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Pro- and anti-nuclear groups engaged in heated TV debate

2013/04/27 22:49:17

Taipei, April 27 (CNA) Proponents and opponents of nuclear power generation in Taiwan were engaged in a heated television debate held Saturday by the Want Want China Times Group.

During the debate, an economist said the fate of Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant in New Taipei City should not lie in the arguments for and against nuclear power, but in the options of "gradually reducing nuclear generation" or "immediately halting the operations of the existing three nuclear power plants and the construction of the fourth plant.”

The economist, Liang Chi-yuan, chairman of Taipei-based Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research, represented the team supporting continuing the construction of the fourth nuclear power plant.

Liang said that from the perspective of maintaining stable, clean electricity supplies in the future, the government's new energy policy of gradually reducing nuclear generation and moving towards establishing a nuclear-free homeland should be supported.

He noted that the new energy policy also includes making safety a prerequisite for putting in the fourth plant in operation; setting up a timetable for decommissioning the first nulcear power plant, which could be moved ahead of schedule if the fourth plant comes into stable operation; increasing alternative energy sources; and allowing the private sector to manage electricity generation.

He warned of the consequences of cutting nuclear power.

Taking Japan for example, Liang said that the country has paid a price for immediately reducing nuclear power generation.

After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, Japan had only two out of 54 nuclear reactors operating, causing a jump of 3.1 trillion Japanese yen in fuel costs for power companies, which contributed to a trade deficit of 2.6 trillion yen in 2011 and 6.9 trillion yen in 2012.

Liang further pointed out that the disaster also resulted in a 12 percent hike in Japanese families' electricity prices, a 20 percent rise in prices of power for industry use, and a rapid exodus of companies from Japan.

But those against nuclear power, including opposition Democratic Progressive Party legislator Lin Chia-lung, who was in the team advocating stopping construction of the fourth nuclear power plant, said that the plant could be a dangerous money pit because it is situated above active seismic faults and the follow-up costs for continuing construction of the plant could be high.

Lin said a total of NT$283.8 billion has been spent on the construction of the fourth nuclear power plant and it will require an additional NT$100 billion to complete the construction. If the expenditure for disposal of nuclear waste is added, it will need a total of US$518.8 billion for the project.

In other words, it would increase the national debt by NT$22,000 per person, Lin noted.

Moreover, the fourth nuclear power plant only accounts for 5.5 percent of the total power generation. If the construction of the plant is halted, it would not cause a significant impact on Taiwan's energy supply, Lin said.

Lee Chuo-han, chief executive officer of the Nuclear Free Homeland Alliance, who also proposed halting construction of the plant, said that since the state-run Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) has not found a site for the final disposal of nuclear waste, he questioned Taipower's ability to handle nuclear waste.

If Taipower, which operates Taiwan's nuclear power plants, cannot properly handle nuclear waste, it should immediately stop creating more nuclear waste, Lee added.

National Taipei University economics professor Wang To-far also said that Taiwan would not be short of power even without the fourth nuclear power plant. While construction of the plant was originally planned to be completed in 2000, Taiwan has not been short of power even after Taipower kept missing the deadline, Wang noted.

On the pro-nuclear power side, Mark Lin, convener of the Chinese National Federation of Industries (CNFI)'s environmental protection and labor safety committee, said that after Taiwan's first, second and third nuclear power plants are decommissioned, Taiwan will face power shortages, electricity price hikes, economic slowdown and unemployment problems. And it will be unable to fulfill its promise of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, Mark Lin said, Taiwan's economic competitor South Korea plans to increase its ratio of nuclear power to 59 percent of its total energy supply by 2030 to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target.

In comparison, Taiwan is seeking alternative energy, such as renewable energy and natural gas, Mark Lin noted, asking "Can we make it?"

According to Mark Lin, if Taiwan cannot meet its international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the country's exports will face a punitive carbon tax. In addition, the carbon footprint of the country's exported goods will rise and could face boycotts from consumers in the world.

A carbon footprint has historically been defined as "the total sets of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person."

But opponents of nuclear power in Taiwan have warned that the risks of nuclear accidents are too high. The fourth power plant is located close to the ocean. Taiwan is also located in an earthquake-prone area.

And more than 6.5 million people, including the residents of the capital Taipei, live within just 80 kilometers of the power plant.

They say if Taiwan is determined, it will find a way, arguing that the focus should be on safety, rather than electricity price hikes and companies' profits.

(By Lin Hui-chun, Kao Chao-feng and Y.L. Kao)