Taiwan needs to embrace clean energy

I co-signed the following letter which was published in the Taipei Times today.

Is there an unfortunate misunderstanding about German politics and history among some Taiwanese?

After two of us had to clarify the path Germany took to abolish the death penalty, (“Real deal behind abolition,” March 17, 2011, page 8), we now have to clarify a misrepresentation of the anti-nuclear stance of Germany’s Green Party (“Anti-nuclear protesters confronted by Taipower ‘thug’ police: DPP lawmaker,” Sept. 10, page 3).

Contrary to allegations made in an article on Taipower’s Web site, the German Green Party was partly founded by people emerging from the popular anti-nuclear movement formed during the 1970s. It always had a staunch and unwavering anti-nuclear platform, and, most importantly, has been a key factor in pushing Germany toward a path of sustainable energy based on clean renewable energy and away from dirty coal and potentially calamitous nuclear fuel.

Germany is now a world leader in producing and installing renewable energy, such as wind power, thanks in large part to the Green Party’s insistence of giving clean energy a chance during its stay of power in German’s national government in the early 2000s. Continue reading

Music and No Nukes on Fulong Beach

Hohaiyan Music Festival on Fulong Beach

Yesterday I attended the first day of the 2011 Hohaiyan Music Festival (海洋音樂祭) at Fulong Beach. The festival, organised by the New Taipei City (formerly Taipei County) Government, has been running since 2000. The festival has two stages with the main stage on Fulong Beach. There are also food stalls and toilets set up on the beach and a huge staff to keep things running smoothly.

No Nukes group at Hohaiyan

When I arrived on the beach I saw members of the No Nukes group (諾怒客) handing out posters and talking to people. It is a reminder that just a few kilometres away from this beautiful beach the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is under construction.   Continue reading

Vision for a sustainable future

Bruno Walther sent the following letter to the Taipei Times last week. The Taipei Times published a second letter that he also sent last week. He has given me permission to post the first letter here.

Ever since the nuclear catastrophe began in Japan, I was just waiting for somebody to step forward with the argument ‘but given all the environmental problems caused by fossil fuels, isn’t nuclear energy the lesser of two evils?” I didn’t have to wait long, as the Taipei Times’ editorial repeated this tired and old propaganda of the nuclear energy industry (“The irrational fear of invisible agents,” Mar. 22, page 8). While overall, nuclear energy may be the lesser of two evils, it is still an evil, capable of disseminating radiation and thereby increasing cancer rates considerably in affected populations. Worse, it leaves us with thousands of tons of the most toxic and dangerous waste for hundreds of thousands of years. Who in his or her right mind would place such a burden of responsibility on future generations who have no benefit from our wasteful ways?

Continue reading

The cost of nuclear power

Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and Fulong Beach

Taiwan’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant under construction in August 2009 with Fulong Beach in the foreground.

I had a letter in the Taipei Times today on the subject of nuclear power. It argues that the high cost and long lead times of nuclear power projects defers investment in cleaner and safer forms of electricity generation. The text of the letter is below followed by details about anti-nuclear protests in Taipei. Continue reading

No Nukes Concert at Fulong

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When I got off the train in Fulong (福隆) yesterday afternoon there was a bit of cloud cover and a sea breeze making the temperature a little more bearable than in Taipei. While many people come to Fulong to cool off at the beach I headed to the area in front of the Dongxing Temple (東興宮) for the No Nukes Concert (諾努客之環境音樂會).

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An article by T.C. Chang explains the reasons for holding the concert. Chang writes that Gongliao is a very important place in the history of Taiwan’s environment movement. In 2000 the Taipei County Government began holding the Ho Hai Yan Music Festival (海洋音樂祭)  on Fulong Beach. In the early years of this annual festival the Green Citizens’ Action Alliance (GCAA; 綠色公民行動聯盟) held activities to inform people about the nuclear power plant. However, Ho Hai Yan has become very commercialised the GCAA decided to hold their own concert to return to the original spirit of Gongliao.

The fourth nuclear power plant is clearly visible at the end of the beach (see top photo) and served as a constant reminder of the reason for holding the concert. The construction of the plant has been subject to many delays and it is not expected to commence operating until 2012. Continue reading

No nukes for Taitung

The TITV report* in the video embedded above is about a protest against nuclear waste in Taitung held at Ximending in Taipei on 28 June. The government of Taiwan is seeking to relocate the nuclear waste currently stored on Orchid Island to a new location. A report in the Taipei Times provides a good summary of the situation.

The Taiwan Power Co (Taipower Co) announced in April that Daren Township (達仁) in Taitung County was one of two candidate locations for a nuclear waste storage facility.

As a vast majority of residents, county officials, councilors and political leaders from the other site in Wangan Township (望安), Penghu County, voiced strong opposition to the plan, many have come to believe that Daren — a traditional domain of the Paiwan tribe — will be selected.

Some of Daren’s residents, including the township mayor, support the plan, hoping that a promised NT$5 billion (US$151 million) payment would help resolve poverty, while others oppose it because of worries that such a facility would destroy the environment.

Please read the article I wrote a couple of years ago about the search for a nuclear waste storage site in Taiwan. As I said in that article, it is no accident that nuclear waste is imposed on the poorest and most marginalised communities. The pattern of buying off people with promises of infrastructure and jobs continues.

The process of developing a nuclear waste storage site also shows a frightening disregard for democratic process. In December the Presbyterian Church reported that the government was spying on church activities in Taitung. In particular government authorities made enquiries about church activities opposed to nuclear waste. At a public hearing on nuclear waste storage in Taitung in April two environmental activists were illegally detained by police for two hours to prevent them from protesting or speaking at the meeting.

I offer no solutions to the intractable problem of nuclear waste storage. The continuing presence of nuclear waste on Orchid Island is an abomination. The relocation of the waste to another indigenous community on the mainland is also unacceptable. How can governments allow the construction of nuclear power plants when they have no clear plan for the long-term storage of nuclear waste?

*The video comes from TITV Weekly produced by Taiwan Indigenous Television (台灣原住民電視台). The English language program can be viewed via its YouTube Channel. It is a good source of news about issues affecting indigenous peoples in Taiwan.

Energy is a hot topic

The National Energy Conference currently being held in Taipei has pushed energy issues into the spotlight. This comes on the back of news earlier this week that German wind power company InfraVest threatened to withdraw from Taiwan if the government did not implement policies to support renewable energy.

At the conference President Ma called on the Legislative Yuan to pass the renewable energy law.  The Taipei Times reported the DPP and KMT finger pointing at each other over the failure to pass the renewable energy bill. Both parties must shoulder the blame. The DPP controlled the executive for eight years and failed to implement effective energy policies. The pan-blue parties had a majority in the legislature during this time and failed to pass the renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction laws. Continue reading

No place for nuclear waste

Oppose nuclear power in TaiwanThere is an article in today’s Taipei Times about the continuing search for a site to store Taiwan’s nuclear waste. It says that a final location for the “disposal” [This is the word used in the article. I hope they mean storage!] of nuclear waste, currently stored at Orchid Island (蘭嶼), will be decided on by the Executive Yuan in 2011.

In July 2004 I had the chance to join a tour organised by Friends of the Earth. We visited sites associated with the nuclear industry in South Australia. There is a long history of nuclear related activities there going back to the British testing of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and uranium mining, including the world’s largest uranium deposit at Olympic Dam. The area has also been proposed as a site for the storage of nuclear waste. The opposition of local communities has been successful in preventing this so far. The tour gave me a chance to appreciate the problems associated with the nuclear industry and the storage of nuclear waste that you just cannot get from reading books.

There are some significant similarities and differences between Taiwan and Australia regarding the storage of nuclear waste. A major difference is that is much of Australia is sparsely populated and geologically stable. Contrast this with Taiwan — a small densely populated island that experiences frequent earthquakes. If Australia has spent many years searching for a suitable place to store its own relatively small amounts of nuclear waste*, then how can Taiwan expect to find a suitable place?

A similarity between Taiwan and Australia is that indigenous people have had to suffer a disproportionate burden of nuclear activities. In Taiwan the Tao Nation, on Orchid Island, are the ones who have to live next to Taiwan’s nuclear waste. It is no coincidence that the poorest and most marginalised members of society are the ones that have nuclear waste dumped on them.

9% of Taiwan’s energy comes from nuclear power. Better planning and investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency could easily eliminate the need for these nuclear power plants to continue operating. However, even if all the nuclear operations were to stop today there would still be massive amounts of waste without suitable long-term storage facilities. The continuing use of nuclear power only exacerbates the problem.

Taiwan’s energy policy in general shows a tremendous lack of forward planning. The nation is almost entirely dependent on imported energy. Yet there has been a paltry investment in renewable energy or energy efficiency. Taiwan has also failed to adequately consider the twin threats of climate change and peak oil in forming public policy.

I wonder if the government really has any idea at all about what to do with the nuclear waste. Over two years ago the Taipei Times reported that the Atomic Energy Council with the use of new technologies “hopes to complete the relocation project by 2008”. At the beginning of this year the Taipei Times again reported on the issue saying,

The relocation of low-level radioactive waste on the island of Lanyu (蘭嶼) could be accelerated from the previously-scheduled 18 years to nine years, the head of the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) said yesterday.

[…]

If everything goes smoothly, the Lanyu nuclear waste receptacle can be decommissioned by 2014, Ou Yang said.

All this highlights how difficult the problem is when a basic time line for the project cannot even be decided upon. In many ways government institutions (not just those in Taiwan) are totally inadequate for dealing with a waste product that remains dangerous for thousands of years.

I don’t have any answers about how to safely store nuclear waste. But this highlights the problem. Why continue producing a dangerous waste product when there is no clear plan of where and how to store it? It is sheer lunacy.

* Australia has only one small nuclear reactor used for research purposes. Taiwan has three operating nuclear power plants, and a fourth under construction.

# The characters on the flag are 反核救台灣. In English it means, “Oppose nuclear power, save Taiwan.”