Two referendums on the mothballed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) might be held concurrently with next year’s presidential election.
Former Taiwan Environmental Protection Union chairman Kao Cheng-yan (高成炎) has proposed one on repurposing the plant for renewable energy generation, museum exhibits and tours, and research. Nuclear advocate Huang Shih-hsiu (黃士修), who initiated the “Go nuclear to go green” referendum during the nine-in-one elections in November last year, has proposed another referendum on restarting construction at the plant.
The plant had gone through numerous local referendums long before the Referendum Act (公民投票法) was enacted. One was held in Gongliao in May 1994, with 96 percent of votes opposing, while another was held in then-Taipei County the following November, with 88.6 percent opposed. Taipei also held a referendum on the plant in March 1996, with 54 percent against, while another was held in Yilan County in December 1998, with 60.01 percent against. None put an end to the controversy.
The construction was originally proposed in 1980, but the budget was frozen in 1986. The legislature unfroze the budget in 1992, only to pass a termination plan in May 1998. The following October, the Executive Yuan resurrected the plan and construction officially started in March 1999. In October 2000, the Cabinet decided to suspend construction, but the legislature resolved to relaunch the work in January 2001. In April 2014, the Cabinet announced that the plant was being mothballed.
The dispute has gone on for nearly 40 years and construction has lasted more than 20 years. This period has witnessed Chernobyl and Fukushima Dai-ichi, and seen two changes of government in Taiwan. The construction has gone over budget and wasted government resources.
To mothball the plant, state-run Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) budgeted NT$2.5 billion (US$81 million at the current exchange rate) for halting construction and another NT$1.279 billion for three years of maintenance. Despite the legislature’s determination not to allocate additional funds to the project, Taipower budgeted another NT$817 million for “asset maintenance and management” after the three-year period expired.
The plant is a money pit. Resuming construction is estimated to take 10 more years and almost NT$80 billion. The same amount of time and money would be better spent promoting energy savings and developing renewable sources of energy. Even repurposing the plant into a museum or an amusement park would be more meaningful than letting it remain mired in dispute.
The plant has not generated a single kilowatt-hour in four decades, effectively dispelling the myth that a power shortage would occur without it. An analysis published in 2013 by the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research showed that the levelized cost of electricity generated by the plant would be about NT$2.44 per kilowatt-hour, without counting costs incurred from policies and incidents.
The Industrial Technology Research Institute estimates the levelized cost of solar power as NT$1 to NT$2 per kilowatt-hour, assuming that power stations have a life span of 25 years. Nuclear power is not necessarily cheaper. A study by a French state agency showed that Taiwan could save US$44.5 billion by transitioning to renewable energy to replace aging atomic facilities.