Taiwan voters reverse nuclear ban

Nearly 55% of Taiwanese residents turned out to vote on a referendum this past week which would determine whether or not Taiwan maintained its nuclear generation or ended it.  In a result that surprised many observers, Taiwanese voters decisively rejected the government’s phase-out of nuclear power, 59% to 41%.  After the results were announced, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, announced in a speech that she would step down as leader of the Democratic Progressive Party after its “disappointing performance.”

The Democratic Progressive Party, elected in January 2016, had planned to phase out nuclear power by 2025 even though it was warned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) that the closure of the three operating nuclear power plants would result in lower economic growth rates and a 0.5% decline in Taiwan’s GDP, higher levels of pollution, an increase of more than 10% in electricity prices, and a rise in carbon dioxide emissions of as much as 15%. Nevertheless, in September 2016 the government confirmed that it would not extend the operating licences of Chinshan and Kuosheng units. Additionally, the government prevented one reactor from refuelling and one reactor was forced to shut down due to the government withholding operating permission, despite AEC clearance.

Then, in August 2017, a problem at a large gas-fired power plant plunged half of Taiwan into darkness for about five hours in what was viewed as an unwise over-reliance on natural gas imports.  The World Nuclear Association said: “The Taiwanese government has allowed ideology to undermine public well-being by keeping nuclear capacity offline at a time when the country is struggling with power shortages.” The government was called upon to reconsider its reliance on natural gas and its neglect of nuclear power, and to “entertain the possibility” of completing the 2700 MWe Lungmen nuclear plant, the construction of which was already nearly complete when the DPP took office.  Nuclear power has been a significant part of the electricity supply for the past two decades in Taiwan, providing around 14% of electricity generation in 2015 ,although this declined to 9% in 2017 due to the temporary shutdown of some reactors. Nevertheless, the government seemed willing to risk blackouts and the clear safety risks they posed, rather than continue with the responsible use of nuclear energy.

The chastened government received a clear message with the results of the referendum.  Learn more about how the pronuclear campaigners supporting this referendum managed their success by reading Pro-Nuclear Activists Win Landslide Electoral Victory In Taiwan by Michael Shellenberger, published by Forbes on November 24, 2018.