October 23, 2017
Honorable President Tsai Ing-wen
Office of the President
No. 122, Sec. 1, Chongqing S. Rd., Zhongzheng District
Taipei City 10048, Taiwan (ROC)
Dear President Tsai,
As independent scientists, conservationists, and energy experts, we applaud your commitment to environmental protection and democratic decision-making. In particular, we strongly support your commitment to reducing deadly air pollution and fulfilling the commitment Taiwan made at the 2015 United Nations climate talks to reduce its carbon emissions.
We are writing now to express our concern at Taiwan’s transition away from clean, nuclear energy to fossil fuels, warn against a misinformation campaign being waged by financial interests, and encourage a democratic resolution to Taiwan’s energy crisis.
Last August’s electricity blackout stands as a dramatic warning to Taiwan of the consequences of its nuclear phase-out. Half of all Taiwanese households lost power, as did over 150 companies, costing millions of dollars.
Some blamed the outage on “human error” at Taiwan’s largest natural gas plant, but the gap between supply and demand was almost identical to the amount of power provided by Taiwan’s shuttered reactors.
Energy experts agree that Taiwan cannot replace nuclear and fossil fuels with renewables. Solar and wind combined provide less than five percent of Taiwan’s electricity last year. By contrast, nuclear energy alone provided 13 percent — and would have provided 23 percent had Taiwan been operating all of its reactors.
As a small, population-dense nation that already imports 96 percent of its energy, Taiwan is uniquely unsuited for renewables like solar and wind.
Taiwan would need to build 617 solar farms the size of its largest proposed solar farm at a cost of $71 billion just to replace its nuclear reactors. And that number does not include the high cost of storing the energy when the sun isn’t shining, or of purchasing the land required to cover an area 80 percent larger than the city of Taipei.
Replacing Taiwan’s nuclear plants with fossil fuels has already increased the risk of death from air pollution. Taiwan is one of the 10 worst countries in terms of the percentage of its citizens who are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution, according to an international study published by Yale University last year.
Replacing electrical generation from nuclear with natural gas could threaten public safety. Just three years ago, gas explosions in the city of Kaohsiung killed 25 people and injured 267 others. By contrast, nuclear energy is the safest way to make electricity according to the prestigious medical journal Lancet, and to date has saved 1.8 million lives.
Nuclear’s superior safety record is largely unknown to the Taiwanese people due to a concerted misinformation campaign partially funded by competing energy and financial interests. The high cost of Taiwan’s misinformation-driven fear of nuclear is economic as well as environmental.
Replacing electricity from Taiwan’s operational and mothballed nuclear plants with natural gas would cost $2.85 billion per year for the natural gas purchases alone, at current low prices. That amount of money could instead be used to create the equivalent of 119,000 jobs paying Taiwan’s per capita annual average salary of $23,916.
If Taiwan goes forward with its planned phase-out of nuclear energy by 2025, electricity prices will rise at least 10 percent percent and more likely much higher. The prospects of much higher electricity rates could grievously harm Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, independent experts warn.
In recent years, voices from within Taiwanese society have called for a national referendum on the future of nuclear energy. South Korea recently held a “citizens jury” to recommend to the president the fate of two nuclear reactors currently under construction.
We encourage you to consider a similarly democratic process. The value of a citizens jury process like South Korea’s is that it allows for a large, representative sample of the public to learn the scientific facts, hear all sides, and recommend a decision. Taiwan could improve on South Korea’s by allowing more than just three days for the citizens jury to learn the facts.
As outsiders, we respect Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy, and offer this letter to encourage you to address Taiwan’s energy crisis in a way that is consistent with your commitment to democratic decision-making and environmental protection. The future of Taiwan, and the natural environment, including the climate, are too important to leave vulnerable to special interests peddling superstition and fear.
Michael Shellenberger, Time Magazine "Hero of the Environment," President, Environmental Progress
James Hansen, Climate Scientist, Earth Institute, Columbia University
Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
David Lea, Professor, Earth Science, University of California
Martin Lewis, Department of Geography, Stanford University
Stephen Pinker, Cognitive Scientist, Harvard University
Pushker Kharecha, Columbia University, NASA
Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize recipient, author of Nuclear Renewal and The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Mark Boyce, Professor of Ecology, University of Alberta
Erle C. Ellis, Ph.D, Professor, Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland
Christopher Foreman, author of The Promise & Peril of Environmental Justice, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland
Norris McDonald, President, Environmental Hope and Justice
Nobuo Tanaka, Sasakawa Peace Foundation
Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World
Wolfgang Denk, European Director, Energy for Humanity
Joshua S. Goldstein, Prof. Emeritus of International Relations, American University
Joe Lassiter, Professor, Harvard Business School
Jeff Terry, Professor of Physics, Illinois Institute of Technology
Barrett Walker, Alex C. Walker Foundation