Taiwanese policymakers appear to be u-turning on a nuclear-free future

Various interesting comments from senior Taiwanese policymakers indicate a wind change concerning Taiwan's plans to go nuclear-free by 2025.
Christopher McFadden
Kuosheng nuclear power plant, Taiwan.

Ellery/Wikimedia Commons 

Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Lai Ching-te appears to have hinted at the possibility of Taiwan maintaining its last remaining nuclear power plants in case of a crisis. When pressed by students at the National Taiwan University (NTU) on May 28 regarding how Taiwan would deal with gas import pressures, Ching-te stated that nuclear power plants would likely be kept mothballed, ready for the restart as and when needed.

In 2021, Taiwan obtained approximately 11% of its electricity from nuclear power, as reported by the state-owned Taiwan Power Co, so any plans to remove them from the energy mix must factor in ways to replace the lost power generation capacity.

This recent news is interesting, as Taiwan has been implementing a policy of making the island nation nuclear-free by 2025. To this end, it has been gradually decommissioning its nuclear power plants, with only two of the original four still operational. This is unconventional, to say the least, due to the expensive costs and extensive safety precautions needed to maintain nuclear power plants. Yet, despite the global trend of using nuclear technology to decrease reliance on fossil fuels, Taiwan has plans to eliminate its last nuclear plant by 2025.

"Some people concerned are worried that Taiwan will lack electricity in the future," Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) has said. "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," they added.

Taiwan has also been focusing on decreasing coal consumption, and the Taiwanese government faces the challenge of constructing gas-powered generation and offshore wind to prevent power shortages. During a press briefing on Monday, reports Bloomberg, Taiwanese Economics Minister Wang Mei-hua stated that a restart plan would only be necessary during dire situations, such as external blockades or severe natural disasters. Additionally, the plan must ensure safety and receive agreement from lawmakers and the public.

According to analysts, in the event of a naval blockade by the Chinese military, Taiwan's best bet to preserve its energy infrastructure is nuclear energy. Despite being heavily dependent on energy imports (about 80 percent), Taiwan is still far from achieving energy self-sufficiency.

Taiwan's Jinshan and Kuosheng nuclear plants have been decommissioned, with only the Maanshan plant operational. This plant will be offline after 2025, and all plants will be dismantled by 2038. But, in the event of a possible military conflict with China (which would likely seek to impose a blockade on energy imports), Lai said, “Under such circumstances, relevant offices are planning how to maintain plants that have already been shut down for possible future use if it becomes necessary in an emergency.”

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