Tuesday, July 5, 2011

News Roundup: Taiwan High Speed Rail in Trouble


Months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the debate surrounding nuclear energy in Taiwan continues unabated. In June, several Taiwanese environmental groups held protests over Taiwan's nuclear energy policy and the construction of Taiwan's beleaguered fourth nuclear plant. Former Vice President Annette Lu criticized President Ma for refusing to shift policy towards a nuclear-free Taiwan. After meeting with Lu and several other academics, Premier Wu Den-Yih expressed his desire to gradually replace Taiwan's nuclear power with green energy. However, Wu's statement included the caveat that phasing out nuclear power would not take precedence over Taiwan's economic growth, electricity pricing stability, or CO2 emissions goals.

Anti-nuclear protests continue to drive Taiwan's energy debate

Recently returned from a visit to Germany, DPP 2012 presidential candidate Tsai Ying-wen reaffirmed her support for her proposed "non-nuclear homeland policy." Tsai expressed a desire to learn from Germany's efforts to eliminate its nuclear power generation by 2022. In regards to Tsai's policy, The China Post called for better transparency and information on the costs, both economic and environmental, associated with a non-nuclear Taiwan. At Taiwan Green Study, fellow Fulbright Scholar John D'Angola asks where will the alternative energy sources to replace nuclear come from?

On July 4th, Bureau of Energy Director General Jerry Ou announced that Taiwan's green energy economic output will exceed NT $1 trillion by 2015. This represents a tripling of Taiwan's NT $380 billion output in 2010. Taiwan's green energy sector is expected to draw NT $200 billion in private investment and create 110,000 jobs over the next four years. The Bureau of Energy's report also noted that Taiwan produced 3 GW of solar pv in 2010, surpassing Japan and reaching second place world-wide. Taiwan also claimed the world's top-spot in LED component production and is fifth overall in the installation of solar water heaters.


The Taipei Metro was recently cited as an example of urban rail transit's ability to reduce air pollution. Previously, researchers were unconvinced that mass transit systems improved air quality, as gains made by reduced automobile use could potentially be erased by larger numbers of overall commuters. A recent study conducted by researchers at UC Merced found that Taipei's MRT led to significant reductions in carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide levels.

At a recent meeting in Germany, Kaohsiung signed onto to ICLEI's Local Action for Biodiversity (LAB). LAB seeks to improve local ecosystems and support sustainable development and its membership includes several international metropolises such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Mexico City.

Taiwan's publishers are increasingly turning to "stone paper" to improve environmental standards. Unlike conventional paper, stone paper is composed of roughly 2/3 powdered stone with the remaining material coming from recycled plastics. Stone paper requires less intensive chemical treatment, halving its energy requirements during production and reducing costs. In addition to saving trees, the paper is extremely durable, water-proof, and decomposes naturally.

Environmental activists in Taipei protested the EPA's decision to approve construction of a Taipei-Danshui freeway along the Danshui river's north bank. The protestors oppose the project on the grounds that it will destroy important wetlands along the river bank and is less effective than other solutions to traffic congestion (such as increasing the number of MRT trains).


In June, the EPA announced that it will provide Taiwan's 22 local governments with guidelines to conduct city and county carbon inventories. Several of Taiwan's cities have already initiated CO2 reduction measures and the EPA believes city-scale CO2 policies can simultaneously drive local action and international cooperation. Taiwan Today also reported on amendments to Taiwan's Commodity and Vehicle License taxes that will incentivize low-carbon transportation.


Taiwan has emerged as a major culprit in the international crusade against shark fin soup. An animal welfare group reported that Taiwan kills 3.86 million sharks annually for the dish, mainly consumed at wedding banquets. Conducted between 2000-2008, a Pew Environment Group study found that Taiwan was responsible for 5.8% of the world's shark catch, placing fourth internationally.

Taiwan remains amongst the world's largest consumers of shark fin

In the wake of Taiwan's DEHP scandal where industrial-use plasticizer was found in several popular beverages, Premier Wu Den-Yih spoke on rebuilding Taiwan's image at the annual Food Taipei fair. Taiwan seeks to refocus its reputation as a producer of high-quality foods while it continues to investigate those responsible for the plasticizer debacle.


Surprising and unsettling Taiwan's rail commuters, it was recently revealed that the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) is sinking. In June, Public Construction Commission Minister Lee Hong-yuan announced that unless action was taken to correct the situation, THSR would be unusable within 10 years. The problem lies with the loss of groundwater along the THSR's elevated tracks. The groundwater is being siphoned by mostly illegal wells and the government has thusfar failed to strictly enforce the laws preventing groundwater loss. Lee Hong-yuan stated the problem can be solved by shutting down the wells. More controversially, Lee has called for limiting development alongside the THSR. The THSR runs through many agricultural areas and development along its axis was expected to boost local economic growth. However, when faced with the total collapse of Taiwan's landmark infrastructure project, land developers may have to accept reduced profits.

Taiwan's High Speed Rail is confronted with damaging issues

In an article detailing China's efforts to integrate Taiwan via cross-strait transportation connectivity, the Asia Sentinel highlights the central role of Taichung. China has invested heavily in transportation infrastructure in the Pingtan islands off Fujian province and is seeking to create a streamlined Pingtan-Taichung transportation network. China has unveiled a fleet of high-speed passenger ferries which would allow Taichung residents to reach the Mainland in a crisp two and a half hours. However, the enhanced connectivity is contingent upon Taiwanese government approval and little action is expected prior to the 2012 presidential elections.


The Guardian has an interesting profile of Taiwan's water woes. The piece contrasts the high rates of water recycling employed by industrial leaders such as Taiwan Semiconductor with the low-tech, wasteful water use of Taiwan's agricultural sector. This imbalance is more striking due the disparity in economic production: Taiwan's farms consume over 70% of the nation's water supply while contributing only 1.6% to annual GDP.

In Tainan, the local government has proposed and received support for the construction of a large man-made lake. With an estimated cost of NT $1.2 billion, the lake will serve as a crucial reservoir while simultaneously improving the area's ecology and urban renewal efforts.


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  4. Hi Benjamin,
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  5. hello, benjamin. are you still alive?? you havent made any new posts for a couple of years now!

  6. Hi Benjamin, I found your blog very informative and am likewise wondering if you're still out there studying transportation in Taiwan.

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