Nuclear Power in Taiwan

(Updated August 2020)

  • Taiwan has four operable nuclear power reactors, which account for about 10% of the island's electricity generation.
  • Two advanced reactors were under construction, but this project was cancelled.
  • Existing nuclear power is considerably cheaper than the alternatives.
  • The Democratic Progressive Party elected in January 2016 has a policy of phasing out nuclear power by 2025.
  • A November 2018 referendum showed 59% support for continued use of nuclear power.
 

 

Operable nuclear power capacity

 

Electricity sector

Total generation (in 2017): 268 TWh

Generation mix: coal 126 TWh (47%); natural gas 91 TWh (34%); nuclear 22 TWh (8%); oil 13 TWh (5%); hydro 8.8 TWh (3%); biofuels & waste 3.5 TWh (1%); solar & wind 3.4 TWh (1%).

Import/export balance: no imports or exports

Total consumption: 240 TWh

Per capita consumption: c. 11,000 kWh in 2017

Source: International Energy Agency, Electricity Information 2019. Data for year 2017

Generating capacity in 2017 was 49.7 GWe. Electricity consumption grew by 60% between 1997 and 2007. Since then, consumption growth has been more modest, increasing from 230 TWh in 2007 to 260 TWh in 2017. Nuclear power has been a significant part of the electricity supply for the past two decades in Taiwan, providing around 14% of electricity generation in 2015 although this declined to 8% in 2017 due to the temporary shutdown of some reactors. 

Energy policy

Taiwan imports about 98% of its energy, which is vital to the rapidly industrialising economy.

The government has set amibitious plans for 20% of the island's electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2025, with coal (30%) and natural gas (50%) providing the balance. 

There has been a concerted programme to develop renewable capacity since the Renewable Energy Development Act of 2009. The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) plans 20 GWe solar capacity and 7.7 GWe wind capacity by 2025.

The Democratic Progressive Party elected in January 2016 has a policy of phasing out nuclear power by 2025. 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 shutdown of the plants could lead to an increase of more than 10% in electricity prices, and a 0.5% decline in Taiwan's GDP, while carbon dioxide emissions could rise by as much as 15%. Nevertheless, in September 2016 the government confirmed that it would not extend the operating licences of the Chinshan and Kuosheng units. Furthermore Kuosheng 1 was prevented from refuelling due to the local government blocking construction of used fuel storage (see below). Kuosheng 2 was suspended in May 2016 following damage to the generator caused by a short circuit, and was restarted in June 2018. Chinshan 1 had been shut since December 2014 due to the government withholding permission, despite Atomic Energy Council (AEC) clearance. Chinshan 2 shut down in June 2017 due to transmission failure, and was not restarted.

After running for several months with very low reserve margin, which fell below 2% a week earlier, a problem at a large gas-fired power plant plunged half of Taiwan into darkness for about five hours on 15 August 2017. The World Nuclear Association said: “The Taiwanese government has allowed ideology to undermine public wellbeing by keeping nuclear capacity offline at a time when the country is struggling with power shortages.” The National Association of Industry and Commerce called on the government to reconsider its reliance on natural gas and neglect of nuclear power, and to “entertain the possibility” of completing the 2700 MWe Lungmen nuclear plant, where the first unit was almost completed. The World Nuclear Association reminded the government: “Blackouts clearly pose far greater safety risks to the people of Taiwan than the responsible use of nuclear energy. A modern society depends upon a reliable supply of electricity.” It added: “It’s clear that nuclear energy has the best safety record of any major form of electricity generation.”

In November 2018 a referendum question on nuclear power in Taiwan showed 59% support for maintaining the island’s significant dependence on nuclear power, with nearly ten million votes cast. However, the new energy strategy in January 2019 maintained the intention of the ruling political party to phase it out. Nevertheless, in May 2019 the Legislative Yuan removed the provision in Article 95 of the Electricity Act stipulating that all nuclear energy generation facilities must stop operations before 2025.

Nuclear power industry

Reactors operating in Taiwan

 

Nuclear Power Plants in Taiwan graphic

 

In 2019 it was announced that the Chinshan plant would commence decommissioning, leaving two nuclear plants on Taiwan: Kuosheng, with two General Electric boiling water reactors (BWRs); and Maanshan, with two Westinghouse pressurised water reactors (PWRs). They are all operated by the utility Taipower, under the MOEA, and were initially expected to have 40-year operating lifetimes. Five of the six units had undergone minor uprates by the end of 2008, resulting in a net increase of 44 MWe.

Earlier 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 operating licence extensions from the Atomic Energy Council (AEC). This and other work would have yielded uprates of some 440 MWe across the six reactors. In 2007 the AEC said that the Chinshan BWR plant had undergone a safety evaluation and was safe to run for a further 20 years following the planned licence expiry in 2017. The AEC had approved this lifetime extension, though in November 2011 a new national energy policy disallowed it and affirmed simply a 40-year operating lifetime. Taipower had expected to seek 20-year licence renewals for all six reactors. In December 2013 Taipower submitted a new application for lifetime extension of Chinshan, and the AEC safety evaluation report was expected late in 2016. However, due to the new energy policy of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Taipower withdrew the application in July 2016, and AEC ceased its evaluation accordingly. In July 2019 the AEC approved decommissioning plans for both Chinshan units over a 25-year period.

Nuclear output on Taiwan can be a very cost competitive option. MOEA figures quoted in 2014 showed electricity from nuclear plants at NT$ 0.72 per kWh, compared with that from LNG being NT$ 3.8/kWh, wind NT$ 2.6/kWh and solar NT$ 6 to 9/kWh.

Lungmen

Two 1350 MWe Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR) were under construction at Lungmen, near Taipei. Initial plans to procure the units on an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) basis failed, and contracts 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 completed, 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 was then due to be completed in June 2014. However, in April 2014 in response to political discord the government said that unit 1 would be mothballed after safety checks had been completed and construction of unit 2 would be halted. In July 2015 the unit was sealed, meaning that equipment has been put into a protected condition which will allow future use.

As a result of cost escalation due to the construction hiatus plus project management and engineering problems, almost NT$ 300 billion ($9.9 billion) has been spent on the project. An AEC minister in March 2019 said that $1.9-2.3 billion would be required to complete the plant.

In February 2019 Taipower ruled out starting up the plant. It stated that it would take six to seven years to start commercial operation, and that GE would not be able to replace many of the ageing components installed 20 years ago as the company had ceased production of many of them.

Taiwan nuclear reactors cancelled

  Type MWe net
Lungmen 1 ABWR 1350
Lungmen 2 ABWR 1350
Total (2)   2700

also known as Taipei County plant, each unit 1350 MWe gross

Earlier in May 2009 Taipower was examining the prospects for six more reactors, starting with a pair at an established site to be online about 2020, though about half a year later it projected one further unit beyond Lungmen 1&2 being online by 2025.

Post-Fukushima developments

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 in 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 planned to invite a follow-up review in three years.

However, public opinion of nuclear power changed dramatically following the Fukushima accident. In 2014, 55% favoured scrapping Lungmen, and 35% agreed with mothballing it.

In mid-2016 four of the six reactors were shut down for various reasons, and restarts were uncertain. Kuosheng 2 was closed in May 2016 for two years and after AEC approval, restarted to full capacity in June 2018. Chinshan 1 was closed following a fuel fault that was later rectified, but was permanently shut down in October 2018 without returning to service.

Fuel cycle & waste

All materials and services are imported, including 530,000 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 has been considered. In September 2014 there were 16,852 fuel assemblies (3471 tonnes) in used fuel pools at the three plants. Chinshan’s used fuel pools were almost 97% full in January 2015, and those at Kuosheng were similar. Taipower contracted 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 are blocked by New Taipei City government. This resulted in Taipower shutting down Kuosheng 1 in November 2016 due to its inability to refuel it on account of having nowhere to put the used fuel. An operating licence for the dry storage facility at Chinshan has also been refused by the New Taipei City government. In April 2017 the AEC approved Taipower’s application to convert the cask loading pool at Kuosheng 1 to store fuel. This was expected to take two months and would enable a further three years of operation. Dry cask storage has been rejected by the local government.

Maanshan has sufficient storage.

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 included 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 was expected to cost up to $356 million. Under the terms of the nuclear cooperation agreement with the USA, the USA agreed to the used fuel being transported overseas for reprocessing, though the agreement specified that all fissionable material would 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." The project has not proceeded.

A geological repository in granite for high-level waste is envisaged for 2055 operation. Taipower submitted a report to the AEC in December 2017 summarising an 11-year study to characterize and evaluate suitable host rock. The second stage of site selection, to be completed by 2028, will identify specific candidate sites. Taipower is priorisiting granite host rocks based on well advanced repository projects in Finland and Sweden. It has a technology exchange agreement with Sweden’s SKB.

Earlier 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 fee of TWD 0.17 per kWh has accumulated TWD 338 billion ($11.5 billion) to the end of 2017 in the Nuclear Back-end Fund which is managed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and this was expected to cover the repository cost comfortably by the time it was needed if reactors operated for planned lifetimes, along with decommissioning costs.

Decommissioning

 

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. 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. In October 2018, both Chinshan units were permanently shut down.

Research & Development

There have been six research reactors in operation on Taiwan, most very small and now shutdown and being decommissioned. Only THOR, a 2 MW Triga unit, at National Tsing Hua University is operating. 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.

Public opinion

In a November 2018 referendum, 59% supported maintaining the country's significant dependence on nuclear power.

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 had a nuclear cooperation agreement with Taiwan dating from 1972 and running to June 2014. This was renewed indefinitely in December 2013, and entered into force in June 2014 after review by the US Congress. 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.

Non-proliferation

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.


Notes & references

Taiwan Atomic Energy Council
Taiwan Bureau of Energy


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