Shen-su Sun, 5 November 2000 Canberra, Australia
The new government in Taiwan has decided not to build the number 4 nuclear power plant on the basis of serious concerns over technical feasibility of treatment of nuclear waste and availability of sites for waste disposal. It declares that there is no anticipated energy shortage in the foreseeable future and more tolerable alternative power sources are available, if needed. Increase of the efficiency of existing power plants can also help to eliminate the need of building new nuclear power plant. In the opening note of his announcement not to build new nuclear power plant the Taiwanese Premier quoted a famous statement of Albert Einstein as a moral justification for his decision: "The splitting of the atom has changed everything, save man's way of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophes."
It is all very good to be pro-green, to struggle for a nuclear-free Taiwan and to have sensible environmental protection minds. Such an idealistic approach is respectable and is favoured by many thinking people in Taiwan. But, in the decision making process it is somewhat unfortunate that the anti-nuclear stand is not all based on sound scientific and rational grounds. In recent years people in Taiwan have been bombarded by inadequate or sometimes false anti-nuclear information. Various unfavourable nametags have been attached to the nuclear energy industry. People become psychologically allergic to it. People got really nervous and worried by false alarms. They may vote against nuclear power plant with a clear conscience, but with poor or false information in mind.
To quote Einstein in the Premier's anti-nuclear declaration is a clever strategy to capture the moral high ground and to precondition people's mindset. However, a rational and cool-headed person may ask: Has not Einstein's statement been quoted out of context and for the wrong reason? There is no doubt that Einstein, the humanitarian, was strongly against construction and usage of nuclear weapons. But, this does not imply Einstein, the scientist, was against peaceful usage of nuclear power. One can rightfully argue: The nuclear genie is already out of the bottle. Why not let it serve the humanity following a strict, super-cautious and well-designed set of safety guidelines?
It has been pointed out by some nuclear scientists in Taiwan that quoting nuclear disaster caused by Chernobyl reactor meltdown as a warning for potential nuclear disaster to be faced by people in Taiwan is misleading. It is a misguided cheap shot released from a bow made of ignorance of safety design of modern nuclear reactors. To have a rational debate on this issue with intellectual depth we need inputs of pros and cons of building nuclear power plant in Taiwan from serious scientific experts, who are familiar with the nuclear industry in Taiwan and/or familiar with relevant safety and waste disposal issues. Whistle-blowers with valid professional credentials should be welcomed to speak out their grave concerns, if any, about nuclear industry in Taiwan.
A crucial argument used by the Not-To-Build (NTB) group to tip the balance of the "build or not to build" decision making appears to be: There is a lack of guaranteed technology in sight for safe and effective nuclear waste processing and disposal and there is no suitable sites, which are acceptable to the public and the local citizens, for nuclear waste disposal. It maybe true for the current situation in Taiwan. But it is probably not correct when these issues are considered in a global context. It would be constructive for the government to make public the information and arguments put forward by the American expert team, which visited Taiwan shortly after the decision of not to build the nuclear power plant was made, to clarify some relevant arguments used to support the NTB decision. There are scientific experts in Taiwan and foreign countries who have information and knowledge of new technology for nuclear waste processing and knowledge of feasible and safe sites for nuclear waste disposal in a global context. Let us listen with alert and critical minds what they have to say. To adopt a cynical attitude that scientists working in the fields of nuclear technology and waste disposal all have a biased view in favour of building nuclear power plant would not help the rational decision making process.
How about potential threats of earthquake and volcanic eruption to the nuclear power plant? Again, it is a serious matter for the professionals to assess and to debate. Off-hand and over-the-top-of-the-head casual comments on this issue by Earth scientists and misquote by politicians for the purpose of self-justification can only add to the confusion and mistrust of the general public towards the professionals. It is nice if one is able to win a debate with simple arguments and simple "facts". It would be nicer if these arguments are logically sound and these "facts" are real and correct.
A meaningful and successful referendum requires that people are properly and thoroughly informed about major pros and cons of relevant issues involved. When this is done and in the end of the day NTB is the choice of majority voters in Taiwan then the government can celebrate its victory with a sense of relief. "To build or not to build" is the question. If people choose NTB, then so be it.