For two days in late January, a total of 173 delegates – government officials, legislators, scholars, business leaders, and representatives of civic groups – attended a National Energy Conference called by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The group debated the crucial issue facing Taiwan following President Ma Ying-jeou’s decision last year to suspend construction of the controversial Longmen nuclear power plant. In the absence of power generation from that facility, what should Taiwan do to ensure sufficient energy supplies in the years ahead?
To no one’s surprise, the conference ended with no agreement on the best way forward. Proponents of making Taiwan a “nuclear-free homeland” argued that conservation and greater reliance on green energy would make it possible to close down the island’s existing three nuclear plants (each with two reactors) when their current lifecycles expire between 2018 and 2025. Other participants countered that alternative sources such as solar and wind energy, while beneficial for peak usage, are unsuitable to constitute the base load of the national power supply, as they are unavailable when the sun is not shining or wind blowing. Those experts see Taiwan’s only realistic option – short of accepting zero economic growth, which would be anathema to most of the population – as extending the life of the existing nuclear plants beyond the original 40 years, as has become common practice in many countries around the world.