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Taiwan voters need solid facts on nuclear power

It is easy to see how a commercial against nuclear power could influence a voter. A Taiwanese family is enjoying supper when alarms ring out. Images of people in hazmat suits fill the television screen as an announcer reports horrific events: thousands dead, millions evacuated, parts of northern Taiwan unlivable for generations. This theoretical TV spot then ends with the tagline: “Is Nuclear Power Worth It?”

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s campaign has already released an anti-nuclear commercial ― admittedly less vivid than the one imagined above ― and Tsai’s campaign will continue to highlight the issue. Unlike many of the bogus claims and scare tactics the DPP has employed in previous elections, this issue is valid.

At the time still only a candidate for the DPP’s presidential nomination, Tsai pledged in early April that if elected president, she would begin a process that will see Taiwan end the use of nuclear energy by the year 2025. Weeks after Tsai’s pledge, the German government declared it would close all of its nuclear plants by 2022. Also in May, the Swiss government announced that the oldest of Switzerland’s nuclear plants is set to close in 2019 and newer plants will be decommissioned by 2034. On this issue, Tsai Ing-wen now looks ahead of an international curve.

When Tsai served as vice premier she inspected the still under-construction fourth nuclear power plant and told Taipower officials to strive to open the plant on schedule. But to critics who claim inconsistency Tsai has a one-word rebuttal: Fukushima. Like Merkel, Tsai can explain any change in policy by pointing to the nuclear disaster in Japan brought on by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

All over the world, formerly die-hard supporters of nuclear energy have begun to have second thoughts. Thus far, however, the Ma administration hasn’t offered a strong response to the anti-nuclear campaigners. A week after the twin disasters hit Japan, Premier Wu Den-yi either flubbed his language or his facts when telling the legislature that Taiwan’s “fourth generation” plants were much safer than Japan’s. In fact, Taiwan has no “fourth generation” plants; the two nuclear reactors located in northern Taiwan’s New Taipei City are second generation ― as were the Fukushima plants.

An accident at the Pingtung nuclear plant located near Kenting could mean many deaths and the destruction of one of Taiwan’s most scenic areas ― a horrible scenario to be sure ― but a serious “incident” at one of the plants in New Taipei City could require the evacuation of millions and likely lead to a fearsome death toll. Is it true that Taiwan has no choice but to accept this risk? What are the possible reasons for keeping these nuclear power plants operating ― especially the ones located near major population centers? Could the older plants close when the fourth nuclear power plant begins operating?

How about a gradual phasing out of nuclear energy? Is, say, a 2040 date for a nuclear-free Taiwan possible? If the government wants the people of Taiwan to support nuclear energy, it needs to explain clearly why these options are not feasible. The government will also need to start releasing the kind of info that makes sense to an average voter. If Taiwan goes nuclear-free, how much will electricity prices rise ― in real dollar figures? If the answer is hypothetically NT$3,000 more per month, many voters may conclude that for now, they have no choice but to accept nuclear power. If the answer is NT$1,000 more per month, voters might decide it’s a price worth paying. Using economic considerations as the base point for such a big decision may seem shallow and selfish, but many of Taiwan’s people don’t have the luxury of looking at it from any other perspective.

Voters need to know what a nuclear-free Taiwan means in practical terms: Will air pollution (and related diseases) increase as we burn more oil or coal to make up the power shortfall? Will there be other cost increases? Tsai’s call for a nuclear-free Taiwan is a powerful one, but how practical is it? Voters need solid, unexaggerated facts ― in plain language and numbers ― before they can decide which party has the better energy policy.

(Editorial, The China Post (Taiwan))

(Asia News Network)
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