As the first anniversary of Japan’s nuclear crisis approaches this Sunday, religious and civil groups in Taiwan are preparing massive protests to stop the construction of a fourth atomic plant.
On March 11, nearly 100 organizations, including Green Citizens’ Action Alliance (GCAA), are expected to stage a “Bidding Farewell to Nuclear Power Parade” in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung. Protesters want the government to decommission three existing nuclear plants and to abandon any further nuclear power plans.
Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and the ensuing disaster at Fukushima Daiichi had inevitable implications in Taiwan, as both are islands that lie along the Pacific Ring of Fire, a zone of frequent volcanic and seismic activity.
Lungmen, the fourth nuclear plant, began construction in the late ’90s and has been beset by delays and budget woes. State-owned Taiwan Power is operating the project, which involves two advanced boiling water reactor units on the northeastern coast, each with a capacity of 1,350 megawatts. It is now expected to supply electricity by 2016.
More than half of Taiwan’s electricity currently comes from fossil fuels, with the largest share (29 percent) going to coal, according to a Taiwan Power report. Another 20 percent comes from natural gas, and 19 percent comes from nuclear plants. Taiwan’s oldest operating unit is the Chinshan plant on the northern coast, which began operation in 1978.
Taiwan’s earthquake-prone geography and aging reactors are just part of the challenge it faces in pursuing nuclear power; the issue of how to handle nuclear waste is another hot-button concern.
(Photos: Energy in the Forces of Nature)
Taiwan does not have a proper policy to tackle this problem, which has led to the in situ storage of this surplus for over 34 years. The state has turned to villages such as Nantian and Orchid Island, off Taiwan’s southeastern coast, to dispose of its nuclear waste. The government is also evaluating proposals to have the material recycled overseas.
In a government meeting on the issue last year, Hung Shen-han of GCAA noted that no foreign country had been willing to lease land to Taiwan for the storage of nuclear waste, and said that even overseas recycling still would require the storage of unstable nuclear material in Taiwan. He likened situation to a ticking time bomb, according to news reports.
Despite the vocal opposition, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou, who was re-elected in January, has not shown any signs of backing down on his commitment to bring the Lungmen plant online within the next four years.
“We shouldn’t be selfish and insist on using nuclear power without thinking about the consequences it could have for our offspring,” Ng Tiat-gan, a pastor in Taiwan who also lived for a year in Fukushima, was reportedly said at a press conference ahead of this weekend’s protests. “The government should immediately shut down the three existing nuclear plants, suspend the construction of the fourth plant, and develop clean energy to guarantee the sustainable use of energy in Taiwan.”