nuclear power in Taiwan. The latest poll from the Taiwan Indicator Survey Research (TISR) suggested in April that support for ceasing the construction of the Gongliao NPP increased by 4 percentage points from a previous poll conducted in March, TISR general manager Tai Li-an noting that the percentage of people opposed to completing the nuclear plant increased from 58 percent in March to 62 percent.
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The defeat of the Gongliao NPP referendum would leave Taiwan in the position of many other developing nations – where is electricity to meet rising demand to come from? Such power generation issues are not limited to Taiwan. On 30 May a new UN-backed multi agency report, Global Tracking Framework” noted that since 2003, 1.7 billion people world were connected to electrical grid, but the world's population grew by 1.6 billion over the same decades, gains were barely made. Worse, rising energy demand effectively eliminated half the energy efficiency savings and 70 percent of the gains from growth in renewable energy since 2003.
World Bank, sustainable energy specialist Vivien Foster and one of the report’s authors commented, "Even to stand still, we have to run extremely fast. That's the challenge."
If President Ma does go forward with the referendum and it fails, the question remains – how does Taiwan address its rising energy demands?
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com