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President Lai ambiguous on nuclear power despite premier's assurances

06/19/2024 04:26 PM
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The control center of the Maanshan nuclear power plant in Pingtung County. CNA file photo
The control center of the Maanshan nuclear power plant in Pingtung County. CNA file photo

Taipei, June 19 (CNA) President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) may be backtracking on his government's nuclear energy stance less than two weeks after Premier Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) said there were no plans to try to extend the service life of Taiwan's nuclear power plants.

Lai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has long advocated a "nuclear-free homeland" and the phaseout of nuclear power by 2025, but that position has come under fire from opposition parties and the business community amid fears of power shortages and a lack of clean energy.

Asked about the issue Wednesday at his first press conference since taking office, Lai equivocated, saying it "will be left for discussion" in a "National Climate Change Response Committee" to be established under the Presidential Office to address climate change.

Acknowledging that the debate over phasing out nuclear power has remained heated, Lai said the issue "required more communication" among different stakeholders in the committee to "solicit better solutions."

He was referring to one of three ad-hoc committees he planned to establish under the Presidential Office, with the other two focused on strengthening Taiwan's defense and health care.

Lai did not say when the planned committees will be formally established.

Lai's comments deviated from those made by Premier Cho at the Legislative Yuan earlier this month.

Cho told lawmakers on June 7 that his Cabinet "has no plans" to amend regulations that would have paved the way for the continued operation of Taiwan's Maanshan plant while reiterating its commitment to pushing for a "nuclear-free homeland."

At the time, Cho said the government was focused on "how to make up for the energy lost" from the Maanshan plant once it stops operating, and he expressed confidence about filling that gap by "developing diverse green energy sources."

At Wednesday's press event, Lai did not directly say whether his administration's energy policy would be modified.

Lai said, meanwhile, that the planned committee would focus on strategizing policies to enhance the country's resilience to potential extreme weather events in the future and help to accelerate policy implementation.

The Maanshan Nuclear Power Plant, also known as the Third Nuclear Power Plant, in Pingtung County is currently the only active nuclear power plant in Taiwan.

It will enter the decommissioning stage after the 40-year operating licenses of its two reactors expire in July 2024 and May 2025, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Chinshan Nuclear Power Plant (First Nuclear Power Plant) and the Kuosheng Nuclear Power Plant (Second Nuclear Power Plant) in New Taipei entered into a decommissioning period in July 2019 and March 2023, respectively, when the operating licenses of their reactors expired.

A fourth nuclear power plant in Gongliao was nearly ready to start operations in 2014 when it was blocked by protests supported by the DPP against nuclear power, and unable to overcome the opposition, the then-Kuomintang government decided to mothball the plant.

According to Lai, he will preside over the planned climate change committee, with Vice Premier Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君), Academia Sinica President James C. Liao (廖俊智), and Tung Tzu-hsien (童子賢), founder and chairman of electronics manufacturer Pegatron Group, serving as deputy conveners.

Cheng famously opposed the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in early 2013, arguing that Taiwan had a sufficient amount of power and that another power plant would be a "money incinerator."

Taiwan's electricity consumption, however, has risen 17.5 percent since then, from 241,112 GWh in 2012 to a peak of 283,179 GWh in 2021, with the increase being supplied mostly by new natural gas-fired power generators.

At the time, Taiwan generated 78.4 percent of its power from fossil fuels, 16.1 percent from nuclear power, and 4.3 percent from renewable energy.

When the DPP took power in 2016, it committed to ramp up renewable power to 20 percent of the total by 2025, but in 2023, renewables made up 9.5 percent of the total, compared to 83.1 percent fossil fuels.

Tung, on the other hand, recently advocated in an interview in early June extending the operation of the third nuclear power plant and bringing back the second one.

He also proposed reviving the first and fourth power plants by using new-generation nuclear reactors.

(By Teng Pei-ju)

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