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Government blasted for issuing 'threat' in defense of nuclear power

2013/01/18 21:56:06

Taipei, Jan. 18 (CNA) Anti-nuclear activists gathered outside the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) on Friday to protest the government's use of questionable projections of electricity prices to convince people that nuclear power is necessary in Taiwan.

"Saying that electricity prices will rise 40 percent if the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant does not operate constitutes a threat," said Green Citizens' Action Alliance deputy secretary-general Hung Shen-han during the protest of alliance members.

Rather than threatening a huge rise in electricity prices, the government should propose policies to conserve power and introduce alternative forms of energy generation to avoid having to use nuclear power, he said.

Speaking at a hearing of the Legislative Yuan's Economics Committee on Jan. 10, Economics Minister Shih Yen-shiang forecast a surge in electricity prices if Taiwan's three existing nuclear power plants were to be decommissioned as scheduled by 2025 and a fourth plant under construction were scrapped.

He said that if Taiwan were to use natural gas or other substitutes to replace nuclear power, which currently accounts for nearly 20 percent of the power generated in the country, electricity prices would increase by 40 percent.

He said the projections were the result of prudent calculations and "definitely not meant to threaten the public."

Hung argued, however, that the ministry deliberately inflated the cost of generating electricity with natural gas and understated nuclear power costs in attempt to gain support for the use of nuclear power and the fourth nuclear power plant project.

State-run Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) has pegged the cost of nuclear-generated power at NT$0.69 (US$0.024) per kilowatt hour (kWh), Hung said, but based on international data his alliance has collected, the cost is more likely around NT$2-NT$3 per kWh in Taiwan.

At the same time, Taipower said it would cost NT$5.7 per kWh to generate power using natural gas if the fourth nuclear power plant were converted into a thermal power plant, Hung said.

But based on International Energy Agency data, even in Japan, where costs are higher than anywhere else in the world, it costs only NT$4.4 per kWh to generate power using natural gas, he said.

"The government should not use figures to threaten people," said Hung, who also complained of Taipower's lack of transparency, making its figures impossible to check independently.

Hung did acknowledge that electricity prices could rise in Taiwan in the future if nuclear power were to be phased out.

He argued, however, that with 10 years before the country's nuclear plants are decommissioned, there was time for the government to plan for contingencies rather than intimidate people with questionable numbers.

"There are many things the government can do now to lessen the impact" of rising electricity prices, such as promoting a policy aimed at raising energy efficiency, he told CNA.

The Fourth Nuclear Power Plant project has sparked vigorous opposition from anti-nuclear activists and the public because of nuclear safety concerns and alleged irregularities in the plant's construction.

Critics also questioned the feasibility of operating nuclear power plants in Taiwan, which is located on an earthquake belt. The concerns were heightened after the meltdown of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Nuclear power accounted for 12.6 percent of Taiwan's installed capacity and 19.3 percent of its total electricity production in 2010, according to statistics from the state-run power company.

(By Zoe Wei and Elizabeth Hsu)