With Kuosheng shut down, Taiwan has only two nuclear reactors left
The antinuclear energy policies of Taiwanese president Ing-wen Tsai, of Taiwan’s republic’s Democratic Progressive Party, stoked controversy on March 14 when the nation’s Kuosheng-2 nuclear power plant was taken off line to be decommissioned. Minister of economic affairs Mei-hua Wang, who oversees the state-run Taiwan Power Company (Taipower), claimed that the shutdown will not affect power supply because it will be offset by hydroelectric power, as well as gas- and coal-fired power plants. However, objectors to the shutdown claim the possibility of electricity blackouts, with opposition legislator I-ding Wu, of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist) Party, countering that renewable energy would be insufficient to meet Taiwan’s energy needs and that fossil fuels are “dirtier” and “more expensive.”
Nuclear-free homeland: Tsai came to office in 2016, promising to make Taiwan a “nuclear-free homeland” by 2025 by decommissioning all six of its operable nuclear reactors when their 40-year operating licenses expired.
Accordingly, Unit 1 of the Chinshan plant was taken off line in December 2018, and Unit 2 was shut down in July 2019. Unit 1 at Kuosheng stopped operating in June 2021. With the removal of Kuosheng’s Unit 2, there are now only two operating commercial nuclear reactors in Taiwan—the two units at the Maanshan power plant, whose operating licenses expire in July 2024 and May 2025. Construction began on two reactors at Lungmen in 1999, although those projects were halted in 2014 and 2015.
Taipower’s plans: Regarding the controversy over nuclear reactor shutdowns, Taipower released a statement that discounted concerns about electricity shortages and carbon emissions: “Taipower has made long-term plans in terms of power supply development and power grid construction. In terms of power supply development, we are actively promoting gas-fired power generation units that halve carbon emissions. . . . The power grid has also continued to be strengthened.” The statement also referred to two new coal-fired units that are scheduled to come on line later this year, claiming, “The total installed capacity [of those units] is greater than the 985,000 kWh of the shut-down No. 2 nuclear power unit [at Kuosheng].”
According to Taiwan’s Bureau of Energy, about 82 percent of Taiwan’s energy came from fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas, in 2022, compared with about 8 percent each from nuclear energy and renewable sources. In past years, nuclear energy has supplied as much as 20 percent of Taiwan’s power.
High costs and energy shortages: Wu pointed out that, based on Taipower’s own data, the cost to generate nuclear energy is only NT$1.5 (New Taiwan dollars) per kilowatt-hour, roughly five cents in U.S. dollars. By contrast, the cost for fossil fuels is NT$4, and imported energy costs roughly NT$5.
Tsung-kuang Yeh , a professor with the Institute of Nuclear Engineering and Science at National Tsing Hua University, in reporting by HuffPost didn’t mince words when calling the minister of economic affairs’ claim that hydroelectric power would offset the loss of nuclear energy “a lie.” Yeh notes that substantial electricity is required to pump the water for hydroelectric sources and that recent droughts have negatively impacted hydroelectric capacity. He predicted that the nuclear shutdowns would lead to future energy shortages in Taiwan.
Yeh has urged the government to reconsider its antinuclear policies and to at least extend the operating permit of Kuosheng-2 on a short-term basis.