Political discord places Lungmen on hold

28 April 2014

The government of Taiwan has announced that unit 1 of the Lungmen nuclear power plant will be mothballed once pre-operational safety checks are completed. Construction of unit 2, meanwhile, will be suspended immediately. A referendum will be held later to decide the plant's fate.

Lungmen 1 and 2 460 (Taipower)
The future of Lungmen 1 and 2 is uncertain (Image: Taipower)

Construction of the Lungmen plant, Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant, has long been a bone of contention between its political parties, even as the first unit nears commissioning. Last week, President Ma Ying-jeou rejected calls by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for an immediate referendum on the future of the two-unit plant. At that time he said that pre-operational safety inspections would continue at unit 1, the results of which would then need to be approved by the national regulator, the Atomic Energy Council (AEC). Ma said the government would not give Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) permission to load fuel into the reactor before a national referendum on the plant's fate was held.

However, as thousands of demonstrators protested in Taipei against completion of Lungmen, the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has decided to suspend the project. Following a meeting of lawmakers yesterday, a government spokesman announced that once safety checks are completed at Lungmen 1, the unit will be mothballed. Construction of unit 2 - already more than 90% complete - will be halted immediately.

The government said that a referendum will be held on the future of the Lungmen plant, but until that vote is held, no more money will be invested in the plant's construction. Almost NT$300 billion ($9.9 billion) has already been spent building the Lungmen plant.

The government also said that a national energy conference would be held as soon as possible in order to ensure that there was no future risk of energy shortages as a result of its decision to halt the development of Lungmen.

The anti-nuclear DPP has called for the Lungmen plant to be scrapped without even holding a referendum. It claims that it would be difficult to get at least 50% of the population to vote in a referendum with the majority voting against the plant's completion. It had recently called for the referendum to simply require a majority vote either for or against the plant without a minimum turn-out. However, the ruling KMT party opposes making any changes to existing rules on referendums.

Delayed project

Construction work began on the two 1350 MWe Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs) at Lungmen, near Taipei, in 1999, with the first originally scheduled to enter commercial operation in 2006 and the second in 2007. However, the project has been beset with political, legal and regulatory delays.

Taiwan currently has six nuclear power reactors in operation with a combined generating capacity of 4927 MWe. These units provide almost one-fifth of Taiwan's electricity. Under current energy policies, these reactors are only allowed a 40-year lifespan which means the oldest units, at Chinshan, would close in 2018 and 2019.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News