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September 25, 2017

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Taiwan's energy policy in crosshairs of nuke dispute

President Ma Ying-jeou and opposition leader Su Tseng-chang had a farcical quarrel broadcast live on TV yesterday over the controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant project.

It was a meeting between the pair at the Presidential Office, arranged by the president to address the hunger strike by Su's predecessor Lin Yi-hsiung, who vows to continue his actions until the government promises to terminate the so-called Nuke 4 project immediately.

We had not expected much from the meeting; after all, if the president had made up his mind to make major concessions, he would have announced them right away on Thursday evening when announcing his plan to meet with Su. That would have cut short Lin's hunger strike and prevented major harm to his health.

But we had not expected the meeting to end up in such a farcical fashion, with the pair trying to shame and blame each other instead of calmly seeking a solution to the thorny issue at hand.

One pro-government commentator criticized Lin for playing an uncreative "old trick," arguing that the opposition leader should be ignored and left to starve.

We agree that it is sort of an "old trick," but it is definitely a most dignified and difficult one, sacrificing one's life in order to force others to take action or make decisions that they otherwise would not take or make.

Lin's hunger strike clearly aims at completely ridding Taiwan of nuclear power eventually. But we must also grasp the implications of such a goal.

The core issue of the controversy is actually not Nuke 4 itself, but rather the nation's energy policy. What energy policy does the nation need?

Many observers have asked if the Nuke 4 project is abandoned, how are we going to address the lack of electricity in the future, which the government estimates may happen around 10 years from now?

But even if we agree to let Nuke 4 begin commercial operations, that does not mean that we won't have to set a clear direction for an energy policy for the future.

The three existing nuclear power plants will be retired sooner or later, meaning Taiwan will sooner or later face a lack of electricity. A Nuke 4 in full operation would not prevent that from happening.

So we really need to look beyond Nuke 4. Opponents of nuclear power must tell us what alternatives we have to nuclear energy amid growing awareness of the need to protect the environment. After all, we have seen demonstrations against wind turbine installations along the eastern coast because of aesthetic and land use concerns.

The government must tell us what it has in mind beyond Nuke 4. Can its support for Nuke 4 be understood to mean that the KMT administration believes nuclear power remains an option? Does it mean that there will be Nuke 5, Nuke 6 and more coming?

Perhaps President Ma wouldn't even want to look that far ahead, as none of those future power plants would be his business; after all, he will be retiring in 2016. But it would be very irresponsible of him if that were the case.

We need to start exploring a feasible energy policy. The Nuke 4 project remains incomplete more than 30 years after its inception; all along Nuke 4 has been either embraced by supporters as an indispensable solution to Taiwan's energy problems, or condemned by opponents as a monster ready to wreak havoc on Taiwan.

We really need more constructive discussions on Taiwan's energy policy. We can ill afford another 30 years wasted in bickering without going anywhere.

And it must be a long-term energy policy that can be implemented for years to come, one that can be embraced by whoever runs the government.

This is difficult, but we need some consensus on this issue — perhaps something similar to our belief in democracy.

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