Public Protest Forces Taiwan to Halt Nuclear Plant Construction

Taiwan’s governing party has agreed to halt construction on the island’s fourth nuclear power plant due to anti-nuclear public sentiment.

Protestors staged a sit-in along a main street near the central train station in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, beginning on April 26, which was the 28th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. According to some estimates, as many as 28,000 people took part in the protest and half a million people may have been affected by resulting traffic disruptions.

Taiwan has three operational nuclear power plants, each with two reactor units. The first came online in 1977. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, nuclear power supplied over 19% of Taiwan’s electricity demand in 2013.

In November 2013, the European Commission and the European Nuclear Safety Regulators’ Group conducted a peer review of the plants. The stress tests were based on a common methodology and assessed both natural and manmade hazards. The results concluded that safety standards applied in Taiwanese nuclear power plants are generally high and comply with international state-of-the-art practices.

The news has not eased concern among the Taiwanese people, however. The island is located in the seismically active area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. Active seismic faults run across the country, and some citizens argue that Taiwan is unsuited for nuclear plants. The Fukushima Daiichi disaster has raised fear in residents because of the island’s similarity to Japan.

The fourth plant, known as the Lungmen Nuclear Power Plant, is nearing completion after a long construction period that began in 1999. It consists of two 1,350-MW advanced boiling water reactor units supplied by General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy Americas LLC. Construction on Unit 1 is complete with the unit undergoing pre-operational testing, while Unit 2 is reported to be more than 90% complete. At a cost of NT$273.6 billion ($9.08 billion), the investment has the potential to bankrupt the state-run electricity supplier—Taiwan Power Co.—if the plant is not allowed to operate commercially.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)