Fact Sheet

Taiwan Overview

Taiwan Overview

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Background

This page is part of Taiwan’s Profile.

Taiwan does not possess nuclear weapons, although it historically possessed a nuclear weapons program. Taiwan is not believed to have biological or chemical weapons programs, but it has been accused of possessing such programs in the past. Because of its unique status, Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, and cannot participate in nonproliferation regimes as an internationally-recognized state would. Taiwan asserts that it maintains policies in accordance with widely followed export control regimes, despite not being able to participate in them in an official capacity.

Taiwan is not legally considered a sovereign state by most countries or international organizations, including the UN, thus it cannot participate in international nonproliferation treaties or export control regimes. 1 Both the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) lay claim to the island of Taiwan, but it is under de facto control of the government in Taipei. Taiwan does not possess nuclear weapons, although it attempted to acquire them in the past. 2 Despite some suspicions of offensive and defensive chemical and biological weapon programs, there is no conclusive evidence that Taiwan developed or deployed either.

Nuclear

Under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, the island built its first nuclear reactor at National Tsinghua University in 1956 and began training atomic energy specialists. 3 In the 1960s, Taiwan initiated an ambitious program for the procurement and operation of nuclear power facilities on Taiwan. The Chung-Shan Science Institute (CSSI) was established by order of Chiang Kai-shek shortly after the People’s Republic of China detonated its first nuclear device in October 1964. 4 The Institute was largely funded by the military for research projects in nuclear, electronic, chemical, and missile areas. Chung-Shan Science Institute had close ties to the government’s Committee for Science Development, to its Atomic Energy Council, and to Tsinghua University. 5

In 1968, Taiwan—then recognized as the Republic of China by the UN—signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). After the seat for “China” in the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council reverted from Taipei to Beijing’s control in 1971, 6 the NPT and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) coordinated only with the Beijing government on issues related to China. Nuclear safeguards are applied in Taiwan under a trilateral agreement with the U.S. and the IAEA. 7 Taiwan has since implemented the IAEA’s “Program 93+2” safeguards. 8

Taiwan was suspected of conducting a nuclear weapons program during the 1970s and 1980s. 9 According to Professor Wu Ta-you, former president of the Academia Sinica in Taipei and then-director of the Science Development Advisory Committee of Taiwan’s National Security Council (NSC), the “Hsin Chu” program, “included the purchase of a heavy-water reactor, a heavy water-production plant, and a plutonium separation plant.” 10 The military-controlled Institute for Nuclear Energy Research (INER) secretly developed a small reprocessing facility and acquired a research reactor; such actions raised questions among the U.S. and other international officials. 11 As the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate indicated in 1972 that “Taiwan’s present intention is to develop the capability to fabricate and test a nuclear device. This capability could be attained by 1976; two or three years later is a more likely timeframe.” 12

During 1976-1977, IAEA officials inspected the activities managed by INER. 13 They discovered discrepancies in the activities that included a Canadian-supplied research reactor, other equipment from the United States, Germany, and France, including U.S.-supplied heavy water, uranium from South Africa, and technical advice from Norwegians and Israelis. 14 In September 1976, the U.S. tried to extract a pledge from Taipei to forswear an independent nuclear weapons capability. 15 The United States insisted Taiwan shut down the research reactor, and in “1977 every fuel element in the core was radioactively scanned by scientists from Los Alamos National Library.” 16

In 1987, INER began building a hot cell facility for reprocessing that violated commitments made in 1976. In this case, IAEA inspectors discovered that fuel rods were missing from one of Taiwan’s nuclear power facilities. The program was shut down and the laboratories and test sites sealed in 1988 shortly after the INER Deputy Director, Col. Chang Hsien-yi, defected to the United States. 17 Since 1988, the Taiwanese leadership has consistently maintained that the Island will not seek nuclear weapons in the future.

Taiwan has two operating nuclear power reactors located at the Maanshan nuclear power plant (NPP). Taiwan shut down four power reactors at the Chinshan and Kuosheng NPPs and has cancelled plans to construct two reactors at Lungmen. The two reactors at Maanshan NPP have an installed capacity of 1,874 megawatts and account for about 8-9% of Taiwan’s total power supply. 18 The power reactors use low-enriched uranium obtained from the United States and South Africa or transferred from a third country via the United States. Taiwan has no indigenous uranium enrichment capability. China and Taiwan signed an accord on nuclear safety and emergency reporting in 2011. 19 In 2014, Taiwan and the United States renewed indefinitely an agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation. The agreement, which includes a new 123 Agreement, took effect in June 2014. 20

After the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was elected in January 2016, and re-elected in 2020, Taipei has continued to strive toward its goal of a “nuclear-free homeland,” which includes the goal of shutting down all existing nuclear power plants when their 40-year operating licenses expire. In addition, since the construction permit for Lungmen plant expired in December 2020, no construction work is allowed at Lungmen unless the Taiwan Power Company resubmits the application for the construction license with a thorough safety assessment pursuant to Article 5 of the Nuclear Reactor Facilities Regulation Act. 21

Taiwan possesses much of the technological expertise necessary to develop nuclear weapons, but would face significant obstacles in doing so—namely, U.S. opposition, international pressure, and the threat of a pre-emptive strike by China. Various assessments indicate that it would take Taiwan between one and eight years to develop a complete nuclear warhead, and most likely much longer to design one light enough to be carried by any of Taiwan’s current land-attack missiles. Regardless, most analysts agree that under the current political situation, Taiwan is very unlikely to pursue a nuclear weapons capability. 22

Biological

Taiwan signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1972 as the Republic of China  though it was no longer a member of the UN. The ratification of the BTWC was deposited with the United States, which at that time still recognized Taipei as the sole representative of the government of China. With the US switchover of diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979, Taipei’s role in this treaty is no longer officially recognized. 23 Media sources indicated that in 1993, the U.S. intelligence community believed that Taiwan had maintained a biological weapons (BW) program from the 1970s. 24 While Washington no longer suspects Taiwan has a BW program, its advanced biotechnology infrastructure and human capital base provide Taipei with a potential breakout capability. 25 In December 1998, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) denied that the island is developing biological weapons. 26

Missile

Taiwan’s ballistic missile program is based at the National Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST), which has also developed a range of missiles including anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles 27 These systems have provided Taiwanese scientists with technological expertise in areas such as composite materials, guidance, and fire control systems, which are essential for development of longer range surface-to-surface missiles. In its 2021 Quadrennial Defense Review, Taiwan stated its plans to increase its long-range strike capabilities to enhance deterrence and enable precision strikes; Taiwan’s ballistic and cruise missiles would play a key role in this area. 28

As part of Taiwan’s initial efforts to develop ballistic missiles, in the 1970s NCSIST reportedly developed the Ching Feng and Sky Horse ballistic missiles, which apparently were never deployed. 29

Later, Taiwan reportedly developed the 120-km-range Tien Chi solid-propellant ballistic missile and may have deployed up to 50 of the missiles on its Tungyin and Penghu Islands. 30 Taiwan also reportedly conducted—but apparently halted—programs to develop the Tien Ma solid propellant ballistic missile 31 and the Ba Dan ballistic missile. 32

In addition to ballistic missiles, Taiwan has developed cruise missiles to target naval ships as well as land-based targets in China. In the area of anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), Taiwan has developed the Hsiung Feng series of ASCMs, including the 120-km-range Hsiung Feng II and the 150-km-range Hsiung Feng III. 33 Taiwan has also developed land attack cruise missiles (LACMs), including the 160-km-range Hsiung Feng IIE, 240-km-range air-launched Wan Chien, and the 1,200-2,000-km-range supersonic Yun Feng LACMs. 34 In 2023, it was reported that NCSIST planned to produce more than 1,000 missiles for the Taiwanese military, including both ASCMs and LACMs, as part of its Sea-Air Combat Improvement Plan. These include the Hsiung Feng II-E and Wan Chien LACMs. 35 In 2022, a former NCSIST director claimed that Taiwan’s LACMs could strike land-based targets in northern and central China, including Beijing and Shanghai. 36

The Taiwanese government has invested heavily in the purchase of missile defense systems to intercept the Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles deployed across the Taiwan Strait. Various sources over the years have estimated that China has 1,000s of ballistic and cruise missiles targeting Taiwan. 37 As of 2022, Taiwan operated the Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2) and PAC-3 air and missile defense systems. In 2021, Taiwan purchased PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles to be delivered in 2025-2026 and in 2022, it signed a US$83 million contract with the United States to improve Taiwan’s Patriot missile defense units through 2026, including upgrading its PAC-2 missiles to PAC-3 standards. 38

Chemical

Taiwan cannot join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or the Australia Group. In 1990, U.S. government officials testified before Congress that Taiwan could have acquired an offensive chemical weapons (CW) capability. 39 Taiwan has stated that its policy is to adhere to the CWC. While acknowledging production of small quantities of CW agents for defense research purposes, Taiwanese authorities have consistently denied any offensive CW capabilities. 40 Nonetheless, Taiwan has a large dual-use chemical industry and the technical know-how to develop chemical weapons.

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Glossary

Nonproliferation
Nonproliferation: Measures to prevent the spread of biological, chemical, and/or nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. See entry for Proliferation.
Export control
National laws or international arrangements established to restrict the sale of certain goods to certain countries, or to ensure that safeguards or end-use guarantees are applied to the export and sale of sensitive and dual-use technologies and materials. See entry for Dual-use
Nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon: A device that releases nuclear energy in an explosive manner as the result of nuclear chain reactions involving fission, or fission and fusion, of atomic nuclei. Such weapons are also sometimes referred to as atomic bombs (a fission-based weapon); or boosted fission weapons (a fission-based weapon deriving a slightly higher yield from a small fusion reaction); or hydrogen bombs/thermonuclear weapons (a weapon deriving a significant portion of its energy from fusion reactions).
Chemical Weapon (CW)
The CW: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons defines a chemical weapon as any of the following: 1) a toxic chemical or its precursors; 2) a munition specifically designed to deliver a toxic chemical; or 3) any equipment specifically designed for use with toxic chemicals or munitions. Toxic chemical agents are gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical substances that use their toxic properties to cause death or severe harm to humans, animals, and/or plants. Chemical weapons include blister, nerve, choking, and blood agents, as well as non-lethal incapacitating agents and riot-control agents. Historically, chemical weapons have been the most widely used and widely proliferated weapon of mass destruction.
Biological weapon (BW)
Biological weapons use microorganisms and natural toxins to produce disease in humans, animals, or plants.  Biological weapons can be derived from: bacteria (anthrax, plague, tularemia); viruses (smallpox, viral hemorrhagic fevers); rickettsia (Q fever and epidemic typhus); biological toxins (botulinum toxin, staphylococcus enterotoxin B); and fungi (San Joaquin Valley fever, mycotoxins). These agents can be deployed as biological weapons when paired with a delivery system, such as a missile or aerosol device.
Nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor: A vessel in which nuclear fission may be sustained and controlled in a chain nuclear reaction. The varieties are many, but all incorporate certain features, including: fissionable or fissile fuel; a moderating material (unless the reactor is operated on fast neutrons); a reflector to conserve escaping neutrons; provisions of removal of heat; measuring and controlling instruments; and protective devices.
Atomic
Atomic: Pertaining to an atom, which is the basic unit of matter, consisting of a dense nucleus of protons and neutrons and a cloud of electrons surrounding it.
Plutonium (Pu)
Plutonium (Pu): A transuranic element with atomic number 94, produced when uranium is irradiated in a reactor. It is used primarily in nuclear weapons and, along with uranium, in mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. Plutonium-239, a fissile isotope, is the most suitable isotope for use in nuclear weapons.
Reprocessing
Reprocessing: The chemical treatment of spent nuclear fuel to separate the remaining usable plutonium and uranium for re-fabrication into fuel, or alternatively, to extract the plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.
Research reactor
Research reactor: Small fission reactors designed to produce neutrons for a variety of purposes, including scientific research, training, and medical isotope production. Unlike commercial power reactors, they are not designed to generate power.
Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)
The BTWC: The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BTWC) prohibits the development, production, or stockpiling of bacteriological and toxin weapons. Countries must destroy or divert to peaceful purposes all agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and means of delivery within nine months after the entry into force of the convention. The BTWC was opened for signature on April 10, 1972, and entered into force on March 26, 1975. In 1994, the BTWC member states created the Ad Hoc Group to negotiate a legally binding BTWC Protocol that would help deter violations of the BTWC. The draft protocol outlines a monitoring regime that would require declarations of dual-use activities and facilities, routine visits to declared facilities, and short-notice challenge investigations. For additional information, see the BTWC.
Ballistic missile
A delivery vehicle powered by a liquid or solid fueled rocket that primarily travels in a ballistic (free-fall) trajectory.  The flight of a ballistic missile includes three phases: 1) boost phase, where the rocket generates thrust to launch the missile into flight; 2) midcourse phase, where the missile coasts in an arc under the influence of gravity; and 3) terminal phase, in which the missile descends towards its target.  Ballistic missiles can be characterized by three key parameters - range, payload, and Circular Error Probable (CEP), or targeting precision.  Ballistic missiles are primarily intended for use against ground targets.
Cruise missile
An unmanned self-propelled guided vehicle that sustains flight through aerodynamic lift for most of its flight path. There are subsonic and supersonic cruise missiles currently deployed in conventional and nuclear arsenals, while conventional hypersonic cruise missiles are currently in development. These can be launched from the air, submarines, or the ground. Although they carry smaller payloads, travel at slower speeds, and cover lesser ranges than ballistic missiles, cruise missiles can be programmed to travel along customized flight paths and to evade missile defense systems.
Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) requires each state party to declare and destroy all the chemical weapons (CW) and CW production facilities it possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, as well as any CW it abandoned on the territory of another state. The CWC was opened for signature on 13 January 1993, and entered into force on 29 April 1997. For additional information, see the CWC.
Australia Group (AG)
Australia Group (AG): Established in 1985 to limit the spread of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) through export controls on chemical precursors, equipment, agents, and organisms. For additional information, see the Australia Group.
Chemical Weapon (CW)
The CW: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons defines a chemical weapon as any of the following: 1) a toxic chemical or its precursors; 2) a munition specifically designed to deliver a toxic chemical; or 3) any equipment specifically designed for use with toxic chemicals or munitions. Toxic chemical agents are gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical substances that use their toxic properties to cause death or severe harm to humans, animals, and/or plants. Chemical weapons include blister, nerve, choking, and blood agents, as well as non-lethal incapacitating agents and riot-control agents. Historically, chemical weapons have been the most widely used and widely proliferated weapon of mass destruction.
Dual-use item
An item that has both civilian and military applications. For example, many of the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of chemical weapons have legitimate civilian industrial uses, such as the production of pesticides or ink for ballpoint pens.

Sources

  1. Robert E. Riggs and Jack C. Plano, The United Nations: International Organization and World Politics, 2nd edition (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1994), p. 44.
  2. “Taiwan’s Former Nuclear Bomb Program Revisited,” ISIS Reports, Institute for Science and International Security, 19 December 1997, http://isis-online.org.
  3. “Weapons of Mass Destruction-Taiwan,” Global Security, www.globalsecurity.org.
  4. Special National Intelligence Estimate, “Taipei’s Capabilities and Intentions Regarding Nuclear Weapons Development,” 1 November 1972, distributed by Central Intelligence Agency, Approved Release December 2001.
  5. “Weapons of Mass Destruction-Taiwan,” Global Security, www.globalsecurity.org.
  6. United Nations, U.N. Resolution 2758, “Restoration of the Lawful Rights of The People’s Republic of China in the United Nations,” United Nations General Assembly, 25 October 1971, Distributed by General Assembly, www.un.org.
  7. Republic of China Atomic Energy Council, “委員會年報 (Executive Yuan Report),” 2007, www.aec.gov.tw; Office of Information Circular, INFCIRC 158, “The Text of a Safeguards Transfer Agreement to a Bilateral Agreement between the Republic of China and the United States of America,” distributed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, 8 March 1972, www.iaea.org.
  8. “Taiwan’s Former Nuclear Bomb Program Revisited,” ISIS Reports, Institute for Science and International Security, 19 December 1997, http://isis-online.org.
  9. David Albright and Andrea Stricker, Taiwan's Former Nuclear Weapons Program (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Science and International Security, 2018), pp. 29-203.
  10. Ta-You Wu, “A Historical Document-A Foot-note to the History of Our Country’s Nuclear Energy’s Policies,” Biographical Literature, Vol. 52, no. 5, May 1988.
  11. David Albright and Corey Gay, “Taiwan: Nuclear Nightmare Averted,” The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, January 1998, pp. 54-60.
  12. Special National Intelligence Estimate, “Taipei’s Capabilities and Intentions Regarding Nuclear Weapons Development,” 1 November 1972, Distributed by Central Intelligence Agency, Approved Release December 2001.
  13. Monte Bullard, “Taiwan and Nonproliferation,” Issue Brief, Nuclear Threat Initiative, May 2005.
  14. William Burr, “New Archival Evidence on Taiwanese ‘Nuclear Intentions’, 1966-1976” in National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book, www.gwu.edu; Department of State Airgram, “Nationalist Chinese Atomic Experts Visit Israel,” 22 March 1966, Declassified 7 April 1999.
  15. State Department to Embassy in Taipei, “Demarche on ROC Nuclear Intentions,” Calbe 224790, 11 September 1976, Released by Department of State 15 April 2004.
  16. J.R. Phillips, et al. “Nondestructive Verification of the Exposure of Heavy-Water Reactor Fuel Elements,” Los Alamos National Library, June 1982.
  17. Stephen Engelberg and Michael Gordon, “Taipei Halts Work on Secret Plant to Make Nuclear Bomb Ingredient,” New York Times, 23 March 1988, www.nytimes.com.
  18. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "Power Reactor Information System (PRIS)," September 2023, pris.iaea.org; “Nuclear Power in Taiwan,” World Nuclear Association, June 2023, www.world-nuclear.org; “With Kuosheng shut down, Taiwan has only two nuclear reactors left,” Nuclear Newswire, 17 March 2023, ans.org; Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S., "Current Status of Nuclear Power in Taiwan," June 2023.
  19. “Nuclear Power in Taiwan,” World Nuclear Association, June 2023, www.world-nuclear.org.
  20. “Agreement for Cooperation Between the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Power,” 2014, via: www.scribd.com; Paul K. Kerr and Mary Beth D. Nikitin, “Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer,” Congressional Research Service, 14 May 2014, http://fas.org; U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, "123 Agreements for Peaceful Cooperation," updated 7 December 2022, www.energy.gov.
  21. Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, September 2023.
  22. Vincent Wei-Cheng Wang, “Taiwan: Conventional Deterrence, Soft Power and the Nuclear Option,” in Muthiah Alagappa, ed., The Long Shadow: Nuclear Weapons and Security in 21st Century Asia (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008) pp. 404-428.
  23. “China: Accession to Biological Weapons Convention,” last accessed 15 August 2013, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, http://disarmament.un.org.
  24. R. Jeffrey Smith, “China May Have Revived Germ Weapons Program, U.S. Officials Say,” Washington Post, 24 February 1993.
  25. “Biological Weapons Proliferation Concerns,” Henry L. Stimson Center, www.stimson.org.
  26. “Biological Weapons: Taiwan,” August 1999, Federation of American Scientists, www.fas.org.
  27. “Taiwan: Missile Profile,” The Risk Report, November-December 1998.
  28. Rowan Allport, “Long-Range Conventional Precision Strike: Taiwan‘s Post-Nuclear Deterrent?” The Diplomat, 13 August 2021, https://thediplomat.com.
  29. “Ching Feng (Green Bee)(Taiwan), Offensive Weapons,” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, 23 June 2005.
  30. Missile Defense Project, “Tien Chi,” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 13, 2017, last modified March 31, 2021, https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/tien-chi/; Rowan Allport, “Long-Range Conventional Precision Strike: Taiwan’s Post-Nuclear Deterrent?” The Diplomat, 13 August 2021, https://thediplomat.com.
  31. “Tien Ma1 (Sky Horse 1)(Taiwan), Offensive Weapons,” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, 13 September 2010.
  32. Gabriel Honrada, “Taiwan’s hidden missiles can hit Beijing, Shanghai,” Asia Times, 20 December 2022, https://asiatimes.com.
  33. Missile Defense Project, “Missiles of Taiwan,” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 14, 2018, last modified August 10, 2021, https://missilethreat.csis.org.
  34. Missile Defense Project, “Missiles of Taiwan,” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 14, 2018, last modified August 10, 2021, https://missilethreat.csis.org; Missile Defense Project, “Yun Feng,” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 13, 2017, last modified July 30, 2021, https://missilethreat.csis.org.
  35. Matthew Fulco, “Taiwan Missile Delivery Seen Hitting New High Of More Than 1,000 in ‘24,” Aviation Week Network, 28 Jun 2023, https://aviationweek.com.
  36. Gabriel Honrada, “Taiwan’s hidden missiles can hit Beijing, Shanghai,” Asia Times, 20 December 2022, https://asiatimes.com.
  37. Ralph Jennings, “China on Track to Aim 2,000 Missiles at Taiwan: Report,” Reuters, 19 July 2010, www.reuters.com; Rich Chang and J. Michael Cole, “China aiming 200 more missiles at Taiwan: MND,” Taipei Times, 4 September 2012, www.taipeitimes.com; New Frontier Foundation, Defense Policy Advisory Committee, “China’s Military Threats against Taiwan in 2025,” Defense Policy Blue Paper No. 5, March 2014, www.dpp.org.tw.
  38. Gabriel Honrada, “Taiwan’s Patriot missiles to get massive US upgrade,” Asia Times, 14 August 2022, https://asiatimes.com; Lockheed Martin, “PAC-3 MSE Overview,” January 2022.
  39. “Statement of Rear Admiral Thomas A. Brooks, USN, Director of Naval Intelligence, before the Seapower, Strategic and Critical Materials Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee on Intelligence Issues,” March 14, 1990, p. 54.
  40. Seth Brugger and Kerry Boyd, “Briefing Paper on the Status of Biological Weapons Nonproliferation,” Arms Control Association, 2003.

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