Could Taiwan’s political left reconsider nuclear power? – The diplomat


Modern Taiwan is reinventing itself. From changes in electoral politics to recognizing complex historical legacies to reconsidering the country’s climate future, Taiwanese are reinventing many aspects of society with a bold vision of what the country should look like tomorrow.

This same fearlessness does not currently apply to how progressive Taiwanese view the role of nuclear power. Nuclear attitudes have returned to center stage amid an impending referendum vote on whether to resume construction of the Longmen nuclear power plant (often referred to as NPP4), a move left-wing politicians are rallying voters to to oppose it.

Rather than thinking about how to reform or improve Taiwan’s nuclear industry, left-wing and “pan-green” political platforms have generally called for the complete elimination of nuclear power. Given that so many other national institutions in Taiwan are being transformed to better align with today’s world and values ​​today, why haven’t left-wing pro-Taiwan politicians and activists? not also considered alternative approaches which would seek to reform the production of nuclear energy in Taiwan to better correspond to their societal aspirations?

The answer is that nuclear policy in Taiwan today remains tied to decades of social and political history, with attitudes towards nuclear energy closely associated with political identity. Many of the main political points of contention surrounding nuclear issues in Taiwan relate to ideas about government accountability, Indigenous rights, and democratic community engagement.

During the period of authoritarian rule in Taiwan, the right-wing Kuomintang (KMT) administered nuclear energy projects in the same way it conducted much of domestic politics – in defiance of opposition and dissent. local. During the 1970s and 1980s, left-wing activists joined forces with Taiwanese nationalists and anti-nuclear environmentalists to resist government oppression. The shared vision of a pristine Taiwan untainted by repressive mainland Chinese dictators has united this seemingly motley group into a cohesive “pan-green” political movement. In the decades that followed, a younger generation of progressive Taiwanese found their political awakening during the Sunflower movement of 2014, in which a student occupation of the Legislative Yuan in rejection of then-majority KMT policies took place alongside national anti-nuclear protests. .

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This political dynamic continues to mark nuclear policy in Taiwan today, as evidenced by recent intense debates on the upcoming referendum on December 18. Left and pan-Green groups continue to highlight the problematic, non-consultative and undemocratic history of Taiwan’s nuclear facilities, especially the long-standing disputes specifically related to the NPP4. Meanwhile, KMT politicians and allied nuclear proponents have only strengthened nuclear energy’s association with powerful and insensitive institutions, outright dismissing public concerns about waste storage, mocking it. ‘an indigenous counterpart during a televised debate, and even making physical threats against political rivals.

It goes without saying that such offensive right-wing rhetoric has no place in civilian political discourse. At the same time, this invective also has little to do with the fundamental technical issues inherent in nuclear technology or the management of power plants. Rather, the referendum process highlighted how debates over nuclear energy in Taiwan have become ingrained and tightly focused, with attention turned to polarizing statements and partisan politics.

This is problematic because the issue of Taiwan’s energy future is ultimately much larger than the politics of television or even the upcoming referendum on NPP4. In seeking both greater energy security and a greener energy landscape, Taiwan faces a difficult path. If the Progressive Democratic Party’s nuclear phase-out policy becomes a reality as expected, removing nuclear power as an option, this path will only become more difficult.

Nuclear power remains Taiwan’s largest source of clean electricity by a factor of two, producing 11% of Taiwan’s national electricity production. While national policies call for replacing existing generation with additional wind and solar capacity, Taiwan is currently not on track to meet its renewable energy deployment targets. The Energy Office of the Ministry of Economic Affairs estimated in 2018 that renewable electricity could provide 9% of national production in 2020, and current targets are for renewable energy to support 20% of the production of electricity by 2025. In reality, renewable sources produced only 5.4% of Taiwan’s electricity in 2020, down from 2019 production. Certainly, 2020 will be remembered as a year abnormal in history, but Taiwan must almost quadruple its renewable generation in four years to meet the 2025 target. Meanwhile, the 2025 capacity deployment targets only envision a two or three-fold increase in capacity. renewable energy production compared to 2020 levels.

If Taipei’s efforts to develop wind and solar power fall short of expectations, the phase-out of nuclear power in Taiwan would simply represent a “conveyor belt decarbonization,” where new renewable capacity largely replaces it. than existing nuclear production, without significantly altering the amount of Taiwan’s energy supplied by imports. -dependent on fossil fuels. At the same time, Taiwan’s electricity demand continues to grow and may increase further as new power-hungry semiconductor factories for 3-nanometer chips start production. This combination of factors can therefore make the Taiwanese economy vulnerable to the unpredictability of fossil fuel markets and global supply chains, with commensurate risks to Taiwan’s regional economic competitiveness. While the world will undoubtedly pay a high price for 3nm chips, other export products like electronics, home appliances or metals that become more expensive due to production hurdles could lose ground. in the world market.

One wonders whether such practical concerns could possibly spur the political left in Taiwan to develop its own vision for nuclear energy – a positive, forward-looking, and socially responsible platform that is fully consistent with its progressive agenda, while overflowing and presenting a dynamic alternative. to the authoritarian policy of the KMT. For example, such a reform-oriented strategy could direct Taipower and government regulators to better manage earthquake or disaster risks, or design benefit-sharing policies to help build consensus around new ones. proposals. Current initiatives compensating communities for past non-consultative projects could be expanded to include productive investments in local infrastructure and services that leave more sustainable and long-term value for nearby residents than financial payments. A new pan-green nuclear strategy could examine how maintaining nuclear capacity to pull out more coal-fired power plants provides environmental justice benefits by reducing air pollution and the dangerous production of coal ash, as well. that global benefits through greenhouse gas reductions that help meet Taiwan’s climate obligations to the wider world.

Such a change in attitude could be fostered by corresponding changes in nuclear technology that can separate the future of nuclear power in Taiwan even more sharply from its past. In the future, new advanced nuclear technologies could address many concerns that feature prominently in public nuclear discourse. Emerging designs offer significant improvements in safety, such as reactors that cannot lose cooling capacity or that can be placed underground for high protection. These new technologies represent a much better future investment than new fossil gas infrastructure that will only hamper Taiwan’s energy security and climate ambitions for the foreseeable future.

However, when it comes to advanced nuclear concepts, it is essential to recognize that there are significant obstacles in the way of plans to deploy these new nuclear projects in Taiwan. Despite the lack of official diplomatic recognition from the United States, Taiwan is one of only two countries in the world that the United States has imposed a Gold Standard 123 deal, waiving Taiwan’s rights to manufacture nuclear fuel and recycle. waste. Likewise, although Taiwan’s nuclear facilities are under intense surveillance under IAEA additional protocols, the exclusion of the United Nations means that Taiwan is not recognized by the IAEA, let alone capable of participating in it. his decision making. This level of interference from foreign entities who otherwise hesitate to publicly recognize Taiwan raises many practical obstacles to further advanced nuclear development, in addition to being deeply humiliating to the Taiwanese people.

However, these convoluted international dynamics also present useful incremental opportunities. As part of the broader efforts to reintegrate Taiwan into the international community, most recently with its candidacy approved by the United States to join the WHO, Taiwanese leaders may also demand from the United States and international institutions like the IAEA that they remove restrictive policies on waste treatment. and nuclear technology currently hampering Taiwan’s nuclear sector, thus opening a new front in Taiwan’s important struggle for greater international representation.

Ultimately, rather than opposing political parties with different positions on whether to use a technology, it makes much more sense for parties to have different ideas on how to govern and how to use that technology. . Nuclear power in Taiwan may involve associations of communal opposition, institutional mistrust, risk and partisan controversy, but these dynamics are not inherent in nuclear technology. There are issues that could be solved with the same bold creativity that Taiwanese have applied to so many other corners of society. There is no doubt that progressive Taiwanese possess the power to craft a future vision for nuclear energy that reforms and overcomes challenges inherited from Taiwan.

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