Nuclear Power in Taiwan
(Updated January 2016)
- Taiwan has six nuclear power reactors operating, and providing one-quarter of base-load power.
- Two advanced reactors have been under construction, but this project is suspended.
- Nuclear power is considerably cheaper than alternatives.
- The Democratic Progressive Party elected in January 2016 has a policy of phasing out nuclear power by 2025.
Taiwan imports 97.5% of its energy, which is vital to the rapidly industrialising economy. Energy demand grew at 3.5% per year over 1992-2012, and in 2012 half the demand was for electricity. Over that period, LNG imports grew eight-fold, mostly for electricity.
Electricity production grew at 4.4% per year 1992-2012, and per capita electricity consumption was 10,424 kWh in 2012. Nuclear power has been a significant part of the electricity supply for two decades and now provides one quarter of base-load power and 16% overall. Total power generated in 2012 was 250 billion kWh gross, nuclear providing 40 TWh, coal 123 TWh, oil 6.4 TWh, LNG 67 TWh, hydro (including pumped storage) 8.6 TWh, biofuels and waste 3.4 TWh, solar and wind 1.6 TWh. Generating capacity in 2012 was 48.4 GWe, with 17.4 GWe coal, 15.9 GWe LNG, 5.1 GWe nuclear, 4.7 GWe hydro (including pumped storage), 0.57 GWe wind and 0.22 GWe solar.
There has been a concerted program to develop capacity under the Renewable Energy Development Act of 2009, and by the end of 2013, 3.76 GWe (peak) was installed. The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) target is 9.95 GWe by 2030. In 2013 the capacity factor for offshore wind was 38%, for onshore wind 28% and for solar PV 14%.
The Democratic Progressive Party elected in January 2016 has a policy of phasing out nuclear power by 2025, as operating reactors reach 40 years service and writing off Lungmen. This will be difficult and very expensive if pursued. The MOEA in April 2015 said the closure of the three operating nuclear power plants by 2025 could result in lower economic growth rates and higher levels of pollution. The decommissioning of the plants could lead to an increase of more than 10% in electricity prices, and a 0.53% decline in Taiwan's GDP, while carbon dioxide emissions could rise by as much as 15%.
The three nuclear plants comprise four General Electric boiling water reactors and two Westinghouse pressurised water reactors. Construction of the first unit began in 1972. They are all operated by the utility Taipower, under the MOEA, and were expected to have 40-year lifetimes. Five of the six units had undergone minor uprates by the end of 2008, resulting in net 44 MWe increase.
Operating Taiwan nuclear power reactors
||4927 MWe net
* dates are for start of commercial operation.
In 2007 the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) said that Chinshan BWR plant had undergone a safety evaluation and was safe to run for a further 20 years following planned licence expiry in 2017. The AEC had approved this life extension, though in November 2011 a new national energy policy disallowed it and affirmed simply a 40-year operating life. Taipower had expected to seek 20-year licence renewals for all six reactors. In December 2013 Taipower submitted a new application for life extension of Chinshan, and the AEC safety evaluation report is expected about August 2016.
In 2009 Taipower said that it planned to replace the steam generators of the two Maanshan PWR reactors by about 2020 if it could obtain licence extensions from the AEC. This and other work is expected to yield uprates of some 440 MWe across the six reactors.
There are two 1350 MWe Advanced Boiling Water Reactors under construction at Lungmen, near Taipei. Initial plans to procure the units on an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) basis failed, and contacts were awarded to GE for the nuclear reactors, Mitsubishi for the turbines and others for the rest, making it a particularly difficult project to manage. Construction began in 1999 with intention of 2004 completion.
When the two reactors were one third complete a new cabinet cancelled the project but work resumed the following year later after legal appeal and a government resolution in favour. The project was thus significantly delayed by this, in addition to other delays. A date for completion of the first unit was to be announced early in 2012 - in June 2011 it was undergoing pre-operational testing, with the second unit about a year behind. In January 2014 Taipower said unit 1 would come into operation in 2015 and unit 2 in 2017. “Full testing” of systems in unit 1 should be complete in June 2014. However, in April 2014 in response to political discord the government said that unit 1 would be mothballed once safety checks were complete, and construction of unit 2 would be halted. Taipower has submitted plans to the MOEA and AEC for sealing unit 1, meaning that equipment will be put into a protected condition which will allow future use, after the completion of safety checks. A referendum on the future of the plant would be held, but no date has been set.
Cost escalation due to the construction hiatus plus project management and engineering problems had pushed the projected cost to over US$ 2900/kW, and almost NT$ 300 billion ($9.9 billion) has been spent on the project. In 2011 the AEC was scathing concerning Taipower's management of the project.
Taiwan nuclear reactors under construction
also known as Taipei County plant, each unit 1350 MWe gross
In May 2009 Taipower was examining the prospects for six more reactors, starting with a pair at an established site to be on line about 2020, though more recently it projected one further unit beyond Lungmen 1&2 being on line by 2025.
Following the Fukushima accident in March 2011, the AEC initiated a comprehensive nuclear safety review, and the first phase of this was completed in September. The AEC also strengthened its radiation protection capacity and contingency mechanisms, since Taiwan is very prone to seismic activity. In January 2012 the AEC said that its post-Fukushima inspections found "no safety concerns" with the six operating nuclear units. It also required Taipower itself to review the nuclear plants' safety margins by following the European Union's reactor stress test requirements.
A review conducted by the European Commission and the European Nuclear Safety Regulators' Group (ENSREG) in 2013 confirmed that the safety standards used by Taiwan’s nuclear power plants are generally high and comply with international state-of-the-art practices. However ion the light of earlier AEC stress tests the review recommended that Taiwan should update its assessment of all natural hazards, notably earthquakes and tsunamis, so as to be better prepared for such. The AEC plans to invite a follow-up review in three years.
Nuclear output on Taiwan is very cost competitive at US$ 1.9 cents/kWh in 2008 now that the six reactors have been depreciated. Average Taiwan generation cost was 7.0 c/kWh in 2008, with coal-fired generation US$ 5.8 cents/kWh, and LNG US$ 11.25 cents/kWh. During their first ten years of operation the Lungmen reactors are expected to generate at US$ 3.8 cents/kWh.
However, public opinion of nuclear power changed dramatically following the Fukushima accident. In 2014, 55% favoured scrapping Lungmen, and 35% agreed with mothballing it.
Fuel cycle & wastes
All materials and services are imported, including 850,000 SWU of enrichment.
A low-level radioactive waste storage facility is operated on Lan-Yu island by Taipower.
Policy for used fuel has been direct disposal, though reprocessing is now under consideration. Dry storage for Chinshan and Kuosheng will be needed by 2016. These facilities are being built by Taipower but were held up by local government and legal challenge. Taipower has a contract with the AEC’s Institute for Nuclear Energy Research (INER) for a dry storage facility at Chinshan using essentially US NAC’s Universal MPC technology, and one for Kuosheng using NAC Magnastore technology – 27 casks each holding 87 fuel assemblies, total 2349 assemblies. The AEC issued a licence for the Kuosheng dry storage in August 2015, when there were 8616 fuel assemblies in almost-full ponds (1449 tonnes), but other approvals for the Kuosheng facility may take two years.
Chinshan’s used fuel pools were almost 97% full in January 2015, and those at Kuosheng were similar. In September 2014 there were 16,852 fuel assemblies (3471 tonnes) in used fuel pools at the three plants.
In October 2014 a government task force recommended that used fuel from Chinshan and Kuosheng be sent abroad for reprocessing. With MOEA backing, in February 2015 Taipower announced a tender for reprocessing 1200 BWR fuel assemblies from Chinshan (480) and Kuosheng (720) to test the feasibility of this as a general policy. The scope includes transport casks delivery, loading used fuel into them, transport and shipment, reprocessing of the used fuel, management and retransfer of the materials arising from the reprocessing. A contract for the work is expected to cost up to $356 million. Under the terms of the nuclear cooperation agreement with the USA, the USA has agreed to the used fuel being transported overseas for reprocessing, though the agreement specifies that all fissionable material will remain with the reprocessor for use in "third party civilian reactors" rather than repatriated. The separated high-level wastes would be returned, vitrified, within 20 years for disposal. In March the tender was suspended pending a parliamentary budget review. In June 2015 the government set up a committee to decide whether to allocate funds for the project.
When launching the tender, Taipower said it was seeking to "promote the feasibility of overseas reprocessing of used nuclear fuel and by validating the feasibility of reprocessing abroad through a small-scale trial [and that it] hopes to provide more diverse choices and flexibility to the domestic strategy for long-term used nuclear fuel management."
A geological repository in granite for high-level wastes is envisaged for 2055 operation. The AEC has told Taipower to submit
a technology feasibility report on the repository project in 2017, and to “accept international peer review to ensure that domestic final repository technology capacity is in accordance with international standards.” Taipower has a technology exchange agreement with Sweden’s SKB.
In April 2015 the AEC provided to Taipower guidelines on the technical standards for site selection, based on study of relevant site selection criteria of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The directions require that any final disposal facility be in a bedrock site that is not near densely populated areas, major seismic faults, volcanoes or other changing geological structures, or surface or underground water that could compromise the safety of storage of highly radioactive waste material or risk harm to the geologic environment. A second stage of site selection will run over 2018 to 2028.
A fee of TWD 0.17 per kWh has accumulated TWD 333 billion (US$ 9.92 billion) to the end of 2015 in the Nuclear Back-end Fund which is managed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and this is expected to cover the repository cost comfortably by the time it is needed, along with decommissioning costs.
Taiwanese law requires that applications for decommissioning must be filed by the licensee three years prior to the scheduled final shutdown of a reactor and that it must be approved by authorities before decommissioning can commence.
In January 2016 Taipower published a decommissioning plan for Chinshan whose 40-year licences expire in December 2018 and July 2019. Decommissioning is to be over 25 years, in four stages: shutdown and defuelling to end of 2026, dismantling to 2038, testing to 2041, and site restoration to 2044. The used fuel pool will be removed over 2027-31.
Research & Development
There have been six research reactors in operation on Taiwan, most very small and now shut down and decommissioning. In 2014 only THOR, a 2 MW Triga unit, was operating at National Tsing Hua university. TRR, a 40 MW heavy water reactor, was shut down in 1987 and was to be redesigned as a light water reactor but is dismantled.
Organisation, regulation and safety
The Atomic Energy Council (AEC) consists of representatives from relevant government ministries. The Radwaste Administration is a subsidiary body and is regulator in respect to radioactive wastes.
The Nuclear Regulatory Division is also part of the AEC, as is the Radiation Protection Division. The AEC is also responsible for safeguards. The AEC’s technical support subsidiary is the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research (INER).
The Atomic Energy Law came in to force in 1968 and various regulations have been promulgated under it.
In 2012 a new Nuclear Safety Authority was to be established to take over from AEC as regulator, and the AEC was to be merged with the Ministry of Science & Technology. The INER would be moved to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) and the 'nuclear' focus dropped. However, in February 2013 cabinet decided to downgrade the AEC from ministerial level and turn it into a safety inspection commission – Nuclear Safety Commission – directly under cabinet. This has apparently not happened, and the AEC continues its regulatory role in respect to nuclear safety.
An Act on Sites for Establishment of Low Level Radioactive Waste Final Disposal Facility was enacted in 2006, setting standards for site selection and public involvement, including provision for a referendum to approve LLW repository sites.
Regarding high-level wastes, a law to establish a Radioactive Waste Management Center as a non-departmental public body under the direct supervision of the MOEA that would manage LLW and HLW disposal projects is pending, as is a draft Radioactive Waste Substance Management Act. The latter is based on the view that a comprehensive law to regulate all levels of radioactive waste and to establish a formal platform for government and civic dialogue and citizen participation to ensure transparency in the handling of radioactive waste should precede the establishment of any specific organization to be responsible for that project. An amendment would require any site selection to be approved by residents within 50 km.
In 2011 Taiwan and mainland China signed an agreement on nuclear safety and emergency reporting. Under the agreement, China and Taiwan will provide each other with information on their nuclear power plants, regulations and standards for nuclear safety, and exchange their experiences in nuclear safety and plant ageing. It also calls for them to cooperate on nuclear incident communications rated at INES Level 2 or above, environmental radiation monitoring, as well as emergency preparedness and response. Taiwan's AEC says that the agreement will promote cross-Strait nuclear power safety information transparency and enhance the safety and operating performance of nuclear power plants so as to ensure the safety of people on both sides.
The USA has a nuclear cooperation agreement with Taiwan dating from 1972 and running to June 2014. This was renewed indefinitely in December 2013, subject to ratification in both parliaments. In relation to this, the USA has authorized Taiwan to engage in reprocessing arrangements with France if it later wishes to do so, though “special fissionable materials” derived from the reprocessing, such as plutonium, would remain in France and the remaining waste material would be returned to Taiwan.
All nuclear facilities on Taiwan are subject to a non-governmental safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and all fall under full safeguards.
Taiwan signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 and ratified it but after 1971 the People's Republic of China replaced Taiwan in the NPT and the IAEA. In terms of such treaties and organisations, and for those countries which adhere to a one-China Policy, Taiwan does not exist as an independent state. The USA recognises Taiwan as an independent state and has state to state relations with it. Taiwan has a unique status. Nuclear safeguards are applied in Taiwan under a trilateral agreement between Taiwan, the USA and the IAEA.
Thus the IAEA applies safeguards in Taiwan to all nuclear material and nuclear facilities as if it were an NPT non-nuclear-weapon state Party; it conducts regular inspections including Additional Protocol verification activities.
MOEA, Bureau of Energy, 2013, Energy Statistics Handbook 2012 (2nd edn).