Reactivating Controversial Nuclear Site Not an Option: Tsai

Reactivating Controversial Nuclear Site Not an Option: Tsai
Photo Credit:AP / TPG Images

What you need to know

The controversy over Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant resurfaced due to a construction plan for a liquified natural gas terminal.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has ruled out the possibility of reactivating a controversial nuclear power plant that has been temporarily shuttered for six years. She made the announcement on Facebook today as lawmakers debated a US$2 billion energy project that threatens a 7,500-year-old reef off the coast of Taoyuan.

Taiwan has built four nuclear power plants to date, with two (the second and the third) being operational at the moment. The fourth, initially expected to begin operating in 2004, has experienced a series of delays in construction and is still unfinished today. 

In the Facebook post, Tsai said any city or county government will oppose having the fourth nuclear power plant in its backyard or having to deal with nuclear waste. “We need to take safety, costs, and time into consideration when it comes to restarting the power plant,” she said. “Based on these aspects, it is not an option.”

Nuclear energy accounts for just 10% of the electricity generated every year in Taiwan. “Instead of nuclear power, which is controversial, risky, and produces waste hard to process, we should pay attention to the fast-growing green energy sector,” she said.

Hung Sun-han, a legislator from the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), pointed out the unfinished nuclear project has posed a number of security concerns, including failures to obtain permits for testing, short circuit explosions, and dangers caused by flooding.

He noted that Taiwan has no capacity to properly process nuclear waste, citing the case of an operating nuclear power plant that has to shut down late this year due to the excess of spent fuel rods that await cooling.

As the DPP-led government promotes a transition to green energy, nuclear energy advocates have organized a national referendum on restarting the controversial site, set to take place in August, but less than 30% of the electorate is aware of the initiative, according to the DPP, despite the sensitive nature of the topic.

The controversy over the fourth nuclear power plant, in New Taipei, only resurfaced after environmental groups stepped up efforts to collect signatures needed to hold a referendum on the construction plan for a liquified natural gas terminal in the Datan Borough, Taoyuan. Environmentalists said they push forward the proposal to protect the thousands-years-old algal reefs off the coast.

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Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
Demonstrators take part in a protest against nuclear power on the 7th anniversary of Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster, in Taipei, Taiwan March 11, 2018.

The group’s campaign for the referendum proposal is highly likely to succeed, with more than enough signed petitions sent to the Central Election Commission today. But many believe this could not have been possible were it not for the intervention of the Kuomintang (KMT), the main opposition party, who publicly supports the proposal and accuses the government of endangering the environment through its energy policy.

The KMT has long been considered to be pro-nuclear power. Huang Shih-hsiu, the leader of the initiative of the referendum on reactivating the nuclear power plant, has close ties with the party, and has served as the assistant of the former KMT chairperson Hung Hsiu-chu.

DPP supporters say supporting the referendum is likely the KMT’s attempt to force the government to restart the unfinished nuclear power plant and give up on its energy policy, which includes replacing coal with natural gas.

Thomas Chan, former deputy minister of the Environmental Protection Administration, said the supporters of the referendum proposal are not against natural gas.

“It is true that nuclear power advocacy groups might benefit if the proposal goes ahead, but the current administration is supposed to defend its policy, explain it in detail to the public, so that both efforts (the referendum on activating the nuclear power plant and the proposal on the construction of the gas terminal) do not succeed,” he said.

Environmental groups, who led the algal reef proposal, denied allegations today that they support the plan to restart the nuclear power plant.

Johnny Chiang, the incumbent KMT chairperson, urged the government yesterday to support the referendum proposal if they are “really worried about the damage” that the construction plan might cause.

Speaking of the referendum on the controversial nuclear site, Chiang said the former KMT government, led by Ma Ying-jeou, shut down the plant in 2015 to “leave the choice to restart it to the future generation when there is a need.”

“The KMT...will respect the popular will shown on August 28,” Chiang said, referring to the date of the referendum. “We also expect the DPP-led government, who has the majority in the parliament, to not only face the people’s decision but present a firm, robust energy policy in the face of all types of possibilities, rather than asking the KMT to solve the problem.”

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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