What you need to know
The DPP remains committed to phasing out nuclear power – but not by 2025.
Taiwan’s Executive Yuan agreed today to halt its policy of making the island nuclear-free by 2025, after voters backed a Nov. 24 referendum item supporting nuclear power.
The move comes after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said last week that her administration’s goal of phasing out nuclear power by 2025 remained unchanged, despite the results of the referendum.
The country’s Cabinet approved a proposal to abolish the first paragraph of Article 95 of the Electricity Act, which states the government’s goal to deactivate Taiwan’s nuclear power plants. Tsai had used this paragraph as part of her campaign platform during her successful presidential run in 2016.
Executive Yuan spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said on Thursday the proposed repeal of the paragraph will be submitted to Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan for review.
On Nov. 24, voters decided on a referendum question asking: “Do you agree with abolishing the first paragraph of Article 95 of the Electricity Act, which means abolishing the provision that ‘all nuclear-energy based power-generating facilities shall cease to operate by 2025?’”
The referendum passed with 59.5 percent of voters supporting the measure.
Debate over Taiwan’s nuclear future was rancorous prior to the Nov. 24 referendum. Huang Shih-hsiu (黃士修), co-founder of Nuclear Mythbusters and convener of the referendum, in September began a hunger strike in front of Taiwan’s Central Election Commission (CEC) after it initially refused to accept over 24,000 signatures in support of the measure.
Huang has since argued that the potential harm of nuclear power is overstated. Prior to the referendum, he said that every household in Taiwan should take in a small canister of nuclear waste to solve issues with its disposal.
Since the referendum, Huang has advocated for a second referendum to restart construction on the halted fourth nuclear power plant in Lungmen, New Taipei. “It’s still possible that we need to do a second, ‘Go Green with Nuclear’ referendum on restarting the Lungmen nuclear power plant,” he told The News Lens last week.
The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) did not publicly back the referendum to reject the nuclear-free plans of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), but the party was seen as being in favor of the measure.
The DPP maintains that it remains committed to a nuclear-free future, a stance reiterated by Premier William Lai (賴清德) in today’s meeting, according to Kolas.
Kolas said on Nov. 27 that the Cabinet had spiked its plan to go nuclear-free by 2025, only for Tsai to reiterate her commitment to the deadline days later.
Voters struggle to understand facts behind domestic energy
On Tuesday, the Risk Society and Policy Research Center (RSPRC) at National Taiwan University (NTU) published a survey documenting voter attitudes towards nuclear energy. The poll provided worrying results.
According to the RSPRC, 82 percent of respondents expressed concerned about the “development of energy transition.” However, 44 percent believed that nuclear energy is the country’s main energy source, while 32 percent correctly answered that Taiwan generates most of its power from coal-fired plants.
Only about eight percent of Taiwan’s energy is generated using nuclear power.
The survey also showed that 57 percent of respondents were not clear that Taiwan had a policy goal of going nuclear-free by 2025, compared to 41 percent who were aware of this target.
According to a RSPRC press release, “the survey showed that a considerable proportion of the public had inaccurate perceptions of Taiwan’s energy-related issues.”
The survey also found that most respondents were willing to pay higher prices to support replacing nuclear energy with renewable energy, although this figure dropped to 60 percent after RSPRC reported that 85 percent of respondents were open to this in 2015.
“In the process of energy transition in Taiwan, this requires transparent public dialogue and in-depth discussions on the pros and cons of energy-related issues,” reads the statement from RSPRC.
A new DPP energy policy?
The DPP has vacillated on energy issues since before Nov. 24’s referendums, which also included KMT-backed measures to lower the electricity output of thermal power plants by one percent and halt the expansion of coal-fired power plants. Both measures were approved by voters.
In October, the DPP reversed course on a plan to allow Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) to expand the Shenao coal-fired power plant amidst opposition from environmental groups and lawmakers from both parties.
The Cabinet’s decision to abolish its nuclear-free plan also marks its first formal legislative step towards honoring the results of the Nov. 24 referendums. Prior to the elections, legal experts had said the referendums were binding but may not be enforceable.
The DPP is also deciding where to send used fuel rods which are not securely stored. New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) said Wednesday that a solution must be found for waste disposal at Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant, which is scheduled to be decommissioned.
With a public mandate to walk back its nuclear-free plans while curbing thermal power and stopping expansion of coal-fired power plants, the DPP now has a need to communicate a realistic energy policy platform ahead of 2020’s presidential elections.
Cover photo: A sign from a 2013 protest in Kaohsiung against the planned expansion of Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant.