Taiwan’s atomic-energy authority has decided to forge ahead with its plan to grant permission to the state-owned Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) to restart more reactors islandwide that have been put on standby because of operation blunders and the fierce wrangling between pro- and anti-nuclear camps.
The second reactor at the Kuosheng Nuclear Power Plant, a mere 22 kilometers northeast of Taipei, was given the go-ahead this month to resume full-capacity operation after it stalled in May 2016 in a short-circuit glitch during maintenance.
Taipower is now working around the clock to bring the 35-year-old reactor online again ahead of the start of the summer peak months for electricity demand. The reactor has been mothballed for around 600 days.
However, the move runs counter to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s policy to phase out all operating nuclear reactors by 2025.
Then-premier Lin Chuan rejected restarting inactive reactors in August 2017 and ordered Taipower to tap other options to fill the power gap. Now it’s apparent that environmentalists have been incensed by the policy U-turn. (Lin resigned in September.)
The resource-scarce island depends on nuclear energy to quench its thirst for electricity, particularly in its northern metropolitan conurbations, but Taiwan could be susceptible to a Fukushima-like apocalypse if poor oversight of operations is coupled with a cataclysmic earthquake or tsunami. Such natural events have stricken Taiwan, a seismically active island straddling the Pacific Ring of Fire, a number of times in the past.
Studies by Tokyo University and National Taiwan University have warned that Taiwan could suffer a repeat of what occurred in Fukushima on March 11, 2011, as the island is as vulnerable as Japan to such a disaster given its dense population, scant geographical buffers and nearly daily seismic tremors.
For instance, the catastrophic 7.3-magnitude Jiji earthquake that shattered Taiwan in September 1999 tripped reactors at its Kuosheng and Jinshan plants, leading to a blackout in Taipei.
Taiwan has four nuclear plants currently, though construction of the fourth one, the Lungmen facility that is also in close vicinity to Taipei, has been deferred pending a referendum to determine its fate.
Meanwhile, Taipower has been dumping nuclear waste on outlying Orchid Island since the 1990s.
The ruling DPP’s commitment to non-nuclear power generation means the island is set to revert to fume-emitting fossil fuels, exacerbating its air-pollution woes, among others.
The party has reiterated that its aim of a nuclear-free Taiwan by 2025 will remain unchanged.