Taiwan currently has three nuclear power plants in operation. They provide approximately 20% of the nation’s domestic energy output.
Taiwan’s atomic energy program has been active since 1978. The three nuclear power plants in operation are located in Shimen and Wanli Districts of New Taipei City in the north, and in Hengchun in the south.
A fourth plant is currently under construction in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District. Planning for this plant began in 1993. When it opens, it will make use of an advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR). The ABWR will feature considerable improvements in its safety system, worker radiation protection, and waste output.
Together, these improvements mean that the probability of core damage occurring at the plant will be reduced to just three in a million. In other words, there is only a one in 10,000 chance that an incident will occur at the plant during its first 40 years of operation.
The fourth plant will also be fully automated. Regular operations will be computer-controlled. But the design of the plant also includes a hard switch that can be used to manually shut off the reactor in case of an emergency.
Recently, there has been controversy in Taiwan about nuclear power after Japan suffered a massive 9.0 earthquake. The earthquake and ensuing tsunami crippled a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, northeastern Japan. That sparked fears of radiation and a complete meltdown. Many Taiwanese fear that the same could happen to earthquake-prone Taiwan. Critics say the project is located on a fault line and prone to damage from earthquakes. A series of accidents during tests in the plant have also heightened concerns about its safety.
In late April, former Democratic Progressive Party chairman Lin Yi-hsiung went on hunger strike to stop construction on the fourth nuclear power plant. His move triggered widespread anti-nuclear protests across Taiwan. President Ma Ying-jeou bowed to public pressure on April 27 when he decided to stop work on the plant and have its fate determined by a referendum.