A Footnote to the History of Our Country’s “Nuclear Energy” Policies

by Dr. Ta-you Wu

May 1, 1988

Translation from Chinese article in Biographical Literature, May 1988


On March 26, 1988, an evaluation report which I presented to the late president Chiang in the summer of 1967 on a proposed “nuclear energy” development plan was carried on page 2 of China Times. The following is an account of the incident:

About two or three years ago, the Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History intended to contract me to discuss some historical events. In the process of sorting out documents that I filed during the 20-year period that I worked in Taiwan, I found the above-mentioned report, which I believe still holds true 20 years later.

In the past few years, a number of journalists have dropped in now and then to chat with me. Gradually, I felt that they were young friends. Last year, after one such chat with a journalist who worked for China Times, I showed him the report. I thought it would not really matter if I showed it to a “friend” as the report only represented my personal view, and circumstances had changed since it was written years ago. Nevertheless, I still urged him not to disclose the content. On March 24, I received a phone call informing me that the report had been handed to China Times. Without further delay, I called the journalist and his direct supervisor three times and asked them not to publish it for any reason. The editor then promised to keep the article “locked up.” Having not seen the article in the paper the next day, I thought it was over. To my surprise, however, on the 26th, it appeared in the paper. It was a terrible as well as a despicable thing to do without feeling guilty over violating someone’s personal integrity and the ethics of the press. I was very naive to treat the journalist as a “friend” and with all my sincerity, and I learned a lesson from this incident.

Since the report has already been published, I might as well take the opportunity to publish a full account of the background and epilogue of the report as a footnote to the story of the development of our country’s nuclear energy policies. The following describes my personal experience and is true to the best of my knowledge. May 1988

My July 1967 Evaluation Report on the Proposed

Nuclear Energy Development Plan of Our Country

(Used for Discussion on July 26 at the Supervisory Committee of Science and Research)

For weeks, many colleagues have been repeatedly discussing the nuclear energy development plan proposed by the Ministry of Defense. Although no consensus exists in the understanding of the program, everybody has come to the same conclusion.

Nobody objected to the idea of proceeding with the nuclear energy program with the objectives being to acquire nuclear science and technology, and to train talented personnel for purposes of peace and national defense (see note at the end). However, views on how to carry out the plan are different.

We have to admit that the nuclear energy plan is a huge undertaking in terms of the expense, technology, and manpower involved. In reviewing the plan, we should first take two key issues into consideration: (A) whether the economic and financial strength of our country in the near future will be capable of supporting the plan; (B) what procedures should be adopted to train the thousands of scientists and engineers who are needed for the plan.

In considering the first issue, we have to come up with an estimate of the entire expense. How much it will actually cost certainly depends on the proposed objective and scope of the plan. The proposal submitted by the Ministry of Defense consists of a nuclear reactor, in which uranium becomes plutonium through the irradiation process. To separate plutonium from uranium, a chemical separation plant should be built. Since we may not be able to purchase heavy water, another plant should be set up to produce heavy water for the nuclear reactor. Each of the three facilities will cost 20 to 40 million U.S. dollars. The Ministry of Defense proposal sets out a twelve- year funding program with 12 million U.S. dollars each year.

The above projection is based mostly on the figures supplied by German manufacturer(s). Ta-you firmly believes that the total expense by the end will exceed 140 or 150 million U.S. dollars. Since we do not have any experience, it is likely that many related expeditures have been left out of the calculation, therefore the final number may have been underestimated. India received a medium- sized nuclear reactor donated by Canada about a decade ago. Later on, it designed and built other nuclear reactors as well as heavy water and plutonium separation plants. Japan has been developing nuclear energy for years, too. If we could do research on the nuclear energy development which these two countries have undertaken (training of personnel each year, their technical background, total number of staffers, expenses and length of time for each phase, etc.) and make an estimate, it would be a helpful reference.

Ta-you believes that such a plan should first set up specific objectives and a range of activities before we come up with a more reliable projection. Then it could be reviewed from economic and financial perspectives.

In considering the second issue (manpower), we should make a detailed plan on how to train thousands of scientists and technicians in a few years. (See the following.)

While discussing these two issues (expense and manpower) on two different occasions with Mr. Tang Jun-Po, Director of Preparatory Committee of Chung Shan Academy of Sciences, I felt that there were some problems with certain basic perceptions:

(A) On the concept of “scientific personnel” there was an obvious difference. According to the plan, some people will be sent to various contractors’ plants abroad for training, and then come back when the plants are delivered to Taiwan. In addition, the Ministry of Defense will financially support about 100 students to study abroad each year. They should return after two or three years. Now, if our objective was to operate the plants we ordered, then the training would probably be sufficient; however, we should not limit ourselves to this arrangement. We should seek to build up the capability to independently develop nuclear energy (and other sciences). We need talented people who are creative to be leaders. Science is not merely knowledge which can be acquired after spending a few years with renowned teachers. Part of the knowledge can be acquired through instruction and from books, but comprehension, creativity, maturity, and talent are not passed along by teachers. This will have to involve many people in basic training and a relatively long period of continuous study before a few of them may succeed. This is a fundamental difference, just as designing a new aircraft differs from piloting an aircraft. This concept is not well understood by most people. (B) To develop a national plan, one should have an overall view and a good working knowledge of nuclear issues. Taiwan at present, cannot even adequately support the popular scientific and educational research needed by industry. It is, therefore, most important to proceed from the grassroots level to improve science education and research work, to train people, and to develop a detailed three-to-four-year plan to understand the overall picture. Nuclear energy development should be undertaken under this overall plan. The current situation is that science is not highly developed and the overall infrastructure is not established, therefore, it would not be a sound policy to develop a single huge program.

After many weeks of discussion with related parties, Ta-you proposes the following based on various considerations:

(A) Chung Shan Academy of Sciences of the Ministry of Defense proposed to build a nuclear reactor, a heavy water plant, and a plutonium separation plant at the same time. However, due to the aforementioned reasons of (1) expenses and (2) manpower, plus (3) the possibility that ties between building a plutonium plant and developing nuclear weapons, would rouse the suspicion of the international community, a more realistic plan is to first build a nuclear reactor alone. If we could accept the terms set by the International Atomic Energy Agency for peaceful use, we would possibly be able to purchase heavy water from the United States. Meanwhile, we can coordinate overall scientific education and research efforts, map out a three-year plan, and then find ways to develop the other two projects.
(B) The working principle is to develop a nuclear program under a nuclear energy committee. All other countries conduct such projects under a nuclear committee. The committee mostly consists of scientists, attorneys, and government representatives. If the nuclear program were to be under the Ministry of Defense, it would not conform to this basic concept. In addition, it would also rouse suspicion of the international community. Chung Shan Academy of Sciences proposes to conduct both nuclear and rocket programs, which makes it difficult to avoid the suspicion of nuclear armament. It is useless to try to hide this with the name “Hsin Chu Program”. We should understand that before our country spares the expense and manpower to develop nuclear science independently, we should avoid any suspicion or panic from others. Furthermore, we lack the main raw material (uranium) for nuclear energy, for which we have to depend on others. Our nuclear committee has not lived up to its commitment. Lack of experts on the panel could be one of the reasons. Therefore, I suggest that three or four overseas scholars be invited as consultants to review the guidelines (such as for the nuclear energy development program) and their details as soon as possible.
  • The following section was added in 1988 and was not in the original report to the President.

Note: With regard to nuclear weapons, most people share the same view. The key points are as follows:

(A) If we look at it from the perspective of pure strategic power, Taiwan could not use nuclear weapons for offense purposes; on the contrary, by possessing such weapons, we increase the possibility of an attack initiated by our enemy because they would be alarmed. Taiwan is a small place with no room for maneuver if it was attacked with a nuclear weapon, unlike those countries with vast land, which, even if they were attacked first, would still have the opportunity to counterattack. They could rely on that potential power to maintain balance. (B) For any country that attempts to develop nuclear weapons independently, the precondition is that it must have the raw material (uranium). Taiwan lacks this essential material, and it could not act in willful disregard of international restrictions. Given our country’s current situation, the world’s unfavorable reactions should be taken into consideration. (C) If we intend to develop nuclear weapons, then we must possess long-range delivering means (intercontinental ballistic missiles). If we had nuclear weapons, yet we did not have the means to deliver it, it would be like having cannonballs without a cannon.

How much funding is needed to develop nuclear weapons? It is hard to project confidently unless one has actual experience. We can only make indirect assumptions. India has been engaged in nuclear reactor, heavy water, and plutonium separation work for several years and has been faced with a threat from communist China; doesn’t India want to own nuclear weapons as a deterrent to keep the balance of power? Based on common estimates, India will need several more years and a few hundred million or even 2 to 3 billion U.S. dollars before it develops nuclear weapons. This might be one of the reasons that India did not try to do it.

As for independent development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, it would require another large contingent of scientists, engineers and technicians, as well as huge expenses.

To achieve the two objectives (nuclear weapons and delivery systems), we need from a few hundred million to 2 or 3 billion U.S. dollars and many scientists, engineers, and technicians (thousands or tens of thousands of them).

Given the current prospects for our country’s economy, we will not have the necessary financial resources. We can only proceed in an orderly manner with our efforts to improve the national economy and people’s livelihood, and to build up the scientific infrastructure.

Background of the 1967 Report

In the early summer of 1967, I came to Taiwan from the United States in response to President Chiang Kai-Shek’s order to serve as Director of the Science Development Advisory Committee of the National Security Council (NSC). I received a Ministry of Defense document from the NSC secretariat as soon as I arrived in Taiwan. It was the “Hsin Chu Program” proposed by Chung Shan Academy of Sciences. According to the estimate made by Siemens of West Germany, it would cost a total of 120 million U.S. dollars for Siemens to design and build a heavy water reactor, a heavy water plant, and a plutonium (chemical) separation plant. Top leaders in the government did not make any written comments on the proposal referring to its highly technical nature, and instructed that it be sent to me for review. I soon found out that some colleagues had differing views and there were people who were not in favor of the program. However, since they did not know President Chiang Kai-Shek’s intentions, they preferred not to express their ideas directly. At that time, our country’s foreign exchange reserve was only about a few dozens of millions of U.S. dollars. We were financially weak. I knew very well that we did not have a sound scientific base or adequate human resources. In addition, the United States was familiar with everything about our country. It would definitely prevent any “nuclear energy” plan from being implemented if we attempted to do so. Most importantly, from the political and strategic point of view, developing nuclear weapons was not a wise decision. After careful consideration and analysis, I drafted the report (see the original text above) in mid-July. On July 26, the Scientific Advisory Committee held a meeting to discuss the “nuclear energy program.” Mr. Tang Jun-Po, Director of Preparatory Committee of Chung Shan Academy of Sciences, Mr. Chen Wen-Kao of Taiwan Electricity Company and some others were invited. Taiwan Electricity Company was then preparing to build a nuclear power plant and asking for loans from the United States. It planned to order a light water reactor, but Chung Shan wanted to purchase a heavy water reactor. The dispute between them lasted up to 1969 when the Executive Yuan,Yen Chia-Kan was then the Prime Minister, made the decision to order a 40 megawatt heavy water reactor (not powerful enough to generate electricity) from Canada for the Institute for Nuclear Energy Research’s peaceful research program. In early August, I first delivered the report to Mr. Huang Shao-Ku, the secretary general of NSC for comments, and then it was submitted to the President. On August 12, a security meeting was held in the Chung Shan Building. Mr. Huang told me before the meeting that the President, Minister Chiang Ching-Kuo and he (Mr. Huang himself) had carefully read my report and decided to accept every suggestion in the report. Consequently, the meeting would not discuss the proposal (“Hsin Chu Program”). After the meeting, the President, as suggested in the report, ordered the nuclear energy committee under the Executive Yuan to take charge of nuclear energy development. Mr. Tang Jun-po was re-appointed as a ‘standing member’ of the committee. The analysis of the report was my entire connection with our country’s “nuclear energy” development. Ever since then, I have not been involved in any related policies or measures. May 1988

Epilogue to the 1967 Report

In early September, 1967, I returned to the US to give lectures. In mid- and late-September, when Dr. Donald F. Hornig, Science Advisor to the US President, led a delegation to Taiwan, I could not meet him there, although my position at the Science Advisory Committee was equal to Dr. Hornig’s. Dr. Hornig called on President Chiang Kai-Shek and suggested that our government allocate one to two percent of our gross national product for the use of developing science and technology. In December, I came back to Taiwan and on the 31st, President Chiang Kai-Shek called me in and told me that about 30 million U.S. dollars would be used for the development of science and technology every year. This amount would be increased as the GNP grew. One half of the amount was to be used as the National Science Committee’s science development fund, and the other half for nuclear energy development. According to this arrangement, the National Science Committee should have recieved 600 million yuan of Taiwan currency every year. However, the committee got only a little more than 200 million yuan in fiscal year 1969 after the Executive Yuan made deductions. After 1970, the amount was set at 400 million yuan, which lasted for about 10 years before it was increased. As the other part of the money was not allocated for use by the National Science Committee, I do not know if the Executive Yuan had included this amount in its budget.

Dr. Hornig’s delegation asked for a visit to a rocket launching site owned by the Ministry of Defense. I was told that our government declined the request. Later, Chung Shan Academy of Sciences filed a report to the Ministry of Defense stating that it I had recommended that the U.S. delegation visit the rocket launching site. I saw a copy of the report later. In 1968, I learned that Chung Shan people told others that I was a national traitor. Such accusations were as ridiculous as they were vicious, and were all due to the fact that my report did not support the “Hsin Chu Program”.

On September 11, 1970, the late President Chiang called in Mr. Huang Shao-Ku, Secretary General, and myself. During the interview he asked me if I had ever visited Chung Shan Academy of Science or the Chung Cheng Institute of Technology, as if he did not know that “Chung Shan” people treated me as a national traitor. I was not ready to answer, replying hesitantly that I “had not made any arrangement yet”. What a ridiculous answer. President Chiang Kai-Shek immediately asked Mr. Huang to notify Minister Chiang to make the “arrangements”. On September 16, the Vice Minister Tsui Tzi-Tao came in a car to pick me up to visit Chung Cheng Institute of Technology. First, the president of the institute gave a brief introduction, then we visited some labs, including a wind tunnel. Later, I was driven to Chung Shan Academy of Sciences. Mr. Tang Jun- Po, Deputy President of the Academy, presented a briefing, followed by a visit to the electronic and spectrum labs. He then hosted a lunch and sent me back to Taipei in a car. I made an oral report of my visit to Mr. Huang, thinking that that was enough for a one-morning visit. However, when I got back to the United States, Chiang Kai-Shek made me write a report. I reported that the equipment I saw was good, however, there were not enough leader-type personnel. I also mentioned in the report that the graduates from the National Defense Medical College had to serve a few years in the military. Even though tuition was waived, the college could not attract excellent candidates. It would be necessary to consider reducing the time of service in the military. Later, I heard that this suggestion of mine was against Chiang Kai-Shek’s wishes, but he ordered the Ministry of Defense to consider my suggestion anyway. No “arrangement” was ever made since then.

What was documented in the July 1967 report was proven to be correct by later developments: these include our government officially declaring that it would not engage in nuclear weapon development, under pressure from the United States, and the Chang Hsian-I incident in recent months. However, it was undoubtedly this report that led to their disappointment that I did not live up to their original expectations. I have never had regrets about it. In fact, I sometimes felt satisfied that I was honest, selfless, and courageous to say what I had to say. The only thing that I regret was that what I said had no impact on the actual development that followed.

email us twitter share on facebook