March 11 marked the second anniversary of the nuclear catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s six reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, when a tsunami effectively destroyed the site on Japan’s eastern Pacific coast.
Since then, TEPCO and the Japanese government have released information in dribs and drabs, leading to the overall impression that the problem is contained, despite such alarming news released by TEPCO that last week it detected a record 740,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium in a fish caught in waters near the Fukushima Daiichi NPP, equivalent to 7,400 times the state-set limit deemed safe for human consumption.
So, fishermen are voluntarily suspending operations off the coast of Fukushima prefecture except for experimental catches.
But there is one Asian country where the citizenry have apparently absorbed the lessons of Fukushima, and are mobilizing to prevent a further expansion of the country’s nuclear power program.
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On 16 March, over 220,000 Taiwanese flooded the streets of the capital Taipei, demanding the government abandon nuclear power.
The United States has 104 NPPs in operation, France - 58, Japan’s (all except two currently offline) 54, Russia 32, South Korea 20, India 19, Canada 18, Germany 17 (all now offline), China 11, Taiwan three and Pakistan two, while nations with nuclear power reactors under construction include China with 23, Russia - nine, South Korea – six, India four and Taiwan -one.
What are the risks of expanding nuclear power in Taiwan?
Simple, two – nuclear storage and…nature.
Currently, all Taiwanese NPPs store their spent fuel onsite.
According to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau, “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.”
Taiwanese authorities are apparently listening to their disaffected citizenry. Last week Premier Jiang Yi-huah said that if the country's NPPs stop operations after 40 years of use, their current licensing period, Taiwan can look forward to being a non-nuclear country by 2055.
Still, some analysts are concerned that the abandonment of nuclear power could have a detrimental impact on the island's economy. Chung Hua Institution for Economic Research chairman Dr. Liang Chi Yuan commented, "A 40 per cent increase in electricity price will cost the economic growth to contract by 0.68 per cent, and it will inflate the consumer price index by over one per cent. That's just the electricity price. Taiwan would also experience a power shortage, which would discourage industries to invest. Besides higher costs, renewable energies are not stable sources of power -- thus it cannot completely substitute nuclear power. You will need to have more capacity and facilities for standby power. That would mean additional cost. Then you will need to build more power transmission channels. That's more cost they didn't take into account."
Taking a differing view, National Taiwan University Professor Chou Kuei Tien observed, "Nuclear power may be seen as a relatively clean source of energy based on its carbon emission, but if you take into account of the disposal of nuclear waste and the cost of building nuclear power plants, nuclear power is not really cheap and clean."
Taiwan was China’s ‘economic miracle” before the mainland adopted structural reforms. Its well-read citizenry have apparently read the reports of their neighbor’s 2011 nuclear traumas carefully, and are expressing their concerns with “feet in the street.”
Not a lesson that should be lost in light of the “nothing to see here” news emanating from Japan.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com