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United Daily News: Think carefully before scrapping nuclear plant

2013/06/16 16:35:02

Yoichi Kikuchi, a Japanese engineer who has visited the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, said in a damning speech that the operation of the plant is ill-managed and deserves only three points out of a possible 100 in safety terms.

Kikuchi worked at General Electric Co. (GE) in Japan for eight years and was involved in the construction of the No. 2 reactor at the country's Tokai nuclear power plant and the No. 6 reactor at the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was closed in 2011 after being destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

However, a man surnamed Kuo who has worker for almost 30 years in Taiwan's nuclear plants, including the No. 4 plant, said he could "guarantee that the site could at least receive 70 to 80 points" out of a possible 100 in terms of safety.

The debate over the safety of nuclear energy has not been an isolated case since President Ma Ying-jeou announced that the fate of the fourth plant will be decided by the people of Taiwan through a referendum.

However, the issue does not only concern the plant's future but is also related to the nation's energy structure, industrial development and adjustments to people's lifestyles.

While environmental groups have staged various protests on the street and in the Legislative Yuan in an effort to increase public support for their cause, the government, which invited international experts to Taiwan for safety reviews, has failed to provide answers to general concerns, such as the future of the country's power supply, possible rises in electricity prices and alternative measures to be taken if the plant is scrapped.

Facing the reality, there will only be two situations after the referendum. If the public decides to continue construction of the plant, Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) will still be in charge of the country's power supply and no major change is expected.

On the other hand, if Taiwan decides to halt the plant's construction, more concrete plans on adopting natural gas and dealing with the impact on Taiwan's power supply will be required.

The anti-nuclear power activists should provide statistics about the energy content of different fuels and let the public know that natural gas only accounted for 30 percent of Taiwan's power generation in 2012.

Compared with previous years, the natural gas price has gone up by 25 percent, pushing Taiwan's natural gas import to NT$42.4 billion (US$ 1.42 billion) in 2012, as Germany and Japan have high market demand for natural gas after they gave up on nuclear power.

If the power plant is scrapped, the government should shed light on the possibility of increasing gas-fired power generation and teach the public about the difficulty of Taiwan purchasing more gas from the international market.

In order to maintain stable power supplies, Taipower will need to explain whether it will seek alternative electricity sources from China.

Opponents and supporters of nuclear power have the responsibility to provide reliable evidence to back their points as the issue could affect Taiwan's economy and people. (Editorial abstract -- June 16, 2013)

(By Maia Huang)