OPINION: Newly Proposed Nuclear Referendums Mislead the Taiwanese Public

OPINION: Newly Proposed Nuclear Referendums Mislead the Taiwanese Public
Credit: Reuters / TPG
Why you need to know

Huang Shih-hsiu's new nuclear power referendums contain vague, unrealistic language that fails to properly inform the people of Taiwan, writes Hsieh Pei-yi of Taiwan's Environmental Jurists Association.

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Huang Shih-hsiu (黃士修), the leader of the pro-nuclear group Nuclear Mythbusters, recently proposed a new referendum:

“Do you agree that the Legislative Yuan should formulate a special law which includes an accountability mechanism to increase nuclear energy and reduce coal power, and that they should achieve a ratio of nuclear energy generation which must not be lower than the energy generated from coal before the year 2030?”

The referendum question deliberately incorporates keywords such as “accountability” and “reduce coal” that are easily recognized by the general public. Due to this, it is common for people who do not fully understand Taiwan’s current energy situation to be influenced by the argument and vote in its favor.

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Credit: Nuclear Mythbusters / Facebook
Nuclear power advocate Huang Shih-hsiu.

With air pollution as serious as it is, everyone hopes we can minimize the amount of energy generated from coal, and through accountability mechanisms, we hope that government officials will take responsibility for environmental pollution. However, the fear-mongering language of this referendum will not help to “reduce coal” as its only purpose is increasing nuclear power by having Taiwan’s energy sector substantially rely on nuclear – which runs in the opposite direction to the world’s current trend of anti-nuclear and pro-renewable energy developments.

How many nuclear power plants are needed by each of Huang Shih-Hsiu’s four scenarios?

Huang’s referendum article mentions that the government “should achieve a ratio of nuclear energy generation that should not be lower than the energy generated from coal before the year 2030.”

He offered four scenarios for the referendum, including “increasing nuclear without reducing coal,” “reducing coal without increasing nuclear,” “increasing nuclear while reducing coal” and “reducing both nuclear and coal to zero.”

These scenarios, however, read like one great scam. Are there really just these four scenarios to choose from, or are they tailored to serve the needs of Huang and Nuclear Mythbusters? It would seem that rattling public opinion to gain support for nuclear power is the only goal of the referendum.

Increasing nuclear without reducing coal: Will each municipality have its own nuclear power plant?

Objectively, among the four scenarios, the one that is most impossible is “increasing nuclear without reducing coal.”

In 2018, nuclear power accounted for less than 10 percent of Taiwan’s energy generation. Huang expressed his hope that nuclear energy would reach 40 percent by 2030 with coal maintaining its current 40 percent, but this ratio of energy generation is outrageous. Not only is this scenario unable to reduce Taiwan’s increasingly serious air pollution, but it would make Taiwan becomes a nuclear power reliant country. Worse yet, Taiwan would have to build close to 10 new nuclear power plants. Where on this tiny island would they be constructed? Does Huang really expect each municipality to have its own nuclear power plant?

As the operating licenses of the three nuclear power plants gradually expire, the amount of nuclear energy generated will only decline along with them. NPP1 (Nuclear Power Plant No. 1) and NPP2 are already unable to extend their operations. The Hengchun fault, of the Eurasian and Philippine Sea plates, passes through the entrance of NPP3 and is only one kilometer away from the “Nuclear Island” which contains both the nuclear energy steam supply system and the NPP control system. Both the local government and the local citizens oppose the renewal of the operating license. The government had not even finished building NPP4 in New Taipei City. Reversing the decision to mothball the project and then actually completing it will take more than six years and does not present any immediately obvious economic benefits.

The reality is that there is no possibility of nuclear power generation increasing to 40 percent, meaning that this scenario is absolutely impossible to achieve.

‘Reducing coal without increasing nuclear’ and ‘increasing nuclear while reducing coal’: Where will the new nuclear power plants be built?

As for “reducing coal without increasing nuclear” and “increasing nuclear while reducing coal,” are these scenarios even feasible?

Let’s start with “reducing coal without increasing nuclear,” where Huang stated ratios of 20 percent coal, 20 percent nuclear energy, 20 percent green energy and 40 percent natural gas. Currently, even at a push, nuclear energy only accounts for 10 percent of the total energy in Taiwan. This means that achieving the extra 10 percent would require Taiwan to build a few more nuclear power plants. Therefore, in reality, “without increasing nuclear” still requires Taiwan to increase nuclear power.

Now on to the even more ridiculous numbers of “increasing nuclear while reducing coal”: 30 percent coal, 20 percent green energy, 30 percent nuclear energy and 20 percent natural gas.

In this scenario, trying to raise nuclear energy to 30 percent runs into the exact same problems as the first two scenarios. Nuclear waste disposal is still a massive problem around the world. Understandably, there are no municipalities in Taiwan that are willing to help take care of any nuclear waste, which basically means nuclear waste does not get disposed of. (Nuclear waste has been stored on Taiwan’s Orchid Island since 1982, while Taiwan was governed under martial law. The residents of Orchid Island have never been democratically consulted on this process.)

Huang has repeatedly emphasized his willingness to take nuclear waste into his home, but will his neighborhood agree with it? Is his neighborhood even a suitable location for the waste?

This referendum only looks to develop nuclear energy generation, but it is not willing to take responsibility for nuclear waste. This situation is like refusing to build toilets even though everyone in the world continues to produce excrement.

As for the fourth scenario, “reducing both nuclear and coal to zero,” it is not even worthy of discussion. It is impossible to reduce both nuclear and coal to zero by 2030. Mr. Huang has tied coal and nuclear together so that he can use air pollution to coerce the public into agreeing to continue developing nuclear power.

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Credit: CNA
Huang Shih-hsiu (R) stands with former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九, 2nd R).

In conclusion, this referendum is just another way of deceiving the public with incomplete and possibly false information in order to achieve the goal of increasing nuclear power generation.

Within Taiwan’s current energy structure, increasing nuclear power to account for more than 20 percent of the country’s energy supply would require building several new nuclear power plants – but where would Taiwan put them? Which municipality would be willing to accept nuclear power plants? In addition, how much public money would it take to build these? These are questions that Huang and Nuclear Mythbusters have not addressed clearly.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The News Lens.

Read Next: Taiwan Will Debate Its Nuclear Future Once Again Ahead of 2020 Elections

This article first appeared on the Chinese-language Taiwan edition of The News Lens and can be found here.

Translator: Zeke Li

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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