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Taiwan: Call for Energy Policy Review

This post is part of our special coverage Japan Earthquake 2011 and Global Development 2011.

The ongoing Fukushima nuclear power plant incident in Japan has alerted people in Taiwan about the safety of nuclear power plants in their own country.

In order to transform current concern into long term government policy, many netizens are demanding the Taiwanese government conduct a comprehensive review on the country's energy and industrial policy.

Policy paradox

Anti-nuclear rally in Taiwan capital, Taipei on March 20, 2011. Image by Flickr user KarlMarx (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Anti-nuclear rally in Taiwan capital, Taipei on March 20, 2011. Image by Flickr user KarlMarx (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

On February 14, 2011, approximately one month before the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration held a public hearing in which the Bureau of Energy laid out the nation’s energy policy from 2011-2020.

However, environmental groups found the new energy policy violated the consensus [zh] formulated in the “Sustainable Energy Development Guidelines” (永續能源政策綱領) [zh] announced in 2008, as well as the “Statement of National Energy” conference held in 2009.

Contradicting the goals set for the reduction of greenhouse gas by increasing renewable energy and shifting the economy towards lower energy-consumption industry, the new policy supports the development of the petrochemical industry.

The failure to restructure Taiwan's industry creates a paradox for sustainable energy development, as Chia-Yang Tsai (蔡嘉陽) from the Taiwan Environmental Information Center points out [zh]:

工業消耗台灣60%以上的電力,價格又僅是民生用電一半以上,電價結構如此不合理,當然容易造成工業用電的浪費。提高工業用電的電價更可以淘汰高耗能、高汙染的產業,讓台灣的產業結構從根本上轉型,台灣的能源問題才能解決。

Industries in Taiwan consume more than 60% of the [nation's] total electricity, but the price of electricity for industries is cheaper by half than the price of electricity for personal livelihood. Because the price is so cheap for industries, it is easy for them to waste electricity. If we increase the price for industrial electricity, we may be able to eliminate those industries that consume a lot of energy and generate a lot of pollution. After we transform the structure of industries fundamentally, we will solve the energy problems.

An informed choice is needed

Man at an anti-nuclear rally Taiwanese capital, Taipei on March 20, 2011. Image by Flickr user KarlMarx (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Man at an anti-nuclear rally Taiwanese capital, Taipei on March 20, 2011. Image by Flickr user KarlMarx (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

As neighbour Japan's nuclear crisis continues, a more comprehensive energy policy review is needed in Taiwan, in particular regarding the development of the country's nuclear energy.

According to the an article [zh] about the high risk of nuclear energy, Yen (焱) expressed concern that the suspension of the nuclear power plants might cause electricity shortages in the country:

如果您接受了缺電的狀況並且可以安撫其他人接受電力不足的現實,就反吧!

If you are ready for electricity shortages and to convince other people to accept electricity shortagea, please go ahead and oppose nuclear power plants.

On the other hand, many netizens insist that even though Taiwanese people may ultimately choose to develop nuclear power, it is important for the public to understand the risks involved before making their choice. Blogger Subing argues [zh] on March 14:

擁核的人該提出理由說服台灣人為什麼大家要為幾家高耗能公司負擔這麼大的風險。

The supporters of nuclear electricity should convince us why we should take risks because of some high energy-consuming companies.

Questioning demand

In fact, upon checking the data released by the Taiwan Power Company, Siro argued [zh] in a forum discussion thread on March 21:

目前台灣的總發電量, 即使在尖峰負載, 也仍有 23.4% 的賸餘…就算現在把三座核電廠全部關閉, 台灣依然沒有立即的電力危機.

23.4% of the present total electricity generation is not even used in the peak demand period … If we suspend the three nuclear power plants, we should not face an immediate electricity shortage.

Siro continued to explain that nuclear energy is neither cheap nor clean:

核廢料處理及核電廠除役都很可能讓核能發電成本遠高於台電宣稱的成本.

The processing of nuclear waste after the suspension of the nuclear power plants may make the cost of nuclear energy higher than the Taiwan Power Company claimed.

Siro goes on to say however, that the process of suspending a nuclear power plant is not easy or straightforward:

我舉我住的澎湖為例, 澎湖舊火力發電廠位置接近市區, 當郊區新發電廠蓋好, 原電廠拆除後, 土地變成價值不斐, 而這一點是核電廠辦不到的..也是台電在計算成本中, 刻意去忽略的. 核電廠因為儲存核廢料, 即使關閉, 也永遠需要管理監控, 更不用說想要遷廠回收土地.

Take Penghu, the place I live, for example, the old thermal power plant was close to the downtown area. When the new power plant in suburb area was built, the old one was torn down. That land was sold for a lot of money. This is never happens to nuclear power plants … This is what the Taiwan Power Company intended to ignore when they calculated the cost. A nuclear power plant also stores nuclear waste. When [a nuclear plant] is suspended, it needs long-term management. It is not possible to remove the plant and use the land again.

The management of the nuclear power plants and nuclear waste is always a potential threat. Tyrone asked in the discussion section of the article on nuclear risk [zh] on March 14:

當中只要有一件事情疏忽是否就能造成核能污染事件. 為何我們要犧牲後代子孫的幸福造就個人的舒適?

If there is any mistake in [nuclear plant] management, radiation pollution takes place. Why do we want to sacrifice our future generation’s happiness for our own comfort?

This post is part of our special coverage Japan Earthquake 2011 and Global Development 2011.

  • http://www.mirrorsignalmove.blogspot.com mike

    “The supporters of nuclear electricity should convince us why we should take risks because of some high energy-consuming companies.”

    I will gladly try: you should accept those risks for (a minimum of) three reasons; first, because those risks have been managed successfully for half a century and are even being managed very well now after two enormous natural disasters; second, because those high energy consuming companies are part of a global economy which is what keeps working people alive and well and which relentlessly continues to raise material standards of living everywhere; and third, because the energy needs of those companies cannot be adequately supported by alternative sources of energy without incurring enormous political, social, environmental and financial costs. Good enough?

    “Because the price is so cheap for industries, it is easy for them to waste electricity. If we increase the price for industrial electricity, we may be able to eliminate those industries that consume a lot of energy and generate a lot of pollution. After we transform the structure of industries fundamentally, we will solve the energy problems.”

    Actually, I know some of the people in these industries responsible for plant energy efficiency – and let me tell you, wasting electricity is absolutely not an “easy” thing for them to even think about. They often work 12 hour shifts 6 or 7 days a week trying to further improve their efficient use of water, electricity and gas or to ensure this efficiency is the best they can possibly achieve and to write and evaluate new proposals for further improvements.

    And as for “eliminating” industries… what a breathtakingly arrogant thing for Chia-Yang Tsai (蔡嘉陽) to say. He should go and say that to the face of every single one of those thousands of Taiwanese people whose lives and the lives of their children and families depend on the work they do in those industries.

    If there is any mistake in [nuclear plant] management, radiation pollution takes place.

    Not true – whether radiation pollution occurs depends on the nature and severity of the mistakes or external events; to say it occurs as a result of “any” mistake is simply not true (and I think that in the case of Fukushima, it is worth pointing out that the radiation leakage has not occured as a direct result of “mistakes” in plant management, but as a result of two enormous natural disasters whose effects have been exacerbated by certain design flaws). Radiation may escape, but that is not necesarily the same thing as pollution since, at least in the case of Fukushima, the vast majority of escaped radioisotopes have had insignificant half-lives of seconds or minutes.

  • ifan

    Hi Mike,
    It is always entertaining to read your comments. Thanks for posting them.
    I am not sure who is more arrogant, you or Chia-Yang Tsai. I believe neither of you is arrogant, because both of you only tried to express your own opinions.
    Regarding the mistakes happening in nuclear power plants and causing a lot of trouble, I am surprised that you seem not aware of the Chernobyl accident. Please google it. I believe you will learn a lot. Successful people always learn from others’ failure.
    If you want to take Fukushima I nuclear power plant as an example of nature disaster, please remember that Taiwan is not free of earthquake.

  • http://www.mirrorsignalmove.blogspot.com mike

    For the attention of honest readers who may be paying attention:

    1) Notice how she doesn’t respond to the substantive points I raised, and instead resorts to disparaging my remarks as “entertaining”. If I am wrong (and as readers of her earlier piece will know I’m quite ready to admit this if it can be shown), it should be easy for her to demonstrate that I am wrong.

    2) That is the third time she has been rude to me now, whilst I have not once been rude to her.

    3) She sarcastically mentions Chernobyl as if I don’t know about this. Yet she fails to mention that, bad though the Chernobyl accident was, the number of deaths directly attributable to that accident is between 31 and 65. The number of deaths elsewhere in the Ukraine from cancer brought on by radiation exposure are more difficult to estimate – but are typically exaggerated into the hundreds of thousands. Moreover, the design and management of that plant was not, and is not, comparable to the design and management of the large number of nuclear plants elsewhere across the world in over 30 countries which continue to produce power with only a very few minor incidents and no deaths in a half-century. And many of those plants are ageing and based on designs whose electronics and control systems have been obsolete for decades already – thus they can and ought to be improved or replaced with vastly superior modern tech.

    “Taiwan is not free of earthquake.”

    Sure, but there are multiple design and siting precautions that can be taken against the risks posed by earthquakes – and I am perfectly willing to agree that these precautions may need to be revised and improved.

    “Successful people always learn from others’ failure.”

    Successful people learn from their own failures too, I-Fan Lin.

  • tun aung

    Before a safe energy is commercially available we have to rely upon nuclear energy with
    higher precaution until and unless we all are willing to change our lifestyle back to
    pre-electricity era.

  • ifan

    tun aung,
    Thanks for your message. I agree that this is the worry many people have. However, please consider it: Taiwanese are not live in a pre-electricity era without the fourth nuclear power plant now. Since the energy policy is for the future decade, if we start to make some change today, we may have a different future.

  • http://www.mirrorsignalmove.blogspot.com mike

    Yes, but “safe” energy sources (e.g. solar and wind) are commercially available right now, but they have significant problems of their own:

    1) Solar photovoltaic arrays that rely on silicon are designed to around 20+% efficiency (they will reach technological maturity at 29%), and although solar companies are working on aggressively cutting the costs of manufacturing these arrays they will always require a lot of space to produce power on a significant scale (i.e. >100MW). Attaching them to buildings is a great idea, but that’s not going to produce power at the sort of scales required for serious industry: serious solar needs a lot of land.

    2) Wind turbines, although it can seem like they produce power almost for free, actually have enormous capital costs – if they are to be built to sufficient size and number to produce serious energy. In order to replace nuclear in Taiwan, a wind farm would have to have a capacity of about 4,700 MW, which, for an off-shore installation, would cost somewhere in the region of NT$400+ billion in capital costs alone (actually not too different from the much delayed Longmen plant). And of course, a wind farm with a capacity of 4,700 MW is not actually going to be producing that much power day-in, day-out; because it’s wind, it’s intermittent. You’d probably get around 30% of that output, which is 1,410 MW. For NT$400+ billion! You can reduce those costs if you build your wind turbines on land. But then, like solar, you’re going to need lots and lots of land.

    So guess what? If I was a Taiwanese farmer in Yunlin somewhere listening to the anti-nuclear “environmentalists” I’d be very worried – because if an elected government were to listen to them and agree with them, there’s only going to be one outcome:

    Land. Theft.

  • Steve

    I don’t think we should have this knee-jerk reaction to abolish nuclear power. What we SHOULD have is assurance that the people involved in nuclear power actually know what they’re doing and adhere to standards and good sense.

    What I worry about is the 差不多-ism that permeates Taiwanese industry and regulation. What’s going to kill us isn’t nuclear power, it’s the slipshod and lackadaisical work culture here that results in a landslide burying Highway 3, radioactive or sea-sand apartments, or taxi drivers cutting off the rear seatbelt mounting points.

  • http://www.mirrorsignalmove.blogspot.com mike

    “What we SHOULD have is assurance that the people involved in nuclear power actually know what they’re doing and adhere to standards and good sense.”

    Agreed – which is another argument for extricating the State from the business of “guaranteeing” the energy needs of Taiwan’s people and instead sujecting energy companies like GE and Toshiba more fully to the discipline of market competition.

    “What I worry about is the 差不多-ism that permeates Taiwanese industry and regulation.”

    Oh, absolutely.

  • blobOfNeurons

    “more fully to the discipline of market competition.”

    Why would market competition have any effect on adhering to standards and good sense? As if the most of the public knows anything about what standards and good sense apply with regards to nuclear power.

  • http://www.mirrorsignalmove.blogspot.com mike

    “Why would market competition have any effect on adhering to standards and good sense?”

    For the same reason it almost always does – it’d be in their interest to try to convince their customers of their fidelity to those “standards and good sense”. Failure on this score could mean losing out to gas-fired plants.

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