Taiwan’s president apologises after blackout leaves millions of homes without power

Island’s leader under pressure over her push to scrap nuclear energy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2017, 3:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2017, 8:47pm

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has publicly apologised for power outages that left more than 6 million households across the island without electricity for several hours on Tuesday.

The blackouts came as a combination of unusually hot weather, damage to infrastructure from recent typhoons and a push by Tsai’s administration to abandon nuclear power left Taiwan barely able to supply sufficient electricity to residential and business users.

That balance gave way just before 5pm on Tuesday when a plant in northern Taiwan stopped generating power after workers accidentally shut off its supply of natural gas.

Electricity had been restored by 10pm but not before Lee Chih-kung, the economy minister, resigned over the handling of the situation.

An article occupying the entire front page of Wednesday’s China Times newspaper questioned the competence of Tsai’s administration for allowing the situation to deteriorate so badly and her insistence on phasing out nuclear.

One man was killed and his elderly mother injured after candles they were using to light their home caused a fire, the Apple Daily newspaper reported. No other deaths or injuries were reported.

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There had been multiple warnings about Taiwan’s electricity supply before the blackouts. A week earlier, state-run utility Taiwan Power Co issued a red alert as the operating reserve margin – the difference between power produced and consumed – fell to the second lowest level on record.

Business associations including the Chinese National Federation of Industries had also called for the pace at which nuclear plants have been phased out to slow down.

Tsai has shown no indication of abandoning her position, which formed a key component of a campaign that swept her into office more than a year ago.

Taiwan has already mothballed one of its four nuclear power stations, and of the six remaining reactors available, three are currently shut down for maintenance.

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In addition to the apology, Tsai posted a message on her Facebook page reiterating her determination to push forward with phasing out nuclear power in favour of renewable energy.

“The government is promoting distributed green energy to avoid the situation where an incident at a single power station can affect the power supply for the whole country,” Tsai wrote. “We will not change course. Today’s incident only makes us more determined.”