Taiwan Anti-Nuclear Protests May Derail $8.9 Billion Power Plant

Taiwanese protesting against the completion of the island’s fourth nuclear power plant vowed to continue their campaign after mustering more than 68,000 people in weekend marches across major cities.

As Japan marks the second anniversary of the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, Taiwan’s Longmen Nuclear Power Plant, the NT$264 billion ($8.9 billion) project that state-run Taiwan Power Co. is building, has drawn new criticism. The company missed a deadline to start commercial operations at the end of 2012.

“Nuclear power is toxic,” 87-year-old Wu Lien-mien, who has spent her life in Gongliao, 25 miles east of Taipei, where the plant is, said at the protests. “It is dangerous. I would have come to protest even if I were 100.”

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou is caught between a pledge to reduce carbon emissions to year-2000 levels by 2025 while also phasing out nuclear power, which accounts for about a fifth of Taiwan’s electricity. Opposition parties are against the construction of nuclear reactors and Ma has supported calls to put the issue to a referendum.

“We’ve heard Taiwanese people’s concerns and we’ll seek to address their concerns in a neutral and unbiased manner,” said Roger Lee, spokesman of Taiwan Power. “We’ll continue to communicate with the public over the nuclear power plant.”

Radioactive Release

A magnitude-9 earthquake off Japan’s northeast coast on March 11, 2011, and the tsunami that followed turned into what then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan called the country’s worst crisis since World War II. Water flooding into the Fukushima Dai-Ichi station disrupted cooling mechanisms, causing radioactive material to be released.

Japan and Taiwan lie on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area bordering the Pacific Ocean that is tectonically active.

“We demand construction of the No. 4 nuclear power plant to stop immediately and that Taiwan phase out the use of nuclear power,” Jason Lin, a spokesman for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, said before the weekend protest. “After the Fukushima crisis, people are awakened to the fact that nuclear power isn’t safe.”

Taiwan’s three nuclear plants are near the ocean, and geological fractures, or faults, under the island, also spur concern that the area may be unsafe.

In September 1999, a temblor centered 150 kilometers (93 miles) southwest of Taipei killed about 2,500 people. In December 2006, Taiwan Power halted its No. 3 nuclear power station for inspection after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck near southern Taiwan, killing at least two people.

Front Line

“The future of the plant should be decided by the people on the front line,” said 57-year-old Wu Wen-tung, who owns a home appliance store in Gongliao.

Taiwan Power had sought to start commercial operation at the No. 4 nuclear power plant by the end of last year after at least five delays since it first started design work in the 1980s. In July 1986, lawmakers demanded a halt to the project following the Chernobyl disaster. It was reinstated in 1992, only to be suspended in October 2000 when former President Chen Shui-bian’s administration told Taiwan Power to stop work because of opposition from residents.

The project restarted February 2001 after a court ruled that Chen should have consulted lawmakers before making an executive order.

Natural Gas

Taiwan’s government has said it intends to abandon atomic energy as long as viable alternatives in terms of prices and carbon reduction are found. This may mean greater use of natural gas, a more expensive fuel.

Other than nuclear, the island derives 40 percent of its power from coal, and 31 percent from gas, according to Taiwan Power. Yang Feng-shuo, the director of energy studies at the Taiwan Institute for Economic Studies, said March 4 that natural gas power generation costs about NT$1 per kilowatt-hour more than nuclear.

“If construction of the No. 4 nuclear power plant is stopped, the feasible option to make up for the lost capacity will be natural gas-fired power plants,” Yang said by phone. “Coal projects have faced difficulties in passing environmental protect impact assessment.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.