TAIWAN YOUTH FIGHT AGAINST TSAI’S “ZERO NUCLEAR” POLICY
Young people are fighting for what they feel is right in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. In both cases they are battling the threat of the Chinese Communist Party while at the same time trying to rally the people of their respective political entities to a better economic and political future. I am fully behind them for their courage and mettle.
On September 5, I had a visit from a group of some dozen young Taiwanese. Together with the group and providing enthusiastic support were Dr. Li Min (64) and Liao Yan-peng (37). Li is Director of the Atomic Energy Council of Taiwan and Liao a scientist with the Taiwan Society of Medical Physics and a member of “Nuclear Myths Busters,” an activists’ group formed in Taipei in 2013 to fight groundless rumors about nuclear power.
This group, comprising approximately 30 young theoretical physicists, was founded by Huang Shi-xi (31). Committed to guiding Taiwan’s energy policies in the right direction and having won the full backing of Dr. Li, Huang and his fellow researchers are engaged in a wide range of pro-nuclear activities across Taiwan, vigorously refuting groundless rumors that inflame public anxiety over the danger of atomic energy.
Huang told me that, of all the false information about nuclear power generation that has spread across Taiwan, what he found especially damaging to Taiwan’s nuclear future was misinformation attributable to Naoto Kan, the former Democratic prime minister who failed to deal effectively with the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. It is inexcusable that a prime minister of Japan, of all people, has disseminated groundless anti-nuclear information, stirring up a widespread sense of crisis over nuclear power in Japan and beyond.
Last November 24, a nuclear power referendum was held in Taiwan. Huang’s group, which had led the campaign for the referendum, positioned nuclear power in Taiwan as the base electricity source against the government’s plan to phase out nuclear power by 2025. (Taiwanese voters rejected the government’s plan, 59% to 41%.)
After a gigantic hydrogen explosion ripped through the No. 1 Fukushima nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) on March 11, 2011, an anti-nuclear movement also started in Taiwan. Construction of a new nuclear plant was suspended, and a nuclear plant undergoing a test run halted. Then in January 2016, Ms Tsai Ing-wen was elected president after campaigning on a “zero nuclear” policy.
President Tsai vowed to suspend all of Taiwan’s three nuclear power plants in operation by 2025. She then introduced a plan to deregulate Taiwan’s electricity market and develop renewable energy, which she announced would cover 20% of Taiwan’s overall energy requirements by 2025. This scheme was approved by the National Assembly in January 2017. At the time, Taiwan derived 80% of its electricity from thermal power, 16.5% from nuclear, and the remainder from other sources, such as water. Against this backdrop, a massive blackout occurred on August 15, 2017, amid Taiwan’s sweltering heat and humidity, affecting 7 million—or nearly half its total—households.
Opposition to Tsai’s “Zero Nuclear Power” Policy
The power failure allegedly prompted Taiwanese to freshly recognize the importance of nuclear power as a stable source of energy. Scientists assert that global warming, caused primarily by carbon dioxide emissions, is behind the worsening climatic changes the world over. Taiwan has been widely cited in social media as a place heavily dependent on fossil fuels and unable to effectively manage CO2 emissions.
Resources-short Japan and Taiwan are in the same boat. If nuclear power is unavailable, both nations have no alternative but to import huge quantities of fossil fuels with no effective measures to combat CO2. Neither nation is as blessed as Germany, which can expect a steady supply of electricity from France. Commented Li:
“Observing what Japan has experienced in Fukushima, we believe that an abandonment of nuclear power generation is unthinkable for Taiwan. As you know, the Tsai administration upholds a ‘zero nuclear’ policy. Taking into consideration Taiwan’s future and how our continued development could be sustained, we vigorously argued for a ‘nuclear power’ referendum, warning the government that its energy policy is mistaken, that the people are not longing for a society without nuclear power, and that it is terribly wrong for Taiwan to continue burning fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming.”
Li and young researchers with the “Nuclear Myths Busters” group continued circulating accurate scientific information about nuclear power among young Taiwanese. Such information went viral via social network, contributing to a widespread recognition that Tsai’s “zero nuclear” policy would be detrimental to Taiwan’s future, not only economically but politically. Liao recalled:
“Dr. Li is our nation’s foremost expert on nuclear power. And we are radiation experts. Between experts, we had discussions on how to protect the safety of nuclear power plants in the run-up to the referendum, and our young followers had studied pertinent matters eagerly and thoroughly to deepen their knowledge. Hand in hand, we had earnestly prepared for the referendum.”
The results were stunning. Voters against Tsai’s “no nuclear” policy outnumbered those for it.
“If the voter turnout had been less than 50%,” continued Liao, “the referendum would have been invalid. But we managed to clear this standard, as some 60% of eligible voters, or a total of 5,890,000 voters, expressed their opposition to the government’s policy.”
Last November 27, then prime minister Lai Chin-te declared null and void the government’s plan to abolish nuclear power stations in Taiwan by 2025.
But forces opposing nuclear power plants argued that the referendum was only meant to ask voters if they were for or against the “zero nuclear” policy—not to demand a resumption of nuclear power generation. Tsai, who favors a ban on nuclear power generation in Taiwan, has yet to say a word about whether her government would honor the results of the referendum, referring to her new plans to utilize renewable energy instead.
Liao stressed the need to verify the relative safety of nuclear power generation in order to position it as an important base electricity source for his country. Although information pertaining to Fukushima’s recovery is also available in Taiwan, Liao made up his mind to lead the group of young Taiwanese scientists on a visit to Japan, believing that they must see the reality of Fukushima’s recovery with their own eyes.
Importance of Becoming Energy-Independent
Below is how some of these young scientists felt while in Fukushima:
“When I asked a truck driver transporting industrial waste why he is working in Fukushima, he replied: ‘Because I want to do something for my country. And I want to help make Fukushima beautiful again.’ His remarks were deeply touching.” (Scientist A)
“We measured the radioactivity levels of sea food from one fish store to another in rapid succession and judged all of them as safe. The fish looked so safe that we bought some of them, had them sashimi-sliced, and ate them on the spot. They were delicious.” (Scientist B)
“We also measured atmospheric radioactivity here and there across Fukushima Prefecture. In point of fact, the levels were lower than in Tokyo across the board. I felt very safe in Fukushima.” (Scientist C)
These scientists told me they would be spreading images of their investigations via Youtube once they return to Taiwan. Liao confided in me that his visit to Fukushima has given him a sense of confidence in “human capacity,” explaining:
“I believe TEPCO and the Japanese government are making sincere efforts to implement a full recovery of Fukushima. Having observed their sincere posture toward recovery and the great progress that has so far been made, I have gained tremendous confidence in the human capacity to safely control nuclear power generation.”
Liao and his young colleagues told me an effective utilization of nuclear power in Taiwan will overlap with its possible independence as far as Taiwan’s younger generation is concerned. Being energy independent is a vital question for Taiwan that is indispensable with its economic—and political—independence.
Taiwan’s younger generation is asking this question now: Will Taiwan perish because of its politics, or because of its erratic electric power policy?
Allow me to stress this once again: Taiwan’s economy will be doomed without a stable supply of energy. A nation’s sovereignty and independence cannot be hoped for without stable economic growth. President Tsai aspires for Taiwan’s independence but opposes nuclear power generation. As a result, one cannot deny the possibility of her being taken advantage of by Beijing with its persistent economic offensive. That is why Liao and his colleagues are earnestly arguing for another referendum, upholding a policy advocating a resumption of operation of all of Taiwan’s three nuclear power plants with six reactors that have been suspended since Tsai came to power.
It is valorous of the young people of Taiwan to so eagerly aspire for Taiwan’s independence, commit themselves to rejecting China’s control, and speak passionately and thoughtfully about their future with their nation’s sovereignty and independence constantly in mind. Having just rubbed elbows with the impressive young Taiwanese who came to see me, I cannot but ask if their Japanese counterparts have done anything to support them. I urge young Japanese to wake up and do something. Clearly, now is the time for them to show their support for their counterparts in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 868 in the September 19, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)