經濟部在1月底召開為期兩天的全國能源會議，有173代表 -- 政府官員、立法委員、學者、企業界領袖與公民團體代表共同出席。馬英九總統去年決定停建引發爭議的核四廠之後，與會人士利用這次會議討論台灣面臨的重大議題。在核四廠不能發電的情況下，台灣要如何確保未來幾年電力供應無虞?
It's Time to Set Energy Policy
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.
With the failure of the conference to deliver any consensus, the ball is now squarely back in the government's court. In their speeches at the conclave, President Ma and Premier Mao Chi-kuo said that all options remain open, which should include the possibility of recommissioning the current nuclear units. They stressed the desirability of maintaining a diverse mix of energy sources in order to achieve flexibility and assure a stable power supply.
Not all those who opposed the Longmen plant - whose on-again, off-again construction schedule over many years raised questions about the integrity of the facility - would necessarily object to keeping the existing plants in operation, especially if the alternative is power shortages weakening the Taiwan economy. The 40-year timespan is not an absolute condition. According to a New York Times report, for example, most of the 100 nuclear power plants in the United States have either already been granted license extensions or will likely receive them, generally for an additional 20 years.
It is also important to note that the recommissioning process entails rigorous upgrading in components, equipment, and technology that should increase public confidence in the relicensed plants' safety and reliability. But that extensive replacement and engineering work takes a considerable amount of time to complete. If left until the end of the original life cycle, the national power supply could suffer a debilitating shortage while the plants are closed down for retrofitting.
A more reasonable approach would be to carry out the upgrades in stages, starting now for the first units, timed to coincide with regularly scheduled outages for refueling and maintenance. That cannot be done, however, until the administration
gives the green light to the Atomic Energy Council to act on the Taiwan Power Company's application for license extensions.
Time is running out to assure Taiwan's energy sufficiency. As relicensing appears to be the only practical option, the government needs to act soon to start preparations.