Protesters take part in a hand-in-hand rally against the Lungmen power plant. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Protesters take part in a hand-in-hand rally against the Lungmen power plant. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The government will shut down all of the island’s nuclear power plants and liberalize the domestic market by 2025 in Taiwan’s biggest energy reforms in three decades.

Lawmakers approved changes to the Electricity Act, which had not been reviewed in five decades, on January 11, local media reported.

Taiwan has three active nuclear power plants and six reactors, accounting for 19% of the island’s electricity generation in 2015. Jinshan nuclear power plant and Kuosheng nuclear power plant are located in New Taipei City, near the north coast, while Maanshan nuclear power plant is based in the southern county of Pingtung.

These power plants were built between the late 1970s to early 1980s.

A fourth nuclear power plant Lungmen on the north coast was being built in 1999, but construction was halted several times because of escalating public debate over safety issues.

Work on the Lungmen nuclear power plant had been frozen since 2014 after Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs proposed that construction be halted for three years until a national referendum could be held to reach public consensus.

Taiwan is located along the Pacific Ring of Fire, where around 81% of the world’s largest earthquakes occur. A number of active faults run across the island, and every year among the 2,000 earthquakes that happen annually, around 200 can be felt.

With three nuclear power plants built within a 30-kilometer radius from the island’s capital, Taipei, nuclear safety has been a constant concern for environmentalists and anti-nuclear advocacy groups.

Taiwan’s anti-nuclear movement began in the 1980s when the government started plans to build the Lungmen power plant. Many protests have since occurred during the power plant’s construction, and have included concerts, movie screenings and local farmer markets. But all failed to sway the public and the government to change the law.

The safety of nuclear power became contentious after Japan’s 2011 Fukushima Daiichi power plant disaster. A 9.0-magnitude earthquake, which occurred off the east of the Oshika Peninsula, caused a 15-meter tsunami that destroyed the power plant’s cooling system and led to meltdowns in three reactors at the plant. Massive amounts of contaminated water were released from the crippled nuclear plant and more radiation was released to the air, then fell to the sea.

The Tohoku quake was the most powerful to hit Japan and the fallout from the nuclear accident is still evident today. Tokyo Electric Power Company and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency monitor the quality of ground water and seawater, while there are still many villages and towns that remain part of the evacuation zone set up in 2011.

On April 22, 2011, the government designated a 20km radius around the Daiichi plant as a restricted area and prohibited entry, except for those engaged in emergency response. Evacuation orders for some areas are being gradually cancelled, allowing people to move back.

In March 2012, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party proposed phasing out nuclear power in Taiwan by 2025. The amendment was passed in Taiwan’s legislature on January 11, 2017.

Italy, Germany and Switzerland have also amend laws to eliminate nuclear power. All of Japan’s nuclear power plants were suspended for around two years after the Fukushima disaster.

Taiwanese voice their opposition to nuclear power. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In Taiwan, the six reactors in the three active nuclear power plants will reach their 40-year operation limit by May 2025. The No 1 reactor in the Jinshan plant will reach this deadline in December 2018. The amendment ruled out any extension to operations at all nuclear reactors, and they must be closed by 2025.

Changes to the law will also see the state-run Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) privatized within six to nine years, with its operations split between electricity generation and distribution.

Taipower currently controls power generation, transmission and distribution (grid), and power sales, but the changes will now allow new players to enter the market eliminating the monopoly that has existed for six decades. Renewable energy such as solar and wind power will be given priority to go on the grid.

The move is the government’s attempt to promote renewable energy, aiming to increase the current share of 2% to 20% of the island’s total energy generation by 2025.

Environmental groups and industrial sectors raised concerns over possible fluctuations of power supply and future price increases. They also urged the government to work out plans for the safe disposal of low-level radioactive waste, which was not set out in the amendment.

Premier Lin Chuan has instructed the Ministry of Economic Affairs to roll out measures and goals for renewable energy development. The government might also establish a fund to prevent drastic fluctuations in electricity prices.