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Cablegate: Nuclear Energy Becoming Acceptable in Taiwan?

VZCZCXYZ0011
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHIN #2084/01 1670943
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 160943Z JUN 06
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0736
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 5325
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 7889
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 7780
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 002084

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE PASS EAP/TC; NP/NE FOR ALEX BURKHART

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KNNP SENV ECON PGOV TW
SUBJECT: NUCLEAR ENERGY BECOMING ACCEPTABLE IN TAIWAN?

REF: A. A. 05 TAIPEI 04246

B. B. 05 TAIPEI 02601 C. 05 TAIPEI 00846

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. In the wake of gasoline and utility
price hikes, nuclear energy has enjoyed rising support in
Taiwan. Following this trend, some anti-nuclear proponents
have spoken out in favor of continued nuclear energy use.
Sustainable development has become the rallying point for
those who insist that nuclear is not the only option.
Pro-nuclear experts believe that an energetic campaign to
convince the public of the safety of nuclear plants is all
that stands in the way of a nuclear energy renaissance. END
SUMMARY.

TAIWAN AND NUCLEAR POWER: AT A CROSSROADS
------------------------------------------

2. (U) Taiwan's three operating nuclear power plants (NPPs)
supply 20 percent of the power needs of Taiwan. The fourth
NPP is slated to come online in 2009-10, increasing Taiwan's
power generation capacity by about five percent. However,
the ruling Democratic Progress Party has long advocated a
"non-nuclear homeland" and they have called for the early
decommissioning of all four plants. They have claimed that
nuclear power is inherently unsafe. They have long argued
that nuclear power plants are subject to disastrous accidents
(a la Three Mile Island or Chernobyl) especially in an
earthquake prone Taiwan. They have also contended that Taiwan
did not have a means of safely disposing of the low level
radio-active waste material (LLRW) and high level radioactive
waste (spent fuel) they generate. That argument has lost
steam due to the good safety record of the NPPs and efforts
underway to build
safe long-term repositories for its LLRW (spent fuel
continues to be stored on site at the NPPs). Moreover,
increasing gas prices and utility costs are forcing
policy makers to rethink the non-nuclear strategy,
as evidenced by the public statements of prominent
scientists and politicians.

DPP - RETHINKING NUCLEAR POWER?
-------------------------------

3. (U) Coming on the heels of a NT$ 3.00 gas price increase
in the last two months, past anti-nuclear supporters, such
as Academia Sinica President Lee Yuan-tseh, called for
completion of the 4th nuclear power plant and continued
use of nuclear power in Taiwan for at least 50 years.
At an environmental conference held in April, Lee said
Taiwan will have to rely on nuclear power if clean air
and sustainable development issues are important concerns
of economic policy. Press reports that during a DPP internal
meeting Vice-President Annette Lu also commented that nuclear
energy was being viewed as an environmentally-friendly energy
source and asked that experts examine the possibilities of
nuclear energy in order to meet the challenges posed by the
global energy crisis. Her comments were in response to Lee's
earlier statement on nuclear energy.

REDUCING NUCLEAR DEPENDENCE THROUGH SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
--------------------------------------------- --------------

4. (SBU) The anti-nuclear camp is no longer focusing only on
safety issues as before but has turned its attention to
sustainable development. AIT spoke with Yeh Junn-Rong,
a long time anti-nuclear activist and former minister
without portfolio, who is now a professor of environmental
law at National Taiwan University. Yeh said that nuclear
power is not only a technical issue (of nuclear safety) but
has become a political issue (involving energy policy) in
Taiwan. The anti-nuclear forces in Taiwan were no longer
focusing on the technicalities of waste disposal but on
sustainable development. They viewed continued reliance on
nuclear power as indefinitely postponing their ultimate goal
of turning Taiwan into a sustainable economy by practicing
energy efficiency, conservation, reducing wasteful practices
and educating the public. As long as nuclear power remains
viable (and cheap), there would be no incentives to encourage
Taiwan firms to invest in and develop sustainable
technologies such as wind, solar and geothermal power. Yeh
said that rising utility costs could force the public and
government to look at alternative energy and conservation.
Yeh remains committed to the "non-nuclear homeland" concept.
(Note. Taiwan, while not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol
has undertaken steps to reduce C02 emissions by requiring
industries to use the least polluting equipment available.
It is also looking at supplementing its fossil fuel needs
through biomass fuels production--not a practical pursuit
given Taiwan's limited agricultural land and resources. End
note.)

THE VIEW FROM EPA; NUCLEAR POWER NEEDS REFERENDUM
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (SBU) EPA administrator Chang Guo-long, a long-time
opponent of nuclear power, told AIT/T the public is not
really concerned where the power comes from as long as
it was there and affordable (ref B). However public opinion
about the future of nuclear power in Taiwan is an issue that
has become so politicized that he felt only a public
referendum could move it forward. Chang pointed out that any
plans to extend the life of the nuclear plants beyond their
original operational lifetime would run into the Basic
Environmental Law section 23 where it is clearly stated
that Taiwan is to become a nuclear free homeland. Chang,
like Yeh also believes in a sustainable Taiwan and thinks
that keeping electricity and water costs low only prolongs
the illusion of cheap energy in Taiwan. (Note: electricity
costs in Taiwan have not been raised for two decades. This
has been part of a government policy that favors industry in
order to promote exports by keeping production costs low.
The average household consumer has also benefited from this
system as only heavy users are charged on a sliding scale.
AIT does not believe this policy approach has encouraged
conservation or provided incentives to develop alternative
energy sources.
End note.)

AEC -- CONFIDENT OF NUCLEAR POWER'S VIABILITY
---------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Contrary to the thinking of anti-nuclear advocates,
who see Nuclear power as transitory, Minister Ouyang
Min-sheng of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was supremely
confident of the future of nuclear power. At a dinner in
April for a visiting delegation from the U.S. Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (NRC), Ouyang told AIT that he was not
worried about the future of nuclear power and that funding
for the fourth nuclear power plant was certain. He said that
as oil prices rose around the world, the only viable energy
substitute was nuclear power. Previously, only U235 material
could be used for fuel; there is now potential, he said, to
use spent fuel (U238) as fuel, opening new possibilities for
growth. He said that Taiwan's entire nuclear power
regulatory and research structure (AEC, INER and research
organizations) would remain intact given the growing
importance and support for nuclear power in Taiwan (ref B)
but he acknowledged that much work remained to convince a
skeptical public about the benefits and safety of nuclear
energy. In May, Ouyang reiterated his optimism to AIT Econ
Chief, assuring us that funding would be available to
complete 4 NPP and put it into operation. He was confident
that Taiwan would also solve its issue of storage for LLRW,
noting that counties selected as potential sites for the LLRW
storage facility would be given an incentive package in terms
of jobs and economic development that would be very
attractive to county authorities and residents alike. Ouyang
assured AIT that the DPP has come to a quiet internal
decision to support continued use of nuclear power. He added
that he would remain in his position until 2008 when he plans
to retire.

7. (U) COMMENT. The future of nuclear power in Taiwan looks
more promising than it did a year or two ago. The 4th NPP
will most likely be completed and the three currently
operating plants may be re-licensed to extend their operating
lifetime. Anti-nuclear groups, however, will continue to
advocate for sustainable development and use of alternative
energy sources instead of nuclear power. Energy analysts in
Taipei believe that relying on alternative energy sources,
which now contribute a miniscule two percent of Taiwan's
energy power generation capacity, is unrealistic. In order
for Taiwan to fulfil its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol on
reduction of CO2 emissions, the authorities appear ready to
fully exploit the nuclear power currently on tap and hope
that in the long run alternative energy sources can gradually
displace nuclear power (ref C).
END COMMENT.


KEEGAN

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