What you need to know
Nuclear power is coming back to Taiwan, but an anti-nuclear movement that once rallied more than 100,000 protesters is nowhere to be seen.
The announcement by state-run power utility Taipower that it plans to seek approval from the Atomic Energy Commission for restarts of a nuclear reactor at Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant should be of little surprise — the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration quietly approved nuclear reactor restarts in June 2017.
It remains to be seen whether it will not only be the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant reactor is to be restarted — approval was also sought at the Ma'anshan Nuclear Power Plant Reactor last year.
It seems likely that the Tsai administration continues to view nuclear energy as necessary in order to maintain the stability of the power grid in Taiwan. Rolling power blackouts across Taiwan would damage the approval ratings of the government as well as discourage industry from continuing to maintain factories in Taiwan due to lost productivity. It may also be this push for restarts comes at a time in which the Tsai administration is increasingly criticized for failing to resolve growing problems of air pollution in Taiwan, one source of which is coal.
The anti-nuclear movement has historically been one of the largest protest movements in Taiwan.
Nevertheless, nuclear power restarts would lead to criticisms that the Tsai administration has reneged on past election promises. As part of election campaigning, the Tsai administration vowed to achieve a “nuclear free homeland” by 2025, although what was notable about this promise is that this would actually be after the maximum two terms that the Tsai administration could hold. It seems unlikely that the Tsai administration could develop enough alternative sources of power in Taiwan to wean Taiwan off of nuclear energy.
Although it would not be surprising for the Tsai administration (or any other political administration) to renege on campaign promises after some time in office, the Tsai administration suggested shortly after being elected that it would be willing to restart nuclear power reactors in Taiwan. These were among the numerous gaffes made by former Premier Lin Chuan (林全).
But neither the Tsai administration’s swift break from campaign promises nor its quiet approval of nuclear energy restarts last year led to protests. It may take the specter of actual reactor restarts to stir mobilization.
And, indeed, it seems unlikely that there will not be protests on the issue. The anti-nuclear movement has historically been one of the largest protest movements in Taiwan, seeing new life after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. It is feared that because Taiwan also experiences frequent earthquakes and typhoons, a similar disaster would be catastrophic for Taiwan, which is geographically smaller and more densely populated than Japan. Increased seismic activity in Taiwan as of late, including a 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck Hualien will likely increase worries about nuclear power in Taiwan.
No less than former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chair Lin Yi-Hsiung (林義雄), a martyr of the democracy movement, would go on hunger strike against nuclear energy in 2014 after the end of the Sunflower Movement, leading to some 130,000 individuals taking to the streets of Taipei in protest against potential nuclear reactor restarts, occupying the major intersection of Zhongxiao West Road in front of Taipei Main Station, and only being evicted after water cannons were fired upon them. Although this took place under the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration, it is surprising to see that the DPP has apparently forgotten that there was such major opposition to nuclear power.
It remains to be seen whether there will indeed be a fresh start to anti-nuclear demonstrations in Taiwan. But part of the failure for there to be any revival of anti-nuclear demonstrations to date seems to be tied to the fact that people were still willing to give the Tsai administration a chance to prove itself, seeing as it had a broad mandate since being elected. With increasing anger against the Tsai administration for passage of changes to the Labor Standards Act, air pollution, and a host of number issues, patience may eventually run out for many, leading to a set of conditions which does inspire sufficient public anger for there to be a new wave of protests. However, this is still uncertain.
The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original post was published on New Bloom here.
TNL Editor: Morley J Weston