Tuesday, 22 March 2011

2nd Letter On Fukushima Fallout


Refusing to let a crisis go to waste, the recent insidious attempts by mainstream press agencies, anti-nuclear environmentalists and irresponsible politicians to encourage public ignorance and irrational panic over the nuclear crisis at Fukushima in Japan is despicable.

Variously reported as the reactors themselves having "exploded", or of edging toward "catastrophic meltdown", the actual radiation leakage at the Fukushima plant has been deliberately and irresponsibly exaggerated by the mainstream press agencies. Some of this reporting has at times come sickeningly close to resembling a deliberate attempt to encourage the public association of thousands of deaths with the actually very limited radiation leakage at Fukushima.

Contrary to their political fig-leaf, many of the environmentalists protesting in Taipei on Sunday were not there to express their "uncertainty" about the safety of nuclear power - they were there to build political capital for the abolition of all nuclear power in Taiwan. High profile figures such as Lee Cho-han (李卓翰) even seemed to state as much publicly.

Such a policy would be disastrous since renewable generators such as solar and wind are neither capable of generating an even remotely comparable power output, or of running on a sufficiently cost-effective basis to serve as effective replacements for nuclear power plants - pacè the refuted claim of David Reid published in your pages March 18th. The largest solar power station in the world - the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility - currently being built in California, is designed to produce 392 megawatts of power at an estimated cost of about NT$40 billion. Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant at Longmen is designed to produce well over 2.5 gigawatts of power at a cost so far of over NT$270 billion. At best therefore, once we account for the approximately sevenfold difference in power output, the financial costs of a solar plant built with today's technology are roughly equivalent to those of the much delayed Longmen nuclear power plant.

Had Taiwan Power invested in a solar power station in 1997 rather than the Longmen nuclear power plant - as per David Reid's claim it should have (along with other renewables) - the ratio of power output to financial cost would likely have been far worse given the comparatively poor state of solar cell technology in 1997.

I understand the concerns about the safety of nuclear power in Taiwan given this island's geology, but I submit that the removal of nuclear power from Taiwan would be an irresponsible act of considerable economic destruction; it would be a policy which, at the furthest logical reach of its’ consequences, would have to be measured in the frustration of human values, suffering and death for want of electricity and the benefits that control of electricity bestows upon us.

Yours freely,
Michael Fagan.

(Sent: Tuesday 22nd March 2011. Published by the Taipei Times Friday 25th March 2011)

I'm pleased they published it, but again the editorial changes baffle me - the original was 445 words which they have (needlessly in my view, and at marginal expense to my style and intent) increased to 465.


  1. I hope the Taipei Times don't print this because you have misrepresented what I said. I never said Taiwan power should have invested in "a solar power station" in 1997. I wrote, "What if that same amount of money had been invested in renewable energy projects beginning from 1997?" I envisage that TaiPower could have invested in a number of renewable energy projects over a period of a decade. No single solar power plant would have a capital cost equivalent to a large nuclear power plant. The costs of both wind and solar have reduced significantly over the past decade. The technology has also improved. The solar station built in 1997 might not have been very efficient, but the experience of building it would have contributed to cheaper and more efficient plants being built down the track.

    Also the numbers you have presented comparing nuclear and solar actually put solar on par with nuclear. Your calculations miss a key point. A nuclear power plant will operate at around 80% of it's maximum capacity. A solar power plant will operate at about 30%. This actually makes the economics of nuclear much more attractive than solar. It shows that you lack understanding of some key factors involved in power generation.

    I really don't feel like debating any further. You are welcome to question or argue against anything I write. However, please don't misquote or misrepresent what I write.

  2. David,

    Never let it be said that I will not admit my mistakes - I have accordingly made a slight correction to the letter which you can see above (the parenthetical "along with other renewables"), and have resent it to the TT. The "misrepresentation" was intended: in assessing your financial argument against nuclear plants, I wanted to compare the salient plant here in Taiwan to the strongest of the renewables, which was and is solar.

    Of course no solar plant would have absolute costs similar to a nuclear plant; but it would have a similar financial cost - power output ratio, so that, today, even if built on a much smaller scale as it inevitably would be, a solar plant could not give substantially more value for money than a nuclear plant. And in 1997 likely worse than today.

    "...the experience of building it would have contributed to cheaper and more efficient plants being built down the track."

    Perhaps, yes. But that is the beauty of my comparison to the California plant which uses more modern tech - barring some major technological miracle, these improved plants would still not have offered better value for money than Longmen even with improvements. Don't you see?

    "Your calculations miss a key point."

    But it isn't a key point, because as I've said, I was trying to make the strongest case for the renewables. You'll notice I also did this in one of my comments to you on EROEI and FROI - I made the strongest case for you, and still showed you to have been wrong.

    "It shows that you lack understanding of some key factors involved in power generation."

    Please. What your mention of it does show is your apparent failure to see what I was doing to your "financial argument" and perhaps your own lack of good grace in continuing to argue the toss over the marginal points and refusing to concede.

  3. "I hope the Taipei Times don't print this because you have misrepresented what I said."

    The more I reflect on this sentence, the lower you sink in my opinion David. The letter made only incidental reference to you and your claim, with several other points raised against the press agencies and politicians in conjunction with the substantive that abolishing nuclear power in Taiwan would be economically destructive.


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