TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A decade after a disastrous tsunami hit eastern Japan, leading to one of the gravest nuclear accidents in history, Taiwanese will be making a decision on whether to break up with nuclear energy.
On March 11, 2011, an earthquake-triggered disaster at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, aroused concern in neighboring Taiwan, where three nuclear plants were in full swing with a fourth on the brink of completion.
In the aftermath of Japan's nuclear disaster, Taiwan saw one of its largest anti-nuclear energy protests and forced the ruling KMT government to mothball the fourth plant. People were also granted the right to a final say about the future of the country's energy production through referendums.
Although the experience of Fukushima showed nuclear accidents can occur even in places where people are known for cautiousness, anxiety over power shortages and rising electricity costs has gradually come to surpass the mistrust of nuclear energy in Taiwan.
In a 2018 referendum, Taiwanese voted to scrap a plan that would have shut down all the nuclear plants in the country by 2025. Voters will decide in August 2021 whether to reopen the fourth nuclear plant, which has never been put into operation.
"The focus on the debate between renewable energy and fossil fuels in the past year has seemed to dilute people's worries about the risks of nuclear energy," Legislator Hung Sun-han (洪申翰) said in an interview with Business Today.
However, although many in Taiwan believe nuclear energy will help stabilize the price of electricity while the country embraces renewable power sources in the coming years, around 50 percent of responders in a Business Today survey in early March expressed little confidence in their government's ability to handle nuclear disasters, and 51 percent remained doubtful that the original design of the fourth nuclear plant would meet safety requirements.
The poll results also showed 66 percent of Taiwanese believe the government should replace nuclear energy with renewable energy, while 49.1 percent would agree to a reasonable rise in the cost of electricity to maintain a stable power supply.
In his memoir about his experience with the Fukushima nuclear disaster, “My Nuclear Nightmare,” former Japanese Prime Minister Kan Naoto stated that [modern] Japanese society was established on the assumption that no massive accident would ever occur at its nuclear plants, so the country built 54 of them.
"A plan to evacuate and settle 50 million people for decades — that was what kept playing in my head after that assumption was pulverized," said the minister.
Business Today releases latest survey on Taiwanese attitudes on nuclear energy (Business Today photo)