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Taiwan to phase out nukes in 9 years

 October 31, 2016

EDITORIAL: Taiwan bows to public opinion in pulling plug on nuclear power



Taiwan has taken a step toward phasing out nuclear power generation in nine years.

The move represents Taiwan’s response to the lessons it has learned by thinking seriously about the catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred in 2011 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The undertaking deserves to be monitored carefully.

Like Japan, Taiwan is poor in natural resources. It introduced nuclear power generation in the 1970s amid an increasingly tense standoff with China and growing pressure from being isolated internationally. Currently, three nuclear power plants are in operation in Taiwan.

Also like Japan, Taiwan is prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered a massive wave of action by citizens calling for the termination of nuclear power generation.

The trend has also been fueled by a series of problems that plagued the island’s fourth nuclear reactor, which was under construction, intensifying public distrust of the safety of nuclear power.

In response to the public concerns about atomic energy, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party was elected Taiwanese president in January on a platform that included a vow to build a nuclear-free society as a key plank.

Tsai’s DPP won a majority of the Legislative Yuan in the legislative poll held simultaneously, clearing the way for the new leader to pursue her political agenda. Necessary revisions to the related law are expected to pass the legislature by the end of this year.

The three nuclear plants account for 14 percent of Taiwan’s power generation capacity. Bringing the production of electricity at these plants down to zero in just nine years may be a tough challenge for the island.

Many Taiwanese consumers are voicing concerns about a possible power shortage and spikes in electricity bills.

But Economic Affairs Minister Chih-Kung Lee has argued for the initiative by saying people should focus on the question of what kind of energy policy is needed to avoid leaving the problem of radioactive waste to their offspring.

His weighty comment raises crucial and straightforward questions about nuclear power generation.

Taiwan operates a facility to store low-level radioactive waste from the nuclear power plants in a remote island. But local residents have been opposing the operation of the facility.

To compensate for the loss of nuclear power, Taipei plans to raise the share of renewable energy, mainly solar and wind power, in overall electricity production to 20 percent from the current 4 percent.

The Tsai administration’s move to set a clear timetable for ending the production of electricity using atomic energy will make it easier for industries to make strategic responses to the policy shift. This is raising strong expectations for job creation in related industrial areas.

A similar situation is unfolding in Germany, which has decided to abolish nuclear power generation by 2022.

Taiwanese companies have an international reputation for their excellent ability to quickly take in new technologies and develop them into popular products.

There is much room for them to upgrade their power-saving expertise. This offers business opportunities also for Japanese companies with close ties to Taiwanese businesses.

Nuclear power generation was introduced into Taiwan by the autocratic regime of the Kuomintang, or the Nationalist Party. In contrast, the DPP has been espousing an anti-nuclear policy and has no special interest ties with the power industry.

Consequently, the transfer of power from the Kuomintang to the DPP has led directly to this policy shift.

In Taiwanese society, a majority of people have taken a dim view of nuclear power generation. Even the previous Kuomintang government froze the construction of the fourth nuclear plant under pressure from strong public opposition.

Taiwan’s decision to pull the plug on nuclear power generation is a product of not only strong political leadership. It is also a result of Taiwan’s success in translating the will of the people into a specific policy decision.

In Japan, there are strong concerns about the restarts of offline nuclear reactors. This public anxiety was clearly reflected in the outcomes of the recent gubernatorial elections in Kagoshima and Niigata prefectures.

Why, then, is the Japanese government showing no signs of making any major change in its nuclear power policy?

Taiwan’s decision inevitably makes us ponder various problems facing Japan.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 30


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