Pitfalls of nuclear power generation

Thirty minutes after major maintenance on the No. 2 reactor at the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Wanli District (萬里) on May 16, 2016, an explosion occurred in the lightning arrester box and the generator was taken offline. Six hundred and eighty days later, the generator was restarted — not without controversy — but only 24.5 hours later a safety mechanism was tripped following a warning given by the reactor’s neutron detection system.

The next day, groups that support nuclear power use proposed a referendum to “protect the environment through nuclear power.”

“To avoid the non-nuclear homeland policy causing air pollution and an ecological catastrophe, Article 95, Clause 1 of the Electricity Act (電業法) [Which says that ‘the nuclear-energy-based power-generating facilities shall wholly stop running by 2025’] should be abolished. To end the policy of the non-nuclear homeland, the nuclear generators should be restarted, to guarantee the public’s freedom of access to electricity, without imposing controls on electricity or having power cuts, and to ensure inexpensive electricity,” the referendum proposal says.

There is no mention of the development of “green” energy. The group could simply call the referendum “extending the life of nuclear power” instead of dressing it up as a proposal to “protect the environment through nuclear power.”

According to Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) data, the unit cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for nuclear-generated electricity last year was NT$1.86, compared with NT$1.57 for self-supply renewables, while for the whole of February it was NT$1.32 for nuclear-generated electricity, compared with NT$1.27 for self-supply renewables and NT$1.07 for self-supply wind-power-generated electricity.

Clearly, self-supplied electricity is cheaper than nuclear-generated electricity.

In Germany, which — following the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant accident in Japan — has sped up the decommissioning of aging nuclear power plants and thrown itself into the development of renewable energy sources, the average cost per kWh of solar energy has been reduced to NT$1.33.

FirstEnergy Corp in the US, unable to compete with natural gas and renewables, and with their high operation and maintenance costs, is planning to close three nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power, with its aging equipment and increasing costs, is finding it difficult to compete with “green” energy, for which costs are gradually decreasing with new technological advancements.

In late 2014, the No. 1 reactor at the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Shihmen District (石門) was shut down. In 2016, the No. 2 reactor at Guosheng was taken offline. In the middle of last year, the No. 2 reactor at Jinshan was shut down.

Whenever a reactor is taken offline, the development of renewables is given a boost. From 2014 to last year, solar energy total installed capacity rose from 437.5kW to 1,345.4kW, and the electricity generated rose from 511.7 to 1,499.4 gigawatts per hour.

Taipower and CPC Corp, Taiwan, signed a letter of intent to work together on the development of a geothermal plant in Yilan County.

Taipower chairman Yang Wei-fu (楊偉甫) has said the company would not rule out an assessment and development of the Jinshan plant, or the mothballed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮).

This is indirect evidence that a magma chamber could lie underneath the plants, and that if the nation is to transition to “green” energy, existing nuclear power plants first need to be repurposed.

Taiwan’s nuclear power plants, with their history of problems, are not a guarantee of steady electricity supply. The aging facilities are expensive to operate and maintain, and extending their lifespans is problematic, not only because of the significant increase in risk of disaster, but also because they would not provide inexpensive power.

Conserving energy is the only way to resolve issues of electricity demand and air pollution.

As to the idea that nuclear power can help prevent air pollution and ecological disasters, a Japanese court, ruling on the closure of a power plant in Osaka said: “The Fukushima disaster could be said to have led to the greatest environmental contamination in our [Japan’s] history, and to use this as a reason for the continued operation of this power plant is neither reasonable nor sufficiently supported by the evidence.”

Tsai Ya-ying is a lawyer affiliated with the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association.

Translated by Paul Cooper


Pitfalls of nuclear power generation(Taipei Times)

Tsai Ya-ying(lawyer affiliated with the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association.) / Translated by Paul Cooper